Thank you to the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies for granting permission to the Park Warden Service Alumni to post this interview on our website
Park Warden Alumni Society of Alberta
Phase 5 Oral History Project – Spring 2014
Interview with Tim Auger – Canmore, Alberta
Interview conducted by Christine Crilley-Everts
March 20, 2014
Place and Date of Birth: Toronto, 1946
Occupations: In 1969, Tim started working as a seasonal warden in Yoho National Park. He spent six seasons in Yoho. After qualifying for his guide’s license, he became a fulltime warden in Banff in 1975. He was a member of Parks Canada’s original public safety team, and spent the rest of his career as the Public Safety Specialist for Banff National Park.
Additional Information: In 1995, Tim was the recipient of the Summit of Excellence Award, honored for his incredible experience and many contributions to the Canadian climbing community.
(0:18) I was born March 6, 1946…in Toronto, but my mom and dad had started in Alberta. My dad was born in Okotoks in 1907…A lot of people wouldn’t expect, that I’ve got roots here! My parents migrated to the east for jobs. They worked their selves through various stuff. They were in Montreal at one point and my older brother was born there…I followed when they transferred to Toronto. About that time my dad was working in the advertising business, which was a really big deal…advertising was going through the roof…My dad travelled around a fair bit and that job got him a job with a newspaper publishing company in Canada called South End and my dad ended up moving us to Winnipeg. My dad was what they called the publisher of the Winnipeg Tribune. He wasn’t a newspaper man to begin with, he was more the advertising guy. I moved to Winnipeg when I was…about five years old. The Winnipeg flood had (just) happened…What I remember, what started connecting to what really is the guts of my story is there I am in Winnipeg and I just wanted to climb things. I was just a monkey to begin with! The only thing is, in Winnipeg, it is flat land and the trees that grow…are elms and oaks and they are lousy climbing trees. So I started climbing on the roof of the garage and stuff like that…that was the era of telephone poles that had stairs going up. I remember climbing up the telephone pole in the back alley and you were high enough so that you could see to the Golden Boy, which is famous in Winnipeg, the statue on the provincial building.
(3:42) I remember my parents taking my brother and I on the classic family car trip. We took off from Winnipeg and we went south through the Dakotas and then all the way across to Idaho and Washington. I remember down in South Dakota, which is hilly and a little bit mountainous, we were going up this windy road and we stopped. I jumped out the door and right beside the road was a rock buttress. I just looked at it, there was dirt coming down little gullies on either side of it and I instantly was up these gullies and it was sort of my first climbing. I mean I climbed the furniture at home when I was a kid. I didn’t manage to climb the house on the outside, but there really was an instinct to do this!
(4:58) The other thing is we crossed the country and eventually wound up in Banff as part of this same car trip. We stayed at the Banff Springs Hotel and I was fascinated by the horse concession that was across the street from the front door…So I was always over there, trying to get personal with the horses…Every day they would actually corral and drive the horses down the trail to the barns in town. One night the guys who were doing it, saw me there and said “Climb on.” So I got a free ride and it was riding with 25 horses at a gallop. It was really neat! I never forgot it. It didn’t make me a horse person because it had nothing to do with climbing, but I sure remember that…
(6:20) I then moved because my dad moved again to Vancouver. He was then the publisher of the Vancouver Province. That coincided with me finishing Grade Six to 12 in Vancouver. Then I went to UBC. I wound up graduating in 1964 with an Arts degree. Everybody knows an Arts degree is not exactly the top of the heap! I had kind of an artsy streak in me and I also took a course in Philosophy and a course in English and a little bit about Art and Art History. So there I am, not showing much sign of an awareness of the cowboy side of Canada…
(7:33) But I still wanted to climb! The climbing started up again in Vancouver because there are genuine mountains right there on the horizon. My dad…was paying attention and he hooked me up with someone who would take me climbing. I wound up on Mount Seymour which was pretty pathetic climbing actually. It is a flower garden on top in the summer! But these people were friends of my parents and they didn’t want to get into any trouble with me so they were playing it safe. I am going, “No, no, no, this isn’t climbing!” Fairly shortly after that I was introduced to the chap who was a member of one of the three mountaineering clubs out on the west coast. He was in the BC Mountaineers. He was what they called the chairman of the climbing committee, in other words he organized trips and stuff. His family would go out sporting and doing stuff at Squamish on the weekends and they took me under their wing.
