Search just our sites by using our customised site search engine

Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

Click here to learn more about MyHeritage and get free genealogy resources

Camping in the Canadian Rockies
Chapter VII

The Wild Character of Paradise Valley—Difficulties with Pack Horses—A Remarkable Accident—Our Camp and Surroundings—Animal Friends—Midsummer Flowers—Desolation Valley—Ascent of Hazel Peak —An Alpine Lake in a Basin of Ice—First Atte7npt to Scale Mt. Temple— Our Camp by a Small Lake—A Wild and Stormy Night—An Impassable Barrier—A Scene of Utter Desolation—All Nature Sleeps—Difficulties of Ascent—The Highest Point yet Reached in Canada—Paradise Valley in Winter—Farewell to Lake Louise.

OUR delightful experience in Paradise Valley convinced us that a camp should be established in it near the southern base of Mount Temple, which we hoped to ascend. From this camp we intended to make branch excursions in all directions and learn something of the mountains toward the east and south. All this region, though so near the • railroad, had apparently never been explored by the surveyors, and the early expeditions had of course never approached this region nearer than the Vermilion Pass on the east and- the Kicking Horse Pass on the west. In all our expeditions through these lonely but grand mountain valleys, we never discovered any mark of axe or knife on the trees, any charred pieces of wood to indicate a camper’s fire, nor any cairn or pile of stones to prove some climber’s conquest.

In fact, the impenetrable barrier of mountains at every valley end dissolved the surveyor’s hopes, even from a distance, of finding any practicable pass through the maze of lofty mountains and intervening valleys blocked with glaciers and vast heaps of moraine. The lone prospector would not be tempted by any sign of gold in the streams to explore these valleys, though the Indian hunter may have occasionally visited these regions in search of bears or the mountain goat.

We first blazed a trail from the chalet to the entrance of Paradise Valley. The route followed was merely the best and most open pathway that we could find through the forests, and though not more than three miles in length, it required as many hours to reach the valley entrance. Pack horses we obtained at the chalet, but no man could be found who would consent to act as our cook or assistant in managing the horses.

Our camp was at length established by the side of a small rivulet on the lower slopes of Mount Temple, where we found the altitude to be 6900 feet above sea-level. Our experiences with pack animals were of a most exciting nature and sometimes severely trying to our temper and patience. The horses were not accustomed to this service and performed all sorts of antics, smashing the packs among the trees, jumping high in air to clear a small stream six inches wide, or plunging regardless into rivers where, for a moment, the horse and packs would be submerged in the water. There was one place about two miles within the valley entrance that might well try the patience of Job himself. On one side of the stream, was an impassable area covered with tree trunks crisscrossed and piled two or three deep by some snow-slide of former years. On the other side of the stream, which we were compelled to take, was a dense forest. Below was a tangled growth of bush, and many fallen trees, all resting on a foundation of large loose stones covered six inches deep with green moss. Between these stones were deep holes and occasional underground streams, the water of which could be faintly heard below and which had probably washed away the soil and left these angular stones unprotected. To lead a horse through this place required the greatest skill, patience, and even daring. Without some one to lead the animal with a rope, the poor beast would stand motionless, but to pick one’s way over the rough ground while leading the horse invariably ended in disaster. The very first hole was enough to frighten the horse, so that, instead of proceeding more slowly, the animal usually made a mad rush forward regardless of the leader, who invariably fled and sought the protection of a tree, while the horse soon fell prostrate among the maze of obstacles. In these frantic rushes many of us were several times trampled on by the horse, and the packs were smashed against the branches and trunks of trees, or torn off altogether. This was an exceedingly dangerous bit of ground, and it was remarkable that on so many occasions we were able to lead our horses through it without a broken leg.

One of our most remarkable adventures with a horse may indeed test the credence of the reader, but five men can vouch for its actual occurrence. We were passing along through the forest in our usual manner, which was the outgrowth of much experience. First of all, one man preceded and did nothing else but find the blaze marks and keep on the ill-defined trail as well as possible. About twenty-five yards behind came another man whose duty it was to find the pathfinder, and if possible, improve on his trail. Then came one of our party who led the horse with a long head rope, while behind the horse were two men whose duty it was to pick up whatever articles fell out of the packs from time to time, and fasten them on again.

