The Memorial Fund was originally founded to honour our beloved section members, Viggo Holm and Gerta Smythe. They left a legacy of joy and friendship, of love and respect for the alpine environment to pass on to future generations. The fund also honours the memory of former Section members and others with a connection to the ACC, or those who simply loved the outdoors. Read tributes to the lives of Jamie Duncan, Rick Eppler, Clarke Gourlay, Herbert Harzan, Viggo Holm, Rolf Kellerhals, Roger Neave, Laurence Phillipsen, Gerta Smythe, Larry Talarico, Dave Tansley, Charles Turner and Syd Watts.
Jamie Duncan (1963-2020)
Long-time ACC-VI member Jamie Duncan, aged 56, died of heart attack January 14, 2020, skinning the up-track of his favourite backcountry ski area on the island of Hokkaido, Japan.
Born in Nanaimo to Bernard (Bill) Duncan and his wife Karen (nee Kiviniemi), Jamie attended schools in Nanaimo and as a youngster discovered skiing at Green Mountain and honed his outdoor skills with the Boy Scouts. Smitten with skiing, upon finishing high school he moved to Whistler working as a ski instructor. He came back to the Island to attend University of Victoria, finding a life-long interest in mapping and graduating in 1994 with a BA in Geography.
Jamie had a 27 year career with the BC provincial government maintaining all the while that he wasn’t staying long. He started with the Ministry of Environment in 1994, with stints in Ministry of Transportation and Highways and Translink. He was fond of recounting an early project for Highways which involved driving the provincial highways filming as he went – long before Google Street view became a reality.
Jamie spent most of his career with GeoBC where he became a team leader immersed in the world of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) contributing his geospatial expertise to products and decisions across the BC government. He managed a portfolio of projects for BC Parks (trails and recreation sites), Environment, Emergency Response, Compliance & Enforcement and Forestry. Jamie is remembered by his fellow workers as an inspiring colleague and mentor who kept pushing everything forward and motivating his staff to be the best they could be.
Jamie brought his passion for the backcountry into his work, often reminding project teams that their products should be widely available to the public on their mobile devices even where no data connection was available. As a result of his input many of the products GeoBC creates are more accessible. Jamie ensured that the 1:20,000 TRIM raster topographic maps of BC were georeferenced and useable on a mobile device. (See https://apps.gov.bc.ca/ext/mtec/public/products/mapsheet ). Jamie was always generous in helping his ACC community with their mapping needs and questions.
One particular project that brought out Jamie’s personal passion and expertise was his work as the GeoBC lead on Avalanche Terrain Mapping and the development of brochures and signage to make backcountry travel safer. You may come across the trailhead signs warning of avalanche terrain that Jamie helped design.
Jamie was a dedicated husband and father. He married Michelle Giske in 1996 and daughter Rakel was born in 1998. Tragically Michelle died of cancer in 2000 leaving Jamie a single parent with less time for the mountains. Jamie remarried with Lindsay Karen Atkinson in 2009 and they had a daughter, Abbey, born 2007. Tragedy struck again with Lindsay’s death to cancer in 2010. Jamie was devoted to his daughters and his extended family. When he was able to join us in the mountains, we valued his company all the more.
Jamie started his Island Qualifiers in 1996 summiting the Golden Hinde on a trip described as a 6 day slogfest through unforeseen heavy snow and ice. He finished the 9 qualifiers with Mt. Warden in 2008 (see K. Wong’s write-up in the Island Bushwhacker 2008). He greatly valued the ACC recognition for this accomplishment. Jamie’s mountaineering extended to the mainland and down to South America with an attempt on Mt. Aconcagua and hiking Torres de Paine.
Jamie was an enthusiastic participant in ACC trips, from rafting the Tatsenshini/Alsek Rivers to winter hut trips in the Rockies, Selkirks, Monashees and the Valhalla range. With Jamie along, laughter and good times were guaranteed. He had a mischievous (in a good way) nature. Up high or on the slopes Jamie was alert to others’ safety and never pressured anyone to go beyond their risk tolerance. But when it was needed he had a gentle way of encouraging his companions to attain their goals -“you can do it” was his standard.
Jamie was generous with his friendship and had other outdoors communities – hiking friends, soccer friends and cycling friends. He was an avid cyclist, both road and mountain with regular local and mainland tours, over to Hurricane Ridge, and off to ride the Tour de France route.
Those of us who skied with Jamie thought he was the best in the Section, light on his feet, always in control with excellent form and turns. He did enjoy giving us pointers to improve our skiing – “you’re leaning back too much”, “keep those arms in front”, “ski as soft as the snow is”. So on the rare occasion when he took a fall, he was in for some ribbing.
Jamie could light up the room and any group with his big smile and his ability to find humour and bring positivity to any situation. He would bring us up if we were down or going negative. Jamie always insisted on fairness to others.
Jamie’s operative word was “sweet” for the things and people he admired and appreciated (and even for situations where the outcome was unknown). He used it a lot, reflecting his positive and fun outlook. Life to Jamie was generally sweet and he took full advantage of every moment – a lesson for us all.
– George Butcher and Ken Wong
Richard Eppler (1952-2011)
Rick Eppler, the mountaineer’s mountaineer, passed away February 22 late in the afternoon, after a long battle with cancer. With his passing we have lost a friend and a Vancouver Island climbing legend. Rick was proud of his family, and from many conversations I had with him I came to realize what a pivotal touchstone they were for him throughout his life. It is said that his nephews and niece recount in awe stories of the escapades they got up to with “uncle” on Sunday afternoon rambles. They know only the half of it.
Since the 1970s, Rick led and participated in more Alpine Club trips than anyone can remember, and he quickly established a legendary ability to find the way to the summit and back, no matter the conditions. During his early climbing days, Rick pored over maps and aerial photos to plan his attack on a dwindling number of Island peaks that remained unclimbed. And so it was my fortune to become his partner in crime as we pioneered the more remote mountains off Highway 4; credited to Rick are the first recorded ascents and naming of Adder Mtn, Cats Ears, Hidden Peak, Steamboat, Limestone Twins, Fifty Forty and Triple Peak. These trips always started with the words that so captured why he climbed – “let the adventure begin.” His explorations did not stop on Highway 4, and he went on to climb all of the major peaks on our Island including other notable first ascents such as Mt. Cain, Mt Ashwood, Rhino and Velella Peaks, Tom Taylor Tower, Mariner and subsidiary peaks, Grattan and the Thumb. Rick’s faultless memory of the route and meticulous note-taking made him the go-to person before setting out for the Island’s mountains and it is little wonder that Bruce Fairley depended so much on Rick’s Island knowledge when producing his update of the Culbert Climbing Guide. But I believe Rick’s most enduring contribution to Island climbing was dreaming up the notion of an Island Qualifier Award. Thus it was that the IQ Plaque became a coveted commemoration of a person’s achievement in climbing all of the infamous nine qualifying peaks, any four of which would suffice to become a full-fledged member of the ACC. The days of qualifying in that manner have passed, but this award will go on for generations to challenge youth, no matter what their age, to go out and find themselves in the sublime reaches of Vancouver Island. Appropriately, Rick was the first to attain that award, which I surprised him with on the summit of the Golden Hinde.
