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A Reluctant Banff Book Award Winner

She was delighted to win, but wasn't sure she should have written the story of leaving a likely illegal migrant girl alone in the desert.

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Astra Lincoln was “gobsmacked” to learn that her longform feature The Girl In the Gully, published in the 2022 edition of Ascent by Climbing, had won Best Mountain Article at this year’s Banff Mountain Book Awards, but wasn’t sure in hindsight that she should have written the article she had hoped would “exhume my ghosts.”

In The Girl In The Gully, Lincoln writes about climbing Baboquivari Peak in Arizona near the border with Mexico and descending to find a young Hispanic girl, a likely illegal migrant, alone near the base of the descent gully in worn-out tennis shoes and T-shirt, ill prepared for the cold winter night and winds.

“As quickly as I could, I lowered myself below her,” wrote Lincoln. “Then I waited, I don’t know for what. For her to speak, maybe. For the shock of discovery to leave my body. For some spark of wisdom about what I could possibly do in that moment to help her. Such insight never came.”

Lincoln and her partner left what remained of their water and hiked back to camp leaving the girl where they found her.

Six years after the encounter, Lincoln wrote in her essay that she was, “Still speechless. I don’t know how to end this essay. In fact, I regret pitching it [to the Climbing editors]. …  I have to believe that the girl I left in the gully is alive and well today.”

Finding the girl was a “deep moment of learning for me,” says Lincoln upon learning of her award, “and one that continues to shape how I think about becoming accountable to the landscapes and to the communities I move through.  … [It] led to a profound shift in my political orientation: it led me to support community action groups, to organize mutual aid funds, to learn wilderness medic skills, to really reassess how I engage with border politics in the context of climate change. I do hope that this story leads some readers to similarly rethink their own commitments.”

Today, Lincoln lives in Portland, Oregon, where she is a writer and ecological researcher. She is currently working on her first book, a memoir about disability, climate change, and negotiation.

The Banff Mountain Book Competition, part of the Banff Centre Mountain Film and Book Festival, celebrates mountain literature in all its forms. Winners receive over $20,000 collectively in categories including Mountain Image, Mountain Literature, Fiction and Poetry, Adventure Travel and others. For a complete list of winners, go here.