Geoff Powter Summit of Excellence Award

November 05, 2012
Will Gadd

Last night I had the privilege of introducing Geoff Powter at the Banff Mountain Book and Film Festival. He won the Summit of Excellence award. Here’s the text of my introduction, thought some people might enjoy it who weren’t there. Make some funny voices in your head for the various people and dog. The dog’s name is Tukche, I changed it to tookche so I’d pronounce it somewhat correctly. My writing is a little different when it’s for voice, and of course I wanted to do a professional job for Geoff instead of telling stories about him and Blob, well, some things need to stay private.

Geoff Powter

Geoff has been involved with every Banff festival for the last 24 years, and also been a strong part of Rockies mountain culture for at least that long. He’s an engaging mix of all-in climber, disturbingly smart psychologist, and extremely good writer; I’d appreciate it if this next line didn’t make it outside of this small room, but I’ve always had a bit of a man-crush on Geoff for his many skills and accomplishments. So I’m happy to introduce him to those of you that don’t know him well.

Here are a few of the reasons he’s receiving this award:

Thousands of days out new routing in the Canadian Rockies and around the world. If you’re a climber here you’ve done many of his routes.

13 expeditions to the Himalaya, including many notable first ascents such as a new route on the North peak of Manaslu. Of course some of these can’t be named as they were done without the bother of proper permitting; Geoff has never let rules stand in the way of success.

13 years as editor the Canadian Alpine Journal. That’s basically a life sentence.

7 years as head of the Canadian Himalayan foundation.

Dozens of articles on everything from climbing to bear attacks to the politics of feral horses in the Rockies for magazines such as Explore, Canadian Geographic and many others.

Four free solos of Sisyphs summits, a difficult local route more than 1,000 feet high. I once broke a hold and fell off that route; I had time to think as I accelerated, and I thought of Geoff up there without a rope. There’s a lot of mind control going on when hanging off Rockies limestone without a rope. Evidently Geoff is good at this, as he has also soloed other difficult Rockies routes including Paper Chase and the CMC wall. For those of you who know these routes that is very, very bold, maybe crazy. But what we call “crazy” is where Geoff gets personally and professionally engaged.

Geoff’s Book, “Strange and Dangerous Dreams, is a deep examination of the blurry mental line between madness and adventure. And it is the mind that always interests Geoff the most; he has worked for more than three decades as a clinical psychologist in the emergency rooms in Banff and Canmore hospitals, as well as in private practice in the Bow Valley.

Geoff’s current focus is on leadership development through both the Banff Centre and the Pacific Centre For Leadership, where his clients include first nation’s groups and fortune 500 companies.

A man’s friends normally say a lot about who he truly is, but Geoff’s friends were disappointing in this regard. Bernadette Macdonald, who organized this festival for many years, said, “he’s great.” Marni Virtue said,” He’s great.” Barry Blanchard said, “He’s great.” Saul Greeberg said, “This one time in Yosemite we met this guy with a case full…” But I couldn’t get one friend to give me the real deal on Geoff, so I have to use his own words, from a story his dog wrote called, “Pawing the void,” for the Canadian Alpine Journal. This is tookchay, explaining how a 200l b Mallamute came to be wedged in a crevasse on the columbia icefields.

“I wander not two feet before he shouts to me, “Tookchay-stay close by! There are crevasses around!” Of course I’m going to stay close by, you bonehead (and I don’t mean bone in the scrumptious sense of the word!) — I have to follow if I want any dinner at all. And sure enough, ten feet later, the big dive! I fall and fall and fall, and whumph!, land on the narrowest of bridges spanning the crevasse. As embarrassed as I am to say it, I can only tell you that I landed like… a cat.

“I thought I’d better scope out the scene in case they were too stupid to figure out a rescue. A long slot, widening quickly, with a couple of bridges like mine loomed in the bleak distance. One looked like a poodle, the other like a Milk Bone.”

Now, while this is funny writing, it also shows Geoff’s ability to look through the eye’s of anyone and imagine their experience. It’s this ability to see things differently and examine an experience, story or mountain from genuinely fresh perspectives that many friends and colleagues enjoy about Geoff.

About ten years ago Geoff and I were trying to climb a route that started with an insanely polished slab. I attempted to stick to the holds like a gecko, and as could be expected slid like a sack of hammers. This only made me mad, so I took a run at the start and managed to get up about ten feet before gravity won and I again smashed into the rocks. Now I was livid; I was failing on a route in front of Geoff POWTER! Geoff just stood back and watched with increasing professional interest as I became increasingly unhinged. Finally Geoiff picked up a nearby dead tree and leaned it against the wall. He asked for some help to steady it, then he climbed up it past the smooth section and proceeded to calmly climb the route above, remarking that it was really nice climbing after the start.

This combined the best of Geoff to me; seeing a new way to look at a problem, solving it, succeeding, and doing so without telling me I was being an idiot in my own approach. I’ll close out this introduction with another quote from Geoff’s writing. He’s interviewing David Jones for Explore magazine and writes of Jones, “I’ve heard enough stories from serious climbers to know that if you turn the tapestry of their achievements over, there are often messes of ugly knots and loose strings on the other side.”

Now, Geoff definitely has some knots and loose strings, which I don’t need to go into here. But it is this unflinching examination of both the shiny–and the knotty–sides of life that has led him to help others with their own knots, and to weave a rich tapestry as a climber, psychologist, writer, and truly a positive addition to life in the Rockies. Thank you Geoff, and CONGRATULATIONS!