Garibaldi Park: “Vancouver’s Alpine Playground”

13 05 2011

I’m deep in the final stages of thesis writing here, so I’ve got a bit of a “lazy” post this month.

Last weekend I attended the bi-annual BC Studies Conference in Kelowna. This year there was a good deal of environmental and recreational history- themed presentations, including papers on the fertile ground between these two fields about the Skagit Valley in BC’s Cascade Mountains by UBC’s Phil Van Huizen, the Bowron Lakes in the Northern Cariboo Mountains by my UNBC colleague Mica Jorgenson, the Forbidden Plateau on Vancouver Island by Dr. Jenny Clayton. As always, the informal discussions between sessions and at dinner/a pub were my favourite part of the conference.

Just as I was on my way out the door on the final day, I was happily informed that my paper on Garibaldi Park won the prize for best paper by an MA-level presenter. Below, I’ve included the opening passage of an earlier version of the paper (I think I like this intro better), in which I discuss efforts by Vancouver-based mountaineers to have a road constructed linking the city with the recently created Garibaldi Provincial Park.

Essentially, Garibaldi was envisioned as a grand mountain park akin to the “crown jewel” national parks like Banff and Jasper, except that Garibaldi’s proximity to an urban centre would make it accessible to people of more modest means. In effect, Garibaldi’s advocates hoped that the park’s development would integrate Garibaldi into the Greater Vancouver urban network, “democratizing” access to wilderness in the process.

Looking back upon a sojourn in the park, one is intensely aware of

a feeling that one has been living in an atmosphere differing peculiarly

from any afforded by other mountainous districts of British Columbia.

It is difficult to analyze this feeling, but it may possibly be because of

the close proximity of this beautiful wilderness to Vancouver, with its

teeming thousands. The contrast is so sharp. To be surrounded by the

din and roar of the big city in the morning, and the same evening to be

enveloped in the silence and grandeur of this vast mountainous region, 

tends towards the suggestion that one has  suddenly been transported

into different world.[i] 

Though undeniably wild and grand, in many ways Garibaldi Provincial Park is an urban park.

As suggested by prominent Victoria artist A.M.D. Fairbairn in the 1932 Victoria Daily Colonist article quoted above, the ability to enjoy the solitude of a remote mountain setting without enduring a lengthy voyage was more than a pleasant convenience; it was at the core of one’s encounter with the Garibaldi landscape.

The jarring experience of being rapidly transported between these two antithetical landscapes—like bolting between a sauna and a frigid winter lake—seemed both to enhance Garibaldi’s alpine grandeur, and, upon safe return, to underscore the exciting modernity of Vancouver.

A.M.D. Fairbairn, “Vacationing in Garibaldi National Park,” Victoria Daily Colonist, 30 October 1932, t, p3 (magazine section).

By 1932 Fairbairn could assume that such ideas would be well-received by British Columbia’s urban newspaper readership. A mere four decades earlier, however, most Lower Mainland residents would have considered the Garibaldi region as a marginal and mysterious wilderness.

An earlier Vancouver Province reporter noted that even the much-closer Grouse Mountain, a 1,200 meter peak that rises abruptly from Vancouver’s North Shore, “had a far away sound… such as is associated with Timbuctoo or the South Pole, and no one seemed to care to break in upon the virgin slumbers of the Sleeping Beauty.”[ii] In the 1890s, just as British Columbia’s Lower Mainland was rapidly urbanizing, Vancouver-based mountaineers began their first forays into the alpine wilderness.

While people had long ventured into British Columbia’s Coast Mountains, these mountaineers were peculiar because they did so simply for the sense of well-being they derived from experiencing these alpine landscapes first hand. No longer an ancient homeland, a place of work, a vast field of unexploited resources, or a regrettable, even “frightful” barrier to progress, the Coast Mountains were rediscovered as a still-wild, but now uplifting and “pure” natural environment.

Driven by the discovery of new mountain vistas, these climbers soon ventured beyond the rugged, but relatively small North Shore Mountains. 1904 witnessed the first attempt by coastal mountaineers to scale Mount Garibaldi (2,675m), the volcanic massif that dominates the Howe Sound skyline, seventy kilometres up coast from Vancouver. Three years later, a similarly composed party finally claimed victory over the Howe Sound giant.

These well-publicized expeditions drew attention to the region’s recreational potential while opening up a whole new field of alpine opportunity.

