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Joseph Peter Bajan


Joseph (Joe) Bajan was born on November 6, 1955, in Knin, in the Dalmatian hinterland of Croatia. Joe's father moved the family into Germany for a short time before immigrating to Nanaimo on Vancouver Island (Canada.) At the time Joe was three. The family then moved up to No Cash (a three house town) in the Yukon near the mining town of Elsa for four years before returning to Nanaimo in 1964. Joe attended several elementary schools and finally Nanaimo District Secondary School but never graduated as he got bored with school.

Upon leaving school Joe found employment in the construction industry and gradually moved up to become a supervisor and contractor with his own firm overseeing various large heavy construction projects in Western Canada, including highways, bridges, mine site development and dams. In 1997 Joe started a Computer Software company and with another business partner he writes custom software programs.

Joe's adventurous spirit was sparked after watching a slide-show at school about Outward Bound. In the winter of 1970/71 he attended the first winter Outward Bound course at Keremeos. "It was the toughest course I have ever done as the weather was atrocious." Then in the spring he participated in another ten day Outward Bound course with the Nanaimo Air Cadets which he had joined when he was twelve. These experiences sparked his passion for the mountains. He joined the Island Mountain Ramblers in Nanaimo that summer and his first mountain trip was up Elkhorn with Mike Walsh, Ron Facer and Bob Tustin. "Topping out on Elkhorn and looking south at all the peaks of Strathcona was an incredible sight" he said. From the summit of Elkhorn one of the peaks that caught Joe's eye was Mount Colonel Foster, a formidable peak that Joe's name was soon to become synonymous with. Early on in his climbing career Joe also befriended Ralph Hutchinson, a Nanaimo lawyer. Both Mike and Ralph, who were older than him, became his mentors and regular climbing partners. All three of them went on to share many mountaineering experiences both locally and overseas.

Joe became a keen member of the Island Mountain Ramblers participating in many of the scheduled trips but he would also follow Mike Walsh up climbs that he now looks back at and considers scary. Joe says he was young and ignorant back then but because Mike was his teacher (and a good one at that) he would follow him anywhere. Very quickly Joe became a bold but confident alpinist. In July 1971 an envious Joe watched as Mike Walsh and Bill Perry made a traverse of Mount Colonel Foster but they omitted the North Tower. In the summer of 1973 Joe got his first taste of the "Colonel" when he climbed the North Tower with Bill Perry, Ron Facer and Ralph Hutchinson. The next year he was back with Ray Paine looking at a route toward the Southeast Summit from near the rockband. Two weeks later he was back with Mike Walsh traversing the "Colonel" from south to north and including the North Tower. In August 1974 Joe was back on the "Colonel" but this time on the East Face. The East Face (Culbert Route) was first climbed in September 1972 by Vancouver climbers Dick Culbert, Fred Douglas and Paul Starr. Joe climbed a new route called the Grand Central Couloir solo. He struggled to understand his need for the solo ascent and summed it up as best as he could in a poem entitled Why!

In March of 1976 Mike Walsh and Joe inspected the East Face as they were considering a possible winter ascent in the near future. Then in June Joe and Mike were finally able to breach the rockband between the first and second snowfields (he has since made three ascents of this route.) This route became known as the Snowband Route which even today has seen very few ascents although it is often rappeled by parties on their descent. In January 1978 Ross Nichol, Joe and one other set off to climb the Direttissima (direct route) on the East Face but aborted the climb before setting foot on mountain. Joe returned in January 1979 with Ross Nichol and climbed the Direttissima achieving the coveted first winter ascent of mountain over two days. Joe returned ten years later with Steve Risse and repeated the route (in winter) in a twenty-seven hour round trip from Landslide Lake.

Between 1974 and 1978 Joe states that he returned to the Elk River valley at least once a month for those four years, if he was not climbing elsewhere in the world, exploring not only the "Colonel" but also climbing Elkhorn and Rambler Peak. On Elkhorn, Joe made the first ascent of the North Ridge in 1972 and the first ascent of the North Face with Peter Busch in 1977. On June 7, 1975, Joe made the first ascent of Hidden Peak in the Maitland Range with a party of eleven from the Island Mountain Ramblers and on The Golden Hinde he made the first ascent of the North Ridge in 1979 with Paul McEwen.

