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Camping in the Canadian Rockies
Chapter VI

Paradise Valley—The Miire Glacier—Air Castles—Climbing to the Col—Dark Jce Caverns—Mountain Sickness—Grandeur of the Rock-Precipices on Alt. Lefroy—Summit of the Col at Last—A Glorious Vision of a New and Beautiful Valley—A Temple of Nature—Sudden Change of Weather—Temptation to Explore the New Valley—A Precipitate Descent—Sudden Transition from Arctic to Temperate Conditions—Delightful Surroundings—Weary Followers—Overtaken by Night—A Bivouac in the Forest—Fire in the Forest—Indian Sarcasm.

THE valley to the east of Lake Louise and parallel to it, we named Paradise Valley, on account of the elegant park-like effect of the whole place and the beauty of the vegetation. Our first entrance into this region and the discovery of the valley were partially accidental. In fact, we were making an expedition for the purpose of finding a practicable route up Hazel Peak, on the day when we were diverted from our original plan, and tempted to explore this hitherto unseen part of the mountains.

It came about somewhat in this manner. On the 30th of July, all but F., who was still lame from his accident, left the chalet carrying rope and ice-axes, with the intention of making explorations on the southern slopes of Hazel Peak. Our party, numbering four, left the chalet at a little after eight o’clock, with the intention of returning no later than five in the afternoon. Our equipment, beside our Alpine implements, consisted of a camera, a prismatic compass, and that which proved no less necessary, our lunches and a whiskey flask.

Taking the boat, we rowed to the other end of the lake, and then followed the same route as our party of three had taken on the disastrous expedition of July 13th, till we came to the junction of the two glacier streams. Here we turned toward the east, and followed the moraine of the wide glacier between Mount Lefroy and Hazel Peak.

The whole valley between was floored by a smooth, nearly level glacier, about a half mile wide and perhaps two miles long. Presently we were compelled to get on the ice as the moraine disappeared; so we put on the rope, and advanced with more caution. It was not long, however, before W., who was next to last in our line, broke through the bridge of a crevasse, despite our care, and sank to his shoulders. This member of our party was not versed in the art of snow-craft, and to him, every occurrence common to mountain experiences, and Alpine methods of procedure, were alike novel and terrible. In consequence, this accident fell more severely on him, but fortunately, he was extricated almost immediately by the use of the rope.

At the head of our valley was a remarkable, symmetrical mountain, resembling in general outline a bishop’s mitre. From the glacier and snow-fields where we were walking, there rose on either side of the Mitre, steep snow-slopes, which terminated in lofty cols about 8500 feet above sea-level. That on the north side of the Mitre was exceedingly steep, and was rendered inaccessible by reason of a great crevasse, extending from the precipices on either side, clear across the snow-slope. This crevasse must have been nearly twenty-five yards in width and of great depth. At one side there still remained a thin bridge of snow, suspended, as it were, in mid-air over the awful chasm, as though to tempt climbers on to their instant destruction, or perhaps to a lingering death from cold and hunger.

The pass on our left appeared the more propitious and seemed to offer a possible route to the summit of the divide. We were anxious to get a view into the valley beyond, even though it were but for a few moments. The unknown regions on the other side of the pass had long been for me a favorite pleasure-ground of the imagination. Some fate had hitherto denied us any idea of the place beyond the vaguest suggestions. Several ascents, or partial ascents, of mountains on all sides of this unknown valley, had revealed the outlines of the surrounding mountains, but some intervening cliff or mountain range had always, with persistent and exasperating constancy, shut off all but the most unsatisfactory glimpses. Starting from these substantial foundations of reality, my imagination had built up a wide circular valley, surrounded on all sides by curious mountains of indefinite and ever changing outline and position. The picture always appeared in a gloomy, weird light, as though under a cloudy sky, or while the sun was near totally eclipsed. By some curious analogy, this faint illumination was similar to that which we always associate with the first creation of land and water ; or far back in the geologic ages, when strange and hideous reptiles,—some flying in the murky air, some creeping amid the swampy growths of cycads, calamites, and gigantic tree ferns,—excite a strange thrill of pleasure and awe combined, as though the soul were dimly perceiving some new revelation of the universe, though but vaguely. In this weird, gloomy valley I wandered careless, in my imagination, many days and at many times, among forests infested by strange, wild animals, harmless like those of Eden, and by the shores of ever new, ever changing lakes and rivers.