Beyond Garibaldi lay a vast, unmapped expanse of sprawling glaciers, volcanic landforms, picturesque meadows, and jewel-toned lakes. This territory soon became the preferred destination of coastal mountaineers.

Heavily flowered slopes above Garibaldi Lake. Photographer: John Davidson, ca. 1915. Courtesy City of Vancouver Archives.

Upon return, these same climbers began campaigning for the protection of the Garibaldi district through the development of a national or provincial park. Success was had in 1920 when the area surrounding Garibaldi Lake was set aside as the Garibaldi Provincial Reserve, and further in 1927 when the Garibaldi Park Act formally created the greatly expanded Garibaldi Provincial Park.[iv]

Through these activities Garibaldi came to be portrayed as “Vancouver’s Alpine Playground,” representing a new set of ideas which had obscured and displaced other narratives about the Garibaldi landscape. What began as the curious outlook of a handful of pioneer mountain-climbers became an increasingly normative way of thinking about the Coast Mountain landscape.

The widespread social benefits attributed to this wilderness park, Garibaldi’s champions argued, would play a crucial role in Vancouver’s future well-being and continued ascent as a world-class, modern metropolis. As such, the creation of Garibaldi Provincial Park was part of broader efforts to incorporate this region of the southern Coastal Mountains into Greater Vancouver as the city’s recreational hinterland.

Local newspapers were highly supportive of plans to develop Garibaldi Park. Using colourful illustrations and dramatized story-telling, dozens of stories recounted excursions to Garibaldi and portrayed the park as a favourable travel destination for Vancouverites, if only a road were built. Vancouver Province, 6 October 1929, 5 (magazine section).

Yet the campaign for park development put forth by Garibaldi’s champions was only partially fulfilled. Central to the “Alpine Playground” idea was the development of tourist accommodations and a motor-road from the heart of the park to make its recreational opportunities more accessible to residents of and visitors to Vancouver, any semblance of which would not come until the 1960s. Examining the failure to achieve this vision provides further insights into this crucial period of park formation in Canada.

[i] A.M.D. Fairbairn, “Vacationing in Garibaldi National Park” Victoria Daily Colonist, 1932 30 Oct. 1932, 3 (mag. sect.).

[ii] “Bring on New Peaks,” Vancouver Province, 16 April 1910, 20 (2nd sect.).

[iv]Report on Garibaldi Park and Contiguous Area, for the Honourable, Minister of Lands, B.C. (Victoria: B.C. Dept. of Lands, 1932), Frederick Charles Bell papers, British Columbia Provincial Archives (hereafter BCA), MS-1095..

Not So Humble Roots

11 04 2011

Growing up on a farm south of Winnipeg, I dreamt of British Columbia.

Totem poles and snow-capped mountains symbolized the west coast

province. I fell in love sight unseen with the west beyond the west.

In these opening lines of her best-selling history of British Columbia, The West Beyond the West, Jean Barman, nicely summed up the romantic sentiment that has inspired so many Canadians to “Go West!”

Boasting the mighty Gatineau Hills, the Outaouais region of west Quebec where I grew up was only marginally more mountain-like than Barman’s Manitoba farm. By the time I was in junior high, still a few years away from even seeing a mountain firsthand, I already knew that I would one day call “The West” home.

Overlooking the Ottawa Valley from the Gatineau Hills in winter.

The dominant orientation of nearly four centuries of North American history has been westward. While the lure of cheap land and abundant resources (enabled by the tragic effects of colonial encounter) propelled the continent’s initial resettlement, in later years, the call of the mountains helped sustain this westward migration.

North America’s first mountaineers (in the modern, European sense) came from eastern Canada and New England along newly-built railroads, seeking adventure in the famed Canadian Rockies. Even the Alpine Club of Canada was founded in Winnipeg of all places. Surely, every western Canadian town has strong eastern ties, dating back centuries and continuing up to the present. It is a recurring joke here in Whistler to wonder out loud if there are any people left in Ontario (or Australia, for that matter), for they all seem to have moved here.

Many of my friends here in Whistler went to the same high school as me, and I have childhood friends spread throughout western mountain towns. Recently, I uncovered two much older links between my childhood home and the Mountain West.

"Mouth of the Homathko River" by Frederick Whymper, 1864. The painting depicts the terminus of Waddingtons Road, also known as Waddington Harbour, where the Homathko flows into Bute Inlet. Source: British Columbia Archives.