As we were proceeding in this manner, we came to a slanting tree which leaned over the trail at an angle of about thirty degrees. It was just small enough to be limber, and just large enough to be strong. Moreover, it was too low for the horse to go under, and a little too high for him to jump over. One might travel a lifetime and never meet with just such another tree as this. In less than ten seconds this tree had brought the horse and two of our party to the ground and wrought consternation in our ranks.

As the horse approached the slanting tree, F., who was leading, saw the animal rear high in the air to prepare for a jump. He thought it best to get out of the way, but in his haste stumbled and fell headlong into a bush. Meanwhile the horse, a stupid old beast, prepared for the effort of his life, and with a tremendous spring jumped high in air, but unfortunately his fore-feet caught on the small tree, which swung forward a little and then returning like a powerful spring, turned the animal over in mid-air. The horse landed on his back some five yards farther on, and, with his four legs straight up in the air, remained motionless as death. But this was not all, for the tree swung back violently and struck H. on the nose, fortunately at the end of the swing, but with sufficient force to knock him down.

When our two friends recovered, we turned our attention to the horse, which still remained motionless on his back. “He is dead,” said F., but, on rolling him over, the poor animal got up and seemed none the worse for his experience, except for a more than usual stupidity.

We camped about ten days in Paradise Valley in a beautiful spot near the end. Here, on all sides except towards the north, the place is hemmed in by lofty mountains. We saw the valley in all sorts of weather, in clear sunshiny days, and when the clouds hung low and shut out the mountains from view. On one or two occasions the ground was white with snow for a short time, though our visit was during the first part of August.

Many kinds of animals frequented the valley, and some of the smaller creatures lived in the rocks on all sides of our camp and became quite friendly. One of the-most interesting little animals of the Canadian Rockies is the little pica, or tailless hare. This small animal abounded in the vicinity of our camp and is in fact always found at about 7000 feet altitude. It is a hare about the size of a rat, which, with its round ears, it more resembles. These little fellows have a dismal squeak, and they are very impertinent in their manner of sitting up among the rocks at the entrance to their holes, and gazing at their human visitors, ever ready to pop out of sight at a sign of danger. Chipmunks were likewise abundant and visited our camp to pick up scattered crumbs from our table.

There is a species of rat with a bushy tail that lives in the forests and rocky places of these mountains and is the most arrant thief among all the rodents. Nothing is too large for them to try and carry off, and they will make away with the camper’s compass, aneroid, or watch, and hide them in some inaccessible hole, apparently with the desire to set up a collection of curios.

The siffleur, or marmot, is the largest among these rodents, and reaches the length of twenty-five or thirty inches. These animals usually frequent high altitudes at, or above the tree line, where they build large nests among the rocks and lay up a store of provisions for winter time. They are very fat in the fall, but it is not known whether they hibernate or not. Their note is a very loud shrill whistle, which they make at a distance, but they never allow one to approach very near, like the impudent picas.

We saw very few of the mountain goats, though we often came upon their fresh tracks in the mud near streams or in the snow far up on the mountain sides. On several occasions we could hear the patter and rattle of stones sent down by the movements of some herd, though our eyes failed to detect them.

Where the forests grew thick in the valley, the herbs and flowering plants were always less numerous, but in the meadows the ground was colored by mountain flowers of beautiful shades and pretty forms. The tasselled heads of the large anemones, long since gone to seed, were conspicuous everywhere, and they are always a beautiful object among the meadow grass as the summer breezes make gentle waves over these seas of verdure. Along the bare rocky margins of the streams, where all else has been forced to retire by occasional floods, two species of plants make a most brilliant coloring and-dazzle the eye with-discordant shades. They are the castilleias, or painters brush, with bright scarlet and green leaves clustered at the top of a leafy stem, and the epilobiums, with reddish-purple blossoms; these two plants were often so close together with their inharmonious color tones as to perplex the observer in regard to nature’s meaning. When nature does such things we grow to like her apparent mistakes, just as we love the bitter-sweet chords of Schumann, or Grieg’s harsh harmonies.

We made several excursions into the next valley to the eastward, and beyond that, over the water-shed into British Columbia. The valley to the east offered the greatest contrast to Paradise Valley. It was somewhat wider, the altitude was in general higher, so that a great part was above the tree line, while the awful wildness and confusion created by vast heaps of moraine and a large glacier at the foot of a range of saw-edged mountains made this place seem like a vale of desolation and death.

