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Banff Mountain Fest is More Than Films and Books

The Banff Centre Mountain Film and Book Festival recently took place in the Canadian Rockies, beneath the iconic Mount Rundle (Waskahigan Watchi) and Cascade Mountain (Minihapa). I was lucky to spend nine days touching base with some of the climbing world’s most interesting and accomplished climbers, filmmakers and authors.

A big thanks to programming director Joanna Croston, festival director Deb Smythe, technical director Woody MacPhail, the rest of the Banff Centre staff, the volunteers and everyone else who makes this event the unforgettable time it is.

Anyone who has visited the festival located at the foot of Tunnel Mountain (Sleeping Buffalo) in the heart of Banff knows it’s about much more than award-winning documentaries and amazing books, it’s about the people you meet and the connections you make.

This year was no different than any other, and while we all awed at movies like Dawn Wall and Free Solo, many of us will be reflecting on the conversations we had with folks away from the theatre.

Below are just a few of my highlights, which were often during cocktail hour and captured with grainy images.

I met longtime Quebec Himalayan climber Louis Rousseau and Vince Hempsall from Kootenay Mountain Culture to hear about their future plans.

During the first weekend, I watched Leo Houlding and his Antarctic team bring a packed room to their feet. I then shared beers with him and the dynamic alpine duo Barry Blanchard and Kevin Doyle to hear more intimate details of the trip to the Spectre. Blanchard and Doyle then regaled us with a story about their near-death experience in 1988 on the Rupal Face of Nanga Parbat.

Leo Houlding, Barry Blanchard and Kevin Doyle

After that, I was lucky to share thoughts with jury member Jim Herrington, who won the grand prize book award last year for The Climbers. Herrington is based in Nashville, rocks the rock n’ roll look and has worked with the Rolling Stones and Morgan Freeman.

Herrington was one of the most sought-after-to-talk-to at most events and has been climbing since 1976.

I spent the weekend at the Banff Mountain Film and Book Festival with some friends and what an inspirational experience it was to say the least. One of the highlights was getting an opportunity to meet, chat and photograph renowned portrait photographer @jimherrington after his presentation on the making of his award-winning book “The Climbers,” which featured portraits of iconic mountaineers. After pinching myself from the experience, all I could think about was, “man I wanna be that cool when I grow up.” 😎 . . . . . #thecreatorclass #portraitpage #discoverportrait #portraitphotography #profile_vision #postmoreportraits #portraitpage #bnw_demand #bnwmood #monochrome #bnw_globe #blackandwhitephoto #rsa_bnw #blackandwhitephotography #blacknwhite_perfection #bnw_captures #bnw_life #banff #mybanff #banffnationalpark #travelalberta #canonphotos #canoneos #canonphotographer

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The radical reels evening was a blast and featured Adam Ondra’s film Silence, which was already available online but that didn’t stop everyone from going crazy over his 5.15d send.

A few days later, I met longtime friend Paul McSorley who was in town to talk about his adventures at the dirtbag cafe on Wednesday night, hosted by mountain guide Larry Stanier.

McSorley and I, after bumping into eachother downtown Banff, made a last-minute lap of the classic Le Soulier on Tunnel Mountain before his presentation.

With climbers like Swiss big-wall new-router Urs Kallen, 5.14 first-ascent master Tom Wright, remote-expeditioner Michelle Kadatz, top Canadian mixed master Jon Walsh and Alaska big-wall pioneer Jack Tackle in the audience, McSorley had his work cut out for him.

Larry Stanier and Paul McSorley

I then joined award-winning author Kelly Cordes (who was around to present with Tommy Caldwell) and Piolet d’Or winner Ian Welsted for dinner. Of course, these humble climbers would never tell you about their accomplishments, but that’s why I’m here. And I finally had a chance to sit with the amazing climber and writer Paul Pritchard.

The weather in Banff was cold, but warm enough to rock climb and I spent my hours between events doing laps on the multi-pitch routes on Tunnel Mountain with international media. I had a number of run-ins with the amazing author Jan Redford who’s on her book tour for End of the Rope.

