Accomplished climber dies on Alberta peak

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A Winnipeg climber who was among the first to scale Manitoba's namesake mountain has died in an accident in Banff National Park.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 08/08/2013 (3297 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

A Winnipeg climber who was among the first to scale Manitoba’s namesake mountain has died in an accident in Banff National Park.

Peter Aitchison, a retired University of Manitoba math professor who most recently put his handyman skills to work at Pollock’s Hardware Co-op, died Wednesday after slipping during a scramble up Mount Victoria. He was 71.

“He was passionate about sharing the outdoors with anyone who wanted to share an adventure with him,” said his son and fellow climber Jeff Aitchison. “He was highly respected as an outdoorsman, and tough as nails.”

Handout Peter Aitchison, seen here with son Jeff during a recent climb, died Wednesday in the Rockies.

He was known for setting out at the crack of dawn, which is what he did Wednesday morning while on an annual climbing expedition organized through the Manitoba chapter of the Alpine Club.

Parks Canada said Aitchison and a partner were climbing the south summit of Mount Victoria near Lake Louise when he slipped and plunged about 150 metres.

Jeff Aitchison said his dad was apparently doing a relatively easy scramble up a slope when he slipped on some loose rock, falling backwards. He hit his head during the fall, cracking his helmet. By the time his fellow climbers reached him, Aitchison was dead.

‘He was highly respected as an outdoorsman, and tough as nails’

— Jeff Aitchison of his father, Peter Aitchison

He’d roped up for an earlier, tougher section of the climb, but hadn’t bothered to rope up for the easy scramble. Jeff Aitchison calls it a fluke accident.

“Peter was one of my greatest mentors,” said Simon Statkewich, president of the local Alpine Club and part of the trip to the Rockies. “He was always generous and giving of his time and talent.”

It was Aitchison’s sixth ascent of Mount Victoria.

Though he climbed everywhere — Australia, Colorado, the Whiteshell — Aitchison might be best-known for leading the first ascent of Mount Manitoba, among a batch of peaks in the Yukon named for each province to celebrate Canada’s centennial.

No one had ever climbed the 3,400-metre peak, but Aitchison led the charge in 1992. The climbers, who included Tibor Bodi, Bob France and a 23-year-old Jeff Aitchison, weathered frustrating delays due to bad weather, a long ski to base camp, an avalanche and snow so deep Jeff Aitchison said it was like the climbers had to swim to the top. At one point, a couple hours from base camp, a posse of climbers made a snow cave to wait out some bad weather and Aitchison announced he was going to head back to fetch a stove and some food, recalled his son.

The first to reach the knife-edge peak, Aitchison made a little platform in the snow so others could get up.

“He was just sitting there, smiling, belaying everyone up,” said Jeff.

Aitchison revived the Manitoba chapter of the Alpine Club in the 1980s and was also an avid canoeist and cross-country skier before cross-country was cool. He had to mail-order skis and would break trails along the Red River from his home to the U of M so he could ski to work.

He was also a frequent writer of letters to the editor on diverse topics. His letters often included Monty Python references.

Interviewed by the Free Press before and after his ascents, he was often philosophical about the risks of rock climbing and mountaineering.

“That’s life, isn’t it,” he said in 1993 before setting out to climb Mount Atlantic in southwest Yukon. “We think the challenge and satisfaction you get from doing this is worth the risks.”

maryagnes.welch@freepress.mb.ca

History

Updated on Thursday, August 8, 2013 6:30 AM CDT: Replaces photo

Updated on Thursday, August 8, 2013 7:53 AM CDT: corrects typo

Updated on Thursday, August 8, 2013 10:34 AM CDT: corrects typo

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