John Clarke (mountaineer)

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John Clarke, CM (February 25, 1945 – January 23, 2003) was a Canadian explorer, mountaineer, conservationist, and wilderness educator. He was born in Ireland to Brigit Ann Clarke (née Conway) and Thomas Kevin Clarke, and died in Vancouver, British Columbia of a brain tumor. From 1964 until his death in 2003 Clarke spent at least six months of each year on extended backcountry trips, usually into the Coast Mountains of British Columbia using the technique of dropping food caches from small planes along an intended route, then traveling that route for weeks at a time. His routes regularly led him along the high ridges and glaciated icefields of the west coast, and allowed him to make hundreds of first ascents of the many mountains along the way. Many of these trips exceeded 30 days in length, and were often done solo, simply because nobody could afford the time to accompany him.


Born in Ireland, Clarke moved to Canada with his parents at age 11, attending the Monastery School in Mission, British Columbia.

Some time in around 1964 Clarke began his forays into the Coast Mountains, and over the course of the next 39 years made an amazing 600 first ascents.

In 1994, during a multi-week traverse of the Kitlope region of the Coast Mountains, Randy Stoltmann, a good friend of Clarke's, was killed in an avalanche while attempting a summit.[1] This was a turning point for Clarke. Stoltmann, already a noted conservationist and volunteer, had left a hole in the mountain community that Clarke stepped in to fill. He began his wilderness education efforts in memory of him.

In 1995, Clarke was the subject of a documentary called "Child of the Wind" by Canadian director and producer Bill Noble which won the Best film on Climbing at the 1995 Banff Mountain Film Festival.[2]

In 1996, Clarke and Lisa Baile founded the Wilderness Education Program (WEP).

In 1997, Clarke, Chief Bill Williams (hereditary chief of the Squamish First Nation), and artist photographer Nancy Bleck founded the Uts'am Witness Project, providing an opportunity for city folk to reconnect with nature and to take part in a Coast Salish First Nations witness ceremony.

In 1998, because of his work and his knowledge of the Squamish First Nation Territory, Clarke was given the honor of being adopted into the nation, and was given the Coast Salish name "Xwexwsélkn" which means "mountain goat" (a reference to his shock of unruly, wooly white hair).

In July 2002, he became one of the few mountaineers in Canada to be inducted as a Member of the Order of Canada. He was also an honorary member of the Alpine Club of Canada and the British Columbia Mountaineering Club.

On January 23, 2003, Clarke died of a brain tumor, with his family at his side. He leaves wife Annette Clarke (née Lehnacker) and son Nicholas 'Skookum', as well as his parents Brigid and Kevin, his sister Cathaleen and his brother Kevin.

In 2012, Harbour Publishing released the book John Clarke Explorer of the Coast Mountains written by Lisa Baile. In October 2013 a book about the Uts'am Witness Project which Clarke co-founded was published by Figure 1 Publishing. Picturing Transformation Nexw-áyantsut features the photographic artwork of Nancy Bleck and was written Katherine Dodds with Bleck and Chief Bill Williams.

Climbing accomplishments[edit]

This is a partial list of first ascents. Many of the peak names are suggested, links are to mountain IDs in the Canadian Mountain Encyclopedia. Where a sub peak is separated by more than 1 km from the main peak (and is unnamed) it is referred to by the main peak name, the compass point and distance from the main peak. For instance, Interesting Mountain has a sub-peak Interesting NE6 which is 6 km from the main summit at bearing 245 degrees.


  1. ^ Accident report on Randy Stoltmann's Death, Alpine Club of Canada, 1994, archived from the original on May 3, 2006
  2. ^ Banff Mountain Film Festival Winners, 1995
  3. ^ CAJ'77, p4.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g CAJ '77 p4, map p6
  5. ^ CAJ'77 p4; map p6
  6. ^ CAJ'83 pp43-48
  7. ^ CAJ, 1985 p. 13, referred to as Peak 8659
  8. ^ CAJ 1986


External links[edit]