Alan Twigg’s tribute to Rudolf Vrba

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Antics, epics & escapades

January 08th, 2018

Those who have studied at University of British Columbia (at undergraduate or graduate levels) and who have had some interest in mountaineering (at whatever level) will have joined and done a variety of trips and treks (of various levels of challenge and competence) with the Varsity Outdoor Club, the Club being one of the oldest mountaineering clubs on the west coast (the Alpine Club of Canada and British Columbia Mountaineering Clubs are older).

Varsity Outdoor Club climbers, icons and mentors such as Karl Ricker, Dick Culbert (who published in 1965 the first book on Alpine Climbing on the West Coast, “Climber’s Guide to the Coastal Ranges of British Columbia”), Glenn Woodsworth (who published the first climbing guide to various routes on the Chief), Bruce Fairley and John Baldwin (both who published superb west coast guide books) were all products of the vibrant era of the 1960s-1980s of VOC. Each of them are amply covered in Antics, Epics and Escapades.

Some of the innovative first ascents of the Varsity Outdoor Club are commendable– creative routes up the sheer rock face of the Chief in Squamish in the late 1950s-early 1960s, Culbert’s led 1st winter ascent of
Mt. Waddington (plus his many other premiere climbs), multiple first ascents in the Stikine area between 1970 and 1972, the 1st Spearhead, Tellot Lake to Knight Inlet, Lizzie Lake to Fraser Valley traverses and the first Canadian Himalayan Expedition.

The 100th anniversary tale of the Varsity Outdoor Club from 1917-2017 is aptly, graphically and generously told and recounted in the finely packaged and printed A Century of Antics, Epics, & Escapades: The Varsity Outdoor Club 1917-2017 (UBC Varsity Outdoor Club, 2017). “A History Older than Ours” (First Nations history) introduces this bounty of a book, the meticulous “Timeline” offers an aerial overview of the history and the chapters that follow delve deeper into the unfolding drama: 1) 1917-1939: Maps: VOC Areas & Traverses Over Time, 2) 1940s: Decades of Garibaldi Park, 3) 1950s: Decades of Loganeering, 4) 1960s: Buildering and Socializing, 5) 1970s: Conservation and Advocacy in the VOC, 6) 1980s: Women in the VOC, 7) 1990s: Huts and Selection of Traverses since the 2000s & Climbing Pilgrimages, 8) 2000s: VOC Portrait and Marriage Proposals, 9) 2010s and 11) Beyond 2017.

Each of the chapters are told in an evocative and compelling manner, and for those even minimally interested in the west coast and west coast mountaineering many a detail is told in a most readable and accessible manner. The multiple photographs in this timely hardbound classic of a telling are more than worth many a lingering and meditative gaze. The roll call of those who have provided wise leadership over the decades, challenging trips and tragic endings are all packed into this compact text.

The fact the Varsity Outdoor Club has played such a pivotal role in pioneering 1st ascents, building new trails and huts, founding Mountain Equipment Co-Op (MEC) and continued with their creative antics, epics and escapades (updated for each decade) does need to be duly noted. The black and white photos (reflecting an earlier era) and many coloured photos complement the text in a balanced and well crafted manner. The diverse yet short biographies of many VOC myths, legends and leaders over the decades are succinctly summed up on various pages with companion photographs.

There can be no doubt that Antics, Epics, & Escapades is a purchase imperative for those interested in west coast history, UBC mountaineering exploits (more daring and demanding the further afield), the mountaineering support structure (MEC, huts, trails maintenance and political advocacy for wilderness and wildness). Varsity Outdoor Club has been front and centre both in UBC and beyond in initiating, maturing and sustaining mountain culture and the way VOC has done this is superbly told in A Century of Antics, Epics, & Escapades: The Varsity Outdoor Club 1917-2017. Elliott Skierszkan deserves an A++ grade for guiding the mountain tale from beginning to end and keeping the team well roped on the lengthy journey.

By Ron Dart         

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