I’ve been studying Alfred Waddington for a few years now. The British-born, Victoria-based entrepreneur was the brains, money, and enthusiasm behind an audacious plan to build a wagon road from British Columbia’s Bute Inlet to the booming Cariboo goldfields in the early 1860s. Despite having to pass through the incredibly rugged central Coast Mountains, by April 1864 the project was progressing well and the work crew optimistically hoped to complete the road that summer.

But it was not meant to be. Following a dispute over pay and maltreatment, a party of local Tsilhqot’in men attacked and killed fourteen of Waddington’s work crew. In response the colonial authorities organized a massive manhunt through the central British Columbia wilderness which ended with the hanging of six Tsilhqot’in men. This series of events, now known as the Chilcotin War, was one of the most tramautic and controversial episodes in British Columbia history.

(Great Unsolved Mysteries in Canadian History, an innovative tool for teaching high-school-level Canadian History, has a great account of the Chilcotin War here. Chapters 2 and 3 from Frederick Whymper’s 1868 Travel and Adventure in Alaska, provide a fascinating contemporary account of Waddington’s road project, the Coast Mountain landscape, and the Chilcotin War. Older brother of the famed alpinist Edward Whymper, Frederick visited Bute Inlet in 1864, en route to Alaska, leaving  just weeks before the Chilcotin War.)

The Chilcotin War put an immediate halt to Waddington’s road-building enterprise, and although his route was nearly selected as the final leg of the first trans-Canada railway, only a handful of people of European descent visited the region over the next half century. The central Coast Mountains became deepest, darkest British Columbia.

When Don and Phyllis Munday “discovered” a massive peak somewhere in the middle of this foreboding wilderness in 1925, they called it, appropriately, “Mystery Mountain.” And while this title remained widely used for decades, the provincial government preferred to honour the valiant, if unsuccessful, exploits of one of the province’s most energetic pioneers by officially naming British Columbia’s highest peak “Mount Waddington.”

The remains of Waddingtons trail through the Homathko Canyon. Photograph taken by Charles Horetzky, a member of the 1872 Canadian Pacific Railway exploratory survey, led by Sir Sandforn Fleming. Source: British Columbia Archives.

I’ve been fascinated by this story for some time, but only while reading an out-of-print biography of Waddington a few months ago did I learn of the man’s final years. Waddington spent much time in Ottawa promoting his national railway scheme, and it was here, in February 1872, that he succumbed to smallpox. As was common for prominent Ottawans at the time, he was buried at St. James Cemetery, across the Ottawa River in Hull, Quebec.

I have passed by this cemetery hundreds, if not thousands, of times, though I have never been in. It lies on the main route between my childhood home and downtown Ottawa, and is only a few hundred metres from my junior high. Little did I know that in that unassuming field lay such a close connection to the great peak whose jagged summit astounded even Sir Edmund Hilary when he, accompanied by Phyllis Munday, toured Mt. Waddington in a helicopter in 1955.

Alfred Waddingtons gravestone, St. James cemetary, Hull, Quebec. It reads: ALFRED WADDINGTON the original promoter of the CANADA PACIFIC RAILWAY. Born at Crescent House, Brampton, London, Oct. 2nd, 1801. Died at Ottawa, Feb. 26th, 1872.

At he time of Waddington’s burial, just a few kilometres down the road (in Aylmer, my hometown), lived a teenager named James McArthur, Perhaps he was prone to dreaming of mountains, sight unseen, as well. for within a few years McArthur made the move out west to work for the Dominion Land Survey.

"The Field Hotel below Mount Stephen, British Columbia" by Edward Roper. Painted in the same year as J.J. McArthurs historic ascent of the same mountain. Courtesy

In September 1887 while mapping terrain adjacent to the recently completed CPR, the same railway that Waddington promoted but never lived to see, McArthur climbed to the summit of Mount Stephen which looms above the village of Field, British Columbia just west of the Continental Divide. This was the first non-indigenous ascent of a Canadian peak above 10,000 feet, leading Chic Scott, in his excellent history of Canadian mountaineering Pushing the Limits, to proclaim McArthur “the first Canadian mountaineer.”

McArthur would have a long, successful survey career, first in the Rockies, and later in the St. Elias Mountains, eventually being appointed Canadian Commissioner of the 1917 survey to locate the boundary between Alaska and Yukon Territory.

