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Camping in the Canadian Rockies
Chapter IV

Organizing a Party for the Mountains—Our Plans for the Summer— William Twin and Tom Chiniquy— Nature, Habits, and Dress of the Stoney Indians—An Excursion on the Glacier—The Surface Debris and its Origin—Snoie Line—Ascent of the Couloir—A Terrible Accident— Getting Down—An Exhausting Return for Aid—Hasty Organization of a Rescue Party—Cold and Miserable Wait on the Glacier—Unpleasant Surmises—“I Think You Die”—A Fortunate Termination.

PREVIOUS to the summer of 1894 my experiences in the Canadian Rockies had made me acquainted with but little more of their general features and scenery than has been already described. This was sufficient, however, to prove that a most delightful summer could be spent among these mountains if a party of young men were organized with some definite object in view to hold the party together. Several of us accordingly assembled at one of our eastern colleges and discussed plans for the summer. Four men were persuaded to go on this excursion after the glories of the region had been duly set forth and the evidence corroborated so far as possible by the use of photographs. We were to meet at Lake Louise, where our headquarters were to be at the chalet, as near the first of July as possible.

Though the individual inclinations of the various members of our party might seem unlikely to harmonize together, we had nevertheless agreed on carrying out a certain plan. One of the party was an enthusiastic hunter, another eager for the glories of mountain ascents, one a geologist, another carried away by the charms of photography, while the fifth and last was ready to join in almost any undertaking or enterprise whatsoever.

However, our common purpose joined us all together to a certain degree. This was to explore and survey the region immediately around Lake Louise, to ascend several of the highest peaks, to get photographs of the best scenery, and in general to learn all we could about the environment of the lake.

Three of us arrived at the lake one fine morning early in July. The beauty of the scenery seemed to make a deep impression on my friends, and fortunately the clouds which at first concealed the mountain tops lifted soon after our arrival and produced very grand effects. At that time there were two Stoney Indians at the lake, who were engaged in cutting a trail to a lately discovered point of interest. One of these was named William Twin; his surname was probably derived from the fact that he had a twin brother, whose name was Joshua. A Stoney Indian who once acted as my guide was named Enoch; and upon being asked his surname he replied, “Wildman.” These curious cases afford good examples of the origin of names. William was a fine-looking Indian. He came nearer to a realization of the ideal Indian features such as one sees on coins, or in allegorical figures, than almost any savage I have ever seen.

Tom Chiniquy was the other of the two Indians, and indeed the more important, as he is the eldest son of Chief Chiniquy, who in turn is under Bears’ Paw, the head chief of all the Stoneys. An air of settled gravity, stern and almost bordering on an appearance of gloom, betokened his serious nature. I cannot but admire these Stoney Indians, free as they are from the vices of civilization, while still retaining many of the simple virtues of savage life.

As we saw the Indians every day we soon became acquainted with them, especially as William could talk quite intelligibly in English. The very first day of our arrival at the chalet the sharp eyes of the Indians, which seemed to be ever roving about in search of game, discovered a herd of goats on the mountain side. In vain did we try to see them, and at length, by means of a pair of powerful field glasses, they appeared as small white spots without definite forms, whereas to the Indians they were plainly visible. William was disgusted with us, and said, “White man no good eyes,” in evident scorn.

With practice, our race can excel the Indians in every undertaking requiring skill, patience, or physical endurance, with the exception of two things in which they are infinitely our superiors. These are their ability to discover minute objects at great distances, and to read those faint and indefinite signs made by the passage of man or game through the forests or on the hard plains, where a white man would be completely baffled. A turned leaf, a bent blade of grass, a broken twig, or even the sheen on the grass, leads the swarthy savage unerringly and rapidly along, where the more intelligent but less observant white man can see absolutely nothing.

