American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Mountaineer Passes of the Yoho-Waputik Group

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1931

Mountaineer Passes of the Yoho-Waputik Group

The first explorer of the Yoho valley was Jean Habel who, in 1897, required seventeen days to reach its head. In the same year, it is of interest to recall, the Wapta icefield was reached by the large party that made the first ascent of Mt. Gordon, their route from Bow Lake, at that time, being shorter and easier.

The irregular but connected névés of the Yoho-Waputik group, on and near the main watershed, cover an area approximating forty- five square miles. Balfour pass is the division point between the southern Waputik field and the northern Wapta field.

In the Rockies, because so much climbing has been done from the Alberta side, mountaineer-passes or cols have been utilized more as routes to adjacent peaks than as depressions to be crossed in the true alpine sense of a traverse. Permanent camps in the Yoho valley, affording shelter on the western side of the watershed, make this an exception to the general rule. The Lake Louise mountains are similarly favored by the O’Hara camp, the Abbot and Wenkchemna-Opabin routes crossing the main watershed.

But in the Yoho region, on account of flatter topography, there is a larger group of passes which it is the purpose of the present paper to enumerate and describe. Not all of them are useful at this time; a few have not even been crossed; all are glacial. They are as follows:

I. Niles Pass (8,200 ft.). Pacific watershed. Immediately west of Mt. Niles. Sherbrooke Lake to Daly glacier and Waputik névé. Useful from Sherbrooke Lake in ascents of Mts. Niles, Daly and Balfour. Descent may be made from Daly glacier to Takakkaw camp by rocky slopes about a quarter of a mile south of the great waterfall to the stringers (1930) of a bridge across Yoho River.

This is an old route, used in 1898 by R. Campbell, R. F. Curtis and C. E. Fay in their attempts on Mt. Balfour. The Niles-Daly col (3,700 ft.) was also reached in this year.

App. viii, 328; Outram, 283.

II. Emerald Pass (9,000 ft.). Pacific watershed. Between Mts. Marpole and President. Emerald Lake to Kiwetinok Creek. Either peak may be ascended.

First crossed in 1901 by E. Whymper and C. Klucker, from Little Yoho en route to Field.

Outram, 204.

III. President Pass (9,300 ft.). Pacific watershed. Between Mts. President and Vice-President. Emerald Lake to Little Yoho. Either peak may be ascended from the saddle.

Reached in 1901 by J. Outram, C. Kaufmann and J. Pollinger. Outram, 207.

IV. Kiwetinok Pass (8,450 ft.). Pacific watershed. Between Kiwetinok peak and Mt. Kerr. Little Yoho to Kiwetinok Creek.

First crossed in 1901 by E. Whymper, T. Wilson and C. Klucker, from Little Yoho to Field in seventeen hours.

App. x, 8.5; Outram, 201.

V. Balfour- Pass (8,250 ft.) Atlantic-Pacific watershed. Between Mts. Olive and Balfour. Yoho valley to Hector Lake. A pass from which Mts. Gordon and Olive may be ascended; useful in connection with Vulture col (which see) as a route to Bow Lake.

In 1901 this pass was crossed by J. Outram, C. Kaufmann and J. Pollinger, from Yoho glacier to Hector Lake and Lake Louise in twelve hours.

App. x, 87 ; Outram, 230.

VI. Vulture Col (9,600 ft.). Pacific watershed. Between Mts. Gordon and Olive, either peak being readily accessible. Wapta névé to Balfour pass. Links with the western slope of Balfour pass as a route from Bow Lake to Yoho valley. The summit of the col, seen from the north, presents a curious rock formation resembling a vulture on its nest.

The first crossing was apparently that of 1910 by B. S. Darling, T. G. Longstaff, A. O. Wheeler, E. O. Wheeler and C. Kain, from Bow Lake to Yoho valley. The summit of the pass was reached from the north in 1898 by H. P. Nichols, C. L. Noyes and C. S. Thompson, from Peyto Lake, the party returning and descending to Bow Lake.

C.A.J., iii, 164.

VII. St. Nicholas-Olive Col (9,400 ft.). Atlantic-Pacific watershed. Bow glacier to Wapta névé.

The crest was reached from the east in 1930 by J. M. Thor- ington and P. Kaufmann, in traversing from St. Nicholas Peak to the north summit of Mt. Olive. Its western side was examined in 1923 by W. S. Ladd, J. M. Thorington and C. Kain in ascending Alt. Gordon, in the course of a traverse from Bow Lake to Yoho River via Vulture col.