When I was fifteen, on my first visit to the Canadian Rockies, I can recall being surprised to read the name “Mount Aylmer” written above a massive pyramid-shaped mountain on one of those interpretive panoramic photos which one finds at roadside lookouts in our national parks. I figured the name was just a funny coincidence with as little to do with my home town as the canned tomatoes.

In fact, the peak was another of McArthur’s many first ascents, and he felt it appropriate to commemorate his eastern roots by attaching the name of the west-Quebec logging town to the highest peak near Banff.

Many historians and public figures have celebrated Canada’s western mountains (often, incorrectly, referred to collectively as the Rocky Mountains) as symbols of national identity. Certainly, the allure of our mountain landscapes resonate far beyond their immediate neighbourhood, and it is perhaps worth pondering how many life trajectories have been shaped by these unyielding peaks.

Retro Natural History Artwork

25 03 2011

As a child I spent countless hours browsing through the world atlas and set of natural history encyclopedias that sat on my mother’s cluttered bookshelf. Nowadays websites like Wikipedia do an admirable job satisfying (and fuelling) this sort of wandering curiousity, and Google Earth is a pretty amazing update on the old-fashioned globe, but computer screens lack the pleasure of gliding your finger along the glossy coastline of Patagonia or a tiger’s gleaming tooth. (Then again, I don’t have an iPad. Yet.)

So I was thrilled when, a few years back, I came across a full set of the Illustrated Natural History of Canada at a garage sale here in Whistler. Unfortunately I was biking home fully-loaded with groceries, so I could only carry home two of the series’ nine volumes. The series was organized according to our nation’s broad environmental zones, so naturally, I chose “The Pacific Coast” and “The Mountain Barrier.”

What a find. I definitely need to track down the rest of the volumes through an on-line used book store.

"Eocene Life Fleeing a Volcano." Growing up, dinosaurs were probably my most serious mania. I really enjoy the thought that this exact scene, depicting the wave of volcanic activity that formed the Coast Mountains a few dozen million years ago, occurred just up the street from where I live today.

Beyond the inherent interest of the subject matter, I really enjoy browsing older environmental literature and educational materials for the window they offer into changing popular environmental attitudes. Published in 1970 by Natural Science of Canada, the series offers a cool expression of the growing concern for environmental degradation that followed such landmark events as Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring (1962) and which was reflected by major shifts in North American environmental policy.

The Illustrated Natural History of Canada, the publisher claimed, was “devoted to explaining and illustrating the entire natural formation and development of our country…. ” Beyond this popular science component, the series was clearly inspired by a desire to instill in the Canadian populace an appreciation of our nation’s natural wonders, and a concern for their imperiled state. Each volume concludes with a chapter outlining major conservation concerns in its respective region, offering as a scathing condemnation of the era’s over-zealous “development-at-all-costs” economic policies.

The science and advocacy are well-written, if a little dry, but the series’ major success lies in its wonderful use of images to fully express the drama and wonder of our natural landscapes. The publisher even went so far as to claim on the dustjacket that the series was an “important and unique event in Canadian publishing history” which constituted a “landmark in the visual portrayal of the full range and splendour of our natural history.”

I often find myself leisurely browsing through my two volumes, no less entranced than I was by Wings, Paws, Hooves, and Flippers two decades earlier, so I figured I’d scan a few of my favourite images and post them here.

"Nootka Whale Hunting"

"Mountains in the Making"

"Many Mountain Shapes"

"The Mountain-bound Indians." A completely accurate portrayal of day-to-day life of the region's indigenous peoples.

Whistler & Region Repeat Photography Project

29 12 2010

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a lot can be said about as picturesque a place as Whistler. Thanks to the efforts of a century’s worth of residents and visitors, a rich photographic heritage exists documenting the landscape surrounding what is today Whistler, British Columbia. While pioneers such as the Alex & Myrtle Phillip recorded the nascent settlement of Alta Lake, mountaineers such as Neal Carter and Don & Phyllis Munday captured images of climbers at play amidst panoramic alpine vistas. Since the start of ski resort development in the 1950s, the photographic record has grown exponentially.