The Indian is said to be stolid and indifferent, while the hard labor which the squaws are compelled to undergo is always laid up against them as an evidence of their brutal character. But on the contrary this is their method of dividing labor, and a squaw whose husband is compelled to work about their camps is the subject of ridicule among the rest. The squaws do all the work which rationally centres around the camp-fire, just as our wives preside over our hearths and homes. The bucks provide the food, and should privation occur they will cheerfully share their last morsel with their wives and children, and, the more honor to them, they will do the same by a white man. The long and arduous labors of the chase, requiring the severest physical exertion, exhaust the strength, often while exposed to cold and rain for long periods of time. The bucks rightly consider their labor ended when they reach their camp, or “teepee” as they call them. Here the squaws preside and perform all the labor of cutting and cooking the meat, preserving and dressing the hides, and even gathering the firewood. They cut the teepee poles and set up their tents; and when not occupied with these more severe labors, they spend their time in making moccasins, weaving baskets, or fancy sewing and bead-work.

After all, the poor Indian is our brother, and not very unlike his civilized conqueror. One day William told me that the year before he had lost his squaw and four children by the smallpox, and that it had affected him so that

he could not sleep. In his own simple form of expression, it was most pathetic to hear him speak of this sad event, which evidently affected him deeply. “Me sleep no more now,” he would say, “all time think me, squaw die, four papoose die, no sleep me. One little boy, me—love little boy, me—little boy die, no longer want to live, me.”

We had the satisfaction of rendering a great service to William through his child, who was a bright and handsome little fellow. By some accident a splinter of wood had become lodged in the boy’s eye. We were at length attracted by the peculiar actions of the little fellow, and upon inquiry found that he must have been enduring great pain, though without making a murmur of discontent. We took the matter in hand at once and sent him down to Banff, where, under skilful medical attendance, his eyesight, than which nothing is more dear to an Indian and which was totally gone in the affected eye and partially so in the other, was restored in a great measure. William was very grateful to us ever after, and on returning, some ten days later, delivered himself somewhat as follows: “Me say very much obliged. Three white men pretty good, I think.”

The Stoneys are a remarkable tribe of Indians. Their headquarters is at a little place called Morley, about twenty miles east of the mountains on the plains. Here they are under the religious instruction of the Rev. Mr. McDougal. So far as the Indian is capable of receiving and following the precepts of Christianity, the Stoneys seem to have equalled or surpassed all other tribes. They are said to be great Bible readers, and they certainly show some familiarity with the Old Testament history, if we may judge by their custom of adopting Bible names. They have been taught a certain arbitrary code by which they can read and write in a simple manner, while many of them talk English if not fluently at least intelligibly.

Their manner of dress is a concession to their own native ideas and those of civilization, for while they invariably cling to moccasins and usually affect trousers cut from blankets with broad wings or flaps at the sides, their costume is not infrequently completed by some old discarded coat received by purchase or gift from the white man. These Indians rarely wear hat or cap, but allow their straight black hair to reach their shoulders and serve in place of any artificial protection. On either side of the face the hair is gathered into a braid so as to do away with the inconvenience of constantly pushing back their loose hair.

Dr. Dawson says that the Stoney Indians have very few names for the mountains and rivers, and that they have only inhabited this region for about forty years. The greater part of the Indian names for various features of the country are in reality Cree or their equivalents in Stoney. The Stoneys have recently incorporated the families of the Mountain Crees with their own. According to De Smet, both the Crees and the Stoneys migrated southward from the Athabasca region a few years before 1849, and it is probable that they entered this region about that time.

I cannot conclude this digression on the Stoney Indians without quoting a few remarks from Captain Pallisers reports. Though written nearly forty years ago these facts are no less true than at that time.

“The members of the Stone tribe are hard workers, as their life is one requiring constant exertion and foresight. They travel in the mountains or in the forests along their eastern base, in parties of six or seven families. The young men are always off hunting in search of moose or other kinds of deer, or of the Rocky Mountain sheep. The old men busy themselves cutting out the travelling tracks through the woods, while the women pack and drive the few horses they use for earring their small supplies. They generally use skin tents stretched on a conical framework of poles, but their wigwams are much smaller than those of the Plain Indians. The women dress all the skins of the animals they kill into a soft leather, which, when smoked, is the material used throughout the whole country for making moccasins, most of the fine leather being obtained from the Stoneys. They are excellent hunters, and though as a rule small and feeble in body, are probably capable of more endurance than make trustworthy any other class of Indian guides, and, with a few exceptions, after some acquaintance with this tribe, you no more expect to be deceived, or told lies, as a matter of course, than you would in a community of white men.”

So much for the Rocky Mountain Stoneys, or as they are sometimes called, the Assiniboines.

