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Rockies Legend Trained With Gymnasts in 1960s For Yamnuska

Climbers would train indoors to climb Yamnuska in 1960s

Back in the 1970s, most rock climbers in Calgary were from the U.K. and moved to Canada for work.

Some of them, such as Don Vockeroth and Mike Wiegele would visit the The Calgary Gymnastics Centre at the Mount Royal Gymnastics Club to train specifically for rock climbing.

This was long before indoor climbing and training became popular in Canada. Vockeroth and Wiegele would do chin ups and core workouts. They even found indoor places to train on edges and practice moves.

Mount Royal Gymnastics was located in southwest Calgary within the Atco Industrial Park, overlooking Crowchild Trail, close to where many Calgary Mountain Club members lied.

The MRGC was founded in 1969 by Jim and Jean Jarrell, two local school teachers with an interest in gymnastics.

The club experienced steady growth through its first 10 years, incorporating in 1979. By 1983 it was obvious that a larger, full-time facility was required and the club moved into a larger centre.

After 30 years, they had one of the largest programs in the country, with over 4,000 participants annually.

Vockeroth recently talked about his training days at Brian Greenwood’s memorial in Canmore.

“We used to bike over to the club to train before heading to pub night to drink beer,” he said.

“We’d do push-ups, chin-ups and work on our core so we would be stronger on the steep Yamnuska climbs.”

Training specifically for rock climbing didn’t become popular until the 1980s with climbers like Kurt Albert, Jerry Moffat, John Bachar and Wolfgang Gullich leading the way.

Vockeroth said that when he moved away from the Rockies in the 1980s, he stopped pushing himself in the mountains, but that he never stopped training finger and forearm strength.

Wolfgang Gullich

Vockeroth is a true mountain climbing pioneer. In the early 1960s, Vockeroth and his good friend Lloyd MacKay were the first born-in-Canada Canadians to climb at the forefront of the sport. Together, they established some of the hardest climbs in North America: Forbidden Corner and The Bowl on Yamnuska and the spectacular Northeast Buttress of Howse Peak.

Born in Drumheller in 1937, Vockeroth began his climbing adventures on the frozen banks of the Red Deer River. For over 50 years, he has devoted his life to the pursuit of his mountain passion, as a ski instructor and a mountain guide. In 1967, he was one of the first guides certified by the fledgling Association of Canadian Mountain Guides and for many years he led climbs for The Alpine Club of Canada at their General Mountaineering Camp.

He was made an honourary life member of the Calgary Mountain Club in 1987. His climbing achievements and appreciation of mountain environments led to his designation as patron of the 16th annual Alpine Club of Canada Mountain Guides Ball in 2005.

Chic Scott and Don Vockeroth in 2018

“Anyone who climbs in the Canadian Rockies owes a huge debt to Don Vockeroth, and it’s perhaps the most telling thing about the man’s character that that debt is often invisible to those who have followed in his footsteps,” says climber and author Geoff Powter, a member of the Summit of Excellence selection committee.

“Several of Don’s routes, especially on Yamnuska, were world-class technical and aesthetic achievements in their time, but Don climbed them quietly and humbly. As a climber, guide and mentor, he’s a star of Canadian climbing who has left a great legacy of style and character, and every climber here owes him a nod.”

Vockeroth and his wife Sheila have lived in Rossland, British Columbia since the early 1970s. Over the years he has owned and operated sports shops there and recently served as a town councillor. But Vockeroth’s heart has remained in the outdoors — he’s recently undertaken major ski expeditions in the Muskwa Ranges in the remote northern Rockies.

Mike Wiegele went on to pioneer heli-skiing and heli-snowboarding in 1970.

To think that two of Canada’s most legendary mountain figures spent their early climbing days training indoors for steep rock a decade before others shows how far ahead some rock climbers were for their time.

Mike Wiegele and Don Vockeroth rope up for glacier travel in 2014

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