In Deep In Alpinist

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As luck would have it I just happen to be in Boulder, Colorado the same week the latest edition of Alpinist Magazine hit the newsstands. With time to kill between a conference in Yosemite and the MountainFilm Festival in Telluride I strolled the mall on Pearl Street in the hopes of buying a copy. There at the Boulder Bookstore Golden Issue #50 sat smack in the middle of the rack. The exquisite cover designed by my good friend Jeremy Collins featured an illustrated portrait of another buddy, climber and author Barry Blanchard, whose new book, The Calling, nestled snug in my backpack. Thumbing the pages of the magazine I thrilled at the prospects of what I might discover. And sure enough there it was, my dorky gap-toothed mug and a brief bio on page 10 titled Contributors.

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There’s nothing quite like living out one of your longest running fantasies. In my musings as an aspiring writer I can’t recall wanting to make the pages of any periodical in particular, but I imagined that one day I would see a creation of my thoughts in glossy print. Nothing however could have prepared me for the feeling of pride and elevation not just to celebrate my first professional work of fiction but to be welcomed in the company of friends and colleagues whom I sincerely admire in the section called The Climbing Life.

Issue #50 includes stories and photographs of people I’ve known for years. My editor and literary mentor Katie Ives curated my work alongside friends and other writer/climbers like Freddie Wilkinson, Jack Tackle, and Majka Burkhardt. Even though my career in the outdoor industry spans now more than two decades and my first feature story in Alpinist appeared in issue #40 I have to admit it truly feels like I have finally arrived.

My short story In Deep is a fictional account of a true event that occurred while training for Expedition Denali on the Matanuska Glacier in the Chugach Range of Alaska. The details of what actually happened are included in the introduction of my book The Adventure Gap: Changing the Face of the Outdoors. But for the purposes of insightful storytelling I changed many of the facts to delve into the minds of compelling characters who are seldom seen in most climbing narratives. The three alpinists in this story are people of color.

At 17 Jamal Franklin is an African-American youth just beginning his climbing career. And while on his first major expedition he falls into a crevasse. A common occurrence in mountaineering to be sure, but while he finds himself in this very precarious circumstance I wanted to explore what might go through the thoughts of a young man whose decision to devote his life to a career in outdoor recreation is fraught with doubt, uncertainty and circumspection. In the hopes of illustrating some of the same emotions I have faced over the years I wanted to paint a realistic character sketch that might allow aspiring young people of color to see themselves as part of a vast landscape of adventure where they will find encouragement, support and friendship.

As a work of fiction In Deep aims to reinforce at least three archetypes that I have observed in my career in climbing and outdoor education. The accompanying photograph shot by my friend Hudson Henry features members of the Expedition Denali team whose stories now serve as role models for young people across the country. Through their example which helped to define the characters in this story I want to help expand the notion of what an alpinist looks like, where they come from and what inspires them to ascend to high places. I believe that if we can alter our perception of who spends time in the mountains we can encourage future generations of underrepresented and marginalized members of our society to reach beyond the confines of conventional understandings that suggest “Climbing is one of those fool things white people do.”

Find In Deep on pages 62-64 in Alpinist #50 on newsstands or subscribe at Alpinist.com

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Author:James

I'm a freelance journalist that specializes in telling stories about outdoor recreation, environmental conservation, acts of charitable giving and practices of sustainable living.

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