So strong had this picture become that I felt the most intense anxiety to succeed in reaching the top of our pass, and gain at length a view of the reality, even at the risk of shattering these pleasant air castles, and annihilating, in a single instant, one of my best mental pleasure-grounds.

There were many dangers to be risked, however, and many obstacles to be overcome before this advantage might be gained. The steep slope was rendered formidable by reason of many great schrunds, or horizontal crevasses, caused by the ice of the glacier below, moving downward. In the intense cold of winter the moving ice becomes rigid and nearly stagnant, while the drifting snows accumulate, so as partly to fill these rents in the ice and bridge them over by cornices built out from one side or the other. When the increasing warmth of summer causes the ice to become plastic and to move more rapidly, these rents grow wider and the snow-bridges melt away and eventually fall into the crevasses so as to leave impassable chasms, dangerous to approach. Fortunately, it was not so late in the season that all the bridges were broken down, else we should have been completely defeated, for, on either side, the glacier was hemmed in by dangerous rock precipices. The south side of the glacier, moreover, was subject to frequent rock falls from the disintegrating cliffs of the Mitre. As we advanced over the extensive neve, the slope increased gradually but constantly, and soon became so steep that steps had to be cut, and great care was necessary not to slip. We crossed some of the schrunds by bridges of snow, where it was necessary to proceed with great caution, and, by sliding the feet along, apply the weight gently, lest the bridge should break through. We passed round others by walking along the lower edge or lip of the crevasse, which gave us a splendid but almost terrifying view of the gloomy caverns, extending down through the snow and ice to unknown depths. The dark-blue roofs of these crevasses were hung with dripping icicles, while from far below could be heard the sound of rushing, sub-glacial streams. Three hours of this slow, toilsome work were necessary to gain iooo feet in altitude. We were now more than 8000 feet above the sea, and the atmosphere was raw and cold. Large damp flakes of snow and granular hail fell occasionally from a cloudy sky, silently and swiftly, through a~ quiet atmosphere. The whole horizon was bounded by high mountains, covered with glaciers and patches of snow, altogether barren and destitute of vegetation. Not a-single tree or shrub, nor even a grassy slope at the far end of the great amphitheatre of mountain walls by which we were hemmed in, relieved the stern, cold monotony of the scene. So far as we might judge by our surroundings, we might have been exploring the lonely, desolate mountains of Spitzbergen, or some distant polar land, where frost and winter rule perpetual. Our progress up the slope of the glacier was very slow, as each step had to be cut out with the ice-axe. The pitch was so steep that a misstep might have resulted in our all sliding down and making further exploration of the schrunds below. The whole party was, in consequence, more or less affected by these cheerless circumstances, and became much depressed in spirit. As, however, the condition of the body is in great part responsible for all mental and moral ailments, so it was in our case. Had we been walking rapidly, so that the circulation of the blood had been vigorous and strong, both mind and body would have been in good condition, and the cold air, the snow, and bleak mountains would have been powerless to discourage. It is always at such times that mountain climbers begin to ask themselves whether the results are worth the efforts to attain them. Any one who has climbed at all, as we learn by reading the experiences of mountaineers, at many times has said to himself: “If I get home safely this time I shall never - again venture from the comforts of civilization.” The ancients, when in the thick of battle, or at the point of shipwreck, were accustomed to vow temples to the gods should they be kind enough to save them, but they usually forgot their oaths when safely home. Mountaineers in like manner forget their resolves, under the genial influence of rest and food, when they reach camp.

After many disappointments, we at last saw the true summit of our pass or col not far distant, and only a few hundred feet above us. A more gentle slope of snow, free of crevasses, led to it from our position.

