As a young man serving his mandatory nine months in the army of his native Austria in the 1960s, Ferdinand "Ferdl" Taxböck spent all his spare time with his buddy, Klaus Hoi, climbing mountains.
As their skills and boldness increased, they sought out more challenging climbs in nearby Italy. Among those was an aided ascent of Diretissima, on the north face of the central tower, Cima Grande, of the Tre Cime di Lavaredo (Three Towers), considered an extremely difficult technical route at that time.
While the other soldiers dreaded the physical demands of army training, Taxböck and Hoi enjoyed marching as an opportunity to maintain their fitness. And they both loved the activity for the freedom it provided.
"I loved climbing because you forgot about everything else," Taxböck recalled. "It was enjoyable, it was free. There was nobody there to tell you anything; it was your own life. And being physically active was enjoyable too."
While working as an agricultural technician, a field he'd studied for four years, Hoi, by then a certified Austrian mountain guide, invited Taxböck to work as a ski instructor. Despite the fact he couldn't ski, Taxböck quit his government job. With Hoi's help, by the end of his second winter he skied well enough to qualify for his Austrian guide's certification, which he earned in 1966.
Then in 1967, he left Austria and landed in Regina, Saskatchewan, intent on working as a farm hand in Canada for two years. Looking at the map before leaving Austria, the Rockies appeared reasonably nearby.
"It was not very far from the mountains, I thought. Just a couple of inches on the map," Taxböck recalled with a laugh. "Then once I got here I realized there's a scale difference!"
With little money and no English language skills, fortunately the Regina immigration office clerk suggested he'd be happier in Calgary.
Then, while working in Claresholm, Alberta, Taxböck spotted a Canadian Mountain Holidays (CMH) brochure advertizing guided alpine adventures. Soon he was guiding in B.C.'s Bugaboos, and at the Alpine Club of Canada's (ACC) 1968 General Mountaineering Camp in Yoho National Park's Lake O'Hara.
With a Canadian girlfriend named Heather, whom he married in 1971 and raised two daughters with, Taxböck eventually settled in Calgary and became a geologist. Throughout the years though, he continued to guide part time for CMH and at numerous ACC camps.
Now mostly retired at 70, he guides several weeks a year, including for the ACC's annual week-long 55 Plus Mountaineering and Trekking Camp, leading "older" guests on mountaineering adventures from the ACC's Stanley Mitchell Hut in Little Yoho Valley.
A member of the Association of Canadian Mountains Guides (ACMG) since 1968, Taxböck also served as examiner for guide's courses. All that, in addition to volunteering with the ACC and with the Kids Stay in School program, earned him the honour of being named patron of the ACC/ACMG 2012 Mountain Guides Ball fundraising event in Banff.
"Ferdl personifies mountain culture," said Lawrence White, executive director of the ACC. "His love of the mountains is matched only by his enthusiasm in sharing them with others. I can't think of a kinder or more genuine individual than Ferdl and I'm so pleased that he is this year's patron."
Today an active, fit grandfather of four, Taxböck skis with family members in wintertime and hikes, scrambles and climbs with them in summer. Capable and confident after 50 years on rock, Taxböck demonstrated his well-honed skills last month as he led this writer up the classic 5.6 NE Ridge on the Rockies' Ha Ling peak, leading every pitch smoothly and efficiently.
Throughout his guiding career, Taxböck's friendly nature and professional skills helped land him some plumb jobs. In 1974 he worked alongside famed Canadian glaciologist Gerald Holdsworth to triangulate the elevation of Mount Logan.
During the course of their wok, the pair became tent-bound just below Logan's main 5,959-metre summit in a ferocious storm. By the sixth day, they'd run out of food.
"I had a compass with me and I knew roughly where we were, so on with the rope and down we headed." Taxböck recalled.
The descent took five hours in a whiteout with howling winds. Reaching legendary U.S. high-altitude physician Charlie Houston's camp, they offered some blood to be compared with samples he'd taken before their prolonged stay at altitude.
"We sold it to him for a meal," Ferdl said. "There was a cook there and we had three big plates of good food. Two doctors had flown up from Kluane Lake that day and they couldn't even watch us eat, being so sick from the altitude change. We were just shovelling it in."
While his manners may have waned on that occasion, it was a rare slip up, said Sharon Wood, the first North American woman to summit Everest in 1986, who passed her ACMG assistant alpine guide exam under Taxböck in 1983, in an era when female candidates were uncommon.
"Ferdl is a very skilled guide. I was totally impressed with the way he handled the rope," Wood said. "And he was very complementary, encouraging and supportive — it was very welcoming. He's always been such a gentleman."
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