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Three Things I’ve Learned, with Richard Guy

October 25, 2015

THREE THINGS I’VE LEARNED
WITH RICHARD GUY

By Lynn Martel

Mountains make the greatest teachers and provide us with countless opportunities to contemplate, question and learn. At 99, Richard Guy has had nearly a century of lessons during his life-long relationship with the mountains. In this installment of “Three Things I’ve Learned”, writer Lynn Martel taps into the wisdom of this mathematician and mountain adventurer, who truly embodies a life lived to the fullest.

Louise and Richard enjoy the sun at base camp on the Quintino Sella Glacier below Mount Logan, Yukon. Photo courtesy of Richard Guy Collection

Louise and Richard enjoy the sun at base camp on the Quintino Sella Glacier below Mount Logan, Yukon. Photo courtesy of Richard Guy Collection.

Having recently celebrated his 99th birthday – with a hiking holiday at Assiniboine Lodge, of course – Richard Guy has led an extraordinary and fortunate life.  

Richard immigrated to Canada with his wife, Louise, in 1965, when they were both approaching their 50s. Natives of Britain, they married in 1940 after discovering, among other things, they shared a love for dancing and mountains. Their courtship included a two-week hiking and scrambling journey in the Lake District of Northwest Britain. A highly unconventional “date” in that era, they very properly stayed at youth hostels in separate men’s and women’s dorms.

Together they raised three children, Elizabeth Anne, Michael and Peter, who were all born during the Second World War while Richard was, except (apparently) for a few short visits home, posted in Scotland, Iceland and Bermuda, serving as a weather forecaster for the Royal Air Force.  

Pursuing his career as a mathematics professor, the family lived in Singapore for 10 years. While there, Louise, who had earned a teacher’s diploma, taught at a leper colony for a time while their children attended boarding school in Britain. For three years they also lived in Delhi.

Richard strikes a professorial pose at London University Goldsmith’s College, UK, circa 1947. Photo Richard Guy Collection.

Richard strikes a professorial pose at London University Goldsmith’s College, UK, circa 1947. Photo Richard Guy Collection.

In Canada they settled in Calgary where Richard taught mathematics at the University of Calgary. It was through his colleagues that they joined The Alpine Club of Canada, beginning decades of mountain adventures.

They attended dozens of mountaineering and backcountry ski touring camps, including a ski adventure to Mount Logan when they were in their early 70s, camping on glaciers for ten days with Banff poet, Jon Whyte; and Roddy McGowan and their close friend, Chic Scott, as their guides. They were still skiing into the Alpine Club of Canada’s Bow Hut in their late 70s.

Active and extremely well-liked members of the Calgary Mountain Club, as well as the ACC, they were honoured as the ACC Mountain Guides Ball Patrons in 1998. Every year at the Guides Ball, a formal fundraising event, they were always the first couple on the dance floor, and the last. In his biography, Young at Heart: The Inspirational Lives of Richard and Louise Guy, Chic Scott quoted Richard: “I count myself as the luckiest person in the world. I was married to the best wife in the world for 70 years, and I was paid for doing what I like doing.”

Although he retired from teaching in 1982, to this day Richard continues to go to his office at the University of Calgary five days a week, because “I think mathematics is great fun!” Beginning in 2001, he and Louise participated in the Alberta Wilderness Association’s annual Climb and Run for Wilderness fundraiser, climbing the 802 steps of the Calgary Tower – making seven trips the first year! Richard last completed the climb in 2014 at 97, and last year still managed to be the top fundraiser.    

While Louise died at age 92 on Richard’s 94th birthday, he has continued to enjoy life, including his mountain passions. In June 2012, when he was 96, he hiked to the summit of Ha Ling, high above Canmore, with several close friends, and carrying Louise’s ashes. It was a long difficult day for him, but an immensely rewarding one since it was a favourite peak they had climbed together 20 times.

It is only fitting then, that after making a generous donation to the ACC that the Club would name its new hut, scheduled to open early in 2016 near Mont des Poilus high in Yoho National Park: the Louise & Richard Guy Hut.

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1/ Patience, persistence and prudence.

I long ago learned to keep calm when a blizzard hits you, or you get into a whiteout. Learn to accept discomfort.

2/ Care and experience will keep you out of trouble.

I used to say that Louise was the second-most person I liked to be with in the mountains. The first was myself. It’s perhaps not wise to wander about the mountains alone, but with care and experience I never got into any trouble. And I could enjoy the peace, calm and solitude. But when you’re with others, I learned to make sure that everyone is safe and happy, and not to attempt climbs which are too difficult for the weakest member.

3/ The third time’s the charm…

I also said that it took me three attempts to climb a mountain. First time you run out of steam or run out of time or come up against some difficulty. Second time the piece you covered before is now familiar and easily covered, leaving you in good shape to attempt the next section. If that doesn’t do it, then third time lucky. As Neville Chamberlain notoriously quoted, ‘If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, try again.’ But then, as [Canadian mountain guide] Don Vockeroth said, always be planning your next trip. Look to the future. Look about you and enjoy the scenery, the geology, the wildlife. Learn something new each time you go out.

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Author of two books of adventure and nine mountain biographies, Lynn Martel explores the Canadian Rockies backcountry by skis, boots, camera and the written word.