The First Solo Ascent of Mount Garibaldi

21 07 2010

Many historians have discussed mountaineering as an essentially white pursuit. North America’s first climbers were almost entirely of British descent, often accompanied by Swiss and Austrian guides. Even a quick survey of membership lists for the British Columbia Mountaineering Club–a group which took pride in their organization’s especially “democratic” nature, due to the large number of working-class climbers in its ranks–has an overwhelmingly Anglo-Saxon ring to it.

1947 Vancouver Province article about Yit Kon Do's likely first solo ascent of Mount Garibaldi

But history is full of surprises. See exhibit A:  a 1947 article from the Vancouver Province about the exploits of local Vancouver climber Yit Kon Do.

I do not wish to diminish Yit Kon Do’s accomplishment, but it is interesting to wonder about his motivations. Did he simply cherish the challenge and peaceful solitude afforded by climbing alone, as many people do? Or was he somehow motivated by discrimination from fellow climbers?

According to the article he was a member of the Alpine Club of Canada, and had just returned from “expeditions in the Rockies at Golden and Banff” which, I’d assume, included that summer’s ACC camp at Roger’s Pass. Attendance, however, does not entail complete acceptance.

It was not until 1948, after all, that Phyllis Munday–one of Canada’s most accomplished climbers, male or female–was awarded the ACC’s highest honour, the Silver Rope. Her husband Don, with whom she was an equal partner in all their climbs, received the honour in 1934, its inaugural year. The Silver Rope was not merely a symbolic recognition either, as it doubled as a certification permitting climbers to lead ACC groups on technical ascents–a guide’s license, essentially.

The almost incredulous writer seems quick to point out the existence of photographic evidence of his success. Perhaps other climbers had dismissed Yit Kon Do’s climbing prowess, or even excluded him from groups tackling harder and more prestigious climbs. Solo climbing Garibaldi–one of the premier ascents near Vancouver–certainly would have quieted any doubters.

For another interesting and somewhat parallel story of a Chinese-Canadian mountaineering feat, see this recent article on Lauren Wheeler’s Can Enviro Rock? blog.

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