Pushing Back Canada’s Sky Line

Stripping the ‘mystery from Mystery Mountain proves a hazardous undertaking

A. M. NOTT June 15 1927

Pushing Back Canada’s Sky Line

Stripping the ‘mystery from Mystery Mountain proves a hazardous undertaking

A. M. NOTT June 15 1927

Pushing Back Canada’s Sky Line

Stripping the ‘mystery from Mystery Mountain proves a hazardous undertaking


NEW horizons in Canada still await the first white man’s gaze, and some of the present day seekers of new horizons present just as romantic figures as even those explorers whose achievements are tinged with the roseate glow of the historic past. It comes as a surprise that there are still comparatively large unexplored areas in Canada within fairly short distances of well established routes of travel. Recently, within about 150 miles of Vancouver, a mighty mountain range has been discovered, with one of its great peaks even higher than the famous Mount Robson, the magnificent 13,000-foot monarch of the Canadian Rockies. The story of the stripping of. the mystery from ‘Mystery Mountain’ shows that the spirit of the pioneers of old still lives on.

If rather more than their fair share of adventure has fallen to the lot of Mr. and Mrs. Don Munday, of Vancouver, leaders of the party that explored Mystery Mountain, perhaps it is because they have so often put themselves in the path of adventure. All British Columbia thrilled two winters ago on hearing their modestly-told story of how, at extreme risk to themselves, they carried a youth with a fractured skull up an icy precipice, down which he had plunged for 800 feet. His life hung in the balance while they nursed him for weeks in an isolated cabin on a mountain-top, until he recovered sufficiently to be brought down the rough foot trail. For her very considerable part in this hazardous rescue Mrs. Munday received the only Bronze Cross ever awarded in Canada by the Girl Guides. It is granted only for outstanding valor in life-saving.

Single-handed, Munday rescued another too-venturesome youth whose plunge down a cliff had been miraculously checked on a ledge at the very brink of the final abyss. Mountaineers called it a fine bit of work, but he dismissed with a casual ‘It wasn’t particularly dangerous.’ This view seems to be held only by him, however.

Vancouver climbers are frequently called upon to search for lost or injured hikers in the mountains overlooking the city, and Mr. and Mrs. Munday are always among the first to respond. They lived for three years on a mountain top, and often completed the work of rescue before news of the need for it got down to the city. Mrs. Munday was the first woman to reach the top of Mount Robson, and last summer was one of the pair of women who were the first of their sex to scale the great Mount Geikie, in Jasper Park.

The interest of the Mundays in Mystery Mountain was

aroused by a trip made to Mount Arrowsmith, Vancouver Island, with a friend, T. H. Ingram, who, in view of his advancing years, intended it to be a farewell trip to the mountains. On the summit, an hour of crystal clarity of atmosphere revealed the seaward peaks of the Coast Range for 200 miles, rising in a glittering rampart for seven, eight and nine thousand feet or more above the wide, violet moat of Georgia Strait. Nearly 150 miles away to the north, one lofty summit seemingly overtopped all its fellows visible at the time. The mapmakers knew it not; so here adventure beckoned!

Seeking this monarch of far horizons three months later up Bute Inlet, they failed to identify the alluring peak with certainty among many big peaks. Even to

these veteran alpinists the trip brought new thrills and hardships. Not the least unusual of their experiences was that of being marooned for two days without drinking water on the precipitous shore of lonely Bute Inlet, owing to hostile Indians damaging the boat and engine of the white trapper who had landed the climbing party. Fortunately for them, the somewhat battered trapper, Jack McPhee, was able to make his way to the only other white resident within twenty-five miles, and together they rescued the explorers, after Indians passing in their boats had refused help on any terms. This sudden hostility of the Homalko Indians toward all whites arose from a determined attempt to stop the former’s flagrant violations of fisheries regulations. A patrol boat was fired on from ambush about this time.

While pathfinding ahead of the party on this expedition, Munday suddenly emerged on a windy coign commanding an awe-inspiring view for thirty miles up the 8,000-foot gorge of the Homalko River. The vista was closed by huge glaciers of a range of rock and ice peaks, ten to eleven thousand feet high. But above them rose a still more distant dagger-tipped peak in unchallenged supremacy. Interest in the unknown mountain, which had lured them north, naturally turned to this new monarch, now known to be the apex of the Coast Range.

Mr. and Mrs. Munday were not unfitted to accept the tacit challenge. Both are veterans in exploratory climbing. When it seemed probable that Lieutenant-Colonel W. W. Foster would be unable to go on the Mount Logan expedition, it was Munday whom the Vancouver section of the Alpine Club of Canada nominated as his substitute. Once, on a difficult 8,000-foot winter ascent of a virgin British Columbia peak, Mrs. Munday reached the top in a blizzard, although two men turned back far below the summit.