The completion of our party did not take place at the wished-for time, and for more than two weeks Mr. F. and Mr. H., and I were alone at the chalet. We commenced our surveying work by measuring a very accurate base line on the lake shore, and began training by making various moderate excursions on the mountain sides. On the third day, however, after our arrival the whole plan of our party came near having a most sudden and unwished-for termination, together with results which nearly proved fatal to one of the party. The accident and its attendant circumstances proved the most exciting episode in all our experiences, and as it most clearly illustrates the chief danger of climbing in the Canadian Rockies, I shall describe it in detail.

It happened in this manner. On the 13th of July, Mr. H., Mr. F., and I started to make an exploration of the glacier that is plainly visible from the chalet and which, some two miles distant, flows down from the snow fields and hanging glaciers of Mount Lefroy. This glacier is formed from two branches, which come in from the east, and uniting into one great stream, terminate about one mile above the head of the lake. The extreme length from the snout measured to the highest part of the glacier is about three miles, while the average width is less than one third of a mile.

The object of this excursion was in great part to gain a little knowledge of the use of rope and ice-axe, which we expected would be required in much of our subsequent work. There was no difficulty in the first part of this excursion, as a good trail leads round the lake and some half-mile beyond. There we forded the icy stream which comes from the glacier and pursued our way between the moraine and the mountain side for nearly a mile on the east side of the glacier. Our next move was to ascend the moraine, which was very steep and about a hundred feet high at this point. On arriving at the sharp crest of the moraine, we saw the great ice stream some fifty feet below, and so thoroughly covered with debris and boulders that the glacier was almost totally concealed. The passage down the moraine was very disagreeable, as the loose stones all scratched and polished by their former passage under the glacier were now rolling from under our feet and starting up great clouds of dust. Just below, at the border of the glacier, the water from the melting ice had converted the clay of the moraine into treacherous pools of bluish-gray mud, veritable sloughs of despond. At length, by the use of our ice-axes, we gained the firmer ice and with it the advantage of far more pleasant walking. We found the whole surface of the glacier literally covered with sharp stones and boulders of all sizes up to those which must have measured ten feet square by twenty feet long. They represented all sorts of formations, shales, limestones, and sandstones thrown down in wild disorder over the entire surface of the ice. All this material had been wrested from the mountain side far up the valley by frost and avalanche, and was now slowly moving toward the great terminal moraine. In one place a large area of nearly half an acre was strewed with giant blocks of a peculiar kind of rock different from all the rest, which apparently had come thundering down the mountain walls in one great rock-slide many years ago. Large flat slabs of shale were seen here and there supported on pillars of ice, showing how much the general surface of the glacier had wasted away under the influence of the sun’s heat, while these pillars had been protected by the shade of the stone.

Advancing half a mile over the field of debris, we came gradually to where there were fewer stones, and at length reached almost pure ice. The question always arises where do all the boulders and pebbles that cover the lower parts of the glaciers come from ? In the upper parts of the glaciers or neve regions, where the snow remains perpetual and increases from year to year, the stones from the mountain sides are covered as they fall, and are at length buried deep and surrounded by ice as the snow becomes compressed and solidified. As the glacier advances down the valley and descends to lower altitudes, a level is at length reached where the snowfall of winter is exactly balanced by the melting of summer. This is the snow line, or rather this is the best place in which to locate such a variable level. Below this line the surface of the glacier melts away more than enough to make up for the winter fall of snow, and, as a result, the stones and debris buried in the ice gradually appear on the surface. In the Canadian Rockies near this latitude the snow line on northerly: exposures, as judged by this method, is about 7000 feet above the sea, which is also just about the level called tree line.

In mountainous regions, where the climate is very dry, as in Colorado or in certain parts of the Andes, there is a great belt of several thousand feet between tree line and snow line where there is not sufficient moisture to allow of tree growth .-nor sufficient snowfall to form glaciers at all. In the Canadian Rockies the climate is moist enough to make these lines approach, and in the Selkirk Range and regions of extreme humidity the snow line is actually lower than the tree line.

