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Canadian Alpine Journal/Volume 1/Number 1/Canada's First Alpine Club Camp


By Frank Yeigh

The wayfaring globe-trotter who chanced to reach Field station, on the Canadian Pacific railway, on the evening of July 8th, 1906, must have wondered at the scene of excitement and activity revealed in that spacious hostelry. For undoubtedly excited the groups of fellow-travellers were, and with rare good cause, for were we not the lucky folk privileged to be present at the christening of the Alpine Club of Canada, on the occasion of its first annual camp in the Rocky mountains. Tenderfeet and old-timers alike were equally seized with a delicious fever of expectation. From England, from the United States, and from many corners of Canada the alpinists-in.embryo had thus foregathered at this appointed rendezvous under the shadow of Mt. Stephen, the grim old King of the Rockies. Some were armed with ice-axes and alpen-stocks—and umbrellas, and all were laden with impedimenta, the wonderful contents of which were not revealed till the next morning, when the actual start was made by the actual members of an actually formed Alpine Club for Canada!

No wonder we were excited! For once in our blessed lives we all saw the sun rise and flood the awesome canyon of the Kicking Horse as the dark shadows of the night were dispelled. Soon after sun-up the thin long line of amateurs, with Excelsior written on face and in eye, crossed the bridge over the Kicking-Horse and took to the road that leads through a silent forest aisle to Emerald lake. That seven-mile path through the trees, with a snow-enshrined peak closing the view at either end, stirred every heart and led to an exaltation of spirit and buoyancy of life that never left us. Most of the campers were first trampers over this bit of road, a few following in the comfortable carriages or perched aloft on the commisariat wagons. Striking to a degree were the costumes worn by the mountain invaders, and while not so stylish as an Easter day parade at Atlantic City, there was more variety; yes, one may safely assert, infinitely more variety.

So we were really off at last! The months of anticipation had ended, the days of realizing delight had come as we trudged off the first few miles. Why an Alpine camp? may be asked. A clause of the Constitution reads, and when a Constitution speaks let all listen: "A summer camp in some suitable part of the mountain regions shall be organized in each year for the purpose of ennabling graduating members to qualify for active membership, and the members generally to meet together for study in the alpine districts of Canada."

It was no small task to plan such a camp, to be placed on a summit 6000 feet above the sea, and at a distance of nearly a score of miles from the nearest railway station. It was an even greater task to provide at such an inaccessible spot for a hundred people and to carry thereto on pack ponies the thirty or forty tents, with necessary equipment and provisions. The Club, moreover, was at the time only four months old, having been organized in Winnipeg in the previous March. Never before had a camp on such a large scale been attempted, especially by such a youthful organization. The project was, therefore, a somewhat daring one and was made possible of successful achievement by a strong union of forces on the part of governments, railway companies and individuals. This unity of action was brought into play
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Photo, Rev. G. R. Kinney


not as a mere whim or from any selfish motive, but in a spirit of patriotism worthy of all praise and emulation. The Dominion Government contributed assistance to the value of $500, the Alberta Government contributed $250, private subscriptions amounted to $170, and four of the principal mountain guides and outfitters gave their services and the services of their men, horses and outfits free of charge, to make the first camp a success. These men are: R. E. Campbell of Laggan and Field, Martin and Otto (now Otto Bros.) of Field, Leanchoil and Golden, E. C. Barnes of Banff, and S. H. Baker of Glacier. All honor is due them, for they cannot well afford to curtail the profits of their short seasons. The Canadian Pacific Railway Company was no whit behind. It loaned the Club two Swiss guides for the week of the Camp, loaned tents, canopies and other outfit, and placed its cooks in the Company's Yoho camps at the disposal of the Club. Tents also were loaned by the Royal North-West Mounted Police at Calgary and Banff, and bunting by the Superintendent of the Rocky Mountains Parks. Taken all round, the greatest interest and enthusiasm was shown, not only in the formation of the Club itself, but in the organization of its first camp.

