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The Glittering Mountains of Canada
Appendix G. A Note on the Original Journals of David Douglas


The Panorama from Mt. Columbia, 12,294 Feet (Second Elevation: Rocky Mountains of Canada)

The mountaineering 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 summit views.

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 moment.

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.

South-westerly, across 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 when 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.

It is understood that Binoculars were used in identifying peaks.

Mt. Wheeler from Abbot Pass____________65 miles.

Mt. Assiniboine from Mt. Sir Donald--------82 miles.

Mt. Clemenceau from Mt. Rogers---------------70 miles.

Mt. Robson from Mt. Unwin----------------------------75 miles.

A Note on the Original Journals of David Douglas

(A Re-examination of the Problem of Mount Brown and Mount Hooker)

“ . . . the researches of many antiquarians have already thrown much darkness on the subject, and it is probable, if they continue, that <we shall soon know nothing at all.”—Mark Twain.

Few problems more interesting have arisen in the mountaineering history of the Canadian Alps that that occasioned by the Scots botanist, David Douglas, who, in 1827, incorrectly ascribed tremendous elevations to the peaks of Athabaska Pass, which he named Mount Brown and Mount Hooker, For nearly three-quarters of a century they were considered the highest mountains of North America, and only recently has the legend been dispelled.

Douglas’ journals, the earliest documents describing the ascent of a peak in the Canadian Rocky Mountains, were published almost a century later by the Royal Horticultural Society in a most carefully edited monograph which has been the standard work referred to by commentators. The original journals, strangely enough, appear never to have been consulted by anyone with mountaineering experience—a fact that induced me, during a visit to London, to investigate the problem at its source. It is my intention here to record the results of my examination of these manuscripts and to show their inter-relation with other data concerned in the origin of the mythical heights of the Athabaska Pass region.

In the preface to the Royal Horticultural Society’s monograph it is stated in regard to the journals that:

1. The handwriting is nowhere easy to read, and in places most difficult, occasionally if not quite impossible.

2. In the course of nearly one hundred years the ink has faded and become in places very hard to decipher.

3. After the diary of his journey in North-Western America had been prepared for the press and set up in type, a second manuscript was discovered which at first sight was taken to be a duplicate, but which on closer examination was found to contain a great deal of additional information. It had therefore to be compared word for word with the diary and the additions inserted in their proper places.

Both the diary, often spoken of as the “Longer Journal,” and the manuscript discovered later, the “Shorter Journal,” contain accounts of Douglas’ crossing of the Athabaska Pass in the spring of 1827. Only the “Shorter Journal” contains the names, Mount Brown and Mount Hooker, and makes mention of the supposedly great height of Mount Brown. The “Longer Journal,” while describing the ascent of a peak, leaves it unnamed and gives estimates which more nearly agree with modern surveys.

The passages which concern the Brown-Hooker problem have already been quoted in Chapter X (pp. 156-59), where the two versions may be contrasted.

It has been suggested5 that the Longer Journal was the original journal and that the Shorter Journal was written later, after Douglas’ return to London, and that names and heights were added at that time. No proofs were advanced for this supposition and there remained doubt as to which of the journals was the earlier.

I. General Comparison of the Two Journals

1. The Shorter Journal consists of fifty-six pages, 8 x 13 inches, written on each side of each sheet, with two-inch blank margin at the left. It bears the caption, “A Sketch of a Journey to the North-Western Parts of the Continent of North America During the Years 1824, 1825, 1826, and 1827 ” is signed with the initials, “D.D.,” and is apparently a prepared paper. The writing is in a large, bold, even, legible hand, and the manuscript is fresh in appearance.

It was thought by some that the altitude given for Mount Brown in the Shorter Journal might possibly have become illegible with time and therefore incorrectly copied during the preparation of the Royal Horticultural Society’s monograph. This is not so: on page 47 of the original, the passage, “ . . . exceeds 6000 feet 17000 above the sea,” is exceedingly clear and legible, and no mistake has been made in copying.

2. The Longer Journal consists of 131 pages, 8 x 13 inches, closely written on each side of each sheet, without margins, and with occasional notes written vertically at the left-hand edge. The handwriting throughout is smaller and more compressed than in the Shorter Journal; the paper is the worse for wear, and entries appear to have been made over a long period of time.

II. Relative Dates of the Two Journals

A decisive clue to the dates of the two manuscripts is given in the watermarks of the paper.

On the page of the Longer Journal may be found the mark, “J. & T. Jellyman 1824,” while on the facing page is a crowned seal with the figure of Britannia seated.

