American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

The First Ascent of "Nettie L" Mountain

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  • Publication Year: 1929

The First Ascent of “Nettie L” Mountain

Howard Palmer

IN spite of the fact that more than forty years have elapsed since the opening of the Canadian Pacific Railway across the Selkirks, the mountains beyond a belt 20 miles south of the railroad are still largely unknown, and of only a few limited areas are adequate maps available. The Battle Range, about this distance south of Glacier House, lies just beyond the limits of the Wheeler map. South of the Battle Range again about 20 miles, one comes to inhabited country, in the region of Trout Lake. This is a beautiful body of water, 18 miles long, half a mile wide, and 765 ft. deep, resting at an elevation of 2400 ft. It occurred to the writer that it would be interesting to visit this part of the range, climb one of the higher summits, and see what the country was like.

Accordingly, August 9, 1915, found him at the hamlet of Arrowhead (elevation 1400 ft.) on upper Arrow Lake. From here, a motor boat plies across the head of the lake eight miles, to Beaton, whence a motor stage takes one on to Trout Lake City, about ten miles distant. In the first three miles from Beaton the road climbs a 21% grade, to a broad saddle (2500 ft.) with a gentle slope on the farther side, extending to the village of Trout Lake, which is situated at the lake shore on the delta of Lardeau Creek. Lardeau Creek flows from a valley to the northeast, and as we neared Trout Lake a prominent mountain could be seen in the distance up this valley. No mountains were named on the Provincial map of that period, but I at once selected this as exactly suited to my purpose. Upon inquiry at Trout Lake, I was delighted to find that a good road led to its base, where the town of Ferguson was situated. After lunching at Trout Lake Hotel, the stage continued thither, and I arrived at 5 p.m., the elevation being 3050 ft.

Ferguson is a mining town which has seen better days. The main street is well laid out, with substantial buildings lining it on both sides, but they were all boarded up, and only a handful of people were still living there. I put up at a neat little hotel, where I obtained the welcome news that a mine was located high up on the mountain in which I was interested and that a wagon road leading directly from the town would take me thither. This would be a great help, as the mountain sides were heavily timbered and supported the characteristically dense undergrowth of the Selkirks. Upon inquiring for a guide, I was fortunate in procuring one E. W. Garrett, a red-haired youth of pleasing appearance, who agreed to pilot me up to the mine, put me up for the night in the mine buildings, and climb wherever I wished on the following day.

As the weather was settled, I suggested that we make an immediate start; so, after laying in a stock of provisions, we set forth at 6.45 p. m. The road crossed the north branch of Ferguson Creek on a substantial bridge and continued to a hamlet called “Five Mile,” where stood an ore concentrator for several mines of the neighborhood. A wire rope conveyor, supported on a line of poles, stretched miles up the valley, and a second one came abruptly down from the slopes of our mountain to the left. There were a hydroelectric power plant and a number of other substantial-looking buildings, all deserted and rusting away.

We turned sharply to our left and commenced the ascent of a well-graded wagon road, which circled around the corner of the mountain to its higher slopes in the valley of Ferguson Creek. We arrived at the upper cabins at 8.30, in the early darkness. The elevation was 5000 ft.

Next morning, August 10, dawned auspiciously, and after a hearty breakfast we got under way at 5.30. A trail helped us through the rhododendron bushes for a quarter of a mile, but then we had to leave it to secure a direct line for our peak. My companion had never been on the higher part of the mountain, and no information about it was available. Further, the valley was so deep that nothing of the summit could be seen, so we were acting entirely in the dark. Within two hours we had attained an elevation of 8000 ft., mainly through dense bushes and scattered stunted timber. Soon after this we came out on the crest of a ridge which led directly to a blunt summit not far away. The ridge was easy, so that we made good progress, arriving on this first peak at 8.30 (elevation 8475 ft.). Here a surprise awaited us. We discovered that the real top was a mile farther on, cut off from us by a wide glacial saddle 775 ft. below our level. This side of our peak broke down in steep cliffs, beneath which an ice-slope, thinly veneered with snow, made the only connection with the pass.

We had only one ice-ax, and no rope, not having anticipated the existence of such alpine conditions. We quickly worked down the ledges to the final parapet above the snow, whose consistency we had no way of testing. I turned to Garrett and informed him that this was a ticklish bit to negotiate. Taking off my leather belt, I said: “One of us can get down if the other holds this. Do you wish to go first or shall I?” Without hesitation he offered to go; so, taking a firm stand on the lowest rock and a firm grip on the belt, I let him down to his full length. He could just reach the top of the snow-slope with his toes and gingerly trod out a firm step. Then I handed him the ice-ax, which was driven in, and I dropped down to his station.

From this point, held by the belt, I chipped steps down the hard snow, and soon we reached better going where the snow lay thicker on the ice. Garrett had never been on a glacier before, but he acted like a veteran, showing splendid spirit the whole day. When we looked back from the saddle we could scarcely believe that we had traversed such an unpromising route. This was the last difficulty, and two hours from the first peak we stood on the real summit (9100 ft.), at 10.30.