In 1975 Ralph Hutchinson, Mike Walsh and Joe decided to climb in Afghanistan. After buying a VW van in Germany, the three of them drove across Europe and the Middle East to Afghanistan. For the next month they made firsts ascents of some of the peaks in the Koh-I-Baba region of the Hindu Kush mountains. Joe remembers that trip as his greatest adventure and the trip was memorable for reasons beyond the climbing: They were some of the last westerners to freely travel through both Iran and Afghanistan and they saw ancient religious relics that were soon destroyed when the Taliban took over Afghanistan.

After driving back to Europe, Joe and Mike decided to attempt the North Face of the Eiger. Initially Joe had broached the idea of climbing the Eiger with Mike but Mike said he wasn't interested. Joe felt that he had the technical skills necessary for the climb and the mental aptitude; he definitely had the fitness, so he said he would attempt the climb solo. Because of Mike's competitive streak he couldn't let Joe out do him by climbing the Eiger solo so Mike decided to go with him. Unfortunately, the weather never cooperated and after camping for a week near Grindelwald where they never even got to see the famed wall they packed up and headed to Chamonix. Although they achieved a couple of climbs again the weather foiled them as they tried to reach the top of Mont Blanc.

In 1978, Joe made his first of three trips to South America. He joined Ralph Hutchinson, Dave Fisher, Paul McEwen, and brothers Hugh and Roger Neave and made several first ascents on peaks over 5,000 metres in the Champará Range of the Cordillera Blanca. Joe then went on and attempted a solo ascent of Huascaran, the highest mountain in Peru, but failed just below Garganta Col suspecting pulmonary edema.

The next year Joe returned to the Cordillera Blanca with Peter Busch and put a new technical route up the North face of Taulliraju (Bajan-Busch route V 5.9 AI4 95 degrees, 600m.) Joe had read about this striking peak in the great French climber Lionel Terry's book Conquistadors of the Useless but this was not the only "Terry mountain" that piqued Joe's interest. Peter Busch and Joe returned in 1980 to attempt a new route up the East Face of the complex Chacraraju Este, another mountain linked to Lionel Terry. After establishing a base camp they made a foray up onto the ridge that would drop them down to the base of the East Face, however, some bad weather arrived and they returned to camp. When that cleared they again climbed onto the ridge and managed to get down to the bottom of the climb. Another storm moved in only this time it lasted a week and deposited a huge amount of snow which brought down treacherous avalanches off the face. Unfortunately, they had no option but to abandon the climb.

Although Joe loved to travel and climb he always returned to the mountains in his own backyard. To Joe the island is an "unknown jewel" where you can climb and see no-one else, whereas in the ranges such as the Andes and the Alps you are always running into other people and competing for routes.

Joe climbed extensively in the Northern Cascades of Washington state with Steve Risse in the early 1980's and then in January 1983, Don Serl, Joe Buszowski and Joe Bajan made the first ascent of the North Couloir (minus 5 gully) of Mount Rideout. A month later in late February/early March Joe and Don Serl attempted to make the first winter ascent of the Southwest Face of Mount Waddington in the Coast Mountains of British Columbia. While under the final headwall high on the South Face they were in the unenviable position of deciding whether to turn back or press on. Time was running out and to go on would probably mean an unscheduled bivvy. All of a sudden Joe and Don heard an ear-splitting crack from above. They were certain that either the slope they were on was about to slide off the mountain or the headwall above was about to come down on them. Joe said: "I peered up toward the headwall expecting a shower of rocks and boulders to careen down and kill us. I looked because if you are going to die, you might as well see it coming." To there surprise nothing came down but then a CF-18 fighter jet streaked below them and they realised it was a sonic boom they heard. A feeling of relief came over them and they figured that this was some sort of omen so after their heart rate dropped they retreated to their camp. The climb was aborted and they skied out to Knight Inlet to meet their pre-arranged pick-up. Joe never considered that the mountain had won as he was still alive and the mountain was still there. He would just wait for another day!