Now that we were confident of success, we took this opportunity to rest by a ledge of rocks which appeared above the surrounding snow field. Here we regained confidence along with a momentary rest.

Nothing could surpass the awful grandeur of Mount Lefroy opposite us. Its great cliffs were of solid rock, perpendicular and sheer for about 2500 feet, and then sloping back, at an angle of near fifty degrees, to heights which were shut off from our view by the great hanging glacier. We could just catch a glimpse of its dark precipices, where the mountain wall continued into the unknown valley eastward, through a gorge or rent in the cliffs south of the Mitre. A magnificent avalanche fell from Mount Lefroy as we were resting from our severe exertion, and held our admiring attention for several moments. Another descended from the Mitre and consisted wholly of rocks, which made a sharp cannonade as they struck the glacier below, and showed us the danger to which we should have been exposed had we ascended on the farther side of the slope.

Having roped up once more, we proceeded rapidly toward the summit of the col,\ being urged on by a strong desire to see what wonders the view eastward might have in store. This is the most pleasurably exciting experience in mountaineering—the approach to the summit of a pass. The conquest of a new mountain is likewise very interesting, but usually the scene unfolds gradually during the last few minutes of an ascent. On reaching the summit of a pass, however, a curtain is removed, as it were, at once, and a new region is unfolded whereby the extent of the view is doubled as by magic.

We were, moreover, anxious to learn whether a descent into this valley would be possible, after we should arrive on the col. We were alternately tormented by the fear of finding impassable precipices of rock, or glaciers rent by deep crevasses, and cheered on by the hope of an easy slope of snow or scree, whereby a safe descent would be offered.

Proceeding cautiously, as we approached the very summit, to avoid the danger of an overhanging cornice of snow, we had no sooner arrived on the highest part than we beheld a valley of surpassing beauty, wide and beautiful, with alternating open meadows and rich forests. Here and there were to be seen streams and brooks spread out before our gaze, clearly as though on a map, and traceable to their sources, some from glaciers, others from springs or melting snow-drifts. In the open meadows, evidently luxuriantly clothed with grass and other small plants, though from our great height it was impossible to tell, the streams meandered about in sinuous channels, in some places forming a perfect network of watercourses. In other parts, the streams were temporarily concealed by heavy forests of dark coniferous trees, or more extensively, by light groves of larch.

This beautiful valley, resembling a park by reason of its varied and pleasing landscape, was closely invested on the south by a half circle of rugged, high mountains rising precipitously from a large glacier at their united bases. This wall of mountains, continuing almost uninterruptedly around, hemmed in the farther side of the valley and terminated, so far as we could see, in a mountain with twin summits of nearly equal height, about one mile apart. The limestone strata of this mountain were nearly perfectly horizontal, and had been sculptured by rain and frost into an endless variety of minarets, spires, and pinnacles. These, crowning the summits of ridges and slopes with ever changing angles, as though they represented alternating walls and roofs of some great cathedral, all contributed to give this mountain, with its elegant contours and outlines, the most artistically perfect assemblage of forms that nature can offer throughout the range of mountain architecture.

On the north side of this mountain, as though, here, nature had striven to outdo herself, there rose from the middle slopes a number of graceful spires or pinnacles, perhaps 200 or 300 feet in height, slender and tapering, which, having escaped the irresistible force of moving glaciers and destructive earthquakes, through the duration

of thousands of years, while the elements continued their slow but constant work of disintegration and dissolution, now presented these strange monuments of an ageless past. Compared with these needles, the obelisks and pyramids of Egypt, the palaces of Yucatan, or the temples of India are young, even in their antiquity. When those ancient peoples were building, nature had nearly completed her work here.

Beyond the nearer range of mountains could ,be seen, through two depressions, a more distant range, remarkably steep and rugged, while one particularly high peak was adorned with extensive snow-fields and large glaciers.

