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Camping in the Canadian Rockies
Chapter I

Banff—Its Location— The Village— Tourists—Hotels— Topography of the Region—Rundle and Cascade Mountains — The Devil's Lake—Sir George Simpson s Journey to this Region—Peechee the Indian Guide— An Indian Legend—The Missionary Rundle—Dr. Hectoi—The Climate of Banff—A Summer Snow-Storm—The Mountains in Winter.

THE principal resort of tourists and sportsmen in the Rocky Mountains of Canada is Banff. The location of the town or village of Banff might be briefly described as being just within the eastern-most range of the Rocky Mountains, about one hundred and fifty miles north of the International boundary, or where the Canadian Pacific Railway begins to pierce the complex system of mountains which continue from this point westward to the Pacific coast.

Banff is likewise the central or focal point of the Canadian National Park. There is so much of scenic interest and natural beauty in the surrounding mountains and valleys, that an area of some two hundred and sixty square miles has been reserved in this region by the government and laid out with fine roads and bridle-paths to points of special interest. Order is enforced by a body of men known as the Northwest Mounted Police, a detachment of which is stationed at Banff. This organization has been wonderfully effective for many years past in preserving the authority of the laws throughout the vast extent of northwestern Canada by means of a number of men that seems altogether insufficient for that purpose.

The small and scattered village of Banff occupies a flat plain near the Bow River. This large stream, the south branch of the Saskatchewan, one of the greatest rivers of North America, is at this point not only deep^ and swift but fully one hundred yards in width. A fine iron bridge spans the river and leads to the various hotels all of which are south of the village. The permanent population numbers some half thousand, while the various stores, dwellings, and churches have a general air of neatness and by their new appearance suggest the fact that the history of Banff extends back only one decade.

During the summer season, the permanent population of Banff is sometimes nearly doubled by a great invasion of tourists and travellers from far distant regions. Overland tourists from India, China, Ceylon, and England, the various countries of Europe and the Dominion of Canada, but chiefly from the United States, form the greater part of this cosmopolitan assemblage, in which, however, almost every part of the globe is occasionally represented. Some are bent on sport with rod or gun; others on mountaineering or camping expeditions, but the great majority are en route to distant countries and make Banff a stopping-place for a short period.

Arrived at Banff, the traveller is confronted by a line of hack drivers and hotel employes shouting in loud voices the names and praises of their various hotels. Such sights and sounds are a blessed relief to the tourist, who for several days has witnessed nothing but the boundless plains and scanty population of northwestern Canada. The chorus of rival voices seems almost a welcome back to civilization, and reminds one in a mild degree of some railroad station in a great metropolis. On the contrary, the new arrival finds, as he is whirled rapidly toward his hotel in the coach, that he is in a mere country village surrounded on all sides by high mountains, with here and there patches of perpetual snow near their lofty summits.

Though the surrounding region, the adjacent mountains, and valleys represent nature in a wild and almost primitive state, one may remain at Banff attended by all the comforts of civilization. The several hotels occupy more or less scattered points in the valley south from the village. The one built and managed by the railroad stands apart from the village on an eminence overlooking the Bow River. It is a magnificent structure capable of accommodating a large number of guests. From the verandas and porches one may obtain a fine panoramic view of the surrounding mountains, and on the side towards the river the view combines water, forest, and mountain scenery in a most pleasing manner. The Bow River, some three hundred feet below, comes in from the left and dashes in a snowy cascade through a rocky gorge, then, sweeping away towards the east, is joined by the Spray River, a mad mountain torrent deep and swift, but clear as crystal, and with cold water of that deep blue color indicating its mountain origin. The wonderful rapidity with which these mountain streams flow is a source of astonishment and wonder to those familiar only with the sluggish rivers of lowland regions. Standing on the little iron bridge which carries the road across the stream and looking down on the water, I have often imagined I was at the stern of an ocean greyhound, so rapidly does each ripple or inequality sweep under and away from the eye. Though the water is less than a yard in depth, the current moves under the bridge at the rate of from nine to ten miles an hour.