So there I am at Squamish, at the foot of the Chief, and the Chief really is climbing… Then it was off to Squamish after that, as often as we could do it. This was when I was in grade eight to graduating. I actually graduated grade 12 in 1964…There were a few people around Vancouver that were rock climbers. Very few, in fact within a few weeks, I had probably met most of the people who were doing anything that was genuine rock climbing at the time…and it evolved into what we called wall climbing…There was the evolution of climbing equipment and in particular pitons, which are the things that you can hammer into a crack to make an almost un-climbable cliff climbable, you could still go up it by using the pitons and ropes. Very shortly after that, especially in California, the size of the things (rock climbs) that people were beginning to do, being that they were supported by using these new gadgets, got bigger and bigger. There were climbing magazines. There used to be a small one that was published in the North West. Once a month you got this magazine and it was the latest story of what was going on, basically in North America in rock climbing. We didn’t know any better and we jumped on that bandwagon!
There is the face on the Chief in Squamish and it is a cliff that is granite, very clean rock and it is very steep. Consequently, to climb it in almost any way you have to be pretty well trained up or strong enough…anyway I got involved in this business of wall climbing. I hadn’t made it down to California yet, but there were two guys…who decided to tackle and climb the most sheer face on the Chief and it took them weeks and weeks to do. It was something like 30 days work and even that might not be accurate. This is right around 1961/62, something like that. I am not exactly sure of those dates. But these two guys, they started working away and they did something that was pretty unusual. The cliff was so sheer with so few cracks that pitons didn’t do it all the way so they started drilling holes with rock drills and you could pound little pegs in these things and attach yourself to that. When you are standing up there, you can hardly see what is holding the person on the face and that was the way that they joined up the cracks, the natural cracks and they made it up. In the process they actually made friends with the people in Squamish who initially thought that they were nuts! Then when they realized there were a lot of tourists stopping and watching these two guys as they got smaller and smaller and higher and higher…these guys, Ed Cooper and Jim Baldwin, were their names, they succeeded and they were supported by the community…they needed some gear and the guy who was like (the local) millwright manufactured new pitons. The guys wanted pitons that were bigger and bigger and they wound up with ones that were like six inches and they weighed about two pounds each…
(15:44) Anyway a year or two later here is this route and it has only been climbed once. A friend of mine and I went up. To make a long story short we managed to pull off the second ascent of a major part of the Grand Wall. That really turned us on, like we thought, “We are pretty hot!” We were total novices really, but we had seen it and we saw the pictures in the magazines. Climbing was beginning to get a little more serious…
(16:54) When I went to UBC there was a club…called the Varsity Outdoor Club (VOC) and that was the climbing club of UBC. Not everyone there was a climber, but if you were a climber you would venture to that circuit. I started hanging out with the older guys that were there and a few of them I got to know really well. They were in the Geology Department and they were also climbers…these guys would get summer jobs and they’d work out a deal and got what they called a grubstake from the BC government. If you were travelling in the coast range and you were a geologist and could make notes on what the geology was…They didn’t tell you where to go…but if you turned in a bunch of notes or samples from as wide an area as you could (they paid you)…Dick Colburt and Glen Woodsworth were two of them. They were really great climbers ahead of their time because they climbed everything in sight, everything they could. And all they had to do was put samples in their pockets, or in their packs and stash them along the way and the helicopter would come along at the end of the summer and pick up the bags with the rocks in them. I saw that they were doing this and wondered if I could do that, but I wasn’t a geologist. I did end up getting offered a geology job, taking soil and creek samples with a big huge company, Anaconda Copper Company…it had mines around the world. They had a mine on the highway to Squamish. So I got a summer job, but it was not what I was hoping for…it was up in central BC, north of Kamloops. It was more fishing country, more mosquito country! But I did that for a couple of summers and got to know the guys more and more.
(20:13) So I was 17/18 when I climbed Squamish and then we were looking for more adventure and because you could, we started climbing the buildings at (University of British Columbia) We would do it at night. There was a book that came out from England, from Cambridge University…The Night Climbers of Cambridge or something was the name of it and they had some pictures. We thought, “Hey, that’s neat!” Something to do! So we were climbing all over the buildings.