Although Rick explored other avenues to ‘feed his rat’, like drag racing or fly fishing, at his heart Rick was through and through of the mountains. Rick had an artist’s eye for mountain photography and I continue to be amazed at his prize-winning photos that I had blindly walked past. I suppose I should not have been surprised that Rick took up oil painting – of mountains of course – and in these was able perfectly to capture the mood of setting out on a spring climb. Right about now was his favourite time of year; snow packed down on the bush, the days were getting longer and it was time to put down skis and ice tools and take on that list of climbs cooked up over winter. The early training on our local hills launched him into bigger projects and he climbed widely in the Coast Range, the Cascades, the Rockies, the Kluane Range, and the west-coast volcanoes.
Rick frequently took part in club ventures where he really shone. His presence on any trip increased the depth of experience and strength of that party. Who in this club cannot remember the relief of Rick providing a rope down a greasy rock pitch, or a steep, exposed, nasty patch of ice, often as darkness or weather pressed? Only after seeing to the safety of his fellow climbers did Rick then come down, un-belayed and with sure steps. Rick was at his finest when things got tough, and when his skills were most needed.
Rick was a collector; of model trains, mugs, T shirts, Clint Eastwood movies, rocks and minerals, mountaineering books, photographs and, of course, summits. These treasures could be found surrounding him wherever he lived, encroaching happily on his space. Rick was not an easy person with himself or others, but he was there always when it counted. More recently, Rick took his energy out on the Sooke Hills where he explored extensively and frequently with an assorted collection of like-minded friends. I never met these colleagues, but over beers he was full of his weekly escapades with them and I think this outing became for him the window back to adventure.
About a decade ago, Catrin, his wife, introduced Rick to Europe where he came to appreciate exploring in Wales, Scotland and the Alps including an ascent of Mont Blanc in a storm. Especially during the past three years, Rick went as often to Switzerland as he could. During a single day in the Alps he could photograph flowers in the alpine meadows, climb a vertical wall using the self-belay of a via ferrata, summit a 4000 m peak and take a couple of rides on those cogwheel trains he so loved. All this followed by rösti, brätwurst, beer and a Swiss cheesecake with far too many blueberries on top, delivered by a young lady in Swiss attire in the antique cellar of some wayside inn. This was Paradise. If courage and steadfastness under duress define a mountaineer and friend, then there was never better than Rick. Walk untroubled to those last blue mountains, my friend, sure in the knowledge that your life enriched ours.
– Rob Macdonald
Clarke Gourlay (1964-2019)
Back in 2016 when I put out feelers to Clarke asking him about taking on the role of club treasurer, I had no idea of the depth and breadth of his community involvements. And perhaps that’s a good thing, because then I may not have dared ask. As it was, Clarke’s cheerful acceptance of the role was a gift to all of us, generously adding to his already significant contributions to our section. In short, we are a better community because he was one of us.
Before moving to Vancouver Island in 2001, Clarke and his wife Nancy spent more than a decade living and working overseas with humanitarian aid organisations. Motivated by their strong Christian faith, they raised their young family in Turkey, Switzerland and Afghanistan during the time of the Gulf War. Their return to Canada coincided with their plans to start a cheese-making business, a seemingly bold move given the fact that they had no background, training or experience in the industry. Fast forward to 2019, and today Little Qualicum Cheeseworks is a Vancouver Island success story, employing more than 30 people and marketing its products to high-end stores and restaurants across the province. (The farm, shop and café are well worth a visit if you have not been.) Clarke’s commitment to social justice and environmental advocacy led him to serve on the Agricultural Land Commission, and in October 2018 to take office as a Director on the Regional District of Nanaimo. In typical Clarke high-energy style, somehow on the day of this election he found time to be up at the opening of the 5040 Peak hut!
As club treasurer, Clarke’s patience and wry humour added levity to communications and executive meetings. He shared his business expertise generously and made light of mundane tasks. He had a real knack of finding creative solutions to tricky situations, often just by focusing on the positive and applying basic common sense.
Clarke’s heart though was not in spreadsheets, but in the mountains. His passion for exploring and sharing the natural world was a theme that ran through his life, raising his three sons on a diet of back-packing, diving and skiing. His own ‘summit bug’ seemed to originate from his climb of Mt Kilimanjaro in 2010, and he went on to climb more of the ‘Seven Summits’ including Aconcagua, Denali, Kosciusko and also Mt Blanc. On Vancouver Island, Clarke made short work of the 9 ‘Island Qualifier’ peaks, for which he received the Rick Eppler Award in August 2018. He was apparently well on his way to earning the Charles Turner Award with only a few of the 53 ‘Island 6000’ers’ still to climb. In recent years, Clarke spent all the time he could back-country skiing, joining a section week-long camp in the Kootenays, a back-country ski mountaineering course and a ski ascent of Mt McBride this year. He took the acquisition of mountaineering skills seriously, enthusiastically attending workshops and courses. As both trip participant and leader, Clarke’s competence and big-hearted spirit were mainstays for each group he joined.
While Clarke enjoyed countless friends to share his adventures, there is no doubt who his favourite companions were – his sons Raymond, John, and Kevin. We first became aware of the joint father-son trips when he posted happy summit family photos during our ‘Vancouver Island 150’ celebration of Canada’s 150th anniversary in 2017. And in spring 2018, the news of his successful climb of Denali with John and Kevin gave us all something to celebrate.
Anyone who spent time with Clarke knows that his relationship with his family was at the heart of his being. He was a big supporter of the ‘Family Week’ added to our section’s summer camp and helped set up the bursaries which off-set the costs for accompanied youth. Sharing their family home, Clarke and Nancy graciously hosted Christmas parties for up-island mountaineers the last several years and welcomed friends new and old alike. Their kind hospitality brought together the different mountain clubs and truly helped to grow the community.
Clarke died tragically on 29 June 2019 while hiking on Mt Donner in Strathcona Park, his death sending shock waves through this community and beyond. Caring, principled, multi-talented and hard-working, Clarke leaves a legacy of what it means to be a community builder. When he entered the political arena, there is no doubt that he was poised to be an advocate for many of the environment and conservation values we share. As we grieve his early departure and come to terms with this loss, let us hope his memory inspires us to find ways of honouring the work he still had to do.