On Thursday, my editorial director David Smart and I attended the mountain mixer and I met one of my climbing heroes – Mick Fowler, who was attending to read from his new book No Easy Way.

Meeting legend Mick Fowler  Photo Kieren Britton

Fowler, one of the most successful Himalayan climbers ever, is recovering from cancer and is planning his next trip to Asia to climb a never-attempted peak.

I had brief conversations with legendary authors Geoff Powter and Kevin McLane, and got to pick the brain of the first up the seven summits, Pat Morrow.

The following day, I was lucky to touch base with Rob Wood, who made the first ascents of dozens of major Canadian ice and alpine routes from 1960 to the mid-1990s, including Weeping Wall and Bourgeau Left.

Words with Geoff Powter and Kevin McLane. Photo Pat Morrow

Wood introduced me to Doug Scott, who was visiting to talk about his life in the mountains. The English mountaineer might be best known for the first ascent of the southwest face of Mount Everest. During the expedition, Scott and Dougal Haston became the first Brits to climb Everest (discounting Mallory and Irvine).

He received one of mountaineering’s highest honours with the Piolet d’Or Lifetime Achievement Award. His style and climbs are described as “visionary.” Over the years he has been on 40 expeditions to the high mountains of Asia, during which he made some 30 first ascents.

I then touched base with Hazel Findlay, one of the most accomplished hard trad climbers, after she took part in the Waymaking talk. The book Waymaking is an anthology of prose, poetry, and artwork by women who are inspired by wild places, adventure and landscape.

Hazel Findlay and Katie Ives of Alpinist

International media were everywhere and I shared ideas with Katie Ives of Alpinist, Nat Berry of ukclimbing.com, Piotr Drożdż of Poland’s Gory magazine and Mathilde Boulesteix of L’Équipe in France.

Many of us attended the MEC’s diversity in the outdoors panel discussion, which was moderated by Amil Reddy.

With Nat Berry and Kative Ives

I met the legendary 92-year-old Allen Steck, who wrote the book The Fifty Classic Climbs of North America. He has too many accomplishments to name here, but in 1965 he made the first ascent of the Hummingbird Ridge on Mount Logan.

“I still consider the Logan climb the finest climb I ever did,” Steck told me. That was when Tommy Caldwell came up to say hi to Steck and they gave each other praise and talked about the festival.

Doug Scott and Allen Steck Photo Pat Morrow

I spent time with old friends, such as regular Gripped photographers Tim Banfield and Peter Hoang, and with Danny O’Farrell who was at the festival for his work on the film The Radicals.

I listened to Geoff Powter, David Smart and Eva Holland read excerpts from their thought-provoking books.

Over the weekend, I had the chance to talk to John Lauchlan Award recipients Quentin Lindfield Roberts and Rob Homer for different trips in 2019.

Kelly Cordes and Quentin Lindfield Roberts

On Saturday and Sunday, I climbed new rock routes close to Banff with David Smart, who I climbed the new Godzilla with near Canmore this summer.

We climbed the new and chossy four-pitch Cinema Vertigo 5.9 and the better-than-expected six-pitch Maclab Slab 5.5 on Mount Rundle.

David Smart on Maclab Slab 5.5

We had only a small rack of gear and had to descend six pitches. I luckily brought a drill, but unluckily brought the wrong drill bit. More on that story later.

It all came to a close on Sunday night when we all watched the awards ceremony. Climbing films such as The Dawn Wall, Free Solo, Mama and This Mountain Life all took home category awards.

Jury member Ramyata Limbu and Tommy Caldwell

The grand prize went to Weight of Water which is about blind adventurer Erik Weihenmayer, who has climbed the tallest peaks on each continent, and his undertaking to kayak the Grand Canyon.

After nine days of watching films, listening to readings, meeting legends, seeing old friends, rock climbing and taking fuzzy photos, I’m left with a lot to reflect on and to be happy about.

My introduction to the Banff mountain fest was in the year 2000 in a sold-out theatre in northwestern Ontario and now 18 years later, it’s still the event I look most forward to every year.

With Jack Tackle and Paul Pritchard