Legendary Rockies climber Charles “Chas” Yonge, who made hundreds of first ascents in Canada and was a world renowned cave explorer, has passed away. He was in his mid-70s.
He found his passion for rock climbing and “pot-holing,” which is another term for caving in England, at a young age. He joined the Pothole Society in university, which led to a PhD in karst paleoclimatology.
Chas moved to Ontario and opened a number of new rock climbs on the Niagara Escarpment, including traditional routes at Buffalo Crag and Mount Nemo. He mentored climbers like Steve De Maio, Pete Zabrok and John Kaandorp. He soon resettled in the Bow Valley.
He would go on to take part in cave research in Cuba, Barbados, Belize, Mexico, United States, Norway, Indonesia, Australia, China, Vietnam, Bhutan, England, Wales, Ireland, France, Spain, Turkey, Papua New Guinea and Canada. He discovered, explored and mapped numerous significant caves and would publish his results.
In 1992, Chas started Canmore Cave Tours, which explored a number of caves in the Rockies and ran group trips into Rat’s Nest Caves on Grotto Mountain. The cave is renowned for its complexity and the “bone bed” is a treasure trove of specimens.
Chas lobbied the provincial government to have it designated as a provincial historic resource, which was done in March 1987. He refused to develop the site with lights and ladders to ensure it remained as natural as possible.
“It’s a very interesting site, probably even more interesting than we realize,” Chas said here. “I think that’s one of the best things about caving, how it provides this great opportunity for discovery. A lot of what we do is original exploration, and that makes caving rather special.”
He was recently recognized for his years of caving explorations and received the Sir Christopher Ondaatje Medal, which recognizes important Canadian explorers.
When I moved to the Rockies, Chas was one of my inspirations. His name appeared in rock climbing guidebooks, and you would sometimes run into him at a local crag where he would be cleaning dirt from future new routes. He established climbs throughout the Bow Valley, including in Heart Creek and Grotto Canyon, and many of his routes have become classics.
Chas and I would often run into each other at the local climbing gym, where he continued to train until 2019. I was lucky to spend a number of beer-drinking nights with him and his old friends, including Canmore climber Chris Perry. We would talk about potential new routes and, after some prying, he would fill me in on what he was working on.
Chas also spent time in the alpine. In late 1980s, he made an attempt on the north face of Mount Temple in winter with Sean Dougherty and Trevor Jones. It ended near the top of the wall in what Chic Scott described as “one of the boldest climbs of the era.” A storm buried the upper rock in snow and the team had to descend The Greenwood/Locke in a blizzard.
In 1987, Yonge teamed up with Sean Dougherty and Jim Sevigny and repeated the George Homer and Rob Wood 5.10R route up the northeast face of the Windtower. It’s still one of the most serious rock climbs in the Bow Valley.
He made first ascents of some amazing multi-pitch routes on Goat Mountain west of Calgary, particularly on Kid Goat, a cliff that he wrote a popular guidebook for. As of last summer, he had at least one new multi-pitch route in the works.
One of his most recent additions to the Bow Valley was Heart Line, a 17-pitch bolted 5.9 A0 route that ends on the summit of Heart Mountain. It’s one of the longest and most-climbed multi-pitch adventures in Canada.
Chas was an explorer who spent countless days developing routes for others to enjoy and years discovering caves around the world. He leaves behind a legacy of bold climbs and unfinished maps of underground worlds that will take you to unexplored places. Our deepest condolences to his family and friends.