American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

A Month in the Coast Range

  • Feature Article
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1940

A Month in the Coast Range

Sterling B. Hendricks

ACCOUNTS of exploration and climbing in the Coast Range of British Columbia1 have always stirred me to what I thought was the futile desire to climb there, time and distance being what they are. Opportunity, in the rather solid shape of Henry Hall, however, really knocked this year, and at 1.30 a.m. on June 21st, I unlimbered my stiff joints and stepped down beside Hall, Rex Gibson and Hans Fuhrer. We were at Graham’s ranch on Tatla Lake, close up under the mountains and near the end of automobile travel. Later in the morning we drove the 15 miles to Bluff Lake, where Pete McCormick, who had made a preliminary trip, was waiting with George Van and Baptiste Destor, all of Klinaklini. Fourteen horses were standing around, which for Gibson and myself spelled luxury after years of back packing.

Our objective was the group of high mountains around Mt. Waddington and the approach was to be made along the Homathko River and Scimitar Creek by the way that Hall had found. After several years of preliminary exploration, he had reached the heart of the range in 1933, and with Hans, the Mundays and A. E. Roovers had climbed Mt. Combatant ( ca. 12,400 ft.), the third highest peak of the region.2 Pete McCormick in the spring of 1934 had packed Sir Norman Watson’s outfit along the same route preliminary to the first crossing of the range on skis to Knight Inlet by Watson, Beauman and Camille Couttet.3 In these trips, Pete and the parties had done much to make and improve the “trail” which most packers would have refused to travel.

After five days of battling with rock slides and water in all of its forms, we reached the camp at the entrance to the Scimitar Creek canyon. Clouds were low and the preceding long period of wet weather had made it necessary on the way in to raft supplies across Twist Lake, as well as the lower crossing of the Homathko. The trail up Scimitar Creek that the 1933 party had spent a week in preparing was still in good shape, according to the standards that Pete was willing to put up with, and only one day was required to establish base camp (3200 ft.) near the tongue of the Scimitar Glacier. In the late evening a mountain goat, slightly aided by Baptiste and Hans, delivered himself to the cooking pot.

On the morning of the 27th, Baptiste and George started the return journey for a second load of supplies. While Hall and Hans busied themselves in the neighborhood of camp, Gibson and I set off up Scimitar Glacier to take a look at what the Mundays had named Radiant Icefall, which descends from the basin below Tiedemann, Asperity and Serra, the high peaks of the region. We passed the icefall on the true right side, after a bit of step-cutting, and climbed to 7400 ft. above the gathering basin. Then the impossible happened—the clouds gradually lifted and Mt. Tiedemann (ca. 12,900 ft.) came out in its full glory. Careful study, however, made it all too apparent that the basin, which had been considered as a possible way of approach, would not be a good place for a climbing camp. All the great peaks, except Tiedemann, were guarded by impossible looking hanging glaciers and vertical granite slabs. The descent, with many a backward look at the unreal landscape of sharp peaks and banked clouds, required three hours.

For some strange reason that I fail to remember, we rested the next day, which was the first one of perfect weather. With Hall and Hans, we set out at 4.30 a.m., June 29th, with the intention of climbing Cataract col, which leads into the head of Tellot Glacier, and the beautiful unnamed granite peak on its N. side (ca. 10,500 ft.). From the col (9000 ft.) at 11 a.m. there was a fleeting glimpse of the great icefalls on Mt. Munday across the Tellot and Tiedemann Glaciers. A storm descended about our ears, however, and it was necessary to turn back, even though the goal was near at hand. There was a heavy rain during the night, and the next day was spent around camp eating goat meat and improving the trail up the snout of Scimitar Glacier.

July 1st was partly clear and we hoped that settled weather had arrived at last. The three sturdiest horses including Nigger and Jimmy, who had made the trip six years before, were loaded and taken up Scimitar Glacier. They were really veterans of ice travel, and brought the loads without incident to the base of a huge flat boulder about 7 miles up the glacier and near the foot of Chaos Icefall, where we had decided to place our climbing camp (5500 ft.). Hans and Gibson helped Pete back to the base camp while Hall and I put up tents on the snow.