(21:03) I can remember other things, us taking the lids off of, not sewers, but drainage things at the university and we were sort of caving even, just being goofy! Along with it, another guy showed up at the VOC. He came up with a bright idea of getting wet suits, or dry suits I guess and going out exploring on rivers and creeks…in the Fraser Valley. This guy came back with stories of really fun swimming in these steep, steep creeks that come down to the valley, through little canyons…So we just jumped right into this and he suggested that the big one would be to swim the Fraser River through Hell’s Gate. I was actually quite a strong swimmer and if anybody was going to do it, I wanted to be there…I think there were six of us and we got the rubber suits and the flippers and all that and we drove up to Hell’s Gate. A couple of miles above Hell’s Gate we put into the water with inflated tires or inner tubes. We had the type of life vests that goes right around your neck…all the ships after the Titanic had life vests that were this kind, where you keep your head out of the water. The guy who dreamt this up had actually thought it through. We put into the water and spread out. You held onto your inner tube and basically we made it. We were so buoyant that it couldn’t hold us down when we went through the really big waves and stuff like that. It worked and it was fun! I can remember you are in water above the actual falls and the water seems flat although it is tilted and it is like the world is sliding down like this (demonstrating). And when you get closer, all of a sudden there is an edge and here is this Niagara. It wasn’t a wall and it wasn’t huge rocks, but it was a giant circular thing and I just went, “I sure hope this works!” No, we didn’t have helmets. (In response to the question, “No helmets or anything?”) The river is so confined and so deep, it is actually probably 15 feet or 20 feet deep. The trick was to not get stuck there. Nobody was hurt. But it was just a sign that we were at that age where you were going to do crazy things!
(25:47) There I am at UBC and I bumped into two guys who had come out to UBC who were from Calgary and they were climbers. Not only that, but they were guys I had read about, so of course I hitched up with them…One of them whose name was (Gerry Walsh) had got a summer job the previous year as a lookout man in Yoho Park. He said, “This is perfect.” He was taking English and he took a trunk load of books up to the fire lookout…The other guy was Chic Scott… So here was this suggestion, you get a summer job, not only that it was with the government…Gerry had first got into the park by getting a job on the trail crew…He told me about the trail crew and how to get on it, or try to get on it and lo and behold it worked for me and that was about 1967…I knew from my friends at UBC Varsity Outdoor Club back in Vancouver that the most interesting place around Yoho was Lake O’Hara because the peaks were so beautiful and they are, it’s a beautiful place. It wasn’t long after I got the summer job (with the trail crew) that on the day off I would thumb a ride to wherever, into Banff or up to Lake O’Hara. This was when (warden) Sid Marty happened to be there, so I made friends with Sid. I didn’t get to do any climbing until the end of the summer, until my season was up. I was finished one day and the next day I had made arrangements to get a ride up to Lake O’Hara and we climbed Hungabee, which is pretty well the biggest mountain in the Lake O’Hara area. So, Sid and I did this and the next day I wanted to do more.
First of all, it was a great climb and I was really excited about being able to get up on a peak like that. The next day, I wanted to go and climb the grassy ridge on Wiwaxy Peak. I persuaded Sid to go with me on this little rock climb… lo and behold it is very close to the warden station. I probably slept in the cabin because he was the warden. Fairly early the next morning we are getting ready and two parties of two had already started on the Grassy Ridge. Grassy Ridge, the first ascent had been done by Brian Greenwood and it is a classic rock climb. It is nothing like Squamish or California in terms of looking like granite with clean cracks, but the thing that I wanted to just tell you about is normally when you are rock climbing, you don’t climb right underneath somebody else who is climbing. You try and go off to the side or go somewhere else. But I was so keen and there really only was one single really good climbing route on the face at that point. So we took the chance. There were four guys ahead of us, two ropes of two and then there was us…the girl who was on the rope that was the highest just happened to dislodge a chunk of rock…that was just as big as a shoe box…the guy who was leading the second rope…was close enough that he didn’t get brained by this thing or knocked right off, but the rock did fall down and it crushed the outside of his boot and his foot. So he was injured. There we were on this cliff and we were close to a ledge so that we could get down and get a little organized and get this guy lowered down. There was quite a big ledge a pitch or two below where we had the little accident…Sid is there and he is an actual badge wearing warden and we’ve got this guy with the crushed foot.