American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

John Norman Collie, 1859-1942

  • In Memoriam
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1943



Professor Collie, an Honorary Member of the American Alpine Club, was born on September 10th, 1859, and died early in December, 1942, at Sligachan, Skye. He was buried at Struan beside his old guide, John Mackenzie.

Collie was Professor of Organic Chemistry at University College, London, 1902-28, being Emeritus after the latter year. His election to the Alpine Club (London) took place in 1893 and he served as President, 1920-22. He was a past Vice-President of the Royal Geographical Society. His mountaineering activities were best known to the public through his two books: Climbing on the Himalaya (1902) and Climbs and Exploration in the Canadian Rockies (with H. E. M. Stutfield, 1903). The latter work was the inspiration of much of the early climbing in Canada undertaken by members of the American Alpine Club, which had recently been founded.

Collie’s early mountaineering is epitomized in the three guideless seasons with Mummery, 1893-4-5. The first two of these, in the Alps, yielded such successes as the first ascent of the Dent du Requin, Aig. Verte by the Moine ridge and the third ascent of the Matterhorn by the Zmutt arete. In the third season, in the Himalayas, Mummery disappeared on Nanga Parbat.

In 1897, Dr. Collie brought Peter Sarbach from St. Niklaus as the first professional guide to visit Canada. Philip Abbot, before that, had had a season (1892) in the Alps with Sarbach, and it fell to Collie’s party to make the first ascents of Mts. Victoria and Lefroy in the year after Abbot’s death on the latter mountain. Collie immediately became attracted by the climbing and topographical problems of the main watershed to the north, and continued to investigate this area for a number of seasons following.

In this summer of 1897, Collie and G. P. Baker visited peaks of the Waputik (first ascents of Mt. Gordon and Sarbach) and Freshfield Groups, going out with Tom Wilson’s man, Bill Peyto, and being the first tourists to make the round from Lake Louise by way of Bow Pass to the Mistaya and back across Howse and Amiskwi (Baker) Passes to Field.

Collie went further north in 1898, accompanied by Hermann Woolley and Hugh Stutfield, their important discovery being the Columbia Icefield, which they saw; from the summit of Mt. Athabaska. The Snow Dome, Diadem Peak and Mt. Thompson were additional first ascents. “Snow-draped peaks we passed by,” he wrote 25 years later (A.J. 35, 165), “and turquoise lakes set amidst the old pinewoods and ringed by great precipices, and above, the snow … The lure of the wilds always called us onward.”

The expedition of 1900, in which an attempt was made to reach watershed peaks by way of Bush Valley, was less successful, as anyone who knows the wilderness of British Columbia will understand and Sydney Spencer can still testify; yet it was something which had to be tried once, and Collie’s topographical observations were not without their value.

In 1902, Collie was a little troubled by the thought of Whymper coming out and bagging too many peaks (“It is not done for sport at all,” he wrote, “or because Whymper has any real liking for the hills. From beginning to end it is dollars”), and by Outram, who also took his full share; but Collie’s more moderate party could nevertheless content themselves with such new ascents as Mts. Forbes and Freshfield, Howse Peak and Noyes Peak, Mts. Neptuak and Murchison.

In later years Collie made other arduous expeditions) north of Yellowhead Pass before completion of the railroad, when outfits started from Wolf Creek, being accompanied in 1910 and 1911 by A. L. Mumm and Moritz Inderbinen. In 1910 snow conditions drove them back from Mt. Resplendent, but they made first ascents of Mt. Phillips and Mumm Peak, and in 1911 gained Mt. Bess and a high peak of the Resthaven snowfield.

Professor Collie had, of course, wide knowledge of other ranges, from the Alps to the Himalayas, and the mountains of Skye held his affection first and last. But he was most content, one thinks, amid Canadian peaks, in days when one could still explore and map and where mountain beauty is like a rainbow come solid in one’s hand. One of the finest peaks, rising above the head of Yoho Valley, was among the first he saw there, and now bears his name.

J. M. T.

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