– Catrin Brown (August 2019)
Herbert Harzan (1942-2009)
In loving memory of CDR/LCOL Herbert Guenther Harzan, OMM, CD2, RCN/CF (Ret’d). Born in Schirmdorf, Austria on October 25, 1942, Herbert distinguished himself as a friend, military pilot, mountaineer, and soccer referee. Above all, he was a loving husband to Diane; step-son to Margaret; Dad/Vati to Scott (Lisa), Kimberly Autumn (Bryan), and Christy; “the Colonel ” to Suzanne; and devoted opa to Devon, Mary and Sebastian. Herbert leaves a legacy of living life to the fullest, his years brimming with stories of adventure, courage and love. He fought a valiant battle against cancer and smiled with us to the end. He passed away peacefully at home in Victoria on August 1, 2009. A Naval Officer through and through, Herbert joined the Navy under the Venture Officer Training Plan in 1961. His formal education also included graduating from the Canadian Forces Command and Staff College. Herbert had many wonderful adventures at numerous posts around the world, including: serving in the helicopter fleets of Canada’s Maritime Forces; serving onboard the aircraft carrier Bonaventure; leading helicopter detachments on destroyers; and venturing to the US Navy on exchange tour to instruct the USN in shipboard helicopter landings, manage the fleet of CIA helicopters in the Philippines and serve as detachment commander aboard the USS Cook for the evacuation of Vietnam. His exciting career also included many staff appointments at National Defence Headquarters; leading HT406 SeaKing Squadron as Commanding Officer at CFB Shearwater; serving as the Senior Air Officer at Maritime Forces Pacific Headquarters and proceeding to SHAPE, Belgium during the Gulf War. His career culminated at NATO Headquarters where, among many accomplishments, he cofounded the international security programme Partnership for Peace. For his distinguished service, Herbert was awarded many commendations and honours, including the Order of Military Merit and the Gold Medal of Merit of the Republic of Austria. In 1997, Herbert and his family retired to Victoria.
– Victoria Times-Colonist
Herbert and I were hiking down the rubbly side of Outpost Peak in the Rocky Mountains when we heard a shout from above. “Rock!” We hugged the side of the mountain and watched a rock the size of a football rocketing down towards us. At the last moment it took a nasty bounce and glanced off Herbert’s helmet. He briefly passed out. Then his eyes opened, he shook his head and smiled. And the old soldier carried on.
– Geoff Bennett
Viggo A Holm (1932-2007)
Like all Viggo’s many friends, we in the Alpine Club were shocked and saddened to learn that there had been a motor vehicle accident on Monday September 10, 2007 on Highway 4 west of Port Alberni, and that he had not survived. We have lost a friend, a trusted companion, a dedicated volunteer, and a fellow mountaineer who, over a span of many years – including this year – impressed both the young and the not-so-young with his fitness and enthusiasm.
In 2005 Viggo, along with Judith, was awarded the Don Forest Award for volunteer service to the ACC. We recognize with thanks and admiration his many years as editor of the Island Bushwhacker newsletter, as well as his many other contributions to our Section. Friends comment that Viggo approached everything with a positive attitude, whether it was Island bushwhacking, poor snow conditions, or the stresses of producing the Club’s best newsletter on time. His skiing was beautiful to watch, knees together and boards parallel through even the worst coastal crud. Whether on or off the mountain, he encouraged and looked after people. He was steadfast.
By vocation Viggo was an engineer, by avocation a skier, a mountaineer and a sailor. He was a loving husband and father. I know I speak for us all when I say that Viggo will be sorely missed.
– Sandy Briggs
Rolf Kellerhals (1934-2016)
October 11, 1934 – August 25, 2016
Not long after he was born in Switzerland Rolf’s parents took him into the mountains. And so began his lifelong passion for the hills. Teenage rock climbing forays followed and then membership in the university alpine club – the Akademischer Alpenclub Bern. That same group organized an expedition to a unvisited area of Spitzbergen and Rolf was lucky enough to take part. Shortly thereafter, during the International Geophysical Year, Rolf was invited to join a group of scientists working on the Salmon Glacier near Stewart, BC. As he often said with a laugh, “my job was mainly to prevent people and machines from falling into crevasses”. The following winter was spent in Toronto where he worked in the university geophysical department under J. Tuzo Wilson, one of the originators of the plate tectonics theory. Sadly, no mountains in the vicinity, but while there he helped found the University of Toronto Outing Club and joined the Toronto Section of the ACC, which at the time had so few members that they were meeting in private homes.
Eventually BC called out loud and clear to him, and with Heather, whom he had met while rock climbing near Toronto, already in Vancouver, he soon immigrated to Canada. The economy was in poor shape and jobs were scarce at that time. Heather had to promise that she would support the prospective immigrant before he was allowed to come! However, within a week of arriving he had a job as a civil engineer with what is now BC Hydro.
No time was wasted on the mountaineering front – he joined the Vancouver Section of the ACC and was for many years the climbing chair and organized the first section climbing camp. That first camp was held at Chilko Lake, where club members made several first ascents and also experienced some epic bushwhacks. Climbing wasn’t the only activity at this camp, there is a great photo of Mike Hubbard and Rolf proudly holding up the two fish they had finally managed to snag. Another highlight during Rolf’s time as chair, was persuading author and explorer Raymond Patterson who was living in Victoria then, to give a talk about his book, “The Dangerous River,” and his adventures on the Nahanni River.
After several moves between Vancouver and Edmonton Rolf finally finished his PhD in Civil Engineering. After a short stint as a professor, Rolf started his own engineering firm. Then, bitten by the fanciful back to the land bug, the family now with two children, Erika and Markus, moved in 1977 to Quadra Island. Their new home, one of the original and much neglected, old homesteads was more work than fancy. Consequently, not quite so much time for climbing, especially when the Highland cattle were running amok. As if this wasn’t work enough Rolf and his friend Grant Hayden acquired a provincial woodlot on Quadra Island. But Rolf and family, often accompanied by ACC friends, notably the ever-enthusiastic Norm Purssell, continued to make more ascents in the Chilko Lake area. Erika and Markus built a small log cabin there that became the focus of many wonderful trips. During this time Rolf found time for climbing some out of the way peaks on Northern Vancouver Island and on the mainland near Toba and Bute Inlets. And there always seemed time for Rolf’s passion/obsession for trail building and for organizing trips for the local naturalist group – the Mitlenatch Field Naturalists. As its chair for many years Rolf also became the group’s delegate to the Campbell River Environmental Council.
Rolf had a long career as a civil engineer specializing in rivers, bridges and dams and protection from natural hazards such as flooding and mudslides. As time went on his river engineering work became more oriented towards environmental concerns. His research uncovered impacts to the Peace-Athabasca Delta caused by the damming of the Peace River, an area important to First Nations People living nearby. He also took part in several Federal Environmental Review Panels.
