The First Ascent of Mt. Coppercrown

Publication Year: 1930.

The First Ascent of Mt. Coppercrown

A. A. McCoubrey

MOUNT Coppercrown (10,218 ft.), is situated in the central Purcells at the source of Coppercrown Creek (a tributary of Toby Creek) and some twenty-five miles southwest of Lake Windermere, B. C.

From the Paradise mine ridge, a favourite high level viewpoint on account of its accessibility by road and trail, the peak is a conspicuous, albeit distant, object on the southern skyline. References to it in the climbing literature of the region are few and may be enumerated briefly. Ellis,1 in describing the view from the summit of Mt. Nelson says, in part, “Southwest Coppercrown at the source of Copper Creek … glistened in the sun”. Harnden,2 in his account of a later ascent of the same peak writes: “To the south, nearly twenty miles away, rises Sir Donald’s twin, Coppercrown”. Finally, Fay, in his article “Recent Mountaineering in the Canadian Alps”3 in discussing the unclimbed peaks in the district, says: “The most notable of all (unclimbed) perhaps being Coppercrown, seemingly peer of the highest rising in a region a little further south”.

Though familiar with the literature quoted above and not unfamiliar with the region, the writer must confess that, until 1925, he had not set eyes upon the peak, largely, no doubt, owing to his high viewpoints being much to the west and north of Coppercrown.

August, 1925, saw Noel Reilly, Miss K. McCallum, Mrs. A. A. McCoubrey and the writer camped at Earl Grey’s cabin on Toby Creek. Mt. Coppercrown was our objective and, in order to get a glimpse of the peak before setting out Reilly and I one afternoon scrambled up the slopes west of the cabin. Toiling up through burnt timber to a point about 1,000 feet above the cabin, we saw, to the south east, a fine helmet-shaped peak rising well above the ridges that form the southern wall of Toby Creek. After a photographic halt, the writer descended to the cabin while Reilly continued onward to the high western ridge overlooking the green depths of Jumbo Creek.

Next day, impedimenta were leisurely packed up, the writer ramming vast quantities of equipment into an enormous square pack-sack, surely the most awkward and inefficient type of back-packing equipment ever devised by man. As our pack-train had been sent back to Wilmer, it was our intention to back-pack our equipment eastward to the mouth of Coppercrown Creek and from there work up the creek to its source.

Packing finished, the rest of the party trotted gaily down the Toby trail, while the writer tottered on behind, cursing, more or less audibly, back-packing, first ascents, and Coppercrown in particular. The sound of a pack-train forcing its way up the valley, interrupted the writer’s gloomy thoughts, and a few minutes later, that most delightful of interludes occurred, the unexpected meeting of a friend upon the trail. Dr. John Walker of the Geological Survey, with a packer and a few horses, was riding westward towards Earl Grey Pass and our chance meeting not only gave the writer an opportunity to sink gracefully to the ground with his burden, but also the privilege of half an hour’s converse with his friend.

Bidding Dr. Walker a reluctant goodbye, the pack was again hoisted and the writer staggered onward until he rejoined the rest of the party. Camp was made in a grove of poplars on the trail, a short distance from the mouth of Coppercrown Creek. Next day, with somewhat lightened packs, we turned off the Toby Valley and followed a mining trail that led steadily up the side of Coppercrown Creek. This trail, built single-handed by an old prospector to his silver lead claim, terminated about four miles up the creek, at an elevation of 7,500 feet. The evening shadows were lengthening as we toiled up the last switchback to the prospector’s camp, which was built on a projecting ledge on the mountainside.

Our peak could be seen a few miles ahead, blocking the end of the valley. A reconnaissance that evening disclosed the fact that it would be out of the question to continue along the ridge above camp to the end of the valley, as we had hoped. Accordingly, we planned to descend to the valley bottom and force our way along the edge of the creek.

