SH: Do you have a favorite park Darro?
Darro: Jasper was probably …. I spent 20 years in Jasper. Certainly when my name came up on the list to leave Yoho, I really enjoyed working there. At that time Donny Mickle, Art Cochrane, Dale Portman, Randy Robertson,, Bill Wallburger , Stan Stachara, Gord Rutherford, Jim Purdy were there. It was just a good time. I learned lots and Field was a small town of course. When my name came up (on the eligibility list) there was no opportunity in Yoho and Jasper made me an offer. Don Dumpleton was the Chief Warden, but Duane Martin was my boss. He was the Assistant Chief Warden at the time in charge of law enforcement I think. So I went up to have a chat and said I’m in. When I worked at Mile 45 the other three guys worked for Toni Klettl in public safety and I worked for Duane Martin in law enforcement. That was the reporting lines, but it never really worked. There was stuff that had to happen so we just all worked together to get it done, again I was at Mile 45 for quite a while. My son, Kelly, was born in Jasper and we lived there until he was ready to start school, so we were there six or seven years before we moved to Athabasca Falls just to get closer to town.

SH: When did you and Linda get married then? In Yoho?
Darro: Linda and I got married in 1974 when we lived at Takakkaw Falls. We got married in Banff and Kelly was born in 1976 while we were at Mile 45.

SH: Can you tell me about any rescue/wildlife/enforcement stories that stick out in your memory? (Tape 14:11)
Darro: Let me tell you about my early encounter with Tim Auger. I was living at Takakkaw Falls as I mentioned earlier and Tim was at Lake O’hara in the summer months. So we were both seasonal wardens, but Tim had been at Lake O’hara for awhile already. Tim was an accomplished mountaineer early on and I was pretty keen to get into that. I had done lots of scrambling, but I had not done any technical climbing and of course I sat there on the porch at Takakkaw Falls where I could look at Takakkaw Falls, and I was convinced there was a route up the face of Takakkaw Falls.

Darro participated in the Jasper Rodeo 1988

Tim and I used to play chess on the radio at night. At that time there was a channel we could go to that the whole park didn’t have to listen to, but they could listen to if they wanted to, but it wasn’t the regular channel. We’d play chess on that. I don’t know how often we did it, but It took us days and days to play a game.

But we got talking about going climbing at some point. I asked him about Takakkaw Falls and if there was a route.
He said “Yes, there’s a route up the left side”. I said I figured there had to be a way up on that, but I wasn’t sure where.

He said, “Why don’t I come over tomorrow and we’ll climb it.” It was just like that …. That’s how it happened. So, the first technical climb I did was up the left side of Takakkaw Falls with Tim. It was a bit of a surprise, but I don’t think Tim had been up it at that time. No he had, he had been up it because he knew about the tunnel. There’s a cave you’ve got to go into. It’s about three quarters of the way up. It’s hard to see from below unless someone pointed it out to you you’d never see it. It’s right on the face and it runs perpendicular to the waterfall. So it was an old water channel. So you get about three quarters of the way up the face. Then the rest of the face is very steep and/or overhanging. I was thinking as I was getting up there, holy shit how are we going to get off this thing. So we get to this little spot and there’s a little cave. You get down on your belly and push your pack in front of you and crawl through it, I can’t remember how far but it’s got to be one hundred feet or more, and you push your pack in front of you and crawl. It comes up right where the waterfall falls over the cliffs and that’s the end of the climb. There’s a little bit of low angled stuff to get to the very top of the ridge and then you walk down the north ridge and you cross the Yoho River. So it was pretty spectacular. I figured I’d done something pretty special that day. I was so pumped about it.

