The Banff Mountain Film and Book Festival is a dry name for what most people get from this event.
The event kicked off for us on Tuesday with screenings of 10 adventure films. Paraplegic skier Josh Dueck hosted the day with his blend of humour and enthusiasm. To get the ball rolling one of the sponsors was giving away a ski pass at Lake Louise. Josh said to the crowd of a thousand “who wants to come up on stage and do a handstand for the tickets?!” And so 20 people rushed up as the quick-witted Josh declared that who ever could do it longest would get the prize. Everyone went into a handstand but no one fell over! So Josh upped the ante and declared a handstand race across the 10m stage and back. To my surprise everyone was walking/ running on their hands!! Totally absurd and pretty impressive. Too many climbers, skiers, and yoga masters in the crowd I guess. A perfect way to kick off the festival of awe.
Erik has a guide behind him that shouts out commands for him and the rest is pure nerve. The close up shots of the real fear on his face while his kayak slams through rapids hits you right in the gut. I just can’t imagine what kind of mental toughness it takes to do this. Sensory overload says it all. In one sequence you watch him struggle to follow the guide’s direction only to drop into a black hole in the rapids and flip upside down. To watch him struggle to flip his kayak knowing he is blind is a real helpless feeling.
Trying new things gets harder and harder as we get older. Certainly trying to kayak blind takes that to a whole new level. Many people in that audience do some pretty amazing feats but every last person had their mouth open in admiration. A wonderful close up of an amazing person.
The other film that I really liked was Sufferfest. The most accomplished young rock climber in the world, Alex Honnold and his climbing partner and film maker Ceder Wright set out to climb all 15 of California’s 14,000 foot peaks completely by human power. This involved hundreds of miles by bike and foot to get to each mountain. What made the film so great is that Honnold is close to a god in the climbing world but has really never been on a bike. The film takes you on a journey of bringing the gods down to size as these two giants discover this was the worst idea they’ve ever had as newfound bike muscles torment them on the massive journey.
Because they had to carry everything by bike, they decided to do without ropes and ended up “free soloing” everything. The sequences where they would finally get back to their climbing domains were incredible as they climbed unroped up huge faces. At one point though, they discovered they were on the wrong summit completely! These two giants making such human mistakes was really wonderful somehow. To salvage the day they traversed over a crumbling “Rockies” style ridge spine that looked like much of the terrain we have in Banff. Alex stared at the camera after traversing the spine and said “that was the scariest thing I’ve ever done.” I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who felt reassured that the best in the world get freaked out by loose, crumbling rock too. This from the person in the lower left frame above who finds this unroped, 500m wall no problem. Here is a link to a short video of Alex climbing one of the biggest faces in the world unroped.
Cedar Wright was in attendance and spoke about the film and the trip. Later in the week he sat behind me at another event and I was tempted to chat him up but didn’t get an opening. I wanted to thank him for showing such a human side to him and his partner. It’s hard to identify with their achievements, but everyone can relate to their missteps. They talked a bit about what they called “3 kinds of fun.” Type 1 fun: genuinely enjoyable, example playing with a kitten. Type 2 fun: enjoyable- but only after the fact. And finally, Type 3 fun which isn’t fun at all, not even in retrospect. I found it interesting as my life is littered with Type 2 fun with Type 1 and 3 in a dead heat for the rest.
Last night was my big highlight of the festival, Gamme and Jonesy. The short version is that a duo from Australia and a solo Norwegian found themselves trying to be the first unsupported people to ski to the south pole and back. What started as a rivalry ended in a legend. After three months of the most harrowing endurance, half staved and nearly broken, both teams were nearly back but Aleks Gamme, the Norwegian who was quite a bit in front, waited near the end for them and they all finished the last hundred meters to the ocean together.
The two Australians’s film “Crossing the Ice” won the grand prize last year. I remember most of the audience crying they were so moved by the whole story. Anyway, the Banff Festival reunited Jonesy and Aleks for the first time since they were in Antarctica. They gave an evening presentation of their journeys and answered questions. One woman from Michigan had seen the film and drove to Banff just to see them she was so moved by what she saw!
Suz got us front row seats which was great as I was close enough to see their eyes glass up as the crowd of 1200 people gave them a lengthy standing ovation when they came out. Both of them were completely egoless as they retold their adventures. Aleks Gamme especially seemed to inject his goofy humour at every moment to deflect away praise or pride. Both men came across as the best of everything you could ever aspire to be. I feel so lucky to be surrounded by such people and to hear their stories first hand.
After a great week, the festival ends Sunday. Suz is doing some North Face stuff (they are a big sponser) and I met Canadian Rockies historian, Emerson Sanford who promised to answer some questions of mine on Sunday.
A week of inspiration for everyone. A dynamic mix of people who are both audience and subject. And whether your version of adventure is on a casual park trail, or in some inhospitable mountain wilds, the connection to people who love these places is very affirming. These places focus peoples’ great strengths and and remind all of us of our weakness. Thanks to everyone for another great festival.