We found no evidence that the peak had ever before been visited, so we erected a small stone man. Although the local men will go almost anywhere for goats or gold, they are exceedingly loth to set foot upon a glacier. The natural approach to our peak was so well guarded by glaciers and by steep cliffs on three sides that it is very unlikely that anyone else has ever penetrated thither. Toward the north and east very steep cliffs descended and the lower portions of the peak displayed long lines of smaller cliff belts. The outlook in every direction was ideal, the weather being clear and warm, without smoke. One could see glacier peaks in the Gold Range west of Arrow Lake and many of the peaks of the higher Selkirks, including South Albert Peak, Bonney, Purity, Sugarloaf, Beaver and Duncan. The Purcell Mountains were well displayed. Mt. Farnam stood out nobly; also the Bugaboo Peaks. In this direction lay the most prominent group of the Trout Lake Mountains, Mt. Templeman (10,000 ft.) being the highest, situated about nine miles away almost due east. Especially prominent was the culminating peak of the Battle Range, since none of the intervening mountains rose to nearly its height. It towered above steep, snow- less precipices, but just to the left of these a large glacier descended almost from the summit. A little to the right, but nearer, lay a wide semicircular basin filled with glaciers and constituting the source of the west fork of the Duncan. Nearer still the mountains scarcely surpassed 8500 ft. and showed practically no snow or ice.

Toward the south the extreme tip of Trout Lake could be seen and the buildings of the town of Ferguson. In this direction, except for Trout Mountain (8500 ft.) and one other snowy peak, the country was filled with even-topped ridges of moderate elevation to the limit of vision. This snow mountain may reach 9000 ft. It is situated at the source of Five Mile Creek, flowing into Trout Lake, and might repay a visit.

We also obtained a good view of the “Lime Dyke,” which is a unique feature of this locality and well known among the inhabitants. The formation is a thin wall of grey limestone which stands high up above the surrounding hills and extends from the vicinity of Mt. Templeman across country in a northwesterly direction perhaps as far as the Incomappleux River. It is weathered through in places to form impressive blade-like towers, somewhat resembling those in the “Garden of the Gods” in Colorado. It is said to contain overhanging pinnacles 1000 ft. high.1

Conditions were so delightful that we remained on our lofty perch for four hours, drinking in every detail and taking compass bearings to the important peaks. At 2.30 we started back, reaching the pass three-quarters of an hour later. Being doubtful whether we could ascend the cliffs of the lower peak by our morning’s route, we decided to vary the rest of the return journey; so, crossing the glacier more to the left, we traversed the entire southeast face of the mountain just below the summit cliffs, finding steep but fairly favorable going on this line. In many places the route lay along the tops of funnel-shaped couloirs which plunged to the very bottom of the mountain.

Two and a half hours from the top we arrived at the mine, and taking up the packs there we descended to Ferguson in an hour and a half more, arriving at 6.30. Finding that the mail stage was on the point of leaving for Trout Lake, I took advantage of it to return thither. On August 11 I returned to Revelstroke, thus completing a most enjoyable expedition and obtaining a good knowledge of the whole belt of the Selkirks for 50 miles south of the Battle Range.

I found subsequently that a contour map of the region bordering on Trout Lake had been issued by the Geological Survey of Canada, Department of Mines, the title being “Lardeau Map No. 19A.” Names and elevations used in the foregoing paper are taken from this map. The elevations on the climb are from aneroid readings by the writer, which, owing to the settled weather, are thought to be reasonably accurate.

General literature dealing with the Trout Lake region is scanty, but among the Government reports there are two very good papers which should be consulted by anyone interested.

“The Lardeau District,” by R. W. Brock,2 describes the mountains as “big, blocky masses, terminating in rugged, narrow serrated ridges whose even skyline is relieved in detail by numerous pinnacles and spires.” The rock of “Nettie L” Mountain is slate and phyllite with dykes of diabase schist. The ore is galena, blende, copper and iron pyrites, with some gold. From the mine, 2300 tons of ore were shipped. Triune Mine, on Silver Cup Mountain, lies under the bed of a glacier. The ore is frozen when mined. In winter, snow-slides prevent its operation.

In “The Arrow Lakes and Duncan River,” by H. H. B. Abbott, 3 it is stated that the mining excitement in this district was almost a “rush” between the years 1896 and 1901. At this time Trout Lake had a population of nearly 1000 people. The “Nettie L” mine is the largest one in the district and $250,000 was spent upon the concentrator and reducing plant.

1 Annual Report of the Minister of Lands for British Columbia, 1919, pp. G72-78.

2 Annual Report Geological Survey of Canada, 1903, Vol. XV, Part AA, pp. 42A-81A.

3 Annual Report of the Minister of Lands for British Columbia, 1919,pp. G72-78.

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