At the close of our camping experiences, we effected the conquest of two mountains, Hazel Peak and Mount Temple, on two successive days. We first tried Hazel Peak, and by following the route, which had been previously selected, we found the ascent remarkably easy. On the summit, the climber is 10,370 feet above sea-level,—higher than the more celebrated Mount Stephen, often claimed to be the highest along the railroad,--^and surrounded by more high peaks than can be found at any other known part of the Canadian Rockies, south of Alaska. In fact there are seven or eight peaks within a radius of six miles that are over 11,000 feet high.

The view is, at the same time, grand and inspiring, and has certain attractions that high mountain views rarely present. The rock precipice and snow-crowned crest of Mount Lefroy are separated from the summit of Hazel Peak by one of the grandest and deepest canyons of the Canadian Rockies, so that the distance from summit to summit is only one mile and a half. The ascent of Hazel Peak is certainly well worth the labor of the climb, as the round trip may be easily accomplished from Paradise Valley in five hours, though the ascent is nearly 4000 feet.

On the north side, from the very summit, a fine glacier sweeps down in steep pitch far into the valley below and with its pure white snow and yawning blue crevasses of unfathomable depth, forms one of the most attractive features of this mountain. The most remarkable and beautiful object that we discovered, however, was a small lake or pool of water only a few yards below the summit of the mountain. Encircled on all sides by the pure snows of these lofty altitudes, and embedded, as it were, in a blue crystal basin of glacier ice, the water of this little lake was colored deep as indigo, while over the surface a film of ice. formed during the previous night, had not yet melted away.

We returned to camp much elated with our success but doubtful of the morrow, as no easy route had yet been discovered up the forbidding slopes of Mount Temple. The year before, Mr. A. and I had been hopelessly defeated even when we had counted most on success. Moreover, the mere fact that, though this mountain was the highest yet discovered anywhere near the railroad, it had never been ascended by any surveyor or climber, made success appear less probable, though it urged us on to a keener ambition.

The attempt by A. and myself to ascend this mountain in 1893 was probably the first ever made. During the first week of August, we started from Laggan, having with us a Stoney Indian, named Enoch Wildman, and one horse to carry our tent and provisions. The day was unusually hot, and, as we forced our monotonous and tiresome passage through the scanty forests of pine near the Bow River, we suffered very much from heat and thirst. In these mountain excursions, it is the best policy to wear very heavy clothes, even at the disadvantage of being uncomfortable during the day, for the nights are invariably cold, even at low altitudes. We did not camp until nightfall, when we found ourselves on the northern slope of the mountain, 7000 feet above sea-level, by the side of a small lake. The little lake occupied a depression among giant boulders and the debris of the mountain. At one end, a large bank of snow extended into and below the water, which was apparently rising, as there were fragments of frozen snow floating about in the lake. The banks sloped steeply into the water on all sides, and there was not a single level spot for our camp, so that it was necessary to build a wall of stones, near the water’s edge, for our feet, and to prevent ourselves from sliding into the lake during the night.

The weather was wild and stormy, and the long night seemed to drag out its weary length to an interminable extent of time, attended as it was by showers of rain and hail and furious gusts of wind, which threatened to bring our flapping tent to the ground at any moment.

Our camp-fire, which had been built on a scale appropriate to some larger race of men, was a huge pile of logs, each fully ten feet long, and twelve or eighteen inches through, but the wind blew so strong that the mass roared like a vast forge during the early hours, and then died away into an inert mass of cinders toward the chill of morning.

The light of day revealed our wild surroundings. We were under the northern precipice of Mount Temple, and so close that we could see only the lower part of this inaccessible wall. A beautiful fall dashed down in a series of cascades through a distance of about 1000 feet, and fed our little lake. Sometimes the strong wind, blow-mg against the cliff, or sweeping upward, would make the water pause and momentarily hang in mid-air, suspended, as it were, on an invisible airy cushion, till gathering greater volume, it would burst through the barrier and fall in a curtain of sparkling drops.

Poor Enoch had suffered terribly from cold during the night, and begged our permission to return to Laggan, promising to come back the next day—“sun so high,” pointing to its place in the early afternoon. He said in his broken English: “No grass for pony here, too cold me; no like it me.” So we took pity on him and sent him back to more comfortable quarters while we rested in comparative quiet, it being Sunday.

Early Monday morning we had our breakfast and were on foot at four o’clock. The gloom of early dawn, the chill of morning, and the cloudy sky had no cheering effect on our anticipations. Our plan was to traverse the mountain side till we should come to the southeast shoulder, where we had once observed an outline of apparently easy slope.