There were two special places on Vancouver Island that captured Rolf’s heart. One was the Nimpkish River area on Northern Vancouver Island. Through his involvement with the Mitlenatch Field Naturalists, an affiliate with what is now BC Nature, he became a volunteer warden for the Nimpkish Island Ecological Reserve which contained one of the last and best examples of lowland, old growth forest in that valley. Many trips were made to the area, including one in dicey winter conditions that left some ever vigilante park bureaucrats wagging their collective fingers. Poor logging practices threatened Nimpkish Island with erosion, but Rolf used his professional knowledge to suggest low impact protective measures, basically taking advantage of some of the massive fallen trees to protect the banks of the island.
The other special area for Rolf was the west coast of Nootka Island which saw few visitors after the old trapper’s trail fell into disuse. However, logging was creeping ever closer to the coast. So again with Norm Purssell and Heather as companions he planned a trip there, not really knowing if it would be possible to make it around to the finish at Friendly Cove. There were a few old blazes and remnants of a trail where the route left the beach. Some years later after more hikes and more trail clearing by Rolf and others, family and friends helped publish a pamphlet describing the route of what is now called the “Nootka Trail”.
Though Rolf was not very active with the Vancouver Island ACC, he did get to meet and climb with some of the members – amazing people like Gerta Smythe, Syd Watts and Rick Eppler. He would have loved to climb up to the new cabin being built by members. Rolf’s last major trip into mountain country was with BC Nature in September 2015 to Tatlayoko Lake where he climbed to the plateau overlooking Chilko Lake and the small log cabin where he and the family had spent so many fun days.
- Heather Kellerhals and Markus Kellerhals
Roger Neave (1906-1991)
Roger Neave was an active member of the Vancouver Island Section of the Alpine club for many years. Along with Syd Watts, John Gibson, and half a dozen others, Roger was pivotal in revitalizing the Vancouver Island section of the Alpine Club in the late ‘60s. But more than the VI Section could claim Roger as their own.
Arriving from Britain in 1928, Roger and his brother, Ferris, lived in Winnipeg, about as far from the mountains as you can get. But they met Alex McCoubrey, Sr., editor of the Canadian Alpine Journal and later president of the Alpine Club of Canada. With McCoubrey’s instruction and with limited practice in the nearby rock quarries, Roger soon established himself as one of the top amateur climbers in Canada.
Mount Louis, little known to the general public, is a climber’s dream. Hidden behind Banff’s Mount Norquay, the towering limestone spire thrusts upward, defying climbers to find an easy route. In his first season, Roger climbed the peak without benefit of a rope or a partner, a solo ascent! And over the years he was to repeat the climb eight times.
Despite a 30 years presence of CPR Swiss mountain guides in the Rockies, The Molar Tower near Mount Hector had not been climbed. “It had been attempted by the guides and they had given it up,” said Roger. He led the first ascent in 1933.
Perhaps the greatest achievement of Neave’s long climbing career was the attempt, in 1934, of Mount Waddington in the Coast Range. The peak had been sighted from near Mount Arrowsmith summit in 1925 by the prodigious coastal mountaineers, Don and Phyllis Munday, and they named it “Mystery Mountain.” At 4016 metres, Waddington is the highest point in the Coast Range, at that time touted as unclimbable due to the extreme steepness of the final plinth and the severe weather that plastered ice on the rock year ‘round.
With Campbell Secord and Art Davidson, Roger and Ferris Neave drove from Winnipeg via the Crowsnest Pass to Williams Lake, then west to Tatlayoko Lake. From there, primarily by backpacking down the Homathko River and up the Tiedemann Glacier, they reached the foot of the Bravo Glacier. After several weather delays they climbed the east and north sides of the summit pinnacle, cutting ice from each rock handhold, but were forced to abandon the attempt in deteriorating weather only a hundred and fifty metres short of the top. They retreated into a crevasse to escape the blizzard, eventually descending an extreme avalanche conditions to the base camp. The Neaves had pioneered the way on this difficult mountain, which was finally climbed in 1936, but the Neave route was not repeated until 1950.
Roger was often back with the Alpine Club camps as a volunteer leader, climbing the peaks of the Premier Range, the Bugaboos and the Rockies, including Mount Sir Donald in the Selkirks at Rogers Pass. Roger served as President of the Alpine Club in ’67 and ’68 during the pivotal year of the Centennial Range camp in the Yukon. For his many contributions to the Club he was later named an Honorary Member in recognition.
In 1972, on Mount Robson’s south face “hourglass route” Roger Neave and Ralph Hutchinson climbed the highest peak in the Canadian Rockies, “We were an old-age pensioner and one with no toes,” recalled Roger .
Roger worked for Imperial Oil for most of his professional life, and eventually retired near Nanaimo, canoeing and climbing the Island peaks, well past the age of 80. Some people handle the unexpected better than others. Roger knew himself and his quiet patience in disquieting circumstances made him a psychological leader. Small of stature, he made up for that with stamina and endurance, and often humour.
“You are climbing with people with the same interest, so you make a lot of good friends,” he recalled. “Any mountain is a challenge, especially if there is the element of exploring the unknown.” In 1991, Roger died an outdoorsman’s death, cutting firewood in his backyard. In the words of his mentor, Alex McCoubrey, Roger lived, “to love the game above the prize.”
– Gil Parker
Laurence Philippsen (1954-2020)
The climbing community lost Laurence Philippsen in the mountains of Strathcona Park in early July 2020 when he was attempting a solo trip to some mountains he had never previously climbed. The details of what happened I/we will never know. It was heart-wrenching not knowing where he was. I searched, Val searched, friends searched, as well as people who didn’t know him, but he remained lost. Eventually, his body was found and it was a huge relief. Finally there could be closure. Now all I have are memories.
I only knew Laurence for seven years, but in those last few years we packed in a lot of memories. I will remember Laurence for many things, but it was his love of adventure and his willingness to explore new places that brought us together in the mountains. I first met Laurence in 2013 on a work party to clear the trail to Rugged Mountain. We then did a trip in 2015 to Emerald Peak north of the Alava/Bate sanctuary. It was a little after Val’s climbing accident in 2017 when I was looking for a regular climbing partner. Laurence was also looking at getting back into the mountains after early retirement due to a climbing competition accident when his belayer inadvertently failed to hold his fall. Laurence had broken his back and they didn’t know if he could climb again, or carry a pack. Our coming together was a case of synchronicity. Laurence had worked his whole life up at Vernon Camp between Woss and Gold River and when his two boys were young, they used to go hiking in the area into some of the small beautiful lakes that nestled in the mountains to go fishing and swimming. Occasionally, he would climb some of the peaks with his cousin Ernie Klassen. Now, he wanted to explore those mountains more thoroughly. With various other climbing friends, we climbed all the satellite peaks around Mount Maquilla, the three peaks of what we called Kla-anch Peak and nearby Mount Sebalhal. Then we started down the Tsitika FSR climbing some of the obscure peaks surrounding Tsitika Mountain. The Bonanza Range was just across the valley so we did several day-trips scrambling around their summits. Then there were some climbs in the Mackenzie Range and the Prince of Wales Range. There was a never-ending list of peaks to climb. Laurence was meticulous in his research. He spent hours looking at Google Earth and plotting the route on his GPS. Navigating the logging roads with Laurence was easy and I would just follow his directions. When he wasn’t climbing in the mountains, he could be found at the climbing wall in Campbell River, on average twice a week, with his gym partner Heidi Mulbacher. Together they climbed at a level higher than many of the younger jocks.