Landscape is, arguably, Whistler’s defining feature. As any number of marketing campaigns plainly demonstrate, lifestyle-oriented residents and adventure-seeking tourists from around the world are drawn to Whistler by the beauty of the region’s natural environment. Natural it may be, but millennia of human activity, intensified over the last fifty years, have left their mark on our cherished landscape, for better and for worse.

Hunter and dog in the Fitzsimmons Range near Whistler Mountain, 1920s. Overlord Mountain and Glacier in background. Courtesy Whistler Museum and Archives Society.

Both local and global processes have effected our regional ecology. A First Nations trail followed by early prospectors and settlers became a dirt road navigated by keen post-war skiers, and is now the four lane Sea-to-Sky Highways linking Whistler to Vancouver and the world. A town of 12,000 (give or take, plus over 40,000 hotel beds) emerged seemingly overnight. Ski runs, chairlifts and gondolas crisscross (and even span between) two mountainsides.

Franz Wilhelmson pointing out the ski area that he helped develop. Early 1960s. Courtesy Whistler Museum and Archives Society.

Many strong visions for the development (and prevention thereof) of our surroundings have been put forth. Rarely have they gone uncontested. Recent examples include the Peak-to-Peak gondola; disparaged by many local residents as an expensive eyesore, it is an undeniably cool, if somewhat useless, ride. Meanwhile, the ongoing debate over logging in the valley demonstrates widespread misunderstanding divergent opinions of resource industries in our valley, past and present. In addition to these various human factors are many inherently capricious environmental processes–from wetland ecology to climate change. Clearly, our region’s current landscape is the result of a complex array of disparate factors.

Inspired by the Mountain Legacy Project and other initiatives, I figured that “repeat photography” would be an excellent way to simultaneously celebrate the Coast Mountains’ beautiful landscape and examine the drastic changes that our region has undergone over the years.

Essentially, I hoped to take old  photographs like the one above, and “re-photograph” the same location to show how the landscape and the people within it have changed in the intervening years. This pairing of past and present photographs will add temporal depth to the images, augmenting our capacity to evaluate landscape change over time. While historic-contemporary image pairings will be the focus of the project,  other archival materials such as climber’s journals, survey reports, and maps will also be examined to provide context for the photographs.

I recently received the good news that my proposal for just such a project, to be developed in partnership with the Whistler Museum, will receive support from the Network in Canadian History & Environment (NiCHE). Click here for the full list of projects NiCHE will be supporting this year .

For some rough examples of what a repeat photography exhibit would entail, take the following image pairs. These two  trail maps (not photographs, but demonstrative images nonetheless) illustrate the extent of  the ongoing development of runs, lifts and other infrastructure on Whistler and, later, Blackcomb Mountains, now North America’s largest ski resort.

A trail map of the Whistler Mountain from 1966.

Deforestation, erosion, and pollution have ensued, but the ski area’s ecological impacts are not as overwhelmingly negative as one might assume. For one, Whistler-Blackcomb has made efforts to ensure that cut ski runs remain viable wildlife habitat. Such clearings can often provide more food (shoots, berries, etc.) for large game animals than mature forest. This fact that was well understood by many indigenous societies which regularly burned wooded areas to support large game populations. Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains continue to support large wildlife populations, including the several dozen black bears that are a common sight in summer.

A current Whistler-Blackcomb trailmap.

These next two images, portraying Garibaldi Lake and Mount Garibaldi from the aptly named Panorama Ridge, span almost eight decades. In this case the photographic record clearly documents the effects of climate change–the  massive recession of the glaciers on the north slope of Mount Garibaldi–on a landscape that is widely recognized as “pristine” wilderness.

Mountaineers on Panorama Ridge take in the view of Garibaldi Lake, from a 1943 Vancouver Province article.

A contemporary image of the same vista, minus the hikers. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.


Although I hope that the image pairings will provide insight into ecological change, the project is not intended to produce results of a scientific rigour. Still, the precision of repeat photography makes the medium an effective means of informing dialogue about a variety of environmental issues.

Additionally, the aesthetic qualities of the Whistler landscape as well as the human presence in the photographs will present the opportunity to explore the cultural aspects of the human-nature relationship.

I have found several near-identical images, for example, of Garibaldi Lake like the two shown here. Drawn from a variety of newspaper articles, government reports, and tourism brochures from the inter-war period, these vistas of a serene lake amidst sublime glacial peaks were used to portray Garibaldi Park’s “diversified charms,” a recurring catchphrase in promotional literature for the park at the time.