We advanced slowly over the glacier and found much of interest on every side. The surface of the ice was at first comparatively smooth and channelled with small streams of pure water which flowed along with utmost rapidity but almost without ripples, as the smooth icy grooves seem adapted to every whim of the flowing water. At length the ice became more uneven and our passage was interrupted by crevasses, around which we had to thread our way by many a turn and detour. Most of them were, however, partly filled or bridged by snow and we found no particular difficulty in pursuing our way. About one o’clock we found ourselves at the base of Mount Lefroy, a little beyond the point where the two branches unite, and we held a consultation as to the plan of our farther advance. Mount Lefroy rises from the glacier in precipitous ^lift's on every side, and we were even now under the shadow of its gloomy and threatening rock wall. There is no apparent method of scaling this mountain except by a long couloir or snow slope, which rises from the glacier and ascends nearly 1000 feet to a more gentle slope above the precipice. It was our intention to ascend this mountain, if possible, some time during the summer but the results of our first exploration for a favorable route rather inclined us to give up further attempts.

The result of our consultation was the decision to climb a short way up the couloir in order to see if it were possible to reach the gentle slope above. If this proved practicable, the ascent of the mountain was almost assured, as no great difficulties presented themselves above. Accordingly we commenced the ascent, all roped together in true Alpine fashion, and soon found the pitch so steep that our ice-axes rendered us much assistance in cuttine steps. A number of great schrunds or horizontal crevasses often found on such slopes appeared to block our way, but as we approached we found a passage round every one. They were boat-shaped holes in the snow some forty or fifty feet deep and about the same width. The bottom of each appeared smooth and apparently of firm snow, so that they were not in reality very dangerous obstacles, as compared with the narrow and wellnigh unfathomable crevasses of an ordinary glacier.

Nevertheless, when we had reached a point several hundred feet above the schrunds and were on a steep slope of snow, my companions advocated taking to the rock ledges on the right of the snow, as they were altogether inexperienced in mountain climbing and felt somewhat nervous. We found the rock ledges practicable and quite easy except for a great number of loose stones which went rattling down as we advanced. We were in a gloomy narrow gorge filled with snow and hemmed in on either side by cliffs which rose with almost vertical sides, here and there dripping with water from the snows above.

Whenever we paused for a momentary rest and the ' sliding, rattling stones ceased to fall, we were oppressed by the awful silence of this cheerless place of rocks and snow nearly 8000 feet above sea level.

It was while ascending these rock ledges that the accident occurred which came so near proving disastrous. There were a series of ledges from six to ten feet high alternating with narrow shelves where the slope was only moderately steep. The whole place was strewed with loose stones and boulders, some of which were so delicately poised that the slightest touch seemed sufficient to send them crashing down the cliff. At length a very dangerous looking stone of large size could be seen on the next shelf above us apparently just balanced in its precarious position, for the light could be seen underneath its base. H. followed me in safety around this great boulder which must have weighed more than half a ton. I was on the point of ascending the next ledge with the assistance of H. when we both heard a dull grating sound below, and turning, beheld the great boulder starting to roll over, and F. just below it and on the point of falling over the cliff. F. fell about ten feet to the next shelf where he was partially checked by the rope and prevented from falling farther. But to our horror the boulder, which had now gained considerable motion, followed after, and leaping over the ledge, for a short but awful moment it seemed to hang in mid-air, and then came down on F. with terrible force. It seemed impossible that there should be anything left of our poor friend. With a horrible crash and roar the great stone continued down the gorge, attended by a thousand flying fragments till the rocky cliffs echoed again.

After a momentary pause, unable to move and riveted to our places in horror, we hastily scrambled down to our companion who lay on the cliff insensible and bleeding. Our first efforts were to staunch his wounds with snow and then a hasty examination proved that though his hip appeared dislocated he had received probably no further serious injury. This escape appeared almost miraculous and it is probable that in the flying cloud of stones a smaller piece just happened to come under the great boulder and supported it partially at one end so that the full force of the blow was not felt. It was now half-past two in the afternoon and we were three hours’ journey from the chalet with a man on our hands absolutely incapable of walking or even partially supporting his weight. It was evident that one of us must needs hasten back to the chalet for aid, but first it was necessary to get down the long snow-slope to the glacier.