Thus it was that in the spring of 1926, Mr. and Mrs. Munday made an adventurous trip to get authentic information about the Homalko Valley, in company with their trapper friend, McPhee, whose hospitable cabin became the Mystery Mountain expedition’s headquarters.

For many years a huge log jam had barred the Homalko River four miles from its mouth, but they surprised the oldtimers by taking a small boat through ‘Pitchfork Gap’, a surging, twisted channel, bristling with splintered timber. It is a wild, inconstant river in a wild land, but at this time it was well Continued on page 31

Continued on page 31

Continued from page 9

below normal levels. Hoping to profit by this, Munday returned a week later from Vancouver with the expedition’s supplies and equipment. These were transported twenty-five miles up stormy Bute Inlet in an open boat from the last port of call of coasting steamers. Munday’s only companion was R. C. Johnson, who had many times proved his worth in trying times in the mountains.

Peril In Darkness

T) AD weather dogged them. Their trips up the river were made worse by dense fog on the water, and by the fact that the stage of tide required to ‘iron out’ the usual tide rip opposite Graveyard Point at the river mouth, came during the hours of darkness. Pitchfork Gap had narrowed

now to ten feet at one point, and might close at any time. At every bend of the crooked river savage eddies boiled into the teeth of log jams. Cavernous whirlpools threatened to engulf the boat. There were rapids in navigating which minutes were required in order to gain yards. And everywhere was the peril of sunken snags hidden in the muddy torrent.

Work as a scout in No-Man’s Land during the war won Munday a medal that did not ‘come up in the rations’. So perhaps he knew the grim reaper by sight. At any rate, when the other members of the party arrived a week later, he informed them that the walking was good from the log jam to the suppy cache, and ,he had hacked four miles of trail through tangled forest to make it so. The other members of the party were: A. E. Agur,

T. H. Ingram, the leader’s brother, and, of course, Mrs. Munday. All were members of the Alpine Club of Canada, and some of them members of the B. C. Mountaineering Club. It will be noted that Ingram had postponed his resolve about giving up climbing.

Sometimes known as the ‘Terror of the North’, the Homalko earns the name. Twice parties of surveyors lost their entire outfits in its wild waters. Two prospectors once returned starving and in their bare feet, their boots having been in their canoe when it went under a log jam. A Canadian Pacific Railway survey party had a bad time in the valley in the ‘70’s, when there was more semblance of a trail than now.

In the ‘60’s, Alfred Waddington, of Victoria, was granted a charter to build a toll road through the Homalko Valley as the most direct overland route to the Cariboo goldfields. This project came to a tragic stop with the midnight massacre at ‘Murderers’ Bar’ of fourteen men of the unarmed trail gang by Chilcotin Indians. The ‘Chilcotin War’ ensued, and five of the murderers were eventually captured and hanged. But Waddington was practically ruined, and work was never resumed on the trail. It is not generally known that this route was seriously considered for the Canadian Pacific Railway.

Narrow Escapes

'T'HE Homalko River in flood is a silt-*■ burdened torrent from 300 to 1,500 feet in width, forever gouging new channels through green timber, and with this debris choking old channels. Canoe transportation of supplies proved to be a constant hazard, both for the supplies and for the lives of members of the party. The river channels were choked with stranded trees of all sizes. By a fortunate decision, the party just escaped being overwhelmed on a midstream gravel bar when the river rose over three feet in one night. Even then, it was only by tremendous exertions that everything was saved, but it was two days before the party was reunited to resume the advance.

The water did not subside much, and perils multiplied. Twice bad holes were knocked in the canoe by hidden snags. Its back was nearly broken, and, repeatedly, loads of supplies were nearly lost. Had a paddle snapped one stroke sooner than it did, two of the party would have been swept to death under a log jam.

So the canoe was finally cached safely in the woods, and the hundreds of pounds of supplies were ‘back-packed’ forward in relays of about a half a mile at a time, with the leader usually chopping a trail as well as carrying a pack. Cliffs dipping sheerly to the river had to be negotiated on mossy ledges, where a slip would have been disastrous. More serious obstacles were glacial tributaries of the river, which were rivers in themselves, and drained enormous glaciers, one of which descended right into the Homalko Valley. Trees tall enough to bridge these torrents invariably broke with their own weight on the boulders. Delayed and defied by Scar Creek, the adventurers skidded sixty-foot logs out of the woods by manpower, and contrived to slide them across on the doubtful support of a splintered trunk, projecting part way over the stream. But the leaping wave crests shook this slender and slippery bridge so violently that, until the climbing rope was stretched across for a handrail, it was not possible to carry loads across.

