Denver Novelist Peter Heller’s Life Is Stranger Than Fiction Leave a comment

Photo by Jeff Nelson (Peter Heller); Getty Images (helicopter, White Sands National Park, oasis, beaver, oar, scuba diving flag, pilot whale, snorkeler, mountains, rapids). Photo illustration by Sean Parsons

In honor of his new thriller, The Guide, we’ve rounded up his most outlandish adventures plus a few tall tales. Can’t you guess which are which?

Peter Heller’s new thriller, The Guide, out August 24, is set at a boutique fly-fishing lodge near Crested Butte, where the mountains are beautiful, the trout are tricky, the rivers are cold, and a pandemic lurks. Heller’s invented world, however, may be more believable to Coloradans than the Denver-based novelist and former expedition kayaker’s stranger-than-fiction real life. Can you guess which of these water-based adventures are true and which are fantasy?

Fact or Fiction

1. The Japanese government once issued an arrest warrant for Heller and actress Hayden Panettiere (Heroes, Nashville) for their roles in the award-winning documentary The Cove. The crime? Paddling surfboards into a small bay, where local fishermen were actively killing pilot whales, to protest the slaughter.

2. After being dropped off in Tajikistan’s Pamir Mountains at more than 12,200 feet by Russian military helicopters to make the first kayak descent of the Muksu River, Heller and his fellow paddlers were given up for dead when it took two days longer than expected to complete the wolf- and snow-leopard-filled first leg.

3. Heller and two friends spent three days snorkeling 20 miles of the Gunnison River with only wetsuits, masks, fins, and truck-tire inner tubes to hold their camping gear and fishing poles. To spot each other over the massive rapids, they attached red scuba diving flags on four-foot wands to their tubes.

4. While canoeing in Minnesota’s Boundary Waters, a wilderness area on the Canadian border filled with more than 1,100 lakes, Heller had his wooden paddle stolen by a beaver during the night, forcing him to craft another using a stick, tape pulled from a Billy Joel cassette, and his dinner plate.

5. On assignment for Outside magazine, searching for endangered bird species in New Mexico’s 228-square-mile White Sands National Park, Heller and amateur ornithologist and Jackass star Steve-O discovered an oasis, previously unknown to park officials, hidden in the dunes.

[Answer key 1. True 2. True 3. True 4. False 5. False ]

This article appeared in the August 2021 issue of 5280.

Nicholas Hunt

Nicholas Hunt

Nicholas writes and edits the Compass, Adventure, and Culture sections of 5280 and writes for

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