Laurence also had his own goals and was keen to finish off his IQ’s. One of his memorable climbs was the traverse of Mount Colonel Foster with Andreas Hinkkala. Andreas sent me a few words about the trip: “In 2015, I had the opportunity to complete the Colonel Foster traverse with Laurence. He was probably the fittest 60+ year-old climber I’ve ever met. He was a very experienced and low-key climber who never bothered discussing much about his climbing exploits. The year we did the traverse was an extremely hot summer and I remember getting truly cooked, while Laurence took it all in stride. Because of Laurence’s comfort in soloing, we moved through the traverse fairly quickly and efficiently. We ended up bivying on the northeast summit due to lack of water anywhere else on the route. Unfortunately, not too long after the successful traverse Laurence broke his back during an indoor climbing competition. We kept in touch over the years, and had planned to head back out once his back was fully recovered. Laurence was an easy going yet incredibly tough climbing partner, and my only true regret is that we never returned to the alpine together again. He was an inspiration to me, and to this day I fondly reminisce of the Foster Traverse and the great partner I had for this trip.”
Laurence was always calm and relaxed when climbing and nothing ever seemed to faze him. Laurence completed his IQ’s in 2019. It took a while, not because they were difficult but because I kept dragging him off to remote peaks. But Laurence didn’t always have to climb at the higher level as he enjoyed taking new climbers to the mountains. He also loved going into the mountains with his two boys Aaron and Carl, when they could get away from their work, where they could just enjoy the views and to be together in nature. Laurence was also a devoted grandfather and had a beautiful voice. For many years he sang with a local choir. A skill that I got to experience was his wood-working ability. He built his house in Black Creek and much of the interior, flooring and cabinets, was from timber he brought home from the bush. In the summer of 2019, Laurence was there to support Val in her return to the mountains and in September 2020 we were looking forward to travelling overseas with Laurence and his wife Lorraine. Instead, Val and I will just have to remember all the good times we had together with Laurence in the mountains and as a friend. Rest in peace mate!
– Lindsay Elms and Valerie Wootton
Gerta Smythe (1937-2008)
Gerta Smythe (nee Heher) was born in Graz, Austria on December 11, 1937. She grew up in a time when the war made recreation activities difficult, however, her family enjoyed hiking in the local woods but their only form of transport was the bicycle. Gerta first discovered the mountains when she was eight. On a holiday to the Enns Valley where her uncle was the parish priest, his flock was happy to entertain his charming niece by taking her up to the Alps where the cattle were grazing and the cranberries needed picking.
At fourteen she joined the Oesterreichischer Alpenverein (Austrian Alpine Club) as she was impressed with their folk dances and singing. Her first climb with them was on the Ebenstein when she was fifteen. The party cycled for four hours, hiked up to the hut with torches and were awakened again by their leader in time to witness the sunrise from the summit, where the flowers were still partially covered by snow. Gerta admits she was “hooked for life!” She joined the club on other climbs: the Gesaeuse, the Grimming and the Gross Venediger but from all these summits her gaze was drawn to the tantalizing pyramid of Triglav to the south in what was then Yugoslavia. “What joy when I was able to climb this Slovenian peak in 2005 with my nephew. Transport is so easy now: everybody owns a car and the border s between many countries are nonexistent!” At the age of eighteen she introduced her father to the higher mountains of their home province of Styria and he continued to go there for many years even after Gerta moved to Canada.
Her climbing aspirations were thwarted when she started her nurses training with the Red Cross in Graz. She seldom had free time on a weekend to join her friends so she learned to climb some routes she had memorized on her own and by chance. Eventually she was invited to climb the South Face of the Dachstein (the highest mountain in her home province) and the Palavichini route on the Gross Glockner, the highest mountain in Austria.
Gerta finished her nurses training in 1959 and found a job in Vienna. Here she met a Canadian woman who gave her the telephone number of her husband in the Canadian Embassy. Within a month she was on her way to the Alberta prairies where she found herself wading through fields of crocuses in April 1960.
This plant is rare in Austria and under protection but not so in Canada so she bought a pair of rubber boots and began visiting the farms in the vast neighbourhood where the fields were purple with their blooms.
Gerta found work at the local hospital in Hinton, a town fifty miles east of Jasper. Here she met Ken Smythe, an Australian who was working his way across Canada. His goal was to eventually reach Europe to see the ‘Tour de France.’ Gerta’s plan at the time was to learn Spanish and then move on to South America because she loved the Spanish language. In 1961 they were married and the following year they moved to Jasper. Ken has yet to see this famous race and Gerta has given up learning to speak Spanish.
During her years in Jasper she managed to climb the East Ridge of Mount Edith Cavell and a face route on Mount Colin, both with Hans Schwarz, a Swiss guide, who carried wooden crosses onto both these special peaks. While in the hospital, having her second son, a nun (the hospital was run by nuns) approached Gerta and asked if she would be able to work for her for four hours in the evening. “She was tired of working twelve hours every day and I was surprised that she expected me to work. I thought my job would be at home with the children now. I soon realized that it was a wonderful opportunity to combine two wonderful professions and I have never looked back.” Gerta remember s taking one nun climbing up to Pyramid Mountain, a peak that looks down on the town of Jasper. “She was wearing her long black skirt and pinned it up with huge safety pins and was so happy to be able to have this adventure. It was not easy for me to leave this gem in the mountains where I had made many friends and even wrote little articles in the local paper about my mountain adventures.”
In 1972 Ken and Gerta moved to Victoria where she felt lucky to find work that suited the activities of her growing family. She first found work at the Priory and then at a new Extended Care facility on Gorge Road and finally on the ‘surgical floor’ at Victoria General Hospital. Always cheerful, she was happy entering the ward in the morning and hoped to make a difference to somebody’s suffering that day. Although long hours (twelve hour shifts) she always made sure to have her monthly free weekend to spend in the mountains. Gerta retired in 2000 leaving a professional vocation that she cherished all her working life.
In 1986 she saw an ad to “Climb the Golden Hinde.” This was a sanctioned FMCBC trip led by Jim Rutter that would traverse Strathcona Park from the Elk River to Westmin at the southern end of Buttle Lake. Along the way she climbed the Golden Hinde. With the re- acquaintance of her love of mountains she soon joined the Vancouver Island section of the ACC and her first trip with the club was to Mount Regan with Rob Macdonald and Rick Eppler. In 1990 she saw Gil Parker’s notice about a climbing trip to the Caucasus Mountains of Georgia in the USSR. Gerta summited Kazbek (5,047m) with Gil Parker, Sandy Briggs, Margaret and Ian Brown, Murrough O’Brien and Graham Maddocks. “This really was an epiphany: one whole month of no worries but climbing and meeting new people and climbing to the top of Kazbek, the seventh highest mountain in the Caucasus.”