The best point from which to get a good general idea of the topography of Banff and its surroundings is from the summit of a little hill known as Tunnel Mountain. It is centrally located in the wide valley of the Bow, above which it rises exactly iooo feet, an altitude great enough to make it appear a high mountain were it not dwarfed by its mighty neighbors. The view from the summit is not of exceeding grandeur, but is well worth the labor of the climb, especially as a good path, with occasional seats for the weary, makes the walk an easy one. The top of the mountain is still far below the tree line, though the earth is too thin to nourish a rich forest. The soil was

all carried away in the Ice Age, for there are abundant proofs that this mountain was once flooded by a glacier coming down the Bow valley. The bare limestone of the summit is grooved in great channels pointing straight up the Bow valley. In some places scratches made by the ice are visible, and there are many quartz boulders strewed about which have been carried here from some distant region.

The meandering course of the Bow River, the village, the hay meadows and grassy swamps, all form a pretty picture in the flat valley below. The eastern face of Tunnel Mountain is wellnigh perpendicular. The trail leads along near the summit and allows thrilling views down the sheer precipice to the flat valley of the Bow River far below. The trees and prominent objects of the landscape seem like toys, and the adjacent plains resemble a colored map. There are no houses or dwellings in view on this side, but a drove of horses grazing contentedly in a pasture near the river, awaiting their turn to be sent out into the mountains in the pack train of some sportsman or mountaineer, gives life and animation to the scene. On either side are two high mountains, conspicuous by their unusual outlines and great altitude. The one to the south is Rundle Mountain. It rises in a great curving slope on its west side, and terminates in a rugged escarpment with precipitous cliffs to the east, which tower in wonderful grandeur more than 5000 feet above the flood plains of the Bow River near its base.

On the opposite side is Cascade Mountain, which is remarkable in being of almost identical height, and is in fact just two feet lower, as determined by the topographical survey. The name of this mountain was given by reason of a large stream which falls from ledge to ledge down the cliffs of its eastern face in a beautiful cascade. Both this and Rundle Mountain are composed of the old Devonian and Carboniferous limestones, the strata of which are plainly visible. The structure is that of a great arch or anticline which has been completely overturned, so that the older beds are above the newer. Several miles towards the east*, the end of Devil’s Lake may be seen appearing through a notch in the mountains. A fine road nine miles in length has been made to this lake and is one of the most popular drives in the vicinity of Banff. The lake is very long and narrow, about nine miles in length by three fourths of a mile in extreme breadth. The scenery is grand, but rather desolate, as the bare mountain walls on either side of the lake are not relieved by forests or abundant vegetation of any kind. The lake is, however, a great resort for sportsmen as it abounds in large trout, of which one taken last year weighed thirty-four pounds. The name of the lake gives illustration of the tendency among savages and civilized people to dedicate prominent objects of nature to the infernal regions or the master spirit thereof. There is no apparent limit to the number of places named after the Devil and his realm, while the names suggested by more congenial places are conspicuous by their absence. The original name, Lake Peechee, was given by Sir George Simpson in honor of his guide.

The scattered threads of history which relate to this part of the Rocky Mountains are suggested by these names and indeed this lake has an unusual interest for this reason. In a region where explorations have been very few and far between, and where only the vague traditions of warlike events among the Indians form a great part of the history, each fragment and detail set forth by the old explorers acquires an increased interest.

Previous to the arrival of the railroad surveyors, the chief men on whom our attention centres are Sir George Simpson, Mr. Rundle, and Dr. Hector.

The expedition of Sir George Simpson possesses much of interest in every way. He claims to have been the first man to accomplish an overland journey around the world from east to west. After having traversed the greater part of the continent of North America, he entered the stupendous gates of the Rocky Mountains in the autumn of 1841. He travelled with wonderful rapidity, and was wont to cover from twenty to sixty miles a day, according to the nature of the country. His outfit consisted of a large band of horses, about forty-five in number, attended by cooks and packers sufficient for the needs of this great expedition. Nevertheless the long cavalcade of animals, when spread out in Indian file along the narrow trails were difficult to manage, and it not infrequently happened that on reaching camp several horses proved to be missing, a fact which would necessitate some of the men returning fifteen or twenty miles in search of them.

Passing to the south of the Devil’s Head, a remarkable and conspicuous mountain which may be recognized far out on the plains, Sir George Simpson entered the valley occupied by the lake. In this part of his journey he was guided by a half-breed Indian named Peechee, a chief of the Mountain Crees. Peechee lived with his wife and family on the borders of this lake, and Simpson named it after him, a name, however, which never gained currency. Dr. Dawson transferred the name to a high mountain south of the lake, and substituted the Indian name of Minnewanka, or in English, Devil’s Lake.

