The Panorama from Mt.
Columbia, 12,294 Feet (Second Elevation: Rocky Mountains of Canada)
results of an Expedition to the Columbia Icefield, made, in 1923, in
company with Dr. W. S. Ladd and the guide Conrad Kain, have already been
presented in Chapters V-VII.
On July 14, in fine
weather, we accomplished the second ascent of Mt. Columbia, and for
several reasons interest has centred in a photographic panorama obtained
from its summit.
In the first place,
there are but four peaks—Robson, Columbia, North Twin, Clemenceau—of the
Rocky Mountains of Canada exceeding 12,000 ft. in elevation. Mt.
Columbia was first ascended in 1902 by Sir James Outram and Christian
Kaufmann. Mt. Robson, 12,972 ft., succumbed in 1913 to Messrs. MacCarthy
and Foster, with Conrad Kain. North Twin, 12,085 ft., fell to our party
in 1923, while later in the same season Mt. Clemenceau, 12,001 ft., was
captured by the guideless party of Messrs. de Villiers-Schwab, Hall,
Durand, and Harris.
Outram was favoured by
clear weather on Mt. Columbia and has graphically described the view.
The summit was reached shortly after two o’clock and an hour was spent
on top. . . . “Thirty miles to the south-east Mt. Forbes (as yet
unconquered) towered high above everything in that direction, and alone
challenged comparison with our elevation. But at twice that distance to
the northwest Mt. Robson showed up grandly and is perhaps the one
mountain in the Canadian Rockies that exceeds 13,000 ft. . . . Some old
friends in the distant south, fully eighty miles away, Mts. Temple,
Goodsir, Hungabee, Dawson, and Sir Donald, and more recent acquaintances
of the past fornight, gave one great pleasure to recognize amongst the
myriads of peaks of every shape and size.” Outram never published his
The first party to
reach the summit of Mt. Robson arrived after five o’clock, and, although
the prospect was fair, they had no camera and could stop for only a
Our own group attained
North Twin, in weather that was far from ideal, and so our pictures from
Mt. Columbia are the first to give a comprehensive idea of a Canadian
Rocky panorama from above 12,000 ft. It is, therefore, of some interest
to determine just what and how far one can see. It will be quite
evident, however, that while the eye can perceive things beyond the
range of photography, the camera preserves the record permanently and
more accurately than the mind. The after-cogitation—“Now just what did
we see?” —led to some remarkable delusions in the days before
photography: witness the prevalent pre-Alpine Club opinion that the
Mediterranean was visible from the summit of Mont Blanc.
It is the purpose of
the present communication briefly to outline what was revealed from the
summit of Mt. Columbia, 12,294 ft., the second elevation of the Canadian
Rocky Mountains. The photographs were snap-shots, 4 by 5, taken on
roll-film, without filters other than a cloud filter which did not alter
the exposure time. The complete, drafted panorama has been made from
tracings from the prints, plus additions obtained by lens examination of
the negatives and from enlargements. (See insert facing p. 80.)
The central position of
Mt. Columbia is emphasized if one draws on a map—with the mountain as a
centre—a circle of radius approximating forty-two miles. The
circumference will nearly pass through the tip of the Columbia loop, the
Columbia River-Canadian Pacific intersection at Beavermouth, Howse Pass,
and Whirlpool Pass. Within the circle are included Kinbasket, Glacier,
Brazeau, Maligne, and Fortress lakes, and headwaters of the Columbia,
Saskatchewan, and Athabaska River systems. Within it are found the most
important icefield groups of the Continental Divide, together with the
notable Maligne and Wood River mountains, and the crest of the Selkirks
in the Sir Sandford area.
From the summit of Mt.
Columbia, the foreground of icefield is perhaps the most impressive
thing. The Columbia field is a tri-oceanic watershed, nearly 150 square
miles in extent, from whose snows drain head-sources of the Athabaska,
through the Peace-Mackenzie system to the Arctic; through the
Bush-Columbia to the Pacific; and by way of the Saskatchewan-Nelson
system to Hudson Bay.
Northward, one has the
Twins and Mt. Alberta almost in line; the Twins above the deep gorge of
the banded Columbia glacier, an Athabaska source. On either side of
North Twin are peaks of the Maligne group, Mt. Brazeau standing out
prominently although twenty-five miles distant.
In the north-east are
many unnamed peaks—one does not have to wander far from the Continental
Divide to find unnamed peaks— several of which, south of Brazeau River,
exceed 10,000 ft. and may be much higher.
Eastward, one looks
across the icefield toward Snow Dome, the hydrographic apex of the
field, and Mt. Athabaska, the latter rising above Sunwapta Pass—the
Athabaska-Saskatchewan divide—with Athabaska glacier on its northern
flank and the Saskatchewan glacier on its southern.
In the south-easterly
direction, Mt. Castleguard is seen, low-lying on the margin of the
icefield, with Mt. Saskatchewan towering above and flanking Alexandra
River—the old “West Branch”—down which one glimpses Mts. Wilson and
Murchison, between which the North Saskatchewan emerges to the eastern
prairie. Across Thompson Pass are massed the peaks of the Continental
Divide: Alexandra, Lyell, and a host of others. Mt. Forbes, 11,902 ft.,
the fifth elevation of the chain, lies in Alberta, but, due to a bending
of the Divide, it appears just over Peak 3 of Mt. Lyell. It is this
irregularity of the Divide, in the vicinity of Howse Pass, which makes
the Freshfield Group show up across the western shoulder of Mt.