We were talking about where we were going to go next. What are we going to do? I’m sure I was like a puppy dog talking to Tim. We climbed a few other things at Lake O’hara. Grassi Ridge and a few others but he had always wanted to do a route on the back side of Victoria. He had talked to me about it and the back side of Victoria is pretty ominous looking when you look at it from Lake O’hara. From the Lake Louise side there’s several routes up it mostly on ice and snow but on the back side; it’s mostly shitty rock in a lot of places. But Tim wanted to find a route up there so off we went. We did a first ascent on the back side of Mount Victoria and Tim wrote it up for the Alpine Club magazine. It was pretty exciting. We got up to the top. It was just getting dark, and we wanted to get down to Abbott (Pass) Hut before it got dark so we virtually raced down to the hut. There was nobody in the hut, but a party had been in there and they’d just left a hell of a mess and Tim being Tim said we can’t leave this mess here. So we probably spent an hour cleaning up the cabin as best we could. Then we looked at each other because we hadn’t planned to spend the night. We had a little bit of food and we had a little bit of bivouac gear and we decided to go back to Lake O’hara. I think we got back to Lake O’hara at about one in the morning or something. It was a long day, but it was pretty exciting.

SH: Good story.
Darro: My time at Takakkaw Falls …. I’d never been involved in any fatality recovery or anything. I’d never seen a dead person actually, until I started working at Takakkaw Falls. So I got a pretty rude awakening my first summer. There was a heart attack on Hunter Ridge, there was an American couple that fell off some cliffs up towards Twin Falls and it took us several days to find them, there was a murder at Takakkaw Falls where a guy came over and said, “There’s a guy laying in the bush and he’s not moving, but I didn’t want to go close to him because I wasn’t sure if he was by himself or not. His pants were down, and you might want to go have a look at it.“ I was thinking that maybe there was something going on off to the side there, as there was a little bit of a meadow over there. Anyhow, the guy was dead and he was murdered by a hitchhiker that he’d picked up.

So that summer I got an introduction to another part of the job. At one point Stan Stachara was calling me the mortician. That was my introduction to the other side of the Warden Service I guess, there was a single RCMP stationed in Field. It was just part of the job (Tape 22:26).

Section 3: 11:05 am
SH: Okay, let’s continue with stories. You can talk about rescues, wildlife, anything you want.
Darro: Let me talk a little bit about my first years in the backcountry in Jasper. Once I moved to Mile 45, part of the south boundary which runs along the Brazeau River and then along the divide between the Cardinal River which runs up towards Hinton, is all easily accessible boundary. There’s lots of hunting activity both by individuals and by outfitters. There was a couple of years there where there were probably five outfitters and four other hunting camps on about a 40 km stretch of the Brazeau River, so it kept us pretty busy in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. There was a lot of activity there, there was a lot of horse traffic back and forth across the river. We would come across them, not regularly but often, for the most part they didn’t have firearms with them. We tried to maintain a high presence upon that stretch of the river especially. The four of us at Mile 45 used to help out the backcountry crew at that time which was under law enforcement.

My first opportunity was to go out there with Dave Carnell that fall of 1975 and by then I had been on several pack trips and felt pretty confident about my horse skills. So after that first trip with Dave Carnell I started traveling by myself quite a bit, at every opportunity I got actually.

Then that led into being the backcountry supervisor for the south. Brian Wallace was on the north and I was on the south. By then my son Kelly was four or five years old, and he used to come with me quite a bit. He’d ride sitting on the front of my saddle. I just put in a pad and he’d ride with me, and then when he was about six he had his own horse. Linda travelled with us as well and was always helpful to have an extra set up hands. It was a special time for us all, we had a lot of good times. There were long days and hard work and Kelly never complained about it. Once in awhile he’d say, “I’m cold and wet”, but he never complained about it and I think it set him up for where he is today. Those were pretty special years in my mind in terms of being in the Warden Service.

Darro’s family enjoyed the backcountry too.

Lots of people came through the backcountry at that time: Al MacDonald, John Niddrie, Rod Wallace, Rick Ralf, Gord Anderson, Alfie Creighton, Greg Fenton, Al Bjorn, Brad Bischoff, Jane Emson, Dave Smith to name a few. In Jasper we had a patrolman program which allowed us to augment our backcountry capability without having to deal with restrictions on the number of GT’s in the Warden Service, because they were PRC and they were usually just three to four month jobs. Sometimes they were kept on a little bit longer but several of them were very handy with horses, so we had district patrolmen at that time. A lot of them are still around today and done well. Again, I still look at those days as probably some of the best days of my career.

Kelly’s fishing success!