After returning from Georgia she realized with her ascent of the Golden Hinde in 1986 and Victoria Peak in 1988 she had climbed two of nine peaks that make up the Island Qualifier’s or IQ’s. By September 1995 she had completed her IQ’s and on one of the peaks, Rugged Mountain, she had made the first winter ascent along with Sandy Briggs, Don Berryman and Dennis Manke.
Through the years Gerta has quietly plugged away at many of the islands peak making ascents of Mount Arrowsmith, Mariner Mountain, Mount Alava, Mount Splendour, Crown Mountain, Mount Tom Taylor and the MacKenzie Summit. Of this she wrote with tongue – in- cheek that her ascent “may well have been the first ‘Grandmotherly Ascent’.” Some of these remote summits have only seen a handful of ascents. However, she has also climbed Mount Adams, Mount Pugh and Mount Hood (on skis) in Washington and attempted Mount Rainer three times. In 1994 she joined John Pratt on one of his excursions to the Tantalus Range near Squamish with Judith Holm. In 1996 she climbed Wedge Mountain with a party of VI-ACC’ers and in 1997, with Claire Ebendinger, did a traverse in the North Stein near Pemberton. In 1998 she joined Reinhard Illner, and Ian and Margaret Brown on a trip to the Bugaboos. Margaret and Ian Brown played a huge role in her mountaineering life and she followed them on their quest to the Island Qualifiers as well as ski trips to Mount Monday, the Manatees, the Waddington Glacier and the Assiniboine area. Several times Gerta and Margaret led their own traverses in the Olympic Mountains of Washington where they ascended Mount Seattle and Mount Carrie. She has shared many trips with Claire Ebendinger and spent a week in the Kokanee Mountains where they climbed just as many peaks from the Kokanee Hut as their younger friends, but taking slightly longer to do it. She also attended the 2007 summer camp at the Stanley Mitchell Hut where she again managed to climb many of the surrounding peaks with Jules Thomson and Roger Painter. However, her foremost mentor is Sandy Briggs. “Sandy doesn’t know how to say ‘no’ when asked if I can come on one of his trips. One year I made strawberry jam for his birthday and all his twelve jars were labeled with the name of a mountain we had climbed over the last year.”
In 1994 Gerta trekked in the Annapurna area in Nepal and in June 1997 she achieved her ambition of climbing a 6,000m peak, a goal for her sixtieth birthday. With several climbing friends she joined a guided expedition to the Cordillera Blanca of Peru which saw them first acclimatize in the Ishinca Valley where ascents were made of Nevada Uros and Ishinca; however, the climax of the trip was the ascent of Huascaran at 6,768m, the highest mountain in Peru.
Gerta was on the Executive Committee for the VI-ACC and represented Vancouver Island at the National Club. Since retiring from nursing, Gerta found more time to knit (another lifelong passion) and volunteered for the CRD as a warden of Mount Wells, a hill in her immediate vicinity near Langford in Victoria. There she would bring her grandchildren on her weekly hikes. Over the years, she has walked many of the hikes in the Greater Victoria area and the lower Island and was always happy to share these with newcomers to the area and club members. Sadly, Gerta watched the plants she loved so much bloom for the last time in the spring of 2008 as she passed away on June 19 at the age of seventy.
– Lindsay Elms
Larry Talarico (1943-2005)
Larry passed away peacefully while hiking with friends in the beautiful and tranquil Sooke Hills. He will be fondly remembered as a man that lived life to the fullest and was committed to everything that he did. Larry inspired us with his endless drive and great sense of integrity. He had a wonderful and endearing sense of humor that will be dearly missed. His first love was for his family, especially his two grandchildren who brought tremendous joy to his life. He also loved nature and could often be found in the backcountry. It is not surprising that this is where his last moments were spent. Larry was an avid hiker, an active member of the Juan de Fuca Ground Search and Rescue Team, the Kludahk Club and the Alpine Club. He had also been a park warden and a volunteer for the CRD. He was a photographer who beautifully captured many special moments over the years. Prior to his retirement in February 2000, Larry invested a tremendous amount of himself in his dental practice and the patients and staff that he so proudly served. He leaves behind his wife Alison, mother-in-law Fay, daughter Trina (Mike), son Tony (Kelly), grandchildren Tessa and Michael, and brother Ron. We’re going to miss you Larry, and all of those special qualities that made you well, one of a kind. See you on the other side. A special thanks to his Thursday hiking buddies as well as the Juan de Fuca Search and Rescue Team.
– Victoria Times Colonist
Larry did a lot of trail maintenance with me in the Sooke Hills and came on many of our men’s Thursday hikes. Margaret and I did a couple of overnight trips with Larry. The longest was a loop from Flower Ridge via Tzela Lake and Aureol Snowfield out to the mouth of Ralph River. One of the other hikers injured herself half way, so Larry and I ended up carrying much of the contents of her enormous pack. So we know he would rise to a challenge and carry more than his share. The other trip was to Sid’s cabin in winter, either late fall or late spring when a third of the route was walking. Larry being Larry had just purchased a new top of the line Alpine Touring outfit and by the end the new boots had chewed his feet into hamburger, but he never complained.
– Ian Brown
Dave Tansley (1944-1999)
Dave Tansley was a strong swimmer and a distance runner, but mainly he was a mountaineer. He taught basic mountaineering classes for the “Y”, complete with practicums at Mount Arrowsmith and Mount Baker. Dave and his wife, Cynthia, were instrumental in revitalizing the Vancouver Island section of ACC in the 70s, with Cynthia editing the section newsletter. Dave regularly led mountaineering trips, especially longer ski mountaineering trips to the Spearhead Traverse, the Manatee Range, and the Pemberton Ice Cap.
Often painfully shy in an urban setting, Dave was rather different in the hills. If he had an idea about a route he had no trouble expressing his opinion. Dave was a safe and reliable climber, so when he spoke, it was worth listening.
Dave was an engineer who emigrated from Britain in 1969, working for Sir William Halcrow in Vancouver before joining Willis Cunliffe & Tait, later Delcan, in Victoria. He worked as a designer of buildings and bridges, becoming well known in the construction industry. Eventually, he was a partner in the consulting firm, Graeme & Murray, where he had worked since 1986.
One day, while on a training run around the golf course, he collapsed, regaining consciousness a few minutes later. He was diagnosed with a heart ailment caused by an unsuspected viral attack. He was eventually able to return to work. Dave was even able to do the Judge’s Route on Mount Arrowsmith with his daughters, Rowena and Caroline. But in November of 1999, he died of a heart arrhythmia while at a construction site, inspecting a structure.
