In this fascinating biography, author Lisa Baile provides a detailed portrait of John Clarke, the man who became British Columbia’s most renowned mountaineer by doing it his way. Clarke had no interest in “trophy climbs” and never did ascend many of BC’s highest peaks. On the other hand, he explored more virgin territory and racked up more first ascents than any other climber—perhaps more than any climber who ever lived.
Although he came to be honoured far and wide and is one of the few mountaineers to be awarded the Order of Canada, he was a modest man who pursued his passion without fanfare, frequently embarking on gruelling expeditions into unknown territory by himself. His reputation spread and grew to legendary proportions, not just owing to the prodigious scale of his achievements, but because of the way he carried them out—he travelled light and had no money for high-tech gear, wearing cotton long johns and eating lentils and homemade granola.
He dedicated his life to exploring the numberless, nameless peaks of the Coast Mountains and worked at odd jobs just long enough to pay for the next season’s climbing. He was charismatic and famously attractive to women, but none were able to complete with his first love and he didn’t marry until he was 56. Always a popular lecturer, he devoted his considerable energies to conservation and environmental education in his later years. In 1996 John Clarke and Lisa Baile founded the school base, award winning Wilderness Education Program [WildED—www.wilded.org] . In 1997 John Clarke co-founded the Witness Project along with hereditary chief of the Squamish First Nation, Bill Williams, and photographer Nancy Bleck. Witness, an innovative & peaceful model of conservation, brought native and non-native people together for camping weekends on the banks of Sims Creek. After Clarke succumbed to cancer in 2003, the BC government named Mount John Clarke in his honour—fitting recognition for the man who had himself named many of BC’s mountains.
John Clarke: Explorer of the Coast Mountains covers this remarkable life from beginning to end, examining Clarke through his own words and pictures as well as through the words of his many friends. All agree it was an honour to have known him, and readers will find it equally inspiring to meet him through these pages.
“This is a story of a true hero. . . which is surely destined to elevate this legendary climber into the realm of the Titans, a place he never sought to be, but where surely his soul now resides—Wade Davis, from the Foreword [www.daviswade.com ]
“. . . . Lisa Baile skillfully and gracefully traces Clarke's singular drive, and tells us how he inspired others to explore and protect these spectacular wild spaces that have been sculpted by time. It's no surprise the Squamish people named him Xwexwselken, or Mountain Goat." – Mark Forsythe, Host of CBC Radio's B.C. Almanac
“. . . [this book] captures the brief, bright, shining life of a man who was like the Jack Kerouac of mountaineering. He followed his own path - and left those who knew what he'd accomplished, breathless and in awe." - Mark Hume, National Correspondent for the Globe and Mail
John Clarke was a unique individual. Wandering from range to range through the Coast Mountains of British Columbia, he embodied a new style of mountaineering — in tune with the landscape and one’s inner self. In his environmental work he displayed a passion that motivated thousands and ultimately made a real difference. Read this book and explore John’s world of soaring peaks, ancient forests and cascading glaciers, and discover his passionate love for all things wild. You will not be disappointed.—Chic Scott
As a newcomer to BC, I am just beginning to explore the jaw dropping scenery of the west coast by water. At the top of Bute inlet, snow capped Mt. Waddington towers above the surrounding peaks. Never have I looked up at glaciers from the deck of my own boat. Lisa Baile has taken me to the top of those same peaks to look down through the incredible adventures of John Clarke, complete with the severe weather, bears, emergency landings, equipment failure and even death that came with his remarkable explorations. This well written, captivating book is a view from the top of our glorious Coast Mountains no one else has seen them—Bob McDonald, Host of CBC’s Quirks and Quarks
MAPS: Map design and data processing—Tim Wilson. Map cartography—Tim Wilson & Lisa Baile