Monty Alford, one of the Yukon’s great mountaineers, passed away last week.
He was 90 years old.
Alford was a guide in the expedition party that brought Robert F. Kennedy to the summit of Kluane’s Mount Kennedy in 1965, the first ascent of the 4,000 metre (14,000 feet) tall mountain.
The climb was one of many for the Whitehorse resident, who completed a number of daring expeditions in the 1960s and 70s, many of which took him to some of the highest peaks in North America.
Remembered as a humble and generous man, Alford rarely boasted of his accomplishments.
One of his three sons, Dominic, said his father found peace and solace in beautiful, wild surroundings.
“I realized, by doing a lot of little climbs with him, that he had little interest in the summit,” Dominic said.
“It was all about the day for him. The destination was a footnote.”
Born and raised in Cornwall, England, Alford immigrated to Canada 1948 and wasted little time organizing a 6,700-kilometre canoe expedition from British Columbia to the Gulf of Mexico.
Alford’s endurance was legendary. He would often outpace his young, fit sons when they were out on day trips.
“Dad was a consummate tortoise,” Dominic said.
“I can remember quite demanding hikes or ski trips where we’d start out with a lot of vigor in the morning. We’d tease dad about keeping up with us, but he had a certain pace. By lunchtime we were a bit tired and more or less at the same pace. But by three o’clock great fatigue set in for us, and he had kept the same pace all day.”
Alford spent 35 years as a federal water surveyor, continuing a strong family tradition of love for the water.
His father had been a member of the Royal Navy.
In 1998, at the age of 75, Alford’s children bought him a comprehensive package of sailing lessons for his birthday.
Monty bought a sailboat, which he kept in Skagway, and loved bringing his friends on trips.
Malcolm Taggart, a godson of Monty’s, recalled a sailing trip they had about 15 years ago.
“My wife and I offered to crew for him for three weeks and he was really happy with that,” Taggart said.
“We sailed with him for 21 days – it rained for 20 of them – but Monty didn’t care about the weather. It made no difference to him. He just loved being out there.”
Dominic said his father would relish the bad weather, when it came.
He would appreciate the lessons it provided.
“He used to tell us that some of the best experiences can come from adverse weather,” Dominic said.
“He said you’d get bored and unappreciative of the nice days if you had too many of them.”
One of Taggart’s most vivid childhood memories of Alford was of his infectious laughter.
Growing up nearby in Riverdale, the families would often spend time together.
Dinner parties were often an exciting affair.
“You wouldn’t even have to hear the joke,” Taggart said.
“Monty’s laugh would start to gather steam and people would just have tears streaming down their faces, laughing with him. It became hysterical at times.”
Yukoners also knew Alford from the countless winter survival training courses he offered in his spare time.
He would teach youth about making shelters, keeping warm and staying hydrated.
Stephen Hureau, who took one of these courses as a 16-year-old in 1989, said Alford was a very friendly man who was also caring and mindful.
“We were up on Grey Mountain and he taught us how to make a stove out of two tin cans and tea candles,” he said.
“Some years later when I’d see him around, he’d always ask me whether I still had the little stove.”
Monty and Renee had six children in total.
Dominic recalled an evening in the mid-to-late 1960s, shortly after the last of the children had been born, when his father came home with news that he’d been invited to another lengthy expedition to Antarctica.
Monty casually made the announcement, one that could shake the foundation of any family, over the dinner table.
“He floated that out, just to share what had happened during his day, and I can remember my mother saying, ‘Well, you have to go!’”
“Dad told us so many times that he’d hit a home run with her. He said he was so blessed to have had a woman like that who supported his dreams.”
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