Dave’s climbing career started in Vancouver with guidebook author Dick Culbert, but most of his early routes were done while living in Victoria. One of his first major climbs was Mount Slesse near Chilliwack, where Dave’s long reach and powerful arm strength served well as he led the steep rock pitches. I discovered his one failing on this trip, a strong preference for Guinness beer.
On a climb of Mount Colonel Foster’s Southeast Ridge, we were dumped by heavy overnight rain. We started late, the beginning of Dave’s reputation for epic trips and late returns. The slog up the snow and the climb of loose rock to our summit was uneventful, but we were disappointed to find that the main summit was not ours. Reluctantly we descended. At the base of the cliff beside the bergschrund, we were coiling the rope when suddenly, a projecting ice roof collapsed directly onto us. Fortunately, we had hardhats on and neither of us fell into the yawning maw. Still, it was 7:00 pm by the time we reached our camp and 4:00 am before arriving in Victoria.
With Paul Erickson, Dave and I climbed Mount Garibaldi near Squamish in a punishing 20 hour push, starting in the early morning by ferry from Victoria. On Brohm Ridge we were first stalled by difficult climbing on the icy rock, but then found a steep glacier route, arriving in a surreal summit scene at 9:30 p.m. with red skies over Mount Tantalus snagging clouds to the west. Descending the glacier, we were happy for the wands we had placed, but still only reached our tent at 1:00 am.
In the Mount Waddington region with Rick Eppler and Charles Rowley, Dave led the climbs on three peaks off the Tellot Glacier. It was a typically ambitious Tansley scheme, to go to a remote area of spectacular mountains, with its exposed granite spires hundreds of metres above the Scimitar Glacier.
More reasonable was a week in the Rockies with Don Vockeroth. We followed Don’s lead on Mount Louis, especially outside the chimney on the east face where the holds were minimal and the exposure was incredible. Later that week we climbed the steep snow and ice of the Skyladder route of Mount Andromeda. This was in the days before ice tools, so we were totally on front points and used an ice axe in one hand and an ice screw in the other.
John Pratt tells of exploring Mount Robie Reid and the difficult route to Mount Judge Howay in the Fraser Valley. They later climbed Judge Howay on a challenging line with a brilliant lead by Victoria climber, Kris Holm, in his socks. “Dave had all those qualities you’d want in a mountaineer,” remembers John, “tough, a great ‘goer’, imperturbable, safe and cautious.”
The mountains were Dave Tansley’s favoured mode of self-expression. He was a competent rock climber and a knowledgeable ski mountaineer, known for his endurance on long trips. Dave was self-effacing, a true friend to his fellow climbers.
– Gil Parker
Charles Turner (1950-2013)
Charles seemed most at peace racing the clouds on along a misty ridge, lounging on the summit, or carving his famous telemark turns down the mountain. In his own quiet way, he had both the patience and fitness level to kick the most amazing steps up an endless, steep snow slope, happily breaking trail for the rest of us.
Over the past 30 years, Charles made significant contributions to our Alpine Club Section. He led many challenging trips, staged telemark clinics, and shared his mountaineering skills with all those who crossed paths with him. His leadership style, his humble way of encouraging and making suggestions, and his ever-helpful knowledge of map and compass skills, always made his trips interesting and fun.
A born adventurer, he began roving the British countryside with his parents and brothers. Those early years set up his seemingly endless travels in high and wild places. Whether it was skiing in the Himalayas and Baffin Island, or climbing African peaks, Charles would always jump at new opportunities for his explorations. He climbed several of the highest mountains on each continent. Closer to home, his wanderings in the Vancouver Island Mountains and trails were second nature to him, as he climbed many of our island peaks several times.
Charles’s presence and friendship are well remembered, and his spirit will remain fluttering the flowers of our colourful alpine meadows.
– Christine Fordham
It is with great sadness that the section learned of the untimely passing of Charles, when the floatplane he was in struck a tree and crashed on the West Coast of Vancouver Island. The five person party, which included other ACC VI members, was returning from a multi-day hiking trip of the Hesquiat Peninsula. The pilot, a very experienced flyer, also died in the accident.
Charles was born in the UK, and moved to Canada after much travelling in Europe and Africa. As a young immigrant he put his hand at many things, and living the life of a happy go lucky lad, with so much freedom and so many opportunities presented by his newly adopted country. From Toronto to Whitehorse he worked and experienced the vastness of his new home.
After he joined the ACC VI section in 1991, it was a measure of his energy level that it took him just two short years to knock off all nine of the section’s “Island Qualifier” (IQ) summits on Vancouver Island. Since the start of the IQ award program in 1987, only six people had achieved that before him. In similar manner, as a member of the Island Mountain Ramblers, he swiftly demolished their twenty peaks, the “Lifetime Climbing Objectives”. Searching for new goals, he then ticked off all forty-six peaks over 6,000ft on Vancouver Island.
That level of passion for the outdoors, combined with a willingness to endure bad bush, non-existent trails, and sometimes questionable rock, allowed him to rack up a long list of Island summits over the ensuing decades. His alpine interests also spread to more distant ranges, in Nepal, Mexico, Argentina, Peru, Ecuador, Patagonia, Kenya, Uganda, and beyond. He was always planning another adventure and he instilled that love of the outdoors in his two children Joe and Maddy as they grew up.
On a rope, he was always dependable. On snow he had great skills, and on skis he was a dream to watch. Charles kept his humour when vehicles broke down, when the wind snapped tent poles, and when the promised powder turned to crud. And when the clouds parted, he revelled in sunshine and never missed a chance to bare his bronzed chest to the blue sky.
As an ACC member, he also gave back – he led many trips, assisted in numerous workshops, and for many years taught the telemark ski clinic at Mount Washington, where his graceful style was the envy of all. He served on Mount Washington’s Nordic Ski Patrol for twenty years.
Recently he spent five months in Uganda working under difficult conditions on a project at the Mengo Hospital, Kampala. His patience with the local craftsmen, and his realization that it was not enough merely to complete the construction but also to teach the locals how to do it, was a lesson to all who worked alongside him. He was highly regarded by the Ugandan trades. There were long, laughing chats held with young locals who came to seek his company. They soaked up his skills with timber and tools, as they toiled together under a blazing sun or the frequent drenching rains. He was a source of new ways of thinking for them.
Being so active in the mountains, he climbed with almost everyone in the section. The turnout at his memorial in Comox was a testament to the many, many trips he had done, and the companions from those trips who had became friends. His quiet voice and solid experience, and his rope and axe skills, were highly regarded. As Catrin Brown said at his memorial, “Few people said more than Charles, in so few words.” He was an anchor when things were going badly, and he seldom lost his cool, or showed fear. He will be greatly missed by many, and leaves a big gap in the energy and experience of the ACC.
