CREATIVE PEAKS: River of Words

By on January 17, 2017

The Mountain Story Festival explores the intersection of outdoor adventure and storytelling.

Author Kevin Fedarko will impart his adventure storytelling knowledge on Jackson folks next week.

Author Kevin Fedarko will impart his adventure storytelling knowledge on Jackson folks next week.

JACKSON HOLE, WY – It’s the time of year to cozy up by the fire with a good outdoor adventure story—after spending the day adventuring in nature, of course. And it’s also the time of year for Teton County Library’s Mountain Story Festival, four days of peeking behind the curtain to examine what makes a memorable outdoor tale. This year’s festival features the celebrated outdoor writer, Kevin Fedarko, author of The Emerald Mile: The Epic Story of the Fastest Ride in History through the Heart of the Grand Canyon.

The festival kicks off Sunday, January 22, with a presentation by outdoor writer Matt Hansen, editor-at-large for Powder. Hansen will discuss outdoor media and the emergence of sponsored content.

“The rise of digital media has enabled magazines like Powder to tell different stories in different ways. But it also presents some interesting challenges,” Hansen explained.

He cited an award-winning story in Powder, “The Human Factor,” sponsored by Black Diamond. “It was a multi-year project. We hired a writer to look at how skiers and snowboarders in the backcountry are caught in avalanches even though they know the risks,” Hansen said. “We never could have done that project without Black Diamond.”

When working with a sponsor, Hansen said the challenge from an editorial standpoint is the potential for opening yourself up to oversight by another company and their marketing department. “You have to be clear about where you draw the line,” he said. “So far we have been very good at saying, ‘we need full editorial control.’”

Next up, on Monday, January 23, local outdoor writer Molly Loomis teaches a two-hour workshop about writing a compelling personal narrative within an outdoor adventure story. Loomis is also offering manuscript critiques for outdoorsy scribes, including 45-minute one-on-one meetings. Space is limited and writers will be accepted on a first come, first served basis. Loomis is accepting nonfiction manuscripts of up to 3,000 words. Contact

Also on Monday, it’s an evening of the library’s wildly popular Cabin Fever Story Slam series; the theme is “Lost and Found.” Anyone can throw his or her name in the hat to tell a five-minute true story, memorized, based on the theme. Maybe you got lost in a proverbial jungle and took days to find your way out. Or maybe you lost something precious—a ring, a manuscript, a love—and found out something profound about yourself in the process. The winning storyteller will receive two front row seats to the Moth Mainstage at the Center for the Arts on January 29.

The Mountain Story Festival continues Tuesday, January 24, with two events featuring Kevin Fedarko, author of the The Emerald Mile. The book, a New York Times Bestseller and winner of the National Outdoor Book Awards, tells the tale of a trio of river guides in 1983 who set out to run the Colorado River at a time when torrents of water were being released from the Glen Canyon Dam, creating ferocious conditions. Their goal: to set a record as the fastest run the canyon had ever seen.

“But it’s about more than that,” noted Leah Shlachter, the library’s adult programming coordinator. “It’s also about the history of the Grand Canyon, conservation efforts, and the Glen Canyon Dam itself.”

Fedarko will discuss how he constructed the book and learned how to let the story evolve on its own. This event will be of particular interest to writers and also fans of the book who rightly wonder, how did he create the complex story that provides as much thrill as it does insight into America’s fraught relationship with the wild?

What he learned from river guides in the Grand Canyon, Fedarko told PJH, was a tale in which there were clear villains. “The story you are handed is that there is extraordinarily beautiful landscape carved out and polished by this exquisite river that is the defining feature of the American Southwest,” Fedarko said. “And then in the mid 20th century these terrible things were done with two enormous dams, and Glen Canyon Dam in particular was this act of evil.”

When he started his book, he assumed his story would have the same moral dimensions as the story he’d been taught. “The problem with writing nonfiction is that if you are going to write about something and it involves people, at some point you have to go talk to them,” Fedarko said. And when he talked to the supposed villains at Glen Canyon Dam he learned they weren’t one-dimensional. “You encounter real people and your preconceived ideas collide against who those people really are.”

Tuesday evening, Fedarko and his friend, National Geographic photographer Pete McBride, will talk about their 740-mile journey on foot through the heart of the Grand Canyon. “It was far more difficult and more complicated than we predicted,” Fedarko said. “We thought we knew this place. Boy, did we get served up a heaping dose of humility and harshness. We just got the worst spanking either of us had gotten by a place or a landscape.”

McBride teaches a photography workshop on Wednesday, January 25. Designed for photographers of all levels, the workshop will delve into the skills and perspective needed to tell an evocative visual story based in nature.

The final event of the festival happens Wednesday evening when Jackson filmmakers Dirk Collins and Arden Oksanen take viewers behind the scenes of their TV series about Teton County Search and Rescue.

“I hope people walk away from the Mountain Story Festival not only energized and inspired, but with an enhanced perspective on how outdoor adventures are entwined with other worlds such as literature, art, politics, and environmentalism, and we can connect all these threads through good storytelling,” Shlachter said. “Also, I hope that Mountain Story challenges preconceived notions about what it means to be an adventurer.”

Visit for more info. PJH

About Meg Daly

Meg Daly is a freelance writer and arts instigator. She grew up in Jackson in the 1970s and 80s, when there were fewer fences, but less culture. Follow Meg on Twitter @MegDaly1

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