It presents no difficulty on either side and, with Vulture col and the western slope of Balfour pass, appears to offer the shortest route from Bow Lake to Yoho River.

VIII. Rhondda-Olive Col (8,900 it.). Atlantic-Pacific watershed. How Lake to Yoho valley. May be used as a high-level link with Vulture col and Balfour pass to Yoho River; or with the Collie-Yoho pass to Twin Falls cabin.

By this route from Bow Lake in 1897 the Wapta névé was first reached, on the first ascent of Mt. Gordon, by G. P. Baker, J. N. Collie, H. B. Dixon, C. E. Fay, A. Michael, C. L. Noyes, H. C. Parker, C. S. Thompson and P. Sarbach.

Collie, 28 ; Outram, 282.

IX. Thompson-Rhondda Col (8,800 ft.). Atlantic watershed. Peyto glacier to Bow glacier.

Though seldom visited this pass is a part of an old route, crossed in 1898 by the guideless party of H. P. Nichols, C. L. Noyes and C. S. Thompson, when they ascended Peyto glacier and proceeded as far as Vulture col in search of Mt. Balfour. Not finding a route to Hector Lake they returned and descended to Bow Lake. Outram, 295.

X. Baker-Rhondda Col (9,200 ft.). Atlantic-Pacific watershed. The usefulness of this pass is questionable, although it would afford a route from Peyto glacier to Blaeberry River. The Wapta névé rises on its eastern slope, while on the west there are beds of shale leading down to the snowfield at the northeast base of Mr. Ayesha.

Its crest was reached in 1028 from Peyto glacier by A. Geof- frion, J. W. A. Hickson and E. Fcuz, Jr., in making the first ascent of Mt. Rhondda.

C. A. J., xiv, 8.

XI. Ayesha-Rhondda Col (8,600 ft.). Pacific watershed. Wapta névé to Blaeberry River. With the Baker-Rhondda and the Collie-Habel cols this obvious pass slopes on the west to an unnamed branch of Blaeberry River, and might conceivably (in the future) become part of a mountaineering route from the Yoho valley to the Freshfield group. There is no difficulty in descending Ayesha glacier, but the Blaeberry forests are not attractive in their absence of trails.

The south side of this pass was reached in 1930 by O. E. Cromwell, J. M. Thorington and P. Kaufmann, on the first ascent of Mt. Ayesha.

XII. Collie-Habel Col (9,000 ft.). Pacific watershed. Wapta névé to Blaeberry River. The western glacier descends steeply and this col has no utility at the present time. There is no record of any crossing. It might possibly serve as a route from Amiskwi (Baker) pass, by way of the Ensign station, to Twin Falls cabin.

XIII. Collie-Yoho Col (9,000 ft.). Pacific watershed. This is the lowest depression of the high snow plateau between the heads of Yoho and Habel glaciers. It links with the Rhondda-Olive col across the main watershed as the best route from Bow Lake to Twin Falls cabin.

It was crossed in 1926 by M. M. Strumia, J. M. Thorington and E. Feuz, Jr., in ascending Mt. Collie, from Bow Lake to Twin Falls and Takakkaw camp; and again in 1930 by O. E. Cromwell, J. M. Thorington and P. Kaufmann on the ascent of Mt. Ayesha, from Bow Lake to Takakkaw. Under good conditions this route, without the ascent of a peak, requires about twelve hours.

A.J., 234, 70.

Thus far we have considered only passes south of Alt. Baker. The Waputik mountains extend northward into the angle between Mistaya and Howse Rivers, terminal branches of the North Saskatchewan, the northern outpost of the group being Alt. Sarbach. In this section the range is narrower, and the following depressions in the watershed may be mentioned :

XIV. Baker-Trapper Col (9,300 ft.). Atlantic-Pacific watershed, between Alt. Baker and Trapper peak. An untried route connecting Peyto and Baker glaciers. Possibly a better route to Blaeberry River than the Baker-Rhondda depression.

XV. Breaker-Parapet Col (8,100 ft.). Atlantic-Pacific watershed. Between Mt. Breaker and an unnamed peak of the watershed northwest of Mt. Barbette. Capricorn glacier to Parapet creek. Probably reached from the western side in 1917 when the Interpro- vincial Survey ascended Mt. Breaker. An untried route, apparently a feasible connection between Mistaya Lake and Blaeberry River. The pass is the lowest crossing of the main watershed within the group under discussion.

XVI. Breaker-Ebon Col (8,800 ft.). Atlantic-Pacific watershed. Between Mt. Breaker and Ebon Peak. Capricorn glacier to Ebon Creek. An untried route offering a possible crossing from Mistaya Lake to Blaeberry River.