Let us return to the straggling procession of Alpinists as they round up at the Emerald Lake Chalet. The world yet awaits the heaven-gifted artist of brush or pen who will transmit to canvas or paper the transcendent beauty of this mountain lake nestling so peacefully at the base of mighty Mt. Burgess—

"a. lofty precipice in front,
A silent tarn below."

It was at Emerald lake that the real part of the first day's work began, involving the traverse of the broad glacial delta on its northern shore and the ascent of the steep cliff wall that appeared to bar all further progress, and yet that had to be negotiated if the Camp was to be reached before nightfall. It was a case of fun and work combined, and fun and work make a fine team when well mated. The ceremony of initiation into mountain work was here observed. First came the passage of an endless number of streams flowing from the Emerald glacier, thousands of feet higher. Pioneering the first section of the party was the Rev. Dr. Herdman, of Calgary, who proved himself to be a born mountaineer. Those who followed him as a vanguard had many lively experiences in negotiating the mad little rivers, for the log bridges had been swept away as the waters rapidly rose under the influence of the summer sun upon the glacier. Soon all traces of earlier trails were lost as search was made for suitable fords, until at last the pack ponies were requisitioned as bridges to carry the pilgrims over safely.

After the delta, the deluge, as a storm broke over us, giving the invaders of the hills their first, but not their last, nature bath. After the delta and the deluge, the initial bit of stiff up-grade climbing, of nearly a thousand feet, tested strength and breath. The rest cure soon became popular, and while the second wind was whistled for, entrancing glimpses were had of the lake valley, of the enclosing ranks of peaks, and, nearer at hand, of the massive buttresses of Mt. Vice-President, carrying on their granite slopes tumultuous floods of milk-white waters to the lake reservoir of emerald hue. A dense forest of spruce succeeded the stiff climb; wherein, for the time, the wonder-world of summits was obscured, but wherein another wonder-world of Nature unfolded itself in flower and fern and forest growth, of heath and heather. Painter's Brush and Yellow Columbine, of Anemones, Gailardias, and many another botanical specimen, making brilliant the floor of this Forest of Arden.

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Photo, Byron Harmon


At last, the summit of Yoho pass! At last, that striking picture of a tented town nestling amid the realm of trees! You remember it, do you not, fellow-camper? the white canvas homes for a brief day amid avenues of greenery, under a sky of blue, with grey old Wapta and Michael's mount standing sentinel, three thousand feet higher still. You remember, do you not?—as if we could ever forget—the incomparable scene beside the incomparable Yoho lake, holding in its translucent waters all the emerald and amethyst shades in Nature's color box. You recall the welcoming camp fire of huge dimensions, and the yet more welcome aroma of THINGS TO EAT as cooked by that cheerful Celestial, Jim Bong, otherwise known as Ping-Pong. May his fat shade never grow less.

The Camp, made gay with banners and flags and bunting of many colors, was divided into three sections: Residence Park, Official Square, and the horse paddock. The arrangements were perfect to a detail, thanks to the forethought and hard work on the part of the President, Mr. Arthur O. Wheeler, and his efficient staff. The dining tent accommodated one hundred, where meals were served from early morn till late night. A bulletin board kept the members acquainted with the daily programmes. In the centre of the Square the big fire burned unceasingly, brightening up for the evening hours, when it was surrounded by as many fire worshippers as there were occupants of the tents, and where were heard more Demosthenian eloquence and oratory, more jokes and quips and antique chestnuts, and more accomplished entertainers than ever gathered on a mountain summit before. It is a pity the Journal cannot hold within its pages all that was said and sung and done around that cheerful camp fire.

But we were in Camp Yoho for the express purpose of going farther and climbing higher than even the 6000 feet altitude of the Camp site. Thus there were daily exploring and climbing trips in all directions. The mountain selected for the official climb is known as "The Vice-President," so called by Mr. Edward Whymper, of Matterhorn fame, in honor of the Vice-Presidency of the Canadian Pacific railway. Its altitude is 10,050 feet. The peak was selected on account of the varied phases of mountaineering presented.