So let us remember him for any of the talents that were his. Remember him for those flashy gold fleeces and shells that he wore, that looked so good in photos. Remember him for his grace on skis, cutting perfect Ss down steep slopes. Where others cut Zs or fell, he swooped with ease. Remember him for his gentleness, his softly spoken word, his kindness to others with a gentle reassurance when things weren’t going well. Remember him for his silver spandex tights, worn weekly to his yoga class. Remember him for his drive and passion to get into the wild places of this world, where his soul was truly free. Remember Charles Henry Turner.
– Rick Hudson
Sydney Charles John Watts (1927-2013)
In 1990, the distinguished Service Award from the Alpine Club of Canada was awarded to Syd Watts. Of course Syd was elated to receive this great compliment, but he never considered what he did for the mountaineering community as anything special. He did what he did because he loved the outdoors. Syd could climb the highest peaks, amble along a stream swollen with spawning salmon, watch eagles soaring on thermals and admire the wonder of young plants as they pushed up through the soil to take their first breath before blossoming into the most incredible flowers, and never grow weary of the natural beauty that surrounded him. This was obvious if you were ever to do a trip with him (and many did) or, in my case, to spend time at his home talking about the bush and the mountains.
Syd Watts was born in Olds, Alberta on July 22, 1927, and moved to Duncan (Vancouver Island) with his family in 1937. Upon leaving school Syd became an apprentice mechanic for Wilson Motors. In 1958, he became the Service Manager, a position he held until 1977 when he retired at the age of fifty. This was a move he never regretted as he was able to spend more time with his wife Emily and the outdoors. Syd met Emily (Prout) on an Island Mountain Rambler trip to Victoria Peak in 1965 and three years later they were married.
Soon after arriving in Duncan, Syd joined the local scouting movement and had his first mountain experience on nearby Mount Prevost. However, in 1949 he made his first trip to Strathcona Provincial Park and saw the “jewel” of the park Buttle Lake before it was flooded by the Strathcona Dam. This had a huge impact on Syd as he couldn’t believe how much beauty was swallowed by the rising waters. Trees that were hundreds of years old he felt should have been protected under the Provincial Park act, but were felled for a few more kilowatts of power. Three years later Syd went on a trip to the Comox Glacier with local members of the Comox District Mountaineering Club: Ruth Masters, Geoffrey Capes, Herb Bradley and Sid Williams. Syd found other like-minded people who he could not only climb with, but discuss ideas about conservation and the environment. That same year he joined the Victoria Outdoor Club and the Victoria Section of the Alpine Club of Canada and in 1953 Syd attended the ACC Hooker Glacier summer camp in the Rockies and graduated on Mount Scott. With his natural leadership ability, innate bush sense and the hard skills he acquired from the summer camp, he was soon leading trips into the mountains.
In 1958, Syd and his climbing companion Harry Winstone formed the Island Mountain Ramblers, a hiking group with an Island focus. Although Syd had made several trips off the island, he realized there was more than enough beauty on the island to keep him happy for a lifetime. From 1958 to 1964 Syd, Jack Ware and Don Apps explored many of the high ridge routes in Strathcona Park. At that time it required following game trails through the valleys to reach the alpine ridges. Syd had a natural ability to find these trails and they became integral when developing the first hiking trails in the park. The next year (1959) Syd led the first post-war trip to the Golden Hinde, the island’s highest mountain. Syd went on to climb the Golden Hinde five times, once with Emily.
The first trail Syd encouraged others to help build was the Elk River trail which gave access to some of the most challenging mountains on the island. In 1954 Syd was with the first party that hiked up the Elk River and encountered the devastation caused by the 1946 earthquake after a large portion of Mount Colonel Foster broke loose. Then in 1965 he began the project of planning and building the Marble Meadows Trail. This involved leading work parties over the next five years until the trail was officially opened in 1970. Syd also worked on several other trails, however, because of his extensive back-country knowledge, editors for the Hiking Trails series of books consulted Syd for many years as new editions were printed. In the 1970’s Syd met John Gibson, a like-minded explorer, and together they climbed many north island peaks, including several first ascents.
On one of their week-long mountain trips Syd and Emily, along with Jack Shark, first climbed a mountain on the east side of Buttle Lake that became known as Syd Watts Peak. In 2010, Syd was fortunate to see this mountain officially recognized as Syd Watts Peak and fittingly it is just above a lake named for his long-time environmental friend Ruth Masters.
However, mountaineering was just one of Syd’s passions; he was a keen birder, a long time member of the Cowichan Valley Naturalists, the Somenos Marsh Society and the Friends of Strathcona, and an advocate for wilderness and ecological reserves. In 1984, Syd and Emily were instrumental in having part of Mount Tzouhalem’s Garry Oak ecosystem set aside as an Ecological Reserve. Since then Syd has been the warden, or as some say the “eyes” of the reserve, visiting it at least twice a week. In 2007, the Environment Minister Barry Penner recognized Syd Watts’ devotion and presented him with the Volunteer of the Year Award for his long-term contributions to Strathcona Provincial Park and the Mount Tzouhalem Ecological Reserve. Sadly, Emily was not alive to share Syd’s recognition, but her name is forever linked with Syd’s in the preservation of the Mount Tzouhalem Ecological Reserve. Syd made many presentations at public meetings to save his beloved special areas and was always willing to share his wide naturalist knowledge. In 2008, a board walk at Somenos Marsh was named Watts Walk to commemorate Syd and Emily’s work in preserving the Marsh.
Syd’s last (physical) smile was when he heard the news that some of the reintroduced bluebird eggs were hatching in the bird-boxes on Mount Tzouhalem. On the evening of May 25, 2013, surrounded by a few close friends, Syd got up and walked down the trail for the last time. He left behind his trapper-nelson pack, his wooden ice-axes, leather boots and old binoculars, but also many wonderful memories. As he walked down the trail towards Emily (probably with a smile as wide as the island) one of his favourite songs – the Happy Wanderer – could be heard playing in the breeze.
– Lindsay Elms with material from Genevieve Singleton and Sandy Briggs
Syd’s contribution to Vancouver Island mountain exploration can’t be understated. His legacy will be around a very long time. The Vancouver Island climbing community will miss him and I’m personally honored to have met him and shared some stories together. A fine gentleman.
– Rick Johnson
Syd was instrumental in sending me down a path where mountains and mountain culture would dominate the rest of my life. Week long trips in Strathcona Park climbing mountains like the Red Pillar and Argus, along with memories of camping at Tsela Lake and Marble Meadows are permanently etched in my mind. These were the best of times and it was Syd as much as the mountains that made them special.
– Bryan Lee
Syd Watts once told me that he loved every aspect of being in the mountains and nature. His life and fine legacy truly reflect this.
– Judith Holm