Revered climber and activist dies in climbing fall
Thursday, Aug 23, 2012 06:00 am
After more than a half-century of climbing, Calgary’s Rick Collier remained continually engaged by the activity.
Climbing, he expressed in a 2005 interview with this author not long after reaching his 1,000th summit, incorporates navigational skills, physical exercise and learning to use equipment and skills to solve problems.
“There are always new problems to solve,” Collier said. “It’s a kind of full body problem solving. There’s not many problems in the city you can’t solve with money. You have to go into the wilderness to find those.”
And it was on Mount Geikie in the wilderness of Mount Robson Provincial Park, in the Tonquin Valley area shared by Jasper National Park that Collier died on Aug. 15 when the section of rock face he was climbing on gave way underneath him. According to the B.C. Coroner’s office, Collier died within minutes. Two of his three climbing partners sustained injuries and were rescued by the combined efforts of Mount Robson park rangers and Jasper public safety wardens, who also recovered Collier’s body.
Collier is survived by his wife Mardy Roberts, sons Timothy Collier, Paul and David Roberts and five grandsons.
A long-time Calgary resident, Collier, 71, was a well-liked English composition teacher at Mount Royal College until he retired in 1996. After discovering climbing at 15 at quarries on the Mississippi River, he was mentored by Thomas Hornbein who, with partner Willi Unsoeld, became the first Americans to summit Everest in 1963.
Over the decades, Collier explored from the Arctic to the European Alps, to New Zealand, South America and the Yukon, but it was in the Rockies he made his mark, delighting in exploring some of the most obscure, untravelled corners of the range. His annual trip reports compiled in the Canadian Alpine Journal, including at least eight first ascents, never ceased to amaze.
Only the second person (of some half-dozen) to climb all 54 of the peaks in the Canadian Rockies above 11,000 feet (3,353 metres), completed in 1994, he did so without relying on any aircraft support, reaching all the trailheads by vehicle, skis, bicycle or foot.
In 2005, he completed an even more impressive project, climbing all of the 600-ish named peaks of the Southern Rockies as listed in Glen Boles’ classic 1973 Climber’s Guide to the Rocky Mountains of Canada South guidebook, a feat unlikely to ever be repeated. That year, he also finished climbing all the named summits on the continental divide between the U.S. border and Saskatchewan River Crossing. In 2006, he followed up by reaching his final summit from the 2006 edition of Alan Kane’s Scrambles in the Canadian Rockies.
Collier graciously credited about 25 climbing partners who helped him accomplish his milestones, saying, “They were with me when I needed them, they know their craft and their lore and they had the skills we needed when we needed them.”
He admitted that often he and his partners asked themselves “why do we do this?
“I always answer, it may not be fun, but it sure was memorable,” Collier said with a laugh.
Among his most memorable was 3,119-metre Mount Swiderski, the last unclimbed named Southern Rockies peak which involved several un-bridged creek crossings.
“Every place is the same, every place is different,” Collier said of his inspiring explorations. “Climbing peels away all those superficial layers. It’s not religious, but spiritual. If I had to choose I’d have to say I’m an animist – I believe every stream, every meadow, every creature has its own spiritual force.”
Since retiring, Collier had intensified his climbing schedule, most often with fellow members of their Old Goat Mountaineering Club, of which Collier was a founding member.
In addition to having climbed more than 1,300 mountains, including Canada’s highest, Mount Logan in a 22-hour effort in 2001, Collier was also an accomplished marathoner, long-distance cyclist who crossed the U.S. several times and canoeist who paddled from Prince Rupert to Alaska.
Over the years he also made numerous solo backcountry trips, one lasting nine days.
“Solo trips are when you get in touch with those little nodes of higher existence,” he said. “I overcome my urban generated fears of the outdoors, and realize the wilderness is a really gentle place.”
Collier said he disliked popular mythology about bears, having encountered at least one or two each summer, such as an encounter with a grizzly with a cub.
“She charged three times, coming to about 12 feet each time,” he said. “She was close enough I could look right into her eyes, and she was terrified. A lot more scared than I was.”
Beyond his outdoor pursuits, Collier was a passionate advocate for social justice and environmental issues, maintaining memberships with the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, Project Plowshares and Amnesty International. In the 2012 Alberta provincial election he ran as an NDP candidate in the Calgary-Glenmore riding.
Working on three more projects at the time of his death, Collier had joked that his goals helped him plan his adventures.
“I guess it gives you a goal, a way to organize your climbing,” he said. “And you get to Shanghai your friends into climbing these obscure peaks. It’s a great way of getting into different places.”
Climbing, he added, offered the opportunity to explore inside himself.
“I think it’s a certain amount of testing of yourself,” he said.
“Not the stupid kind of adolescent stuff, but we don’t have many opportunities to see how well we endure, cope under stressful situations. It renews your sense of humanity. There’s lots of symbolism in mountain climbing. You can get up to the summit of a mountain, but you can never stay there. It’s not yours, but you can go back. The experiences are borrowed. As long as you keep your aerobic fitness, you don’t ever have to quit.”
A memorial will be held today (Aug. 23) at 7 p.m. at Knox United Church in Calgary (506 – 4 St. S.W.).