Next morning, (August 22nd.) we descended the steep stony slopes of the valley to the creek 1,800 feet below and then made our way along the alder fringed stream. Progress was not rapid at first, as frequent excursions had to be made into the bush to avoid the tangle at the edge of the creek. As we progressed, the banks narrowed until the creek was confined in a low narrow gorge, at the head of which its waters shot outward into space, forming an unusual and beautiful little waterfall.

Above this point, the valley widened somewhat and the afternoon found us in a broad amphitheatre with high cliffs on nearly all sides, down which waterfalls cascaded. The frontal moraine of a glacier formed the end of the valley and, while Reilly climbed up this and on the ice, the writer hacked out with his ice-axe a level platform on the hillside for our tent. Reilly reported, on his return, that we would evidently have to cross a high col to reach our peak.

The following morning, in semi-darkness, members of the party crawled out of the tent at 3.30 A. M. It was a cold cheerless morning, and a bitter wind swept down from the glacier above. As dawn broke, clouds rolled up the valley and, while the quartette shivered around an entirely inadequate breakfast fire, one member of the party contributed the remarks usual on such occasions; that is to say, a few pungent comments on the mental condition of people who did this sort of thing for pleasure.

We were off by 5.30 A. M. and a steady climb of an hour up the moraine and along the edge of the dry glacier was made before the rope was donned. Here the writer asked Reilly to take the lead on his first Canadian climb and we worked our way across a few crevasses over to the west side of the glacier. From here a short climb led us to the summit of the col (ca. 9,200 feet) which we reached at 7.30 a. m. The peak lay to our left, the route to the summit being obvious. The weather grew colder and black clouds were forming in the south. Descending about 100 feet below the col, we reached a snowstrip which we followed to the rocks of the main peak. The snow was hard and it was tiresome work kicking steps up the slope until the rocks were reached. These were mainly massive quartzite, broken up into tabular form, and we found no particular difficulty in making our way to the summit, which was reached a few minutes before nine o’clock. As we reached the summit, snow began to fall and the storm clouds drew nearer, the valleys of Toby and Copper-crown Creek being filled with clouds down to 7,000 feet. We caught distant glimpses of the peaks at the head of the Toby and were much impressed with the extent of the glaciers near the source of Jumbo Creek.

Building a cairn and leaving a record in an empty soup tin, we stayed but a few minutes on the summit. Descending rapidly over the rocks, we attempted a short cut, but found the snow too hard and steep to glissade and we were forced up on to a rib of the peak. A further attempt at glissading lower down was abandoned on account of the icy nature of the snow. We reached the south side of the col at 9.50 and had a brief halt for food in weather much too cold for comfort. Climbing over the col, we made our way rapidly down the glacier, unroping at 10.30. Galloping down scree and moraine, our bivouac was reached at 11.10 Here the snow of the heights turned to rain and, after a meal, camp was broken at 1.30 P. M. In a pouring rainstorm we made good speed down the creek. Thoroughly soaked, we abandoned the wet brush at the edge of the creek and sloshed our way down the middle, arriving at the foot of the slope below the prospector’s camp at 3 P. M. After a long toilsome ascent through mist, rain and snow, we regained the trail an hour later. Lightly laden as we were, we tore down the trail at full speed, reaching McLeod’s cabin on the Toby at 5.30, very wet and cold. In a short time we had a roaring fire going in the cabin stove and the remainder of the evening was spent in feasting and drying our sodden garments.

Next morning, we permitted ourselves the luxury of a day about camp, basking in the sparkling sunshine that so often follows a Selkirk shower. The following day, thanks to the fact that we ran across a car on the trail, found us in Wilmer, sharing, as usual, the hospitality of Mrs. J. S. Barbour.

1 Can Alp. J. 1911, Vol. III, p. 23.

2 Can. Alp. J. 1912, Vol. IV, p. 102.

3 Geo. Review, Vol. II, No. 1, July, 1916.