The party had been warned that the yalley was overrun with black, brown and grizzly bears, all of them reputed to be the very biggest of their kind. The numerous tracks proved that bears were at least plentiful. Tracks of timber wolves, cougar and other big game were also in evidence.

As the result of relaying supplies, the _ distance travelled on foot averaged 100 miles for each member of the party by the

time they reached Coula Creek, only about forty miles from Bute Inlet by the course followed, and about 500 feet above sea level. Exploration of Coula Creek canyon revealed the existence of an enormous glacier extending 4,000 feet below the timberline, and to within 1,500 feet of sea level. For miles the surface was a jumble of broken blocks of ice, or a network of crevasses, and it filled the valley almost to the very crest of the mountain ride on one side. It was decided to call this Waddington Glacier. It is about ten miles in length, descending 8,500 feet in that distance.

Up this wild gorge, the party relayed supplies in the rain, established ‘Cliff Camp’ beside the glacier. And still in chilling rain, relayed forward past the chaotic blue ice-cascade, where the glacier emerged from the heart of the range, dropping 3,000 feet in a mile.

At timberline, Spring’s fingers still plucked feebly at the fringes of the wide snowfields along the south side of the range, and it was hard to find exposed a flat heather patch large enough for three small silk tents. Large pink avalanche lilies impatiently thrust flower buds through the tardy edges of snowdrifts.

Relaying of supplies ended finally at ‘Avalanche Camp’, near the west end of ■the range, and in a high valley stripped of its stunted trees for half a mile by a mighty avalanche from a glacier above. To this camp, Mrs. Munday was literally led across the mountains farther into the wilderness, because she was now almost completely snow.blind from the severe eyestrain imposed by dense fog on several exacting exploratory climbs among the mountains along Waddington Glacier. This helplessness was a new experience, for a woman who had honeymooned in midwinter on a mountain above the clouds; who had later taken her elevenweeks old baby girl on a mile-high climb, at three months of age on a forty-mile climbing trip on foot above snowline, and at four months of age to an elevation of 9,000 feet on a glacier in the Selkirk Range.

A Desperate Struggle

\zf UCH of the work of original explorers ■‘-’-1 in British Columbia has been lost because of the fact that the work was done by men who never recorded their information in permanent form. It was not surprising, therefore, that nothing had indicated in advance that the mountaineers would face such a desperate struggle to reach the vicinity of Mystery Mountain. Data for mapping several hundred square miles of newly-explored country was secured by the party, but continued unsettled weather on the high peaks of the range baffled all their attempts to find a way across the range to Mystery Mountain, which so far had remained unseen.

Although on short rations now, and risking starvation on the homeward trek, clearing weather led them to plan a last desperate effort to reach Mystery Mountain by way of two passes 9,000 feet in height.

Hoping for night-frost to harden the snow, the party left camp at eight p.m., Johnson breaking trail for them for 3,000 feet through recent avalanches to the crest of the icefall of Avalanche Glacier. He then returned alone to camp. The moon was practically at the full. The first pass was reached about one a.m., and a light meal was gblped down before the ice-fanged wind encouraged the long descent to the mysterious unexplored depths of Waddington Glacier’s immense upper basin. In this kind of work, Mrs. Munday’s usual place on the rope was next to her husband. She is capable of giving him more than moral support, too, for only her timely presence of mind saved all four persons on her rope from falling into a hundred-foot crevasse on Mount Robson. In this respect they are a well-matched couple, for once, when the rear man of a party slipped on an icy Continued on page 8b

Continued on page 34

Continued from page 32

Continued from page 32 slope and in his fall dragged Mrs. Munday down, too, the leader succeeded in holding their combined weights when theÿ had fallen the full length of the eighty-foot rope.

From Mystery Pass, reached at five a.m., Munday says:—‘We gazed, at last, fascinated, across ice-filled valleys to Mystery Mountain. It is the fitting culmination of a region holding much that is fantastic—granite crags that weirdly caricature man and beast and bird. The summit of one contemptuous little peak overhangs on every side. A slender flying buttress seemingly props the whole ruinous side of a mountain. Even Mystery Mountain has a freakish twist to its symmetrical majesty of form. Its basic black rock is shot through with varicolored seams, so that the towering precipices bear a cracery so wild that they might appear to be the prison walls on which tortured fallen spirits had recorded their pain. Little play of fancy was needed to suggest the ice-plated form of a gigantic monster sprawled on the mountain tip, with leering head upraised watchfully, high above the vastest network of glaciers yet encountered in America, south of Alaska.

Far down into the still sunless Ice Valley they plodded, breakfasting in a small hollow in the glacier, where they" were afforded some little protection from the searching wind, although there was a risk that the bottom would drop through into the underlying crevasse. Continuing far down the glacier, they finally turned up one of the steep tributary glaciers to essay at last the grimly repellent Mystery Mountain itself. Here the sun smote the slopes with blinding glare as they picked an anxious way among a complex system of crevasses, many of which were dangerously hidden under unbroken surface snow.

