Explorer, Mountaineer, Conservationist, Wilderness Educator
Born February 25, 1945. Died January 23, 2003.
John Clarke was one of the great British Columbians of the twentieth century. He taught, by example, important and enduring lessons about how to live.
John's passion for the wilderness was unparalleled. He devoted much of his adult life to exploration of the Coast Range Mountains of BC. From 1964 until eight years ago, he spent at least six months a year on extended trips. Typically, he would get a boat or small plane to drop him off in remote inlets, and bushwhack through ancient forests to alpine meadows, glaciers and peaks - land previously untouched by humans. Often he would be out there for weeks at a time. Many of these trips were solo.
Considering John's gregarious nature and love of people, this underscores the incredible depth of his passion for BC's wild places. As John would explain "There's no cure for this - they (the mountains) always keep you coming back". John climbed more peaks and traversed more ridges than anyone, exploring over 10,000 sq km and making over 600 first ascents in the past 40 years.
John's idea of a 'good job' during the winter months was that it ended on April 15th and he could start preparations for the coming climbing season. As John would say, one consequence was that "there were a few embarrassing gaps in my employment resume".
A turning point came in John's life in 1994, when friend and fellow-mountaineer Randy Stoltmann was tragically killed in an avalanche while on a ski expedition with John, in the remote Kitlope Range. Randy was a dedicated conservationist and had devoted the last seven years of his life to this passion. John picked up the conservation torch where Randy left off and brought his incredible energy and focus to taking the wilderness to the people of British Columbia.
During the last 7 years of his life, John brought wilderness to the lives of over 35,000 young people in the Lower Mainland of BC, distilling his decades of wilderness exploration and thousands of beautiful photos into captivating, informative, and often hilarious, classroom presentations. Above all he was fun! He shared his lifetime of adventures with youth, inspiring them and revealing to them the wonders of British Columbia's wild places.
In 1997, John Clarke, Chief Bill Williams, hereditary chief of the Squamish First Nation, and photographer Nancy Bleck initiated the Witness Project, providing a unique opportunity for city folk to reconnect with nature, to take part in a First Nations witness ceremony, and to appreciate first-hand the importance of BC's wild places, sound environmental stewardship, and responsible wilderness adventure. Witness continues today.
Because of John's intimate knowledge of the Squamish First Nation territory and his work to preserve it they awarded him their highest honor. They adopted him at a traditional naming ceremony, in 1998, and called him Xwexwselkn or 'Mountain Goat'.
John and Lisa Baile started the Wilderness Education Program (WEP) in 1996. Of the many 'jobs' he'd had over the years this was John's absolute favorite, and he would often say, "I'm in this for life!" Through John's in-school presentations and nature hikes WEP provided the impetus for students and teachers to make a personal connection with wilderness, and to make caring for wild nature part of their lives.
John's unparalleled knowledge and passion for wilderness, his unique sense of humour, and his special ability to connect with his audience, no matter what their age, played an enormous part in WEP's success and recognition. In the last 6 years of his far too-short life John brought wilderness to the lives of over 35,000 young people in the Lower Mainland of BC, distilling his decades of wilderness exploration and thousands of beautiful photos into captivating, informative, and often hilarious, classroom presentations. Many students had the opportunity to join John on experiential wilderness hikes and overnight camping trips. Above all John was fun! WEP continues as a legacy for John and the young people of BC.
In the crowded arena of environmental voices, John was known for his balanced views, unique sense of humour, spectacular images, and well-researched presentations. He spoke of social and environmental responsibility from the heart. Like the best educators, he provided first hand information, educated with his tremendous sense of humour, passion and contagious enthusiasm, leaving people feeling that they had made their own decisions.
In 2002, John added the Order of Canada, our country's highest honour, to his numerous awards for environmental education and community service.
John's lifestyle and lifelong love affair with the mountains had convinced him that he would never settle down and have a family. However, in 2001,he met and fell totally in love with Annette Lehnacker, a talented, beautiful woman from Germany. John and Annette shared a deep love of nature and a fundamental belief that they could make the world a better place. They were married at a First Nation Shaker Ceremony at Lighthouse Park in West Vancouver, surrounded by their closest friends and family. On January 14, 2002, their son Nicholas was born.
John Clarke was and always will be a hero, a legend, a role model and an inspiration. The world is a better place for his having lived here. Our lives were enriched beyond measure.