In July 1987, Joe returned to the south side of Mount Waddington with four Americans. In the American Alpine Journal Steve Risse wrote:

Andy Tuthill, Bruce Anderson, Mark Bebie and I and Canadian Joe Bajan climbed the south side of Mount Waddington on July 30. From Base Camp at 7000 feet on the Dais Glacier, in marginal weather we followed the original Wiessner-House line. We third classed to the end of the ramp and roped up for 15 pitches over good rock and ice to a bare, rocky, cold summit. We saw several pitons left by the original party. In a gathering storm, we bivouacked in the schrund formed by the summit tower on the northeast side. The next morning we descended to the west via the Angel Glacier and down a 1200-foot couloir at the northernmost point of the Dais Glacier (IV, 5.7, 37 hours round-trip). On August 2, Bebie and I traversed Cavalier, Squire and Halbredier to an unnamed spire south of Halbredier. We ascended the North Ridge from the notch between the spire and Halbredier (I, 5.9). On August 3, Bajan and Tuthill climbed a prominent buttress visible from Base Camp on the Dais-Regal divide (II, 5.7). Anderson and Bebie repeated this on August 5. That same day, Tuthill and I climbed a new route on the 3000-foot South Face of the Northwest Peak of Waddington. Starting from a prominent couloir at the base, we ascended on some verglas to its head and cut back right across a prominent snowfield. Instead of following the main couloir, we exited right on a verglas-coated rock ramp and ascended left and up for several pitches to the top of a spectacular flying buttress. Following this to an obvious short couloir, we exited just below the northwest summit at the top of the Angel Glacier. We descended as on the previous main-summit climb (IV, 5.7, 17 pitches, 20 hours round-trip). Anderson and Bebie repeated this climb on August 6.

Mount Waddington was another crowning achievement for Joe and reiterates his sentiment that friendships in the mountains are one of the most cherished things in life. Unfortunately, Steve Risse and Mark Bebie have since died in the mountains but the camaraderie they had lives on forever.

In 1981 Joe married Valli Linkhart and in 1985 Adam was born. Adam climbed Mount Albert Edward with Joe when he was six, Elkhorn when he was nine and the Main Summit of Mount Colonel Foster (1998) when he was twelve and The Golden Hinde. Joe has two goals with Adam; one is that he is a good human being and the other is that he wants to be as good a friend with his son as he was with Ralph Hutchison. Ralph was twenty-six years older than Joe but they climbed as equals for thirty years. Joe doesn't just want a father-son relationship, he wants a personal one as well.

In the summer of 2007 Joe made a trip into the Jim Haberl Hut in the Tantalus Range near Squamish with a number of Ralph Hutchinson's old climbing buddies: Paddy Sherman, Werner Himmelsbach and Tom Volkers. He helped Ralph and Werner get up Tantalus Mountain via a "real climbing route." Ralph and Joe knew this was Ralph's last real climb, however, they just did not know the real reason why. His long time friend Ralph passed away in 2008 less than seven months later.

Since about 1997 Joe has been involved with Biathlon, a winter sport that combines cross-country skiing and target shooting. This is Joe's community years as he figures that everyone should give something back to their community they live in. He is the President of the Vancouver Island Biathlon Club, founding director of the Vancouver Island Mountain Sports Society and in 2008 was nominated as the Sport Administrator of the Year in Biathlon. He has been fortunate to participate as an administrator in three World Cups for the Para-Olympics visiting Sweden in 2008 and the Para-Olympic World Championships in Northern Finland in 2009. At the 2010 Winter Para-Olympics in Whistler, Joe was the Chief of Biathlon where he and his team showed the world what they have been building towards over the last decade. Joe believes his obligation for community service is now complete and he can move on to something else and another chapter in his life.


