In Castle Valley
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.