Alexandra, and between the latter and Mt. Bryce.
In the south, Mt.
Bryce—a veritable Finsteraarhorn—its eastern shoulder on the Divide,
projects into British Columbia to flank the gloomy gorge of Bush River.
One traces the river with certainty past the junction of the North and
South Forks, but it cannot be followed to the Columbia.
Tsar Creek, are extensive snowfields and, more distant, high peaks:
presumably within the tip of the Columbia loop. The foreground is a sea
of unnamed peaks.
The western foreground
is dominated by Mt. King Edward, icefields mantling the Divide, and,
except wThen broken into different levels by crossing ridges, continuous
for miles toward the Wood River area. The distant named point in the
west is Alt. Tsar.
In the north-west,
thirty miles away, is the Wood River Group, on the British Columbia
side: most impressive, with Mt. Clemenceau looming hugely. One looks
across the glacier-hung Athabaska-Chaba Divide to ranges in the
direction of Fortress Lake.
So much the camera
identifies as a permanent record; now of what the eye could reach.
Outram mentions the peaks of the Lake Louise district; we looked for
them in vain. Temple was nowhere to be seen; although, of course, from
Mt. Temple, on a clear day, especially if one looks with binoculars,
there is not much trouble in finding Mt. Columbia. But from Columbia, in
the south and southeast, the Continental Divide is seen in a
foreshortened line: the peaks are massed, and of such an average height
that it is exceedingly difficult to locate distant individuals from an
unfamiliar point. Even Mt. Forbes was not a conspicuous summit, although
little more than thirty miles away. It will then be recalled that Lake
Louise is seventy-five miles in air-line from Mt. Columbia. It should be
remembered that Outram was exceedingly familiar with this topography,
having mapped a considerable portion of it.
Taking it for granted
then that Lake Louise peaks are visible from Mt. Columbia, or vice
versa, let us lay out a circle from Alt. Columbia, on a seventy-mile
radius. It will cut Lake Louise; it will cross the southern Selkirks
just north of the Beaver-Duncan Pass and the Battle Range. Following on,
the circumference just touches Clemina station on the North Thompson
River and again cuts the Canadian National Railroad, midway between
Yellowhead Pass and Moose Lake. Fraser sources and all of Jasper Park
are included in the circle.
Our party spent nearly
an hour and a half on the summit of Mt. Columbia; we had arrived at
1.30. In the south-east the most distantly identifiable points were
peaks of the Freshfield Group— Mt. Forbes, and Mt. Chephren near Howse
Pass. If we had known exactly where to look between summits, we might
have located a peak in the Lake Louise area.
In the south and
south-west, the horizon was sharper and the peaks not so massed as on
the Divide. Sir Sandford was distinct, although it does not show in
photos. We thought we recognized Mt. Rogers; one can, of course, see Mt.
Columbia and even the Wood River area from Mt. Rogers. Conrad, ever
optimistic, attempted to show us the Purcells and even identified the
Howser Spires. We were not entirely convinced. In the west, we saw high
snowfields which are possibly in the Gold Range.
The question arose as
to Mt. Robson. Conrad had been on the first-ascent of it; the writer had
camped north of it in a former year. We had no small-scale map with us.
The mountain should appear between the Wood River Group and the
direction of Fortress Lake. Mt. Clemenceau was splendidly in view and
there were fine peaks beyond, outside of photographic range. But we were
never sure of Mt. Robson; we felt that we should have seen it; Outram
had seen it.
A remaining fact is
this: if one draws from Mt. Columbia as a centre a circle seventy miles
in radius it will include the Lake Louise area. From Mt. Temple, the
highest peak of this area, Mt. Columbia is visible; but with some
difficulty and only in the best of weather. On the other hand, peaks on
the Divide, massed in line, are exceedingly difficult to identify
individually. The position of Mt. Robson, almost due north-west of Mt.
Columbia, falls at least twenty-five miles beyond the seventy-mile
radius already laid down as approximately the limit of visibility.
Outram speaks of Mt. Forbes as being thirty miles to the south-east,
just about correct. But when he states that Mt. Robson showed up grandly
at “twice that distance to the north-west,” he is nearly forty miles
short of his mark.
From the direction of
Mt. Columbia, Mt. Robson would present an acute A-shape, narrow and
sharp, and easily over-looked, even by an observer with binoculars.
Local conditions, such as light, shadow, smoke, cloud, and heat-haze,
have often more to do with visibility than mere distance. A small peak
in line with a greater one may hide it at such a distance.
Mt. Robson often has a
cap of cloud which might easily render it invisible; and, from Mt.
Columbia, many high peaks of the Continental Divide intervene. One
concludes, therefore, that, while Mt. Robson—under very exceptional
circumstances—might be picked up from the summit of Mt. Columbia, no one
has yet done so. It would certainly not “show up grandly”; and it is
barely possible that Outram was looking at Mt. Clemenceau.
It used to be quite
traditional to make high level panoramas in the Alps. Here is an
interesting problem and a chance to amplify and carry on a bit of
investigation in the newer Alps of Canada.