Prayers for fair weather went unheeded and the storm really settled down. Here we were in position to climb Mt. Tiedemann, the second highest summit of the range (12,900 ft.) and it could not even be seen. Mt. Geddes (11,200 ft.) another of the peaks that we wished to attempt, came out once or twice during the next five days, but only for fleeting glimpses. Fortunately, the slopes above camp still held enough brush to furnish us with wood for cooking and boughs for the tents. One day we walked up to the site below Fury Gap that Hall and the Mundays had occupied in 1933, but most of the time was spent in sleeping.

The clouds began to lift a bit on July 7th, so while Hall and Fuhrer descended to the main camp for more provisions, Gibson and I set out at the comfortable hour of 9.15 to see if we could get a view of Mt. Waddington. By 12.30 we had climbed to about 8000 ft. and were just below the S. W. glacier on Mt. Hickson (10,800 ft.), which somehow had become our objective. Gibson led the way through crevasses and up steep snow with a breakable crust as the clouds obligingly retreated. The N. E. summit was reached at 4.30 p.m., and then began a battle to decide whether or not the S. E. tower, which could have as easily been the objective, was higher. Gibson said “No,” the distance being too great for us to cover, but measurement proved him wrong by ten feet. The method was to establish a perpendicular by the equivalent of a plumb-bob improvised for the occasion, and then while one aimed along an ice-axe shaft trained on the neighboring peak, the other estimated the angle between the shaft and the bob. Departure from a right angle can be estimated with high accuracy.

This decided, we became aware of the great beauty of our surroundings. The basin of Scimitar Glacier was hidden by a mist hanging on the summit, in which the spectre of the Brocken stood out. Mt. Geddes to the N. was enveloped in a heavy storm and clouds were banked over Fury Gap. The mountains of clouds were no match for the mass of Mt. Waddington (13,260 ft.) that was just beginning to come out. By 5 p.m. both summits were clear, and I, for one who has seen the rock summit edge on, cannot hope for a more startling view. The return to camp down 5000 ft. of snow and ice required about two and a half hours.

The next day was clearing, but we overslept and did not consider it worth while to start for Mt. Tiedemann. July 9th, however, brought perfect weather and all four of us were off for the 7400-ft. climb at 3 a.m. The moon and Jupiter were almost in occulation above Mt. Damocles, an outlier of Mt. Tiedemann, and Tiedemann itself stood out as a snow pyramid above the Chaos Icefall that went up at an average angle of 35°. We climbed the scrubby shoulder at the foot of the icefall and made for the prominent rock buttress to the right of the glacier coming off Damocles. Here at 7100 ft. (4.40 a.m.) we put on crampons and crossed a subsidiary icefall to the rocks on the true right side of the Chaos Icefall. Following up where the ice touched the rock, the base of a prominent ice cliff was reached, which previous inspection had indicated would be the difficult part of the climb. A huge schrund forced us away from the rock and toward the center of the icefall, where a crack led back among some huge blocks of névé. At one point we were fully 75 ft. below the surface of the glacier, and it was only the slimmest of connections that led to the easier slope of the upper icefall. The summit ridge was reached at 1.30 p.m. up steep slopes of powder snow. It proved to be a sharp crest rising at a angle of more than 30°.

As we approached the top along the ridge, all eyes turned toward the summits of Mt. Waddington, where the face of the unbelievable knife-edge top stood out. Most surprising of all was the intense blue black color of the sky, so characteristic of much higher altitudes. The summit was reached at 3 p.m., just twelve hours from camp, and in a few minutes, with the wind blowing a gale and the temperature down to 20°, one tried to take in all the Coast Range; a sea of ice broken only by the deep valley of the Homathko. Tide water could just be seen near the head of Bute Inlet, and mountains on Vancouver Island were barely visible.

The descent was speeded up as much as possible, and there was some wild slithering in gathering darkness near the base of the icefall. On the way up everyone had daintily avoided little crevasses and spoken softly of the hanging seracs. This was all forgotten as we jumped down and slid over obstacles, pulling each other out of holes. Camp was reached at 10.05 p.m.

