By TOM HAWTHORN
Special to The Globe and Mail
Saturday, September 15, 2018
Tim Auger and five climbers were less than 500 metres from the summit of Mount Pumori, a satellite peak of Mount Everest, when a howling wind began punishing them.
Blowing at 65 kilometres an hour, the stinging wind "just picked up the snow and drove it into our faces," Mr. Auger said later. He knew the death toll for climbers in the Himalayas was about one in 10.
"There were many little moments of terror. There were long, long moments when we had to think about whether we were going to make it."
The expedition members were making the treacherous climb without Sherpa guides or oxygen. The 7,145-metre Nepalese peak had only first been conquered in 1962 and just four other groups had made the ascent before the Canadian attempt.
The men, led by Ian Rowe, a mechanical engineer from Golden, B.C., persevered, and at 9:15 a.m. on Oct. 7, 1977, reached the top.
"When we set foot on the summit, which was a small plateau, there was no wind," Mr. Auger said. "It was eerie, as though we were in an air pocket.
"It was a perfect day and the view over the Himalayas was fantastic. We were above the clouds and had a magnificent view of Mount Everest, which had been a backdrop to the whole climb. And in the other direction we could see into Tibet."
One of the climbers unfurled a Canadian flag and the men took turns holding it, hugging each other in the exhilaration of having completed a climb and knowing that from that point, in Mr. Auger's words, it was all downhill.
Mr. Auger, who has died at 72, was a noted mountaineer who became an expert in mountain rescues during a long career as a warden with Parks Canada in the Rocky Mountains.
He was a member of an ill-fated Canadian Mount Everest Expedition in 1982. He is credited as a pioneer of waterfall ice climbing in Canada with first ascents of Bourgeau Right-Hand and Bourgeau Left-Hand in the Rockies, dangerous climbs under constant threat of avalanche.
Bold, talented, and preternaturally calm, the lean Mr. Auger established many routes over such difficult terrain as sheer faces and frozen waterfalls. His great skill was all the more notable for his having spent his childhood in a flat Prairie city.
Timothy Frank Auger was born in Toronto on March 6, 1946, to the former Dorothy Kathleen Hill and Fred Saunders Auger. The family moved to Winnipeg in 1951 when Fred Auger became publisher of the daily Winnipeg Tribune, a position he later held with the Province newspaper in Vancouver. The lad delivered his father's newspaper.
A spirited boy, he climbed drain pipes and telephone poles. One childhood friend recalls him climbing the interior of a three-storey laundry chute in a house they were visiting.
At 13, he read Heinrich Harrer's The White Spider, a harrowing account of attempts - many of them doomed - to conquer the Eiger in the Bernese Alps of Switzerland. The book captured his imagination.
As an arts student at the University of British Columbia, Mr. Auger indulged his passion with members of the Varsity Outdoor Club. Inspired by a book about climbing the buildings at Cambridge in the 1930s, they surreptitiously hoisted, hauled and chimneyed up buildings on campus, using window ledges like ledges on a cliff face.
At 18, he and Dan Tate completed only the second ascent of the Grand Wall route on Stawamus Chief Mountain, a granite massif towering 700 metres above the waters of nearby Howe Sound overlooking the mill town of Squamish.
Mr. Auger was one of a quartet of climbers to complete the first ascent of a route along a 300-metre crack system extending up the Chief's rock face. It was named University Wall, as Mr. Auger should have been in class on campus instead of climbing. It also gave him the opportunity to respond to his mother's questions about his whereabouts by replying, "At University." University Wall was also the title of a 10minute 2006 documentary by Ivan Hughes on the 40th anniversary of the arduous climb.
In 1972, he was one of three climbers to ascend Keeler Needle on Mount Whitney, a dangerous climb in California's Inyo National Forest that had claimed several lives. Mr. Auger's group needed three days to get to the top, becoming only the second group to complete the climb.
An ambitious Mount Everest Expedition in 1982, involving more than 100 sponsoring companies and five years of preparation, included 20 Canadian climbers and 39 Sherpas.
An avalanche fatally crushed three Sherpas and two days later cameraman Blair Griffiths of Vancouver was killed when an ice tower collapsed. Mr. Auger and two Sherpas were injured in the second accident in the notorious Khumbu Icefall. Mr. Auger and six other Canadians climbers abandoned the project.
"I just realized that for me I'm on the wrong mountain at the wrong time," he said.
Mr. Auger spent six years as a warden at Lake O'Hara in Yoho National Park in eastern British Columbia before moving to Alberta to be a warden at Banff National Park.
He became an expert in mountain rescues, offering insight on sling rescues by helicopter and in postavalanche probing techniques.
On one rescue mission, he discovered in 1975 a cave in Yoho impenetrable for much of the year because of flowing water. It was named Yohole.
The Banff Centre presented him with the second annual Summit of Excellence Award in 1996 for his significant contribution to life in the Rockies. For the last four years of his life, he was an honorary member of the Association of Canadian Mountain Guides.
Mr. Auger, a resident of Canmore, Alta., died at Banff Mineral Springs Hospital. He leaves Sherry (née Doner), his wife of 46 years, and their son, Corey Auger, of North Vancouver. He also leaves four grandchildren and a brother, Barry Auger, of Vancouver.
Other notable climbs include the famous vertical rock formation El Capitan in California's Yosemite National Park. He survived a spectacular 600-metre fall during the descent from the East Ridge of Yukon's Mount Logan, Canada's highest peak. One of his favourite challenges was Banff's Mount Louis.
Mr. Auger posed for a photograph on the summit of Mount Pumori. He sent a copy to his brother, noting the height in feet of the mountain on which he stood, as well as the surrounding peaks of Nuptse, Lhotse and the looming Everest. He also inked in "5foot-9," his own modest height, dwarfed as he was by the mountaintops, a reflection of his dry wit.
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Tim Auger climbs a variant of the north ridge of Athabasca in August, 2010.