Fortunately our rope was fully sixty feet long and after tying a loop under F.’s shoulders, I anchored myself securely with my ice-axe in the snow, and then lowered him rapidly but safely the length of the rope. H. then went down to F. and held him while I descended, and thus after twelve or fifteen repetitions of this proceeding we all landed in safety on the glacier. Having selected a place on the ice which was partially covered with a few small stones, we took off our coats and placed our wounded companion on this hard cold couch.

Carrying nothing but my ice-axe, I started for the chalet at once. The first part of the journey, while threading the crevasses, was slow and somewhat dangerous without the rope, but by running whenever practicable and pushing my energies to the utmost, I reached the chalet in one hour and ten minutes, or less than half the time required by us to come up in the morning. Unfortunately no one was at the chalet except Joe the cook. I however got him started immediately to cut two long, stout poles and a piece of canvas with which to make a litter. The two Indians were on the mountain side near Mirror Lake working on the trail and Mr. Astley, the manager of the chalet, was guiding some visitors to Lake Agnes. There was no other course open than to climb up after them, though I was quite exhausted by this time. I found William after twenty minutes of hard climbing and made him understand the situation at once. One must use a simple manner of speech as near like their own as possible, so I said to him—“William, three white men go up big snow mountain. Big stone came down, hurt one man. Tom, Mr. Astley, you—all go up snow mountain, bring white man back.” William’s face was a picture of horror, and he asked in anxiety—“Kill him?” I said no, but that he must hurry and get the other men. Dropping his axe, he ran off for the others in all haste, while I returned to the chalet and gathered sundry provisions and stimulants.

The rescuing party of four men was started in about thirty minutes, and taking the boat, rowed down the lake, till at last the small black speck on the water disappeared from our view as they neared the farther end.

A two-and-a-half mile ride on horseback brought me to the railroad station, where I sent a telegram to Banff for the Doctor. As there would be no train till the next morning I made arrangements for a hand-car to bring the Doctor up at once. A response soon came back that he was just about to start on his long ride of thirty-eight miles to Laggan.

Meanwhile poor F. and H. were having a miserable time of it on the glacier. The long hours rolled by one after another and no sign of aid or assistance was apparent. The days were still very long, but at length the declining sun sank behind the- great ridge or mountain wall extending northward from Mount Lefroy. The glacier which imparts a chilly dampness even to the brilliancy of a mid-day sun now rapidly became cold in the lengthening shadows, and the surface waters began to freeze, while the deep blue pools of water shot out little needles of ice with surprising rapidity.

As they had seen me no more after I had disappeared behind a swelling mound of ice, they conjured up in their imaginations the possibility that I had fallen into some deep crevasse or had hurt myself on the treacherous moraine. At length, urged to desperate resolves, they formed a plan of leaving the ice by the nearest route, at whatever hazard to life and limb, rather than die of cold and exposure on the glacier. They had abundant opportunity for studying the grand phenomena of this Alpine region near at hand : the thundering avalanches from the cliffs behind them, and the cracking, groaning ice of the glacier as the great frozen stream moved slowly over its rocky uneven bed.

At length, to their great joy, they discerned by means of a field-glass which we had carried with us in the morning, the boat leaving the lake shore and slowly approaching. In half an hour the party reached the near end of the lake and were then lost to view for nearly two hours, till at length four little black dots appeared about a mile distant moving over the ice toward them.

The rescuing party did not reach them till seven o’clock, or more than four hours after the accident occurred. The return to the chalet was most exhausting to the men, especially to the Indians, whose moccasins afforded poor protection against the sharp stones and ice of the glacier.

Two section men came up from Laggan and met the party as they were returning, and afforded timely aid by their fresh strength. Poor F. was carried in a canvas litter hastily constructed and consequently not perfect in its results, as it only served to lift him a very little above the ground at the best and then where the ground was very smooth. William observed his haggard face and woe-begone appearance with concern and entertained the invalid at frequent intervals by such remarks as, “You think you die, me think so too.” The rescuing party arrived at the chalet shortly after midnight, while the Doctor appeared an hour later. Each party had been travelling for the last five hours toward the chalet, and while one was accomplishing about three miles the other covered more than forty.

Fortunately there were no injuries discovered that would not heal in a few weeks, and through the influence of mountain air and perfect rest, recovery took place much more quickly than could be expected.

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