By eleven o’clock we had reached an altitude of nearly 10,000 feet without meeting with any very great difficulty, but here we came suddenly to a vertical wall of rock about 400 feet high and actually leaning over in many places, a barrier that completely defeated us, as the wall extended beyond our view and offered no prospect of giving out. At the base of this cliff was a steep, narrow slope of loose, broken limestone, and then another precipice below. Along this dangerous pathway we continued for some distance, keeping close to the base of the cliff. The loose stones, set in motion by our feet, slid down and rolled over the precipice, where we could hear them grinding to powder on the cliffs below.

Never in my life have I been so much impressed with the stern and desolate side of nature. The air was bitter cold and had the frosty ozone odor of winter. A strong wind rushed constantly by us, and, as it swept up the gorges of the precipice above, and over the countless projections of the cliffs, made a noise like the hoarse murmur of wind in a ship’s rigging, or the blast of some great furnace. To the south and east, range beyond range of bare, saw-edged mountains raised their cold, sharp summits up to a cloudy sky, where the strong wind drove threatening clouds in long trains of dark and lighter vapors. The intervening valleys, destitute of vegetation or any green thing, were filled with glaciers and vast heaps of moraine, and the slides of debris from the adjacent mountain side. All was desolate, gloomy, cold, and monotonous in color. Three thousand feet below, a small lake was still bound fast in the iron jaws of winter, surrounded as it was by the walls of mountains which shut out the light and warmth of the summer sun. Inert, inanimate nature here held perpetual rule in an everlasting winter, where summer, with its flowers and birds and pleasant fertility, is unknown, and man rarely ventures.

Overcome with the terrors of this lonely place and the hopelessness of further attempt to reach the summit, where a snow-storm was now raging, we turned back. As we reached our camp we found Enoch just approaching, according to his promise, and though the afternoon was well advanced, we packed up and moved with all speed toward Laggan. We reached Lake Louise at 10.30 p.m., after almost nineteen hours of constant walking.

Now, however, at our camp in Paradise Valley, the conditions were somewhat different. We were at the very base of the mountain, and had learned much more about it, in the year that had elapsed since our first attempt.

The mountaineer has many discomforts mingled with the keen enjoyment of his rare experiences. None is more trying than the early hour at which he is compelled to rise from his couch of balsam boughs and set forth on his morning toil. At the chill hour before dawn, when all nature stagnates and animate creation is plunged in deepest sleep, the mountain climber must needs arouse himself from heavy slumber and, unwilling, compel his sluggish body into action.

This is the deadest hour of the twenty-four—the time just before dawn. The breezes of early night have died away into a cold and frosty calm; the thermometer sinks to its lowest point, and even the barometer, as though in sympathy, reaches one of its diurnal minima at this untimely hour. And if- inanimate nature is thus greatly affected, much more are the creations of the vegetable and animal kingdoms. The plants are suffering from the cold and frost; the animals of daytime have not as yet aroused themselves from sleep, while the nocturnal prowlers have already ceased their quest of prey and returned to their dens. Even man is affected, for at this dead hour the ebb and pulse of life beat slow and feeble, and the lingering spark of life in those wasted by disease comes at this time most near going out.

At such an unseasonable hour, or more accurately at four a.m., were we up, on the 17th of August preparing for our ascent of Mount Temple. There was no trace of dawn, and the waning moon, now in her last quarter, was riding low in the southern sky, just above the sharp triangular peak at the end of our valley.

At nine o’clock in the morning, we had gained the summit of the pass between Mount Temple and Pinnacle Mountain, where we were 9000 feet above sea-level. The ascent so far had not been of an encouraging nature, as we had encountered a long, loose slide where everything moved threateningly at each step. I have never seen a more unstable slope. The stones and boulders would slide, and begin to move at a distance of ten and fifteen feet above the place where we stood, and on every side also. F., who was one of the party, was terror-stricken, for he now had a horror of moving stones of any description.

The view from this pass was very extraordinary. To the east stood the rugged, saw-edged mountains of the Desolation Range, looming up in solemn grandeur through an atmosphere bluish and hazy with the smoke of forest fires. The air was perfectly calm and had the bracing coolness of early morning and high altitude, which the rising sun tempered most gently. The weather conditions for accomplishing our ascent were perfect, but there was little prospect of a fine view by reason of the smoke.

