Jeff Long Wins Best Mountaineering Article for ASCENT Story “Leper Chai”

Jeff Long’s story “Leper Chai” contains the “narrative depth of a novel and the dramatic timing of a fine screenplay,” writes 2020 Banff Mountain Book Competition juror Pete Takeda.

By Rock and Ice | October 26th, 2020

2020 Banff Mountain Book Competition Award Winners.

Longtime Rock and Ice and ASCENT contributor Jeff Long has won the Best Mountaineering Article award at the 2020 Banff Mountain Book Competition for his story “Leper Chai,” which appeared in the 2020 edition of ASCENT.

In “Leper Chai,” Long tells the story about a long-ago expedition on Makalu that led to a stint in Badrighol Prison, Kathmandu, Nepal. Into that strange, foggy world came a surreal invitation—from a leper with an unrivaled chai recipe.

Pete Takeda, one of three 2020 Book Competition jurors, wrote on the website: “In Leper Chai, Jeff Long reminds us that, ‘We take our mountain literature for granted, but should not. Without it, there is no ascent, just pullups and beer.’ Leper Chai has the narrative depth of a novel and the dramatic timing of a fine screenplay. Long has told the true story of his Nepal incarceration several times, but never quite like this. His use of spiced tea as a metaphor for the complex connections between South Asian ethnicities and castes is a masterful literary device. His respect for all humanity is clear, as is his instinct for a timeless tale.”

The opening spread from Jeff Long's Leper Chain, which appeared in Ascent 2020.
The opening spread from Jeff Long’s Leper Chain, which appeared in Ascent 2020.

Long’s piece was one of three artices named to the competition long-list in mid-September, along with “Denali, A Universe,” by Jan Harper-Haines, and “Melting Giants,” by Benjamin Ribeyre and Erin Smart, both published in Alpinist. Those three articles joined 20 other finalists—across eight unique competition categories, variously honoring books of fiction, non-fiction, poetry and photography—culled from 137 total submissions.

Another frequent Rock and Ice contributor, Ed Douglas, received a Special Jury Mention for his book Himalaya: A Human History.

Nandini Purandare, one of the other jurors, along with Takeda, wrote of Himalaya, “It would be near impossible for this year to pass without the impact and importance of Himalaya: A Human History being felt by those interested in this complex mountain range. 25 years of research and travel make this book what it is – rich in human and natural history. The true impact of this seminal work will unfold gradually, as litterateurs delve into it and understand what really happened and why.”

[To read the award-winning “Leper Chai” in its entirety, check out ASCENT 2020 online—free!]


For Jeff Long, the Best Mountaineering Article is one more honor in a career full of accolades. A New York Times best-selling author, he has written 11 books including Angels of Light. Among other awards, he has received the Boardman Tasker Prize for Mountain Literature. Long has alo won twice before at Banff. In 2016, Long’s article “Searching for Superman,” which also appeared in ASCENT, won the Best Mountaineering Article award. In 2006, he won the festival’s grand prize for his book The Wall. His latest article, an op-ed titled “Chasing Dragons,” appears in Rock and Ice issue 266 (November 2020), on sale now.

The Grand Prize—for which all eight category winners, including Long, are eligible—will be announced during the first-ever virtual edition of the Banff Centre Mountain Film and Book Festival on Thursay, November 5.

The full list of category winners is:


Mountain Literature (non-fiction) – The Jon Whyte Award

$2000 – Sponsored by the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies


Raven’s Witness: The Alaska Life of Richard K. Nelson

Hank Lentfer, Mountaineers Book (USA, 2020)


Mountain Fiction and Poetry

$2000 – Sponsored by the Town of Banff


The Bear

Andrew Krivak, Bellevue Literary Press (USA, 2020)


Mountain Environment and Natural History

$2000 – Sponsored by Canadian Mountain Network


Wild Himalaya: A Natural History of the Greatest Mountain Range on Earth

Stephen Alter, Aleph Book Company (India, 2019)


Adventure Travel

$2000 – Sponsored by World Expeditions


Labyrinth of Ice: The Triumphant and Tragic Greely Polar Expedition

Buddy Levy, St. Martin’s Press (USA, 2019)


Mountain Image

$2000 – Sponsored by Banff and Lake Louise Tourism


The Wild Coasts of Canada

Scott Forsyth, Rocky Mountain Books (Canada, 2019)



$2000 – Sponsored by Association of Canadian Mountain Guides


Crack Climbing: The Definitive Guide

Pete Whittaker, Vertebrate Publishing (UK, 2020)/ Mountaineers Books (USA, 2020)


Mountaineering Article

$2000 – Sponsored by the University of Alberta and the Alpine Club of Canada


Leper Chai

Jeff Long, Rock & Ice Magazine (USA, March 2020)


Climbing Literature

$2000 – Sponsored by RMB (Rocky Mountain Books)


Emilio Comici: Angel of the Dolomites

David Smart, Rocky Mountain Books (Canada, 2020)

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