July 10th was another cloudless day, but there was no alternative to resting—no one could pull himself out at 2 a.m. for another climb. However, Gibson and I started at 3.00 the next morning for Mt. Geddes, which Hall and Fuhrer had attempted with the Mundays in 1933. Their route followed up the true right side of the Dissension Icefall that descends to the Scimitar Glacier. Near the top we varied it, turning up a side gulley in order to avoid the broken ice at the crest which had caused them so much trouble. This landed us, quite easily, in the upper névé basin of the Parallel Glacier, and breakfast at 6.00 was disturbed only by storm clouds gathering along the summit ridge of Mt. Geddes. By the time the col (8500 ft.) at the head of the glacier and immediately below the true slopes of the mountain was reached, the storm had set in with full strength. We reluctantly turned back and set off down Parallel Glacier towards Pocket Valley, where it had been planned to move camp during the day. Half-way down the clouds suddenly cleared away and the sun came out; however, clouds soon were coming in from the W. and the storm settled down for the day.

A large icefall which completely fills its trough comes into Parallel Glacier on its left side and a fine rock peak can be seen rising on the W. side of the basin above. This we named Mt. Roovers, in honor of the late A. E. Roovers, who had accompanied Hall into this region in 1933, and had climbed to within a short distance of the summit of Mt. Cornelia, the next mountain to the E. Gibson said that Parallel Glacier should really have been called Flattery, because it had such a smooth tongue. After dodging around several large moulins which would have been a hazard in the dark, we reached the floor of Pocket Valley, which was thick with mosquitoes and wet slide alder. As there was fortunately no sign of camp, we climbed the moraine and started back up Scimitar Glacier, reaching the climbing camp at 2.35. Hall and Fuhrer had decided to leave and go directly to base camp as the storm settled down, but had left our belongings and a note about the general plans.

July 12th dawned with a threatening sky, but the outlook improved, and Gibson and I set out once again for Mt. Geddes at 5.15 a.m. The col was reached by the same route at 9.05, and for the first time the long ice-clad wall to the S. of Mt. Bell and immediately to the W. came into view. A cold wind was blowing and the sky was dull, so hopes were none too high. Leaving our crampons, we set off up the rock rib, leading out of the col, and continued along it until forced out on the S. slopes. These were crossed toward the W. over steep firm snow patches and little rock pitches. At 12.15 we stopped for lunch on the S. face, confident that the summit was only an hour away, and wondering where the 1933 party had found difficulties. Snow and ice above were very steep, and we finally took to a rock rib, where I found how difficult the rock climbing of this region can be. The granite is very smooth and free of cracks; at one place all of a 100-ft. rope was out.

The summit ridge was reached near the eastern end and its entire length had to be traversed. Three bad gendarmes were passed by using the exceedingly sheer northern face, which at first sight always seemed the least logical place. In rounding one, again with 100 ft. of rope out, I had the experience of my bare hand, from which the mitten had been removed for rock climbing, freezing to the head of the ice-axe. A last vertical corner of rotten snow was passed with difficulty, and the summit was reached at 5.05 p.m. The scene was as wild as one could imagine, with its dominant features—Mt. Waddington to the S., and Mt. Bell immediately to the W., while Remote Mtn. stood out to the N. W. Again, caution was sacrificed for speed, and by 8.35 we were back in the col. On the way down we roped off one gendarme and cut steps down a snow gulley leaving near the end of the summit ridge. The bottom of the Dissension Icefall, not more than 200 ft. above the Scimitar Glacier, was reached by 10.00 p.m. It was too dark, however, for us to complete the descent through a rock cleft that had been used on the way up, so we sat down to wait for morning. The night was warm, not below freezing, and the sky was perfectly clear. We watched three of the planets wheel across the sky, and saw Mars come up like a bonfire from behind the ridge of Mt. Waddington to the W.