On the page of the Shorter Journal one finds the mark, “C. &

H. 1828,” and on the facing page a crowned seal with a lion rampant.

Douglas left England in July 1824, and crossed Athabaska Pass, eastward bound, in the spring of 1827, arriving at York Factory on August 28, 1827. He, therefore, could not have had with him the paper, watermarked “1828,” on which the Shorter Journal is written. The watermark, “1824,” on the pages of the Longer Journal is quite consistent with Douglas’ period in the field.

From these facts we see that:

1. The Longer Journal is the field journal, in which entries were made from July, 1824, until August, 1827'.

2. The Shorter Journal was written after Douglas returned to England, probably during the latter part of 1828, during a period of comparative leisure, as shown by the large, even handwriting and broad margins—men in the field do not do things so neatly. The manuscript was possibly prepared for reading before the Royal Horticultural Society which had sponsored his journeys.

3. In the Longer Journal, Douglas speaks of the mountain which he ascended as being “on the left hand or West side” of Athabaska Pass; in the Shorter Journal he describes Mount Brown as “the highest peak on the North or left hand side.” This may have been a slip of the pen during transcription. Mount Brown is on the western side of Athabaska Pass, and Douglas has given its correct position in his 1829 map. This point will receive further consideration.

4. The names, Mount Brown and Mount Hooker, were not given in the field, but were added later when the Shorter Journal was written, no doubt as much out of compliment to Douglas’ patrons as to distinguish topographical features. This would also account for the alteration of the statement in the Longer Journal, “ . . . mountains such as I was on, and many higher,” to “the highest yet known in the Northern Continent of America,” as it reads in the Shorter Journal.

5. Mount Hooker is not mentioned in any way in the field journal. The Shorter Journal contains the name but no figure for elevation; nothing save the statement that it is a peak “nearly of the same height [as Mount Brown] rising more into a sharp point.” The figure for elevation appears first on the 1829 map.

6. The altitude of 17,000 feet for Mount Brown6 was not given in the field. It is unlikely that Douglas himself made such a measurement. In the Proceedings of the Royal Society, under the date April 27, 1837, it is recorded that Mr. Sabine received from Douglas several volumes of lunar, chronometrical, magnetical, meteorological and geographical observations, together with a volume of field sketches. It is known that the geographical observations referred to the Columbia River and its tributaries; but the volumes are not in the possession of the Royal Horticultural Society and cannot be traced.

Certain it is that Douglas met men at Fort Vancouver, Jasper House, and at Carlton House who may have given him the figure. At Fort Vancouver, in November, 1826, Douglas mentions his acquaintance with Lieut. Simpson, officer of the Royal Navy, who surveyed south of Jasper House during the winter 1825-26, and whom Thomas Drummond, Assistant Naturalist to the Second Franklin Expedition, quotes as having obtained a figure of about 16,000 feet for the elevation near Athabaska Pass.

Douglas may have been confused by the winter conditions under which he himself crossed Athabaska Pass. More likely, it would appear, he was influenced by the prevalent idea of high altitude, arising from the journals of the voyageurs, from the time of David Thompson onward. Douglas no doubt was able to consult this material in London, and elsewhere, before his own Shorter Journal was ever written.

With these data at hand we may inquire further into the Brown-Hooker Problem, with the interesting progress of events conveniently grouped as follows:

1. Douglas kept a field journal in which entries were made, 1824-27. In this he describes his ascent of a mountain on the western side of Athabaska Pass. No names or altitudes are given, other than the estimate that the mountain rises about 5500 feet above its base.

2. In a second journal, written after his return to England, probably late in 1828, Douglas describes his mountain ascent, names his peak Mount Brown and gives it an elevation of 17,000 feet. He mentions a peak a little to the south and attaches to it the name of Mount Hooker; no altitude is given, nothing except the implication that it is nearly as high as Mount Brown and rises to a sharper peak.

3. In a map appearing during October, 1829, which Douglas supervised, we find the name Mount Brown, altitude 16,000 feet, placed on the western side of Athabaska Pass, and Mount Hooker, 15,700 feet, on the eastern side of' the pass, approximately southeast of Mount Brown.

To summarize: Douglas ascends a mountain in May, 1827, which remains without altitude or name for more than a year, when, in 1828, it becomes Mount Brown, 17,000 feet. Mount Hooker appears at this time without elevation being given. Yet another year passes and Douglas, in 1829, approved the publication of a map giving the relative positions of the two peaks, one on either side of Athabaska Pass. Reducing his original figure, he now gives Mount Brown an elevation of 16,000 feet, and Mount Hooker—for the first time honoured with a figure—15,700 feet.

The further juggling with fact: that in the field journal Douglas speaks of “ . . . mountains such as I was on, and many higher,” and alters it to “the highest yet known in the Northern Continent of America” in his manuscript of 1828, makes it certain that the pre-eminent height of Mount Brown was created in England.