The outlook from the pass was indeed discouraging. Cliffs and ledges with broken stones and loose debris seemed to oppose all safe passage. Fortunately, as we progressed the difficulties vanished, and not till we reached an altitude of about 10,000 feet did we encounter any real obstacles. We found a passage through the great rock wall which had defeated us last year, by the aid of a little gully, which, however, entailed some rather difficult climbing. This arduous work continued throughout the next 1000 feet, when, at an altitude of 11,000 feet, we came to the great slope between the southwest and west ar&tes and found an easy passage to the summit.

Many a hearty cheer rent the thin air as our little party of three reached the summit, for we were standing where no man had ever stood before, and, if I mistake not, at the highest altitude yet reached in North America

north of the United States boundary. The summit was formed of hard bluish limestones, broken and piled up in blocks, as on all high mountain tops. The cliffs toward the east were stupendous and led the eye down to the valley more than a mile below. The air was almost calm and just above freezing, and the snow was melting quite fast in the sun. The thermometer at the Lake Louise chalet reached seventy-two degrees at the same time that we were on the summit of Mount Temple, which proves this to be almost the highest temperature that ever occurs on this lofty point. It would be safe to say that the temperature on the top of Mount Temple never rises higher than forty degrees.

If one is fortunate in a good selection of routes, the ascent of Mount Temple will not be found difficult. But the descent is very perplexing, for unless one remembers the intricate combination of gullies and ledges by which the ascent is made, many precipitous cliffs will be encountered down which it is impossible to descend.

This was our last exploit in Paradise Valley, and a few days later the various members of our party, one by one, bade farewell to the beautiful region of Lake Louise with its many pleasant associations.

I remained there five or six weeks longer until winter -commenced in earnest and drove every one away. During the first week of October I made a final visit to Paradise Valley with Mr. Astley, the manager of the chalet, in order to bring back our tent and the camping utensils. Snow covered the ground in the shady parts of the woods, even at the entrance of the valley. The stream had fallen so much that its rocky bed proved the best route up the valley, especially for the horse. After an hour’s journey within the entrance we found ourselves at the base of Mount Sheol, and not far above us could be seen a fine herd of seven or eight mountain goats. They scampered off on seeing us, but. soon came to halt as they were tempted by curiosity to have another look. These snow-white goats are the most characteristic animals of the Rockies and nearly correspond in habits with the more cunning chamois of Switzerland. Like them it is a species of antelope, though it resembles a goat to a remarkable degree.

We found our camp buried in snow, the ridge-pole of the tent broken down with the heavy burden, and everything so much disguised by the wintry mantle that we had difficulty in finding the camping place. Even as we were packing up the frozen canvas and blankets, the air was full of falling snow and the mountains encircling the valley were only revealed in vague and indefinite outlines, while ever and anon could be heard the dull roar of snow-slides sweeping down to the glacier.

About nightfall we were back at the entrance to the valley, where the lower altitude gave us the advantage of a ground nearly free of snow, though a fine' rain sifted down through the spruce needles almost constantly.

Here we camped in the dense forest, and our roaring fire, built high with great logs, soon drove away the chill and dampness of the rainy night. The tent, our clothes, and the mossy ground were soon steaming, and the bright glare of our camp-fire illumined the trees and gave us good cheer, surrounded as we were by miles of trackless forests in the blackness of night. A hearty supper and a great pail of strong hot tea soon revived our spirits, and on a soft couch of heaths and balsam boughs—more luxurious than any bed of down—we bid defiance to the darkness and storm in perfect comfort. The next day the snow-flakes were falling gently and steadily, so that the trees were covered even to their branchlets and needles with the white mantle. The bushes, the mosses, and even the blades of grass in the swampy marshes, as we pursued our homeward way, were all concealed and transformed into pure white images of themselves in snow.

A few days later I went up to Lake Agnes to hunt for mountain goats, which frequent this place in great numbers. The snow was two feet deep. The lake was already nearly covered with ice, and I was compelled to seek shelter behind a cliff against a bitterly cold wind, driving icy particles of hail and snow against my face.

It was useless to prolong the contest longer. Winter had resumed her iron sway in these boreal regions and high altitudes, and in a few weeks Lake Louise too would begin to freeze, and no longer present its endless change of ripple and calm, light and shadow, or the reflected images of rocks and trees and distant mountains.

Return to Book Index Page

This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.