If I choose to rephotograph the Vancouver Province image, or other pictures that include human subjects, I will also have the pleasure to get my friends involved as contemporary figures to contrast with those in the historical images, their fashions, activities, and attitudes. It is this potential to explore cultural and natural history at the same time that excites me most about this project.

Spearhead Huts

1 12 2010

Like most backcountry skiers, nights spent in ski huts are among my most cherished mountain memories.

Sleeping in a snow cave might put hair on your chest, but after a long day in the mountains, the basic comforts provided by a mountain hut can seem like the Ritz-Carleton penthouse.

Uniquely social places in the midst of barren alpine wilderness, a hut’s forced proximity and the shared excitement of a day’s skiing melts away the awkward social interactions of “down there,” making kindred spirits out of complete strangers.

And when things go awry, the safety net provided by mountain refuges can make all the difference.

Refuge Albert Premier, Le Tour Glacier, France. Photo: 

The other night I went to a fundraiser for the Spearhead Huts committee.  The initiative began as a memorial for a couple of avid backcountry skiers who tragically passed away while skiing a few years ago. Essentially, the plan is to build 3 or 4 backcountry huts throughout the Spearhead Traverse, the 40-kilometre long horseshoe of high alpine terrain that links Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains.

There are already several backcountry huts scattered throughout the Coast Mountains, including the Himmelsbach hut near the Whistler end of the Spearhead Traverse. This new project, however, would create the region’s first multi-day hut-to-hut traverse like those which exist in the Rockies and the Alps; the Haute Route between Chamonix, France and Zermatt, Switzerland being the most renowned.

Hut-based traverses are a wonderfully “civilized” way of experiencing truly dramatic and remote landscapes, enabling skiers (and summer-time hikers) to cover large swaths of terrain without the added strain of carrying camping gear and 24-hour-a-day exposure to the elements.  Dry clothes on day 3 are the height of luxury.

While the traverse has been completed twice in a single day in a pretty astonishing feat of endurance, those more intent on taking in the scenery, or actually skiing, generally cover the route over two to four days.

Some may complain that the construction of additional huts will increase traffic, and diminish the sort of “out there” wilderness experience that many backcountry enthusiasts seek, but really, what better location is there for the huts?The area is already some of the most heavily used backcountry terrain in the province, and the combination of relatively mellow glaciers surrounded by dramatic peaks is perfectly suited for hut-based touring.

The environmental impact of the project mught even end up as a positive, as there are currently no overnight camping facilities aside from the Himmelsbach hut outhouse, and the huts would concentrate campers into three or four specific sites. 

A 1934 Vancouver Province article following the first successful ski traverse of the Waddington Range. The adventurer's returned to Vancouver raving about B.C. as a "skier's paradise," advocating the creation of a system of backcountry ski huts to improve access to and recreational opportunities in the Coast Mountain wilderness.

At the fundraiser the other night the BCMC reps had a large map of the Spearhead on display which showed  potential hut sites. I can’t find this online yet, but when I do, I’ll post a link. So far, the region has been divided into 4 zones, with 3 or 4 huts to be built throughout the zones.

I, for one, hope they keep the Himmelsbach hut, or even upgrade  the spartan refuge with some insulation and a basic woodstove. It’s in a perfect location beside Russett Lake and at the base of Fissile Mountain’s amazing Northwest Face ski runs.

Also, in zone 1 (from the Blackcomb backcountry to Mount Pattison), the three potential sites are Decker flats, the east side of Decker Mountain, and the Trorey-Pattison col. I was told that the first option is being considered because it is more accessible for summer hikers, but really hope they opt for one of the latter sites.

Decker flats can easily be reached in an hour from Blackcomb’s ski lifts, and putting a backcountry hut this close to the ski area would further blur the distinction between in-bounds and out-of-bounds terrain that is already largely ignored in the area. The last thing we need is more unprepared people heading out into this unpatrolled, avalanche-prone terrain because they heard there’s a hut back there.

Also, I spent a night in a snow cave at the Trorey-Pattison col a few winters back and it’s a pretty spectacular spot,with full peak-to valley views of Wedge Mountain on one side, and Fissile mountain on the other. If they built a hut there, I’d want to move in full-time.