If one descends Pacific Creek for a half-mile below Athabaska Pass summit and, supposing Ermatinger's camp on the morning of May 1, 1827, to have been made near this point (the field journal indicates four miles’ progress from the Big Hill), if one looks northward toward the pass, the present Mount Brown is on the left-hand side of the pass. Further, it is “north” from this supposed camp-site, as well as “west” from the pass summit—a neglected fact which may reconcile Douglas’ varying statements of the local topography.

The station Mount Brown Ridge does not especially attract one’s attention from this viewpoint, and the present Mount Hooker is invisible. On the eastern side of the pass, McGillivray’s Rock is the outstanding feature; it rises to a sharper point than Mount Brown and is not so high, thereby agreeing with Douglas’ description. The actual difference in elevation between Mount Brown and McGillivray’s Rock is 376 feet (9156—8780, Boundary Survey), while the difference between Mount Brown and Mount Hooker, as given on Douglas’ map of 1829 is 300 feet (16,000—15,700).

It is probable that Douglas obtained figures for elevation from Lieut. Simpson, R.N., whom he met at Fort Vancouver. Douglas is approximately correct for estimations above the level of the Athabaska Pass but is misled by an incorrect base.

Now Douglas distinctly states in his field journal that there were many peaks higher than the one he was on; yet he singled out a lower one to name Mount Hooker—no doubt the peak east of the pass which seemed the loftiest in that direction as seen from his camp. He might w^ell recognize this mountain and keep it in view as a landmark as he ascended Mount Brown. His map indicates that Mount Hooker is east of Athabaska Pass; that it is lower than Mount Brown.

Therefore, if the present Mount Brown be the peak which Douglas climbed—and it is the easiest mountain, and hence appears most logical, whether he went to the very top or not—then the Mount Hooker of Douglas is on the eastern side of the pass and lower than Mount Brown. Nothing fills these requirements more satisfactorily than McGillivray’s Rock. This is the theory originally proposed by Professor Coleman, in 1893, and to which one is inevitably drawn by a consideration of the facts.

McGillivray’s Rock was named before Douglas crossed Athabaska Pass. Franchere mentions it and ascribes its origin to Henry. It is a name worthy of preservation, and, in this respect, the Boundary Commission is perhaps justified in applying the name Mount Hooker in its present location; but the present Mount Hooker is not likely the peak which Douglas so designated.

I have followed the problem as far as seems humanly possible. My field work included an examination of the Athabaska Pass area, the ascent of Mount Brown, a close inspection of McGillivray’s Rock, and the first-ascent of the present Mount Hooker. In London I studied and photographed the original journals of Douglas. In various libraries I searched every available source-book which could possibly contain additional information. With this work as a basis I have arrived at the following conclusions:

1. Douglas ascended or partially ascended the present Mount Brown, as being apparently the highest mountain in view from his camping-place.

2. He also singled out the loftiest point on the other side of the pass, noticed that it was rather lower and somewhat sharper, and subsequently named it (the present McGillivray’s Rock) Mount Hooker.

3. His figure of elevation for Mount Brown is based on Lieut. Simpson’s survey figure for the general height of the region, and on David Thompson’s incorrect figure for Athabaska Pass. The latter is Thompson’s own error and should not be attributed to Sir George Simpson.

4. The elevation of Mount Hooker is Douglas’ own figure based on estimated difference of elevation.

5. Finally, while the Brown-Hooker problem may never be completely solved, the facts of the case are best satisfied by considering the present Mount Brown to be the peak Douglas climbed and McGillivray’s Rock to be Douglas’ Mount Hooker.

Personally I am more than a little uncertain about this young botanist of a century ago. A more competent psychologist than myself would be required to decide whether or not Douglas was a borderline case of what Gamaliel Bradford has termed a “damaged soul”—one whose ambition, the sin by which the angels fell, occasionally led him to add fiction to actuality. Certainly the progressive changes in his journals are difficult to explain on any other basis.

David Douglas was born in 1793, and was in his twenty-eighth year when he crossed Athabaska Pass. Men of his day wrote more light-heartedly about alpine regions than we do now; moderate exaggerations were not then considered so sinful. So it is extremely probable that Mount Brown and Mount Hooker, and their altitudes, did not weigh too heavily on his conscience. What we should remember is that Douglas was one of our greatest and most successful exploring botanists, and that his sad and tragic death in the Sandwich Islands, in 1834, brought to a close a career of immense promise. His journals, although puzzling in their details, have been a factor of no little importance to the incidence of Canadian mountaineering; his story of the wonders of Athabaska Pass altogether an influence for good. If we attempt to judge Douglas after nearly a century, we can perhaps do no better than to accept his own words, written at Fort Vancouver on New Year’s Day, 1826: “I can die satisfied with myself. I never have given cause for remonstrance or pain to an individual on earth.”


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