Camp was reached at 5.30 a.m., and after a rest and nap the journey was made to base camp. On July 14th, in rain, camp was moved to the Homathko (2600 ft.). Rain continued for two more days, and thwarted plans for a long exploratory trip to the S. On the 17th, however, all four of us got away with camp equipment on our backs, and climbed to Bench Glacier above Five Fingered Creek. A suitable campsite (6500 ft.) was reached at 10.00 a.m., and soon after we set out for the col at the head of the valley. Again, the storm gathered and we contented ourselves with crossing the col and gaining a rock ridge (8800 ft.). Mt. Queen Bess (10,700 ft.) to the S. stood out through the changing clouds and two fine peaks well over 10,000 ft. were near at hand. The more prominent of these, which is possibly the highest mountain in the angle of the Homathko forks we named Mt. Pagoda, because of its long even summit ridge. We gave up all hope for the weather and returned to base camp at 9.00 p.m., after a total of over 6000 ft. of climbing and 20 miles in distance.

July 18th continued cloudy, so we prepared to leave. Two days took us to a camp above Middle Lake (2900 ft.). The second, July 20th, was clear, and gave wonderful views of the Waddington Group from the shores of Middle Lake. In this camp we had the unusual experience of seeing and hearing in broad daylight a meteorite fall 100 miles to the E. July 21st was still clear, so it was decided to make an attempt on Mt. Whitesaddle (10,050 ft.) immediately to the S. Camp was left at 2 p.m. and horses were used for a mile across the N. margin of Middle Lake to reach the opposite slopes, where packs were shouldered. A bivouac camp was established in a high rocky valley opposite main camp. We left the bivouac at 4.40 a.m. and set out for a prominent snow face on the N. side, which was ascended, although it was very steep and somewhat soft, to the summit, which was reached at 8.50 a.m. For once, time was not pressing, so we sat and gazed at the mountains to the S., W., and N. Mt. Monarch stood high above its neighbors to the N., and the Waddington Group, now 40 miles away, looked like mountains of Fairyland. The bearing on Mt. Pagoda, the S. E. summit of which is the highest, was 135°.

Leaving the summit at 10.45, we raced down the S. W. scree slopes; Mt. Whitesaddle is in the region of contact metamorphism to the E. of the granite massif of the Coast Range, and thus the scree. The bivouac site was reached at 1.00 p.m., and after a stop for lunch we returned to Middle Lake at 4.30, and had an invigorating swim.

Four hours on July 23rd took us to Bluff Lake, where Hodgson was waiting with his car to take us back to Williams Lake. This was the end of the mountaineering trip, which had lasted 32 days and which was a very happy one, although the weather had been rather bad despite Pete’s guarantees. On the way out along the road, we looked back in the hope of seeing the Waddington Group once again, and were rewarded with a distant view of Mt. Hickson from the slopes of Loon Hill. Mt. Waddington might possibly be visible from some nearby point.

It is to be regretted that we failed to add very much to the geographical knowledge of the region, since parts of it are still not clearly known. Hall and Fuhrer climbed the pass leading to the N. E. out of Pocket Valley that they had hoped would lead into some tributary of the Klinaklini Valley. It proved, however, to go into Granite Creek, which swings around in a big arc before entering the Homathko. A very fine group of mountains around 10,000 ft. in height form the N. wall of this valley. The most perplexing feature of the region, and one that we had hoped to straighten out, is the relationship of Mt. Tiedemann to the peaks at the head of Tiedemann and Tellot Glaciers. However, we did not find a suitable approach to these mountains, which might possibly be across Cataract Col, and by the head of Tellot Glacier. Our approach by the way of the slopes above Five Fingered Creek and the Bench Glacier does not take one near the peak that we called Pagoda, although it does place one close to another fine peak, probably 10,000 ft. in height. It might be of final interest to note that the trip from Bluff Lake to Scimitar Creek could probably be made by boat with only a few short portages which would place a party within two days of a climbing camp from which Mts. Asperity, Serra, Tellot, and others could be attempted. All of these peaks are granitic, and some of them are aiguilles that would do more than justice to the region around Chamonix.

1The names of mountains, glaciers and icefalls used in this article are taken from W. A. D. Munday’s map of the Waddington region (C.A.J., xxii, 53). General map showing approaches will be found in A.A.J., ii, 88 and C.A.J., xxi, 108. For a general article on the Coast Range, see A.J., 47,288.

2 A. A. J., ii, 156; C. A. J., xxii, 1.

3 Round Mystery Mountain, by Sir Norman Watson and E. J. King.

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