Almost simultaneously with our arrival on the summit of the pass, a great change took place in the weather. The wind veered about, and the clouds, which hitherto had formed a monotonous gray covering, now began to separate rapidly and dissolve away, allowing the blue sky to appear in many places. Long, light shafts of sunlight forced a passage through these rents, and, as the clouds moved along, trailed bright areas of illumination over the valley below, developing rich coloring and pleasing contrasts of light and shade over a landscape ideally perfect.

This beautiful scene, which has taken some time to describe, even superficially, burst on our view so suddenly, that for a moment the air was rent with our exclamations and shouts, while those who had lately been most depressed in spirit were now most vehement in their expressions of pleasure. We spent a half-hour on the pass and divided up our work, so that while one took photographs of the scenery, another noted down the angles of prominent points for surveying purposes, while the rest constructed a high cairn of stones, to commemorate our ascent of the pass.

Whatever may have been the mental processes by which the result was achieved, we found all unanimous in a decision to go down into the new valley and explore it, whatever might result. The cold, desolate valley on which we now turned our backs, but which was the route homewards, was less attractive than this unknown region of so many pleasant features, where even the weather seemed changed as we approached it.

It was now already two-thirty p. m. We were 8400 feet above sea-level and at an unknown distance from Lake Louise, should we attempt the new route. Another great mountain range might have to be passed before we could arrive at the chalet, for aught we knew. There were, however, fully six hours left of daylight, and we hoped to reach the chalet before nightfall.

A long snow-slope descended from where we were standing, far into the valley. This we prepared to descend by glissading, all roped together, on account of W., who was this day enjoying his first experience in mountain climbing. An unkind fate had selected him, earlier in the day, to break through the bridge of the crevasse and now doomed him to still further trouble, for we had no sooner got well under way in our descent, before his feet flew out from under him, and he started to slide at such a remarkable rate that the man behind was jerked violently by the rope, and, falling headlong, lost his ice-axe at the same time. With consternation depicted in every feature, our two friends came rolling and sliding down, with ever increasing speed, spinning round—now one leading, now the other, sometimes head first, sometimes feet first. The shock of the oncomers was too much for the rest of us to withstand, and even with our ice-axes well set in the soft snow, we all slid some distance in a bunch. At length our axes had the desired effect and the procession came to a standstill. It required some time to unwind the tangled ropes wherein we were enmeshed like flies in a spider’s web, owing to the complicated figures we had executed in our descent. Meanwhile, a committee of one was appointed to go back and pick up the scattered hats, ice-axes, and such other wreckage as could be found.

The end of the descent was accomplished in a better manner, and in less than ten minutes we were 1500 feet below the pass. A short, steep scramble down some rocky ledges, where strong alder bushes gave good support for lowering ourselves, brought us in a few minutes to the valley bottom. At this level the air was warm and pleasant as we entered an open grove of larch and spruce trees. In the last quarter of an hour we had passed through all the gradations from an arctic climate, where the cold air, the great masses of perpetual snow, and bleak rocks, made a wintry picture, to the genial climate of the temperate zone, where were fresh and beautiful meadows enlivened by bright flowers, gaudy insects and the smaller mountain animals. Humboldt has truly said: “In the physical as in the moral world, the contrast of effects, the- comparison of what is powerful and menacing with what is soft and peaceful, is a never failing source of our pleasures and our emotions.”

We followed a small, clear stream of an unusual nature. In some places it glided quietly and swiftly over a sloping floor of solid stone, polished and grooved in some past age by glaciers. A little farther on, the character of the mountain stream suffered a change, and the water now found its way in many sharp, angular turns and narrow courses by large square blocks of stone, for the most part covered by a thick carpet of moss, while between were deep pools and occasional miniature waterfalls.

Pursuing our way with rapid steps, for we were like adventurers in some fairy-land of nature, where every moment reveals new wonders, we came at length to an opening in the forest, where the stream dashed over some rocky ledges, that frost and age had rent asunder and thrown down in wild disorder, till the stream bed was fairly strewn with giant masses of sandstone. Some of these colossal fragments were apparently just balanced on sharp edges, and seemed ever ready to fall from their insecure positions. The variety and novelty of form presented by the falling water, as the streamlets divided here and united there, some over, some under, the stone bridges accidentally formed in this confusion of nature, aroused our greatest admiration.