North of Howse Peak the peaks within the angle between Mistaya and Howse River have not been completely mapped. It would be of advantage if a short cut could be found from the Wildfowl Lakes to Howse pass, and a route may be discovered somewhere between Mts. Chephren and Kaufmann.

Emphasis should be laid on the fact that it is unwise to attempt long traverses across the Wapta or other high névés except in settled conditions. In bad weather the way can be easily lost; in soft snow one may have a repetition of the experience of the party of H. P. Nichols, C. L. Noyes, C. S. Thompson and G. M. Weed in their attempt on Mt. Collie from Bow Lake in 1898. (Outram, 224.)

In any case, before attempting a crossing, it will increase one’s topographical knowledge to ascend one of the high peaks of the upper Yoho, such as Mt. des Poilus (Habel). The foregoing notes indicate the difficulty of discovering the exact locations of the various passes across this complex snowficld.

No mention is made of direct descent of Yoho glacier. This, of course, is possible from any route that brings one to the portals between Yoho Peak and Mt. Gordon, but the retreat of the Yoho tongue and the existence of the Twin Falls cabin are two reasons for giving preference to Habel glacier as the route of choice. In view of the retreat of the Yoho tongue it is well to arrange for horses as an aid in crossing Yoho River if it is desired to use Balfour pass.

The presence of cabins at Bow Lake, and of good trail down Bow River to Lake Louise, place these high-level routes within the reach of mountaineers without the necessity of elaborate outfit. During the past three years fire-warden’s cabins have been built in the following locations: Nine Mile (from Lake Louise), Mosquito Creek (between Hector and Bow Lakes), Bow pass, upper Wildfowl Lake, Saskatchewan forks. The cabins are equipped with telephone. From Bow pass the trail northward is on the east side of Mistaya River. In 1928 a wooden bridge was built across the canyon, at the base of Mt. Murchison and the ford between the Wildfowl Lakes to the base of Mt. Chephren has fallen into disuse.

There is no trail on the shores of Mistaya Lake, and the party which made the first ascent of Mt. Patterson used a raft. There are still a number of unclimbed peaks in this section, which, together with the possibility of working out new routes across the range, make the northern Waputiks an attractive field for mountaineers.

J. Monroe Thorington.

The Freshfield and Lyell Glaciers, Canadian Rocky Mountains, 1930

Freshfield Glacier

The Freshfield glacier, source of Howse River, a terminal branch of the North Saskatchewan, was first measured in 1922 by Howard Palmer, assisted by the writer; and again by the writer in 1926 and 1930.1

The measurements in 1930 were all made on July 4, and no additional time could be given to the matter during the course of a mountaineering expedition.

Measurement of Surface Velocity

The line A-B between two morainal stations was re-established and direct measurements made with steel tape upstream to the Great Boulder. Its distance above the line was 620 ft., as compared with 1,046 ft. in 1926 and 1,551 ft. in 1922. Fig. 1.

The distance between the Great Boulder and the Glacial Erratic marked “1922” was 429 ft., as compared with 440 ft. in 1926.

In the interval from 1926 to 1930 the Great Boulder advanced 426 ft., an average daily motion of 3.5 inches, as compared with 4.1 inches for the four years preceding. Fig. 2.

The numbered stones set out on the line A-B in 1922, and rediscovered in 1926, were not seen during the course of several traverses of the glacier.

Retreat of the Tongue

The marked stone H, in contact with the ice in 1922, is now 583 ft. from the extremity of the tongue. The lateral abutment of the terminal ice against bed-rock, marked in 1926, is now 253 ft. from the ice-front. Retreat during the period 1926-30 of 253 ft. is to be compared with 330 ft. for the period 1922-26.

A bed of avalanche snow across the northwesterly angle of the tongue prevented marking the 1930 morainal contact, but a conspicuous boulder on the gravel flat was inscribed with the numerals ’30.


The Freshfield glacier continues in its cycle of retreat, but the retreat of the tongue as well as the daily motion of the Great Boulder are less for the period 1926-30 than for the period 1922-26. This is to be explained by the vertical shrinkage of the tongue, with consequent decrease in the mass and inertia of the glacier.

1 Smithsonian Misc. Coll., vol. 76, n. 11; vol. 78, n. 6; Journ. Geol., xxxii, 1924, p. 434. Messrs. O. E. Cromwell and A. F. Megrew assisted the writer with the Freshfield measurements in 1930.

This AAJ article has been reformatted into HTML. Please contact us if you spot an error.