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Updated: 11th January 2019 11:11

New book asks why people love the mountains so much

A Canmore author tries to answer the question, “Why do some people love the mountains they way they do?” with a new book profiling adventurers, including The Homestretch’s own naturalist, Brian Keating.

Geoff Powter's Inner Ranges includes stories and profiles going back to the late 1970s

Geoff Powter's new book, Inner Ranges, profiles mountain adventurers some may have heard of, and some that deserve to be talked about. (Susan Holzman/CBC)

An author from Canmore, Alta., is trying to answer the question of why some people love mountains in a new book profiling adventurers, including The Homestretch's own naturalist, Brian Keating.

Geoff Powter spoke with The Homestretch about his new anthology, Inner Ranges, and the inspiration behind it.

This interview has been edited and paraphrased for clarity and length. You can listen to the complete interview here.

Q: What are the stories about?

A: This is a mix of essays that I've written as an editor of a couple of different outdoor publications, plus a number of personal stories from my own years as an adventurer, and then profiles that I've done of adventurers that I admire and have really come to like through the process of doing interviews and following them around on some of their adventures.

Q: How long have you been writing these stories?

A: My very first mountain story I did in my early 20s, and I'm in my early 60s now so this is a long time. It's an anthology that goes back to 1977 or 1978.

Q: Tell us about some of the people you featured in the book.

A: I've had the privilege over a number of years to really spend time with people that have been either really important in my own adventure story as inspiring folks or people whose stories I know were particularly challenging.

I think the ones that are in this book offer a really broad range. I have some very well-known mountaineers like Barry Blanchard, a very well-known fellow from my community of Canmore, and Sonnie Trotter, a much younger and very accomplished Canadian rock climber.

And then some other people that are probably a lot less well-known than those two.

Some of my favourites include another exceptionally talented Calgary climber by the name of Raphael Slawinski, who is very well known in the mountain community, far less well-known outside of it, and absolutely deserves to be somebody who is known by everybody.

One of my favourite stories in the book is the long tale of a young woman from Vancouver by the name Lena Rowat, who, along with her sister at the beginning of a trip and then eventually with joining a group of other young guys, skied literally out her back door in Vancouver and all the way to Skagway, Alaska, which is a remarkable trip.

Her story is remarkable as well and coming from a very, very interesting, challenging kind of family, and being fully immersed from a very young age in the outdoors and just being a tower of strength with a really interesting personal story, including a tragic midpoint to the story of that trip where a partner of hers was killed.

She's a person that I just have an enormous amount of admiration for and somebody that flies under the radar in most Canadians's understanding of the outdoors.

Q: You have a story about our own The Homestretch naturalist, Brian Keating. How did that come about?

A: Like a lot of folks, I first came to Brian through this show. I instantly know that it's him because he sounds so distinctive and his stories are so distinctive as well.

I don't know any outdoor adventurer who isn't in both envy and awe of Brian. What really struck me was, I knew so much about all these micro adventures that come from the pieces that he does for the show, but I didn't really know much about him as a person.

I had a lovely time getting to know more of his backstory because as excited as he is and as motivating as he is in the things that he talks about, there's a deeper backstory to him in terms of how hardcore he is as an adventurer.

When I first published that story in a magazine, somebody said to me, "Well, why are you doing a story about him? Isn't he just a birdwatcher?" And no, there's an awful lot more to Brian's story than that, including things that he doesn't often talk about.

One of the things that you wouldn't necessarily know from listening to him on the show is how accomplished he is as an outdoor athlete, and it was great to get out and spend time with him.

Q: What is it about the mountains that people fall in love with?

A: When I started putting the stories together for this book, I remembered the experience that I had 50 years ago this year. As real young kid, I found a book on the mountains.

I was living in Montreal at the time; I had no connection to the mountains. I picked up this mountain book and something inside of me just moved and that is a common, common story with people that I know in the world of adventure.

It's almost like we've lived another life and there's something in those spaces that really captures you. The number of people that I'm surrounded with in my life who have been profoundly moved and very deeply connected to those places is huge.

Everybody I know has been moved in that same kind of way.

Q: You are also a clinical psychologist. Does that inform your writing?

A: It certainly informs my writing. A large part of the things that I've written, particularly in the middle of my writing career, had to do with risk, had to do with the reasons why people do the things that they do. Living in a mountain town as a psychologist, I would often bump into people that were affected by the darker side of mountain life.

I had clients who had been involved in tragedies themselves. I had people as clients who had lost family members or were really puzzled by why the person that they were sharing their life with was as drawn to these things that seem dangerous and put family at risk and so on.

It really informed a certain space of the clinical work that I was doing, as well. I'm retired now, which gives me a lot more freedom to just be able to do the thinking about it without having to worry about the profound impact of the darkness.

Listen to the interview below:

A Canmore author has a new anthology of stories and essays about mountain culture. Geoff Powter is also a long time climber and adventurer. His new book is called Inner Ranges, and he joins Rob in studio. 7:55

With files from The Homestretch

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