TRU awards honorary degree to modern-day adventurer

TRU’s newest PhD doesn’t exactly keep office hours.

Fall convocation saw well-known mountaineer and adventure photographer Pat Morrow cross the stage to accept an honorary doctorate.

“I did really appreciate being able to turn up in an auditorium full of other graduates and feel the sense of camaraderie that it brings with it,” Morrow said.

Morrow’s travels over the last 39 years have spanned the globe, with a particular interest in mountains and the people who live in them. In 1982, he was the second Canadian to make it to the top of Mount Everest, part an expedition that killed four people and caused half the party to turn back. Following his historic climb, Morrow set out to be the first person to climb the tallest mountains on each continent, including Antarctica. His adventure diary with his wife, Baiba, includes regular trips to Nepal, Pakistan, India and Tibet, among other places.

“I don’t even count being in a country unless I’ve been there at least a month, preferably two months or longer because, frankly, to understand a culture you have to immerse yourself in it and that takes time,” he said.

TRU isn’t far from home for Morrow, who grew up in the East Kootenays and the surrounding wilderness.

“When he was young he’d go out with his father, Frank, to, you know, fish and hunt and so-on in the Purcells, so he turned that passion into contributing back to that protection [of nature],” said John Bergenske, a long-time friend and current conservation co-ordinator of Wildsight, an environmental group Morrow helped establish in the B.C. interior.

Pat Morrow also helped establish the Purcell Wilderness Conservancy in the 70s and is an active participant in the Keep Jumbo Wild campaign, aimed at stopping development of B.C.’s Jumbo Glacier.

Cured of convention

Morrow studied journalism at the South Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT) and photography at what is now the Banff Centre. In 1973, he graduated from SAIT and started as an intern at the Calgary Herald.

It only took one year for Morrow to look for other options.

Pat Morrow (left), receives his honorary doctorate and poses with TRU chancellor Wally Oppal (Alexis Stockford/The Omega)

Pat Morrow (left), receives his honorary doctorate and poses with TRU chancellor Wally Oppal (Alexis Stockford/The Omega)

“After eight or nine months of working there I was just pretty much burned out,” he said.

Despite his discontent during his brief stint in traditional journalism, Morrow said he doesn’t begrudge the experience.

“It taught me how to organize myself and how to work with people and be very efficient at it, so when I went full-time freelance in 1975 I was able to use those skills, plus the education I had received from those two institutions, to forge a freelance career,” he said.

“I think we were really lucky in our point in life because it was a lot easier to make a living with our freelance photography and writing,” Baiba said, a freelancer herself.

After getting their journalistic start through Equinox, a Canadian adventure magazine, the Morrows branched out into videography. To date, they have created nature and cultural films for outlets like National Geographic, BBC, CTV and the Discovery Channel. They also own Morrow Productions, an independent company offering professional videography as well as photo and video workshops.

School is in

While Morrow has never taken a class on campus, he is no stranger to TRU. In 1991, he and Ross Cloutier, the founder of TRU’s adventure studies program, met on an expedition to Mount Everest and hatched the idea that Morrow should hold a photo workshop for Cloutier’s students. The workshop for TRU adventure studies students is now an annual event.

A little closer to his hometown of Wilmer, B.C., Morrow gets high school students up on the peaks through the Conrad Kain Centennial Society Bugaboos Teens program. Every spring or summer, 10 teenagers try out mountaineering in the Bugaboo Mountains on a multi-day trip.

Prominently displayed on the Morrow’s website is a quote by Mark Twain: “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness.”

Both Pat and Baiba Morrow said they’ve seen that reflected in their own lives.

“Starting out as young travelers, you’re afraid of everyone and everything, and I think by being exposed to the hospitality shown by people… I think it really has opened up the world to us in dissolving those preconceptions that we carry around,” Pat Morrow said.

“Frankly, we live in a very insular society, and the only way to break out of that is to get out on the road.”