The first official climb was made on Tuesday, July 10th, the party leaving the camp at 5.30 a.m. and arriving at the summit of the Vice-President at 11.30 a.m. The return was made in three and a half hours. Two ladies then graduated, viz.: Miss K. McLennan, of Toronto, and Miss E. B. Hobbs, of Revelstoke. Official ascents were made on the four following days, but the one named made the record time, i.e., ascent and return in nine and a half hours. In all forty-four members graduated, of whom fifteen were ladies. Not one graduating member who attempted the climb failed. Do not think, because there were no failures, the climb was an easy one. Not so! It is a peak presenting many difficulties and some danger. The average time of ascent was seven hours and of descent three and a half hours, making altogether an average climb of ten and a half hours—a pretty fair test and initiation for those who were, for the most part, absolute novices. It goes to show that right here in Canada we have the very best of mountaineering material, and it only needs a little fostering care to develop to the fullest extent this latent talent.

There were a number of other mountains climbed, eight in all, not counting Michael's mount, which was taken en route for the Vice-President. The two highest were Mt. Collie and the President, both over 10,000
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Photo, F. W. Freeborn


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Photo, F. W. Freeborn


feet. The climb of Mt. Collie was made by J. D. Patterson of Woodstock, under the auspices of the Club. He was accompanied by the Swiss guide, Gottfried Feuz. Curiously enough, the mountain was ascended on the same day by a lady member of the Club, but one who was not visiting at the Camp, by a different route, and the two climbers met on the summit of the peak. The lady was Miss Henrietta L. Tuzo, of Warlingham, England. Of the others, Mt. Wapta seemed to be the favorite, ascents having been made of it by four separate parties, by two different routes. The other mountains ascended were: Mt. Burgess—though one of the lowest, one of the most difficult climbs,—Mt. Field, Mt. Marpole, and the peak lying between it and Mt. McMullen, both as far as known, virgin ascents. The unnamed peak was christened "Amgadamo."

Bordering the palisades of the Vice-President for a mile or more is the Emerald glacier, and to the Emerald glacier the Club campers made their way in detachments. It proved to be not the least delightful of the series of excursions, as for the majority it was their first experience in ice climbing. Again, variety marked every mile of the way. Again, entrancing vistas of distant peaks were unfolded at many a turn in the switchback trail, and with each higher altitude gained, the panorama grew in vastness and magnificence. Nature never duplicates her canvases, especially amid the mountains.

Crossing in part the same route as that covered by the Upper Yoho trail to Inspiration point, with its superb and dramatic picture of the Takakkaw falls on the far side of the valley, a turn to the left was made by the guide in order to reach the foot of the ice-sheet whose gleaming edges hung suspended far above us. A stiff bit of ascent over a boulder-strewn incline gave each one unexpected surprise practise in baseball catching, as descending rocks were caught and hurled aside in order to prevent a rock-slide.

Rounding a ticklish corner of rock-wall and crossing a noisy little stream, rejoicing in its escape from the ice caverns, the snow line was reached and a snow-balling match was indulged in to celebrate the summer day event. And while it was under way, what would have been a shower in the valley became a sleet storm up aloft, at the elevation of 8000 feet above the sea, the wind driving the frozen sand-like flakes with stinging effect against our faces. But the sunshine soon returned with its grateful warmth, and with it a revival of spirits and a quickened pace up the ice-steps cut for us by our leader. At last, the main icefield was reached, with its miniature mountains of ice known as séracs, its deep chasms and moulins, and its under-surface streams making their way to lower levels. On either side gaping crevasses reached to unknown depths, the wonderful coloring of their green-blue walls fascinating the eye while they terrified the mind at the thought of what a misstep might result in. An occasional halt enabled the alpen-stock travellers once more to revel in a sweeping vision of our giant hills, where

"Hills peep o'er hills, and Alps on Alps arise."

Then there was the two-day trip up the floor of the Yoho valley and back by its upper trail. That experience was worth the whole journey to the scene, no matter from what far-away distance. One stood entranced amid the scenic grandeur: the wonderful coloring, the titanic peaks guarding the vale, and the distant views of other alpine giants. The beholder rejoiced in such a revelation of Nature, he rejoiced in the freedom of the open, in the chance to breathe the pure air of the hills, in the rare opportunity of living among the Kings of the Cordilleran range. We had sped across God's plains to reach the Rockies, now we
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were living amid God's hills. In the silent watches of the night, when we camped near the Laughing falls, God's stars seemed to hover nearer than ever before, and on every hand were God's rivers and cascades and forests and glacial streams and icefields capping the summits.

