Inner Ranges: An Anthology of Mountain Thoughts and Mountain People

By Jeff Doherty

by Geoff Powter
Rocky Mountain Books
2018/$22.00/360 pp.

Mountains are a constant theme in Geoff Powter’s life. The Canmore-based climber has decades of experience ascending hard routes in the Canadian Rockies, Yosemite Valley and the Himalayas. With Inner Ranges, he brings those adventures to the page, not in the form of tedious trip reports, but with lucid and honest accounts of triumph and death, intimate profiles of Canada’s most beloved mountain people and even some investigative journalism.

A prolific feature writer, Powter is the winner of 11 National Magazine Awards. The 26 pieces featured here are culled from Canadian Geographic, explore, Rock and Ice and the Canadian Alpine Journal, among others. In his preface, Powter outlines the difficulty he faced in choosing what to include. Articles from past decades, he admits, sometimes run counter to current sensibilities. But rather than edit, Powter instead includes a brief explanation for each piece, which gives context and a rare opportunity to learn about the stories behind the stories.

Powter is a climber-journalist who puts his subjects and readers first. His account of a tragedy on the Wapta Icefield, where a storm, snow cave and gas stove brought death to a vibrant young couple, is poignant and affecting. The same compassion is brought to the story of Ryan Titchener, an aspiring mountain guide who must learn to walk again after bad luck put him in the path of a shifting block of rock on a classic route in the Bugaboos.

Powter has a knack for spotting untold stories. When an editor asked him for a feature on Mount Everest, Powter ferreted out the story of a mostly forgotten Canadian climber, Earl Denman, who made a fast and light attempt on Everest in 1947 with Tenzing Norgay six years before the Tibetan mountaineer successfully made the first ascent with Edmund Hillary. In the story behind the story, Powter reveals fascinating details about Denman’s final years from a family in New Zealand who had taken the Canadian into their home after he was struck by a car while cycling on the North Island in 1992.

The anthology ends with a series of profiles of well-known alpinists, including Barry Blanchard and Raphael Slawinski. Yet lesser-known mountain people are also covered, such as Brian Keating, whose world adventures in ecology have long brought delight to listeners of CBC Radio. In one of the quirkier profiles, readers are introduced to Lena Rowat, who improbably skied from Vancouver to Alaska, and whose life rules require her to dress ironically, in flowered pyjama bottoms, for example—even on mountain hikes. Readers meet several other interesting characters; as always, Powter is a generous, thoughtful host.

—Jeff Doherty is a writer and historian from Lethbridge.

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