What excites me most about the project is how much more accessible it will make the prize descents of the range. Classic steep descents such as the north faces of Fitzsimmons, Iago, and Tremor, used to entail either a big approach, a big pack, or both. When the huts go in, you’ll be able to ski them and countless others with a day pack and only a modest approach. Awesome.

For more info, visit these sites:

I just found this on-line reader for Mountain Life Magazine. Check it out to see the images and page layout for my “Ancient Alpinists” article (page 88-89), and make sure to browse the rest of the mag’s excellent content as well.

A Couple of Magazines Worth Checking Out…

24 11 2010

Ski season is here! To celebrate opening day here in Whistler, I’ve got some more big mountain ski content for you.

If you were interested by my recent post about the confluence of freeriding, extreme skiing, and ski-mountaineering, then there is plenty of stuff to check out in the latest round of ski and snowboard magazines.

First, the cover story for the latest issue of Powder, “Return of the Extreme Skier,” profiles some American and Swedish veterans of the Chamonix steep skiing scene. Showcasing the sort of progression I touched upon last month, these guys have been charging down classic ski-mountaineering routes on fat skis and in mid-winter conditions.

Also in the mag there is a short piece about Jeremy Jones which attempts to finally break down the barrier between skiers and snowboarders that really became irrelevant a decade ago. You may have noticed that I didn’t distinguish between the two sports in my own article, and it was deliberate. I almost always ride in mixed groups. Split-boards have leveled the playing field enough that, in most situations, the capabilities of the two types of gear are “different but equal.”

Finally, there is a short write-up about Whistler-based ski-mountaineer J.D. Hare’s recent first descents in the Tantalus Range. The latest issue of  Mountain Life Magazine has a first-hand account of the same trip. Here’s a video of the “mellower” of the two lines he performed in a single, epic day last winter.

Elsewhere, Snowboard Canada‘s current “Tech Issue” has a pretty rad feature about a crew of snowboard-mountaineers who are using Google Earth to identify and locate new snowmobile-accessed riding zones in the mountains to the north of their Pemberton, BC homes. Aside from some burly riding (and a couple of my brother’s photos), the article provides some compelling insight into territorial exploration in today’s world. While purists and armchair explorers might claim that the use of  technology (including snowmobiles) lessens their discoveries, I doubt these guys care. They’re getting after it and reaping the rewards.

Also in the same issue is a counterpart article about urban snowboarders using Google Streetview to locate new jibs (skateboard-style urban features), and a detailed article which traces the progression of freestyle snowboarding over the last twenty years, “from tindys to triple-corks.”

None of these articles are available online, so I’ll throw this in for some more web-based content: an article about Yuichiro Miura’s attempt to ski from the South Col of Mount Everest in 1970.  Here’s a short clip to accompany the article, but to fully appreciate this expedition in all it’s bizarre glory, track down a copy of The Man Who Skied Down Everest.

Many of the ski descents Miura attempted in the 60s and 70s would have been groundbreaking on their own, but, marching to his own beat, he decided to schuss (ski without turning) and use a parachute to slow him down for good measure. In a sport renowned for its eccentrics and free-thinkers, Miura has to go down as one of skiing’s squarest pegs.

Hopefully this round of articles gives some insights into the current state of the ski/snowboard world, and gets all the riders out there stoked for the snow. If you’re going out into the mountains, please play safe.

Ancient Alpinists: First Nations in the Coast Mountain Past

6 11 2010

This article was published in the latest issue of Mountain Life Magazine (Fall/Winter 2010). Pick up a free copy if you are in the Vancouver/Sea-to-Sky region, or view it online here (page 88-89).

Sure, old-growth forests are nice and the ocean’s pretty cool, but the alpine is where it’s at. There’s nothing like standing amidst jagged peaks, sprawling glaciers, and kaleidoscope meadows on a bluebird day. Or, for that matter, not seeing anything at all in a vertigo-inducing whiteout.

It’s no secret that the Coast Mountain alpine offers some of the most mind-blowing opportunities for adventure on Earth. Conversations about “pioneers” in these inspiring, challenging landscapes usually begin with the founders of Whistler Mountain, or, less often, early mountaineers like Don and Phyllis Munday.

But long before these mountain heroes, coastal First Nations people were venturing above tree-line. While local First Nations history has received greater attention of late, these stories are usually set at lower elevations. This alpine amnesia is surprising, considering that anthropologists have long emphasized how the coast’s populous and sophisticated societies developed through full, expert use of our region’s natural riches.