Agur and the Munday brothers shared the heavy labor of leading, and by 2.30 p.m. they reached a high notch, 10,000 feet above sea level. Mystery Mountain was now hidden behind ‘Spearmen Peak’, 11,000 feet high, the latter being clearly an effectual barrier to further progress. In all the vast scene, green timber was visible in only two small areas many miles away.

They had to admit they were repulsed, as this was the only route which had looked even possible under the circumstances. But it was not unfitting that such a monarch among mountains should not yield to the first attack.

Had the weather broken badly, as it threatened, the party’s situation would have been serious in the extreme, with the nearest timber fourteen hours’ travel away. Hourly, the avalanches were increasing in number, and in several places the pathway of the party up the glacier had been swept away completely, so that the descent was nerve-wracking.

Frostbite In Midsummer

AFTER supper, the long ascent to Mystery Pass was resumed. More than one climber now began to suffer optical illusions and mental delusions induced by fatigue and strain. The responsibility resting on the leader was a heavy one, the more so as another member kept demanding to be left to sleep for a few hours in the snow. Later the bitterness of the night frost was indicated by discovery of a frostbitten toe—this on a midsummer night!

A wildly flaring sunset flung its glow into the ice-walled gorge, its flame being reflected from wall to wall in crimson and orange lights, until the great cirque seemed full of a weird and unearthly glory. Upon this unreal background the rising moon poured lights and reflected lights, until its paler flame diluted the glamor to a pure silver radiance.

Miles crept by slowly on the high snowwastes above, owing to a troublesome crust on the soft snow. The moon went

down, dawn followed, and at last, at four a.m., camp was reached. Out of the elapsed thirty-two hours, the adventurers had been roped together for twenty-fourhours.

When a slim breakfast was eaten next morning, food for only a light lunch remained. They broke camp in driving sleet and rain, and began the long retreat across the mountains, by a forced march reaching the food cache at the Homalko River by nightfall.

The river had risen over eight feet, in keeping with flooding tributaries. The work of bridging creeks had to be done over again on the homeward trip under much more difficult conditions. Delays were serious, with the party down to a daily ration for each person of half a pound of bannock, a cup of boiled rice, plus any berries picked by the way.

At the canoe cache, Agur and Johnson volunteered to try to take the battered craft down the river with some of the less valuable equipment. Distances the land party covered 0 half a day, the canoe party made in half an hour, but at extreme risk. Where the river surged suddenly under about forty acres of log jam, they escaped through a gap so narrow that the paint was scraped off both sides of the canoe. Once, an undermined forest giant fell within yards of the canoe. The banks bristled with dangerous ‘sweepers’, which are fallen trees projecting low over the surface of the water. These were perils in addition to countless snags and the danger inherent in swift and broken water.

The land party toiled through flooded swamps and a maze of high-water channel, which often forced them to clamber along mountain walls. Like a vindictive giant thrusting blindly with a spear, the river sometimes pushed the tops of floating trees into the forest—once exactly over the spot where Mr. and Mrs. Munday had slept.

Last Food Lost

FOOD came completely to an end when the last precious handful was accidentally lost, but fortunately, by late of the noon of the same day, they reached a trapper’s cabin which was well stocked with food. Next morning they arrived at the log jam where the boat was cached. It was soon launched. But threat of disaster still dogged them, for while the leader wrestled with the motor, the oarsman unwisely staged a dispute with the steersman as to the right channel. A feeble but timely kick from the engine just saved the boat from swamping against a cluster of snags at the base of a sheer cliff. An hour later, on a foaming wavecrest, they landed, on McPhee’s rocky shore, their adventures at an end for a time.

Colonel W. W. Foster, of Mount Logan fame, and Howard Palmer, F.R.G.S., president of the American Alpine Club, term this the most important mountain exploration of the year. It is probable that Mount Waddington will be the official name of the big peak. Mr. and Mrs. Munday are busy organizing another attack on it for 1927.

Since the foregoing was written, Johnson and Agur were caught without warning in a snowslide on a mountain within sight of Vancouver. Johnson’s foot hooked into a small tree on the edge of a cliff, where he hung head down while the avalanche poured harmlessly over him. But Agur was hurled to the foot of the precipice. Mr. and Mrs. Munday were the first mountaineers to take up the search for their friend, and, despite efforts to dissuade them, made a midnight trip over the mountain tops in a blizzard which forced them to feel for the trail at every step. Other alpinists took up the search later, but as the body lies under thousands of tons of snow the only hope of recovering it is to wait for the snow to melt.

It may well be said of the mountains that ‘only those who brave their dangers comprehend their mysteries.’