As we advanced down the valley towards the north, the outlines of the mountains changed, and we recognized at length the bare slopes of the southern side of Mount Temple, which at first seemed to us a strange mountain. Meanwhile, we had approached very near to the base of the beautiful mountain with the double peak and the many pinnacles, and found that proximity did not render it less attractive.

The stream which we followed had been joined by many other rivulets and springs till it grew to be wide . and deep. At length a muddy torrent, direct from the glacier at the head of the valley, added new volume and polluted the crystal snow-waters of the stream which we had followed from its very source.

For many hours we followed the banks of the small river formed by these two branches, and found it an almost continuous succession of rapids, constantly descending, and with a channel swinging to right and left, every few hundred yards, in a winding course.

H. and I led the way, and frequently lost sight of the others who were beginning to tire and preferred a slower pace. We waited on several occasions for them to come up with us, though it. seemed as if we should no more than reach the chalet before nightfall, even by putting forth our best efforts.

About 6.30 o’clock we came to a swampy tract, where the trees grew sparingly, and gave the appearance of a meadow to an expanse of nearly level ground, covered with fine grass and sedges. Here, after a long wait for our friends, who had not been seen for some time, we decided to write a note on a piece of paper and attach it to a pole in a conspicuous place where they could not fail to see it. The mosquitoes were so numerous that it was almost impossible to remain quiet long enough to write a few words explaining our plans. On the top of the stick we placed a small splinter of wood in a slit, and made it point in the exact direction we intended to take.

Having accomplished these duties in the best manner possible, we set out for the chalet with all speed, as we did not relish the idea of making a bivouac in the woods and spending a cheerless night after our long fast. It was evident that we were now at the outlet of the valley, and that, unless we should encounter very rough country with much fallen timber, our chances were good for reaching the chalet before darkness rendered travelling impossible. It was likewise important to reach the lake on account of those at the chalet, who might think that the whole party had met with some accident on the mountain, unless some of us turned up that night.

We accordingly walked as fast as our waning strength permitted, and after surmounting a ridge about 800 feet high, which formed part of the lower slopes of Saddle Mountain, we found no great difficulty .in forcing a passage through the forest for several miles, when we came upon the trail to the Saddle. We reached the lake at 8.15 p.m., and after shouting in vain for some one to send over a boat, we forded the stream and entered the chalet, where a sumptuous repast was ordered forthwith, and to which we did ample justice after our walk of twelve hours duration.

Our less fortunate friends did not appear till the next morning. They discovered our note, but decided not to take our route, as they thought it safer to follow the stream till it joined the Bow River. They had not proceeded far, however, beyond the place where we had left the note, before they became entangled in a large area of fallen timber and prostrate trees, where they were overtaken by night and compelled to give up all hope of reaching Lake Louise till the next day. In the dark forest they made a small fire, and were at first tormented by mosquitoes and, later, by the chill of advancing night, so that sleep was impossible. The extreme weariness of exhausted nature, crowned by hunger and sleeplessness amid clouds of voracious mosquitoes, was only offset by the contents of a flask, with which they endeavored to revive their drooping spirits, and cherish the feeble spark of life till dawn.

Fortunately, the nights in this latitude are short, and at four o’clock they continued their way to the Bow River, which they followed till they reached Laggan.

About six days later, a little column of smoke was observed rising from the forests towards the east, and from Laggan we learned that the woods were on fire, and that about forty acres of land were already in a blaze. A large gang of section men were despatched at once with water buckets and axes to fight the fire. The fire did not prove so extensive, however, as at first reported, and in about two days all the men were recalled.

William said to one of us: “Me think two white man light him fire”; to which our friends replied that it was impossible, as the fire had broken out nearly a week after they had been there.

William replied, with the only trace of sarcasm I have ever known him to use: “White man no light fire, oh no, me think sun light him.”

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