The guide Peechee seems to have possessed much influence among his fellows, and whenever, as was often the case, the Indians gathered around their camp-fires and gossiped about their adventures, Peechee was listened to with the closest attention on the part of all. Nothing more delights the Indians than to indulge their passion for idle talk when assembled together, especially when under the soothing and peaceful influence of tobacco,—a fact that seems strange indeed to those who see them only among strangers, where they are wont to be remarkably silent.

A circumstance of Indian history connected with the east end of the lake is mentioned by Sir George Simpson, and admirably illustrates the nature of savage warfare. A Cree and his wife, a short time previously, had been tracked and pursued by five Indians of a hostile tribe into the mountains to a point near the lake. At length they were espied and attacked by their pursuers. Terrified by the fear of almost certain death, the Cree advised his wife to submit without defending herself. She, however, was possessed of a more courageous spirit, and replied that as they were young and had but one life to lose they had better put forth every effort in self-defence. Accordingly she raised her rifle and brought down the foremost warrior with a well aimed shot. Her husband was now impelled by desperation and shame to join the contest, and mortally wounded two of the advancing foe with arrows. There were now but two on each side. The fourth warrior had, however, by this time reached the Cree’s wife and with upraised tomahawk was on the point of cleaving her head, when his foot caught in some inequality of the ground and he fell prostrate. With lightning stroke the undaunted woman buried her dagger in his side. Dismayed by this unexpected slaughter of his companions, the fifth Indian took to flight after wounding the Cree in his arm.

Rundle Mountain, which has been already mentioned and which forms one of the most striking mountains in the vicinity of Banff, is named after a Wesleyan missionary who for many years carried on his pious labors among the Indians in the vicinity of Edmonton. Mr. Rundle once visited this region and remained camped for a considerable time near the base of Cascade Mountain, probably shortly after Sir George Simpson explored this-region. The work of Mr. Rundle among the Indians appears to have been highly successful, if one may judge by the present condition of the Stoneys, who are honest, truthful, and but little given to the vices of civilization.

Even to this day the visitor may see them at Banff dressed in partly civilized, partly savage attire, or on rare occasions decked out in all the feathers and beaded belts and moccasins that go to make up the sum total of savage splendor.

Our attention comes at last to Dr. Hector, who was connected with the Palliser expedition. It is exceedingly unfortunate that the blue-book in which the vast amount of useful information and interesting adventure connected with this expedition is so clearly set forth should be now almost out of print. There are no available copies in the United States or Canada and but very few otherwise accessible. Dr. Hector followed up the Bow River and passed the region now occupied by Banff in the year 1858. He was accompanied by the persevering and ever popular botanist, Bourgeau. Under the magic spell of close observation and clear description, the most commonplace affairs assume an unusual interest in all of Dr. Hector’s reports. It is very evident that game was much more abundant in those early days than at present. For instance, Dr. Hector’s men shot two mountain sheep near the falls of the Bow River, which are but a few minutes walk from the hotel. Likewise when making a partial ascent of the Cascade Mountain, Dr. Hector came on a large herd of these noble animals, concerning which so many fabulous tales of their daring leaps down awful precipices have been told. He also mentions an interesting fact about the death of a mountain goat. An Indian had shot a goat when far up on the slope of

Cascade Mountain, but the animal, though badly wounded, managed to work its way around to some inaccessible cliffs near the cascade. Here the poor animal lingered for seven days with no less than five bullets in its body, till at length death came and it fell headlong down the precipice. .

The climate of Banff during the months of July and August is almost perfection. The high altitude of 4500 feet above the sea-level renders the nights invariably cool and pleasant, while the mid-day heat rarely reaches 8o° in the shade. There is but little rain during this period and in fact there are but two drawbacks,—mosquitoes and forest-fire smoke. The mosquitoes, however, are only troublesome in the deep woods or by the swampy tracts near the river. The smoke from forest fires frequently becomes so thick as to obscure the mountains and veil them in a yellow pall through which the sun shines with a weird light.

An effect of the high northern latitude of this part of the Rocky Mountains is to make the summer days very long. In June and early July the sun does not set till nine o’clock, and the twilight is so bright that fine print can be read out doors till eleven o’clock, and in fact there is more or less light at midnight.

