Tales & Trails: An Interview with Author Lynn Martel

The Canadian Rockies are home to an amazing collection of authors. These authors’ lives have been inspired by what mountain life has to offer, and in turn they produce works that inspire others to explore and experience the Rocky Mountain high. One such author is Lynn Martel, and Highline’s Editor, Meghan Ward, recently had the chance to catch up with her and chat about her latest book, Tales & Trails: Adventure for Everyone in the Canadian Rockies (Rocky Mountain Books, 2010).

Tales & Tails is part adventure storybook and part guidebook. How did this format come together?

About two years ago Rocky Mountain Outlook editor Dave Whitfield sent me to cover a presentation by wildlife photographer John Marriott, who told great stories about what we were seeing in his photos. I realized I had quite a few stories already that together told a bigger story of this place, so the hamster started running!  But mostly, I wanted to create a book that could help people look at the mountains and see more than just giant hunks of rock.

Also, my first book (Expedition to the Edge: Stories of Worldwide Adventure, RMB 2008) was all about people – many of them locals – pursuing big adventures all over the world. This one brings it home.

The idea for the trip suggestions didn’t come until I’’d handed in the manuscript late last summer, when the publisher, Don Gorman and I talked about how what I had was missing something. He made a suggestion and my imagination took over from there. That turned out to be quite fun, though, because as I put all those trip suggestions together I realized just how many places I’’ve explored in the Rockies over the past 27 years, and how much I’’ve learned about this place. It was super fun to share that.

Author Lynn Martel enjoys the view and the last warm rays of sun before nightfall brings minus 30 temperatures at 3050 metres (10,000 feet) on the Columbia Icefield, Jasper National Park. Photo by Grail Crowe-Swords.

What kind of readers do you think the book will really appeal to?

Many, I hope!

I think the book will appeal to locals who are even a tiny bit interested in some history of adventure in the Rockies – stories about people who pioneered some of the climbing and backcountry skiing routes; armchair adventurers who like to be entertained; locals and tourists who are interested in exploring the Rockies backcountry and are looking for some ideas to get started. The book will also appeal to Albertans from outside the immediate neighbourhood of the Bow Valley, who do not live in the Rockies, but who might spend enough time in the mountains to want to learn a bit more about them in a fun way.

What do you hope people take away from it?

That this region is a fabulous, fascinating, interesting little corner of the planet and that in these mountains we don’t need silly little gimmicks, such as glass-bottomed walkway eyesores, to entice people to experience the landscape. All people need to do is to get out of their cars. Anyone who has the ability to walk on a paved walkway can walk on a well-graded dirt trail for a kilometre or two. All you need is a good pair of shoes. Or a wheelchair with fat tires. In winter, anyone can learn to snowshoe in five minutes. And if you’re spooked by the idea of bears or getting lost, hire a professional guide. The experience will cost a fraction of what you’d spend on the latest electronic gadget, but the memories you take home of a real adventure will be so much more vivid and much longer lasting.

What’’s your personal favourite story or section in the book?

Climbing Grillmair Chimneys with Robson Gmoser, the son of Hans Gmoser who made the first ascent of that route in 1952 with his life-long friend Leo Grillmair. I was able to use that adventure as a platform to share the history of modern rock climbing in western Canada. Also, that history is tied to the history I wrote about in the Assiniboine story, and also in the story of Chic Scott and Margaret Gmoser skiing from Jasper to Lake Louise in 18 days at the age of 64. I love to write about history as it unfolds. It’’s our living history, and I’’m thrilled that I was able to weave it through the whole book.

You’’ve obviously been on a lot of adventures, with varying degrees of intensity. Out of the destinations and activities you mention in your book, which would you recommend for someone looking to up the ante in their own adventures?

Author Lynn Martel pops through the hole that marks the finish of Grillmair Chimneys rock climbing route on Mount Yamnuska, with Robson Gmoser belaying. Photo Lynn Martel collection.

Ha ha! Living in Canmore, home to some truly accomplished adventurers and mountain athletes, I would suggest that everyone has their own ante, but the best way to up it is to expand your horizons, literally.

If you’’re an alpine climber, embark on a kayak trip in mosquito country to increase your capacity to tolerate discomfort, while learning about the natural base of all mountains. Live in bear country for a few days, not above it.

If you’’re a whitewater kayaker, throw a heavy pack on your back and go camp on a glacier for a week to learn where rivers come from.

If you’re a sport climber, oh horror, horror – walk! Go hiking up over one pass, down the other side. How can you send any climbing projects without healthy well-rounded legs!? Go scramble up a mountain, stand on a summit and learn what the mountains are. You might even spot a new crag you never knew existed.

If you’’re a backcountry skier, go caving. See the mountains from the deep, dark inside.

If you’’re into speedy trail running, leave the iPod at home and listen to the mountains. See if your mind and body alone can encourage you to push faster.

Get dirty, go farther, longer, carry more weight, challenge yourself with the unfamiliar. Embrace the outdoors on nature’’s terms.

Lynn Martel best rx pill grew up in Montreal and studied creative writing at Concordia University. Since the 1980s she has lived in the Canadian Rockies, where she writes about mountain adventure, culture, history and personalities. Her work has appeared in numerous newspapers and magazines, including the Rocky Mountain Outlook, Explore, Gripped, Westworld, Highline, Jasper Fitzhugh, Whistler Pique and Calgary Herald. She is the author of two books published by RMB: Expedition to the Edge: Stories of Worldwide Adventure and Tales & Trails: Adventures for Everyone in the Canadian Rockies.

Meghan J. Ward

Meghan J. Ward is an outdoor, travel and adventure writer, gear tester and outdoorsy mama based in Banff, Alberta. Meghan is a mountain sport enthusiast and enjoys international travel, photography, yoga and healthy cooking.

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