"I to the hills will lift mine eyes." Often rang out the words of the grand old psalm, as hillward and mountainward the eyes of all were instinctively lifted in solemn worship and in admiring praise. A fit temple in which to worship the Creator of this and all worlds was the Yoho.

It was a rare day in summer when we thus meandered over the alluring trail, past the Takakkaw falls—Canada's highest Niagara—past the Laughing falls and the Twin falls, and many another no less beautiful, to the great Yoho glacier at the uppper end of the valley, with its giant caverns, showing strangely blue and green, and from the throats of which the streams had their birth that later made the Yoho river. I would like the space to tell of that night in the Yoho around our camp fire, of the tales told by Jack Otto—honest Jack Otto,—of the bear stories that fell from his lips till the sight or sound of a fat old porcupine made us believe we were face to face with a grizzly! I could fill a book, if it were not too bulky, with all that might be recorded of the Yoho tramp, up and down this Yosemite of Canada, and of the charming upper trail journey homeward, when from lofty platforms of rock we saw the entire fifteen-mile valley lying below us as in a picture, bordered by the Cathedral spires on the south and the Yoho glacier on the north.

In the matter of Science, work was begun by placing a row of metal plates across the ice tongue of the Yoho glacier to mark its rate of flow down its bed. Rocks also were marked to show the advance or retreat of the ice. This year, further observations will be made, and the several movements ascertained. A full account of the operations carried out will be found in these pages.

Financially, the camp proved a success, and after all expenses were paid there was a sufficient sum in hand to partially reimburse the outfitters for their gratuitous outlay, and, even then, a small balance was paid in to the funds of the Club. This was made possible by the great enthusiasm that prevailed throughout, leading to a generosity on the part of the visitors that was most pleasing and encouraging, and fully repaid those who had spent much time and labor in making preparation for the event.

The great success of the camp was almost wholly due to the skill, energy and business-like determination of the outfitters—the men in buckskin—who started out to make the camp a success and did so. No whit behind were the ladies present, all of whom gave the heartiest assistance in all matters wherein feminine skill is most required—in helping the cook, decorating and waiting on the tables, and generally making themselves charming around the camp fire. Much wit and artistic talent were displayed to help make the evenings pass pleasantly, and particularly, in this respect, are the thanks of the assembly due to Miss Edna Sutherland of Winnipeg.

The camp broke up on the 16th of July, but two more days were required to pack up and remove the outfit. Some few stayed until the last moment. When returning home, many reached Mt. Stephen House by way of the Burgess pass trail.

In all, the camp was designed for one hundred persons, but one hundred and twelve attended, and the arrangements were such that one hundred and fifty might as easily have been accommodated.

Throughout the entire gathering, there was a harmony, a hail-fellow-well-met feeling, an unexpressed but very apparent resolve by each individual to have

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the time of their lives, that resulted in a most pleasurable and instructive outing, proving clearly that, not only has Canada the material to create a first-class Alpine Club, but has the proper people ready and willing to take advantage of the opportunity offered by such a Club to learn something of and thoroughly enjoy the grand mountain regions that are the heritage of each and every Canadian. One of the richest assets of the Dominion are her mountains, and the Alpine Club of Canada hopes to have a share in enabling the Canadian people to realize upon the asset.

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1924. It may be copyrighted outside the U.S. (see Help:Public domain).

This work is in the public domain in Canada because it originates from Canada and its term of copyright has expired.

According to Canadian copyright law, all private copyrights expire fifty years after the year marking the death of the author. Government works are held under Crown copyright which expires fifty years after publication.

This work is in the public domain in countries where the copyright term is the author's life plus 75 years or less.

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It is not necessarily in the public domain in the United States if published from 1923 to 1977. For a US-applicable version, see {{PD-1996}}.