In June and September one never knows what to expect in the way of weather. I shall give two examples which will set forth the possibilities of these months, though one must not imagine that they illustrate the ordinary course of events. In the summer of 1895, after having suffered from a long period of intensely hot weather in the east, I arrived at Banff on the 14th of June. It was snowing and the station platform was covered to a depth of six inches. The next day, however, I ascended Tunnel Mountain and found a most extraordinary combination of summer and winter effects. The snow still remained ten or twelve inches deep on the mountain sides, though it had already nearly disappeared in the valley. Under this wintry mantle were many varieties of beautiful flowers in full bloom, and, most conspicuous of all, wild roses in profusion, apparently uninjured by this unusually late snow-storm. I made a sad discovery near the top of the mountain. Seeing a little bird fly up from the ground apparently out from the snow, I examined more closely and observed a narrow snow-tunnel leading down to the ground. Removing the snow I found a nest containing four or five young birds all dead, their feeble spark of life chilled away by the damp snow, while the mother bird had been, even when I arrived, vainly trying to nurse them back to life.

This storm was said to be very unusual for the time of year. The poplar trees in full summer foliage suffered severely and were bent down to the ground in great arches, from which position they did not fully recover all summer, while the leaves were blighted by the frost. As a general rule, however, mountain trees and herbs possess an unusual vitality, and endure syow and frost or prolonged dry weather in a remarkable manner. The various flowers which were buried for a week by this late storm appeared bright and vigorous after a few warm days had removed the snow.

Toward the end of September, 1895, there were two or three days of exceptionally cold weather, the thermometer recording 6° Fahrenheit one morning. I made an ascent of Sulphur Mountain, a ridge rising about 3,000 feet above the valley, on the coldest day of that period. The sun shone out of a sky of the clearest blue without a single cloud except a few scattered wisps of cirrus here and there. The mountain summit is covered with a few straggling spruces which maintain a bare existence at this altitude. The whole summit of the mountain, the trees, and rocks were covered by a thick mantle of snow, dry and powdery by reason of the severe cold. The chill of the previous night had condensed a beautiful frost over the surface of the snow everywhere. Shining scales of transparent ice, thin as mica and some half-inch across, stood on edge at all possible angles and reflected the bright sunlight from thousands of brilliant surfaces. This little glimpse of winter was even more pleasing than the view from the summit, for the mountains near Banff do not afford the mountain climber grand panoramas or striking scenery. They tend to run in long regular ridges, uncrowned by glaciers or extensive snow-fields.

A never failing source of amusement to the residents of Banff, as well as to those more experienced in mountain climbing, is afforded by those lately arrived but ambitious tourists who look up at the mountains as though they were little hills, and proceed forthwith to scale the very highest peak on the day of their arrival. A few years ago some gentlemen became possessed of a desire to ascend Cascade Mountain and set off with the intention of returning the next day at noon. Instead of following the advice of those who knew the best route, they would have it that a course over Stoney Squaw Mountain, an intervening high ridge, was far better. They returned three days later, after having wandered about in burnt timber so long that, begrimed with charcoal, they could not be recognized as white men. It is not known whether they ever so much as reached the base of Cascade Mountain, but it is certain that they retired to bed upon arriving at the hotel and remained there the greater part of the ensuing week.

Cascade Mountain, however, is a difficult mountain to ascend, not because there are steep cliffs or rough places to overcome, but because almost every one takes the wrong slope. This leads to a lofty escarpment, and just when the mountaineer hopes to find himself on the summit, the real mountain appears beyond, while a great gulf separates the two peaks and removes the possibility of making the ascent that day.

Banff, with its fine drives and beautiful scenery, its luxurious hotels and delightful climate, will ever enjoy popularity among tourists. The river above the falls is wide and deep and flows with such gentle current as to render boating safe and delightful.’ The Vermilion lakes, with their low reedy shores and swarming wild fowl, offer charming places for the canoe and oarsman, at least when the mosquitoes, the great pest of our western plains and mountains, temporarily disappear. Nevertheless, the climate of Banff partakes of the somewhat dryer nature of the lesser and more eastern sub-ranges of the Rocky Mountains. There is not sufficient moisture to nourish the rich forests, vast snow-fields, and thundering glaciers of the higher ranges to the west, which in imagination we shall visit in the ensuing chapters.


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