In Cas­tle Val­ley

Gripped - - NOTES FROM THE TOP - Story by Joanna Cros­ton THIN AIR. THIN AIR, THIN AIR, au courant. Con­tin­ued on p.70…

I first met Greg Child in Banff in 2007. I had just started a job at the Banff Moun­tain Film and Book Fes­ti­val and Child was at­tend­ing as a guest speaker. He had been my favourite moun­tain au­thor for some time (still is in fact) and once I re­al­ized I might have the op­por­tu­nity to fi­nally shake his hand, my con­cern about not act­ing like a com­plete mo­ron con­sumed me for weeks. I didn’t want to faff this up.

I wanted to seem knowl­edge­able about moun­tains and writ­ing de­spite hav­ing climbed ex­actly zero high al­ti­tude peaks in my ad­ven­tur­ous life. I couldn’t stand the thought of him think­ing of me as a star-struck groupie – which I def­i­nitely was – I just re­ally wanted to have a mean­ing­ful di­a­logue with him about writ­ing and the creative process. When the op­por­tu­nity fi­nally pre­sented it­self, it was the last night, at the clos­ing party. I was al­ready sev­eral beers in, as was Child, so the con­ver­sa­tion was friendly but it was hardly deep. It went some­thing like this as we yelled to each other over the mu­sic. “I AB­SO­LUTELY LOVED MOUN­TAIN BOOK!!!” “WHAT?!” “YOUR BOOK MOUN­TAIN BOOK!” “AH THAT’S NICE. THANKS.” “RE­ALLY, I MEAN IT! I JUST WANTED YOU TO KNOW THAT.” IT’S MY FAVOURITE IT’S MY FAVOURITE

“COOL. CHEERS THEN.” Beer bot­tle clink. Smile. End of deep dis­cus­sion.

It wasn’t un­til sev­eral years later that I had another op­por­tu­nity to try again. Clean slate and all that, right? My for­mer boss Shan­non O’Donoghue had been a friend of Child’s for a long time and she had moved down to Cas­tle Val­ley in Utah to make a life with him and his daugh­ter Ari­ann. They even­tu­ally mar­ried and my col­league Deb Smythe and I were in­vited by O’Donoghue to come visit af­ter at­tend­ing Moun­tain Film in Tel­luride.

I was ex­cited to see both O’Donoghue and Child. The prospect of shar­ing a few meals and stay­ing overnight made me smile and squirm si­mul­ta­ne­ously. I re­ally couldn’t faff this up now. I was go­ing in deep and needed to be pre­pared. The sit­u­a­tion grew more com­plex and nerve-rack­ing when I found out that David Roberts was go­ing to visit for his 70th birth­day. He was plan­ning on be­ing at the house at the same time. Two of the world’s most pro­lific moun­tain writ­ers in the same place for sev­eral days. Not only was I grossly un­pre­pared, I was scared shit­less.

Need­less to say, it’s hard to con­trib­ute to a di­a­logue among mas­ters, so on that first visit to Cas­tle Val­ley I did some­thing that I do very well. I lis­tened. I lis­tened and I learned. I couldn’t be­lieve my good luck. I hung onto ev­ery word. I hov­ered on the perime­ter of the deck that evening with a glass of wine in hand, sur­rounded by warm desert air. I was buzzed and just as anx­ious as the hum­ming­birds that whizzed in and out of the gar­den. They dis­cussed the Tomo Cˇe­sen con­tro­versy, Greg Morten­son’s re­cent fall from grace and any other climb­ing news that was I was like a sponge and soaked it all in with a huge ridicu­lous grin on my face.

The in­vi­ta­tions to Cas­tle Val­ley came an­nu­ally af­ter that and I ea­gerly ac­cepted each time. Child took me climb­ing on one oc­ca­sion up the em­bar­rass­ingly easy Owl Rock in Arches Na­tional Park. Easy and em­bar­rass­ing for Child, but un­nec­es­sar­ily stren­u­ous for me as I still had my win­ter weight on. I’m a mod­er­ate rock climber at best and nor­mally I ski about eight months of the year.

Not to make any ex­cuses, but that par­tic­u­lar sea­son I might have i ndulged i n one too many cheese fon­dues, which made drag­ging my big ski legs up sand­stone chim­neys seem par­tic­u­larly chal­leng­ing. I f lailed around and topped out even­tu­ally.

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