Sir Christopher Ondaatje Medal for Exploration
2019 Recipient - Dr. Charles (“Chas”) Yonge
Dr. Yonge exiting Porcupine Cave, 1983 (Photo: Ian McKenzie)
Dr. Charles ("Chas") Yonge has made significant contributions in Canada and internationally as a climber, cave explorer, scientist, entrepreneur and author for over forty years. Chas has combined his skills as one of Canada's premier explorers with lifelong, pioneering scientific contributions and building a groundbreaking educational business. His achievements have added to our knowledge of the world and have influenced countless Canadians in adventure and scientific discovery.
As a climber he has pioneered many first ascents and new routes in the Bow Valley and has recently produced a guidebook for a popular rock climbing area.
As a cave explorer, he has over 40 major expeditions or projects to his credit. His exploits have taken him to many of the world's major karst areas including Cuba, Barbados, Belize, Mexico, United States, Norway, Indonesia, Australia, China, Vietnam, Bhutan, England, Wales, Ireland, France, Spain, Turkey, Papua New Guinea and Canada. Chas has discovered, explored, and mapped numerous significant caves in the Rocky Mountains, and published his results.
As an entrepreneur Chas is well-known for his association with Rat’s Nest cave near Canmore, Alberta. The cave is renowned as one of the most highly decorated caves in the Rockies and the “bone bed” a treasure trove of paleontological specimens. Recognizing the importance of this site, Chas lobbied the provincial government to have it designated as a provincial historic resource, which was granted in March 1987. He pioneered providing interpretive tours of the cave, staunchly refused to develop the site with lights, ladders, and walkways. By doing so Chas ensured that the site remained natural even though the economics of increased accessibility would have been quite favorable.
Finally as a scientist with a doctorate in geochemistry, Chas has written or co-authored a number of technical books and significant scientific papers explaining the origins and geological history of karst features in Western Canada.
Now 72 years old, and in apparent contempt for his age, Chas is an active climber, hiker, skier, and caver who continues to push new boundaries, and who serves as a mentor to younger explorers. He is a true "Renaissance man" whose unique contributions have spanned multiple areas of achievement, hence he is a most worthy recipient of the 2019 award of the Sir Charles Ondaatje Medal for Exploration.