Blog Entry November 28, 2010

Blog Entry November 28, 2010 – Banff, Alberta

I guess five months is a bit long between blog entries. I promise to do better! The past five months have been busy, and that’s my excuse.

In the last blog entry I referred briefly to my husband’s back surgery. Thankfully, it went well and he has recovered completely. But the first few weeks were crazy as it was a very busy time down on the “farm” in B.C. It was my first experience being supervised by Alan at everything from weeding to watering to monitoring the marmot invasion. We survived.

One of the highlights from this past summer was attending the “Charliefest”, in Colorado to celebrate the illustrious life of Charlie Houston. Organized by his family, it was a wonderful gathering of his extended family and friends from around the world. I had interviewed many of them while writing Brotherhood of the Rope and enjoyed reconnecting with them at this bittersweet event. I found it amazing to learn just how many people Charlie influenced and inspired throughout his long, productive life. Part of the fun was spending several days wandering in the hills around Estes Park with Charlie and Kathy Hornbein.

September and part of October were taken up with a trip to India. I was an invited lecturer at the Mussoorie Mountain Writers’ Festival, along with friends such as Jim Curran, Kate Harris, Harish Kapadia and George Schaller. The three-day event was organized by Stephen Alter and took place at the famous Woodstock School overlooking the hill station. I did two more lectures, one at the Indian Mountaineering Federation in Delhi and the other in Mumbai for the Himalayan Club.

Prior to the work part of the trip, I joined Harish Kapadia, Kate Harris and Gerald and Louise Wilson for some trekking up in the Spiti region of India. We chose Spiti because of the late monsoon that was devastating much of Northern India. Spiti is a high alpine desert and, as such, seemed to be a logical choice. It didn’t turn out that way. The rains and flooding followed us over the Rohtang Pass from Manali into Spiti and continued to dog us as we tried unsuccessfully to get up various valleys and canyons. Landslides, rockslides, swollen rivers, closed roads, broken bridges. We saw it all. Thankfully, the weather eventually cleared and the views of the snow-blanketed peaks of Spiti were breathtaking.

While we were battling the elements in Spiti, the Italian edition of my biography of Tomaz Humar won its second Italian literary prize from the LeggiMontagna organization. I was too late to go over to Italy to accept it, but my publisher, Versante Sud, did the honours for me. Thank you Italy! And thank you Antonella Cicogna for your wonderful translation.

In November I had the chance to meet a very bright class of students at Hamilton College in New York State. Maurice Isserman, co-author of Fallen Giants, invited me to lecture to his mountain writing class. Their assigned reading for the semester was Brotherhood of the Rope and, by the time I arrived, they had read it, digested it, and were fully prepared to pepper me with good, and sometimes difficult, questions. I also gave a lecture called “Writing a Life: Himalayan Heroes”, which chronicles my experiences of writing the biographies of Elizabeth Hawley, Charlie Houston and Tomaz Humar – a behind the scenes look at what is involved in getting beyond the public faces of these characters.

One last quick trip in November – this one to Washington, where I participated in the annual meeting of the Expeditions Council at National Geographic. I’m on the advisory committee for the Council, so we met to discuss grant applications and meet with the various media heads at National Geographic. With colleagues like Gordon Wiltsie, Virginia Morell, Rick Ridgeway and others, those gatherings are always interesting, fun and stimulating.

Throughout this somewhat hectic year, I’ve been working hard on a writing project. The working title is Freedom Climbers and it’s about the golden age of Polish Himalayan climbing the years dominated by Jerzy Kukuczka, Voytek Kurtyka, Wanda Rutkiewicz and others. It’s been my most interesting and challenging writing project yet because, as I researched the stories, I realized that the social, economic and political context was terribly important and had to be incorporated in a fundamental way. The manuscript is in, and now it’s just a matter of collecting and sifting through hundreds of wonderful images for the final cut. If all goes well, it should be published in mid-2011.

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