Historically, First Nations people saw the Coast Mountain alpine much like Sea-to-Sky residents today, as a powerful landscape with plenty to offer. Bridging this ancient fascination into the present is SFU archaeologist Dr. Rudy Reimer, a Squamish Nation member at the forefront of alpine archaeology. Think Indiana Jones with an ice axe. Reimer combines his own field research with oral histories to write First Peoples back into the social memory of the Coast Mountain landscape.

And a deep memory it is. Reimer has identified sites in Garibaldi Park up to 10,000 years old.  “Other locations,” he explains, “were off limits due to their associations with powerful mythical beings such as the Thunderbird, whose perch is atop what is known to some as Black Tusk.”

Drawing materials from their immediate surroundings, they developed gear resembling modern alpenstocks, snowshoes, crampons and climbing ropes for travel into the alpine. And they probably had a lot of fun while up there.

The berry patches that thrive in most well-lit areas saw some of the heaviest use. Since fruit ripen slower at altitude, harvesters climbed progressively up-slope, finding fresh berries well into the fall. Of course, berry patches attract other visitors like elk, deer, and bear which were  hunted throughout the sub-alpine parkland.

The most sought-after prey were mountain goats, whose meat and wool blankets served as markers of status. The goats’ meat was fattest and their fur thickest in late fall so hunters often grappled with early snowfalls that left alpine rock extra slick, and crevasses thinly covered. Drawing materials from their immediate surroundings, they developed gear resembling modern alpenstocks, snowshoes, crampons and climbing ropes to better navigate the terrain.

Some of the best hunting zones lay among the gnarly crags of the Tantalus Range, named Twi’liks in Squamish after a legendary hunter. The dangers of the hunt demanded years of practice and apprenticeship, but also added prestige to the kill. Imagine headstrong Squamish youths aspiring to chase these woolly beasts, much like today’s groms dream of steep, exposed ski lines.

Vancouver’s Dr. Duncan Bell-Irving witnessed this prowess firsthand on an 1889 North Shore hunting trip guided by Squamish Chief Joe Capilano. One evening while camped beneath the West Lion, Chief Capilano asked the doctor to time one of his men climb the iconic peak. As Irving recounted, “the lithe youth stripped naked then went up the rocky face like a cat, springing from ledge to ledge, all the time in plain view of the watchers below. Reaching the summit he turned, waved his arms, and then commenced a descent so swift as to seem almost incredible.”

Next time you climb the West Lion try to beat one Squamish youth’s time of twenty minutes (return), clothing optional.

Another alpine lure was forged during the Coast Range’s fiery past. Obsidian is used for razor-sharp blades and fine jewellery around the world, and  this volcanic glass can still be found among Garibaldi Park’s ancient lava flows. Further north, Mount Edziza was B.C.’s largest producer, with other sources in the Chilcotin’s Rainbow Range and, possibly, near the glacial dome of Mount Silverthrone, BC’s highest volcano.

Because each obsidian quarry has a distinct composition, scientists are able to “fingerprint” fragments found at archaeological sites and trace them back to their source. Garibaldi obsidian has been found throughout southern B.C. and Washington state, while Edziza filled orders as far away as Alaska and Alberta.

Obsidian was just one of many commodities exchanged across a broad trade network. The “iceman” found melting from a glacier in the St. Elias Range in 1999 likely perished following one of these routes, roughly 500 years ago.

More recently, an 1868 map of B.C.’s central coast recorded two “Indian Trails.” Surveying river valleys for possible railway routes, the mapmakers knew next to nothing about the terrain these trails crossed. Both routes would have traversed massive glacial plateaus– just west of Mount Waddington along the Franklin Glacier, and the Lillooet Icefield, respectively. Nowadays, few venture into these arctic landscapes without years of mountaineering experience.

Two “Indian Trails” were recorded on this 1868 map. One track crossed between the Homathko and Klinaklini valleys, while the other connected the Southgate drainage to the Bridge River country near Bralorne.

Through his work Reimer hopes to challenge long-held perceptions of these cherished places:I hope that my research will show that mountainous areas have a long First Nations presence. My elders have always told me that our ancestors used the entirety of our territory, from the tops of the mountains to the depths of the sea. The fact that he is uncovering his own people’s heritage makes his work among the peaks especially rewarding.

And he’s definitely having a lot of fun up there.