Ever since seeing it three years ago,
a small flame flickered that I was to do it.
A smaller one sparked that I had to do it alone.
Not Last season or next but now.
WHY prepare my self and the night before
attempt to destroy it.
Knew that I had to but
Knew that I wasn't supposed to.
WHY start so late, then race in
two and a half hours faster than any time before.
That evening with my eyes full of the mountain,
saying NO, YES at the same time, each over-riding the other.
That night getting up gazing there in the moonlight,
asking myself WHY?
That morning rushing with the sunlight to meet
the mountain, asking WHY saying NO!
Climbing the face, fear trying to creep in
but casting it out each time. Minding thoughts
of the day. Death flashing by.
WHY? Halfway saying that it was wrong
that I shouldn't be here, about to turn
back but didn't.
Driving myself to my utmost limits
but retreating each time.
Gorging with snow trying to overcome
thirst, but to no avail.
Muscle and mind co-ordinated, one outracing
the other with near catastrophe.
Sleeping; trying to forget that I was here.
Awaking to a world of spirit against muscle,
muscle against man, man against rock.
On the summit echoing a cry of joy, a kiss
upon the rock, but without a heart.
Looking onward to other horizons, trying to
be amazed by the panorama.
Virgin rock within the rapists' hand
but letting it pass. WHY? To come again?
Descending with might instead of mind.
Cursing the mountain and not I.
Meeting other souls speech flowing
with utter rejoicing, but knowing otherwise.
Racing out the valley WHY? For there was
no other mountain awaiting me.
WHY had I gone? If it were the mountain
others would have come. WHY alone?
WHY had I gone?
For I've been there before,
were there riches beyond
my dreams?
To become older and wiser?
For if that I would know WHY.

Bajan, Joe. Personal Communication. 2009.

"Man Hurt in Fall." Vancouver Sun. [Vancouver, B.C.] (September 22, 1975) p.

Bajan, Joseph. "Why (poem)." Canadian Alpine Journal. Vol. 58. The Alpine Club of Canada. Banff, Alberta. 1975. p. 15.

Hutchinson, Ralph. "Koh-I-baba Capers." Canadian Alpine Journal. Vol. 59. The Alpine Club of Canada. Banff, Alberta. 1976. p. 25-26.

Bajan, Joseph. "Dirrectissima." Canadian Alpine Journal. Vol. 62. The Alpine Club of Canada. Banff, Alberta. 1979. p. 37-38.

Bajan, Joseph. "Heartache, Pain and Tears." Canadian Alpine Journal. Vol. 62. The Alpine Club of Canada. Banff, Alberta. 1979. p. 37-38.

Hutchinson, Ralph. "Champagne in the Champara." Canadian Alpine Journal. Vol. 62. The Alpine Club of Canada. Banff, Alberta. 1979. p. 25-29.

Bajan, Joseph. "Taulliraju Yahoo." Canadian Alpine Journal. Vol. 63. The Alpine Club of Canada. Banff, Alberta. 1980. p. 111-113.

Bajan, Joseph. "No Problem." Canadian Alpine Journal. Vol. 64. The Alpine Club of Canada. Banff, Alberta. 1981. p. 108-109.

Bajan, Joseph. "The Master and the Neophyte- A Winter Play." Canadian Alpine Journal. Vol. 67. The Alpine Club of Canada. Banff, Alberta. 1984. p. 40-42.

Bajan, Joe. "The Day of Foster." Timberline Tales. Published by the Island Mountain Ramblers. Nanaimo, B.C. 1974-75. p. 4-5.

Bajan, Joe. "Mount Colonel Foster." Timberline Tales. Published by the Island Mountain Ramblers. Nanaimo, B.C. 1974-75. p. 31.

Perry, Bill. "First Ascent of Hidden Peak." Timberline Tales. Published by the Island Mountain Ramblers. Nanaimo, B.C. 1975.

Bajan, Joseph. "Mt. Colonel Foster - March 1976." Timberline Tales. Published by the Island Mountain Ramblers. Nanaimo, B.C. 1976. p. 29.

Bajan, Joseph. "Mt. Colonel Foster - June 1976." Timberline Tales. Published by the Island Mountain Ramblers. Nanaimo, B.C. 1976. p.30.

Risse, Steven. "British Columbia: Mount Waddington and other peaks." American Alpine Journal. Vol. 30, Issue 62. New York, USA. 1988. p. 146

Elms, Lindsay. Beyond Nootka: A Historical perspective of Vancouver Island Mountains. Misthorn Press. Courtenay, B.C. 1996.

Stone, Phillip. "Joe Bajan." Wild Isle: The Island's Adventure Magazine. Issue #16, June-July 2001. Quadra Island, B.C. p. 11-12.

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