Peak of the Bella Coola. The Coast Range of British Columbia holds many untouched groups of peaks. Among these are the snowy summits just south of the Bella Coola Valley. These mountains have been visited in previous years by a very few and most of the peaks are today unclimbed.
It was in the Bella Coola mountains that a small group, Robert Skinner, Dick Long, and I, were privileged to spend three weeks during the summer of 1952. Although our climbs were not numerous, we had many experiences in penetrating an area about which we could find little information.
The four previous expeditions to the area had written somewhat vague descriptions about it and maps were of a very general kind. Of most help were the articles written by the late Don Munday, following his explorations in the late thirties. Peter K. Schoening’s description of his climb of Mount Saugstad was of help. So, after looking at the literature and listening to verbal descriptions, plans included Bella Coola.
Obtaining leave from the Air Force survival school Robert Skinner and I, joined by my younger brother Dick, motored to Vancouver, B. C., from where the Union Steamship Ltd. provided transport up the British Columbia coast. At the head of North Bentick Arm, some sixty miles from the open sea, lies the town of Bella Coola and the mouth of the Bella Coola River and valley. It was here that three peculiar looking fellows disembarked with loads on their shoulders weighing over 100 pounds each. In the packs were equipment and food for three weeks in the mountains. The three weeks were not to prove the type of work that a mountaineer loves even though they were to be full of work and adventure.
After discussing the back country with some of the village elders, we were certain that the mountains we sought lay at the head of Noomst Creek. Perhaps the single individual most helpful was Clifford Kopus, proprietor of the local dry goods store. Our stay in Bella Coola was brief and very shortly we were riding up the valley in the autos of local friends we had made.
Heavy packs and little knowledge of the area were the chief factors in our decision to climb Mt. Noosatsum before making the trek up Noomst Creek. This peak is the local religious mountain for the Indian population and overlooks the Bella Coola Valley about 20 miles up the river. The northern slope of the mountain rises from an elevation of about 500 feet to the summit at 9600 feet. Topped by a rock spire, the mountain is very beautiful.
Taking only five days food with us, we cached our remaining supplies and packed up Cahootin Creek, which flows between Mount Defiance (named by Henry Hall, Jr. and Don Munday*) and Mount Noosatsum. By the end of the second day a camp was established at timberline on the east side of Noosatsum. A day of storm kept us in camp, but next day we were off. Our route led across a small glacier to the north ridge of the mountain just below the final rock tower. Traversing the northeast face we gained the eastern ridge after a rather cold hour or two of moderate climbing, using the rope constantly. The summit lay up the ridge, scarcely 300 vertical feet away, and, after negotiating a rather enjoyable arete, we were eating our lunch on a perch just below the summit-out of a cold, biting wind.
We were successful not only in reaching the top of the mountain but in gaining a view of the peaks to the south among which we planned to climb. Directly across from us to the east was Mt. Defiance which was to be our next project. We would try it from the far side after returning to the Bella Coola valley and ascending Noomst Creek. This was to be several more days in the future than we planned.
From the mouth of Cahootin Creek to the mouth of Noomst Creek was six miles. To cover this distance took two days of very hard going. The brush through which we pushed and our 90-pound loads were a nightmare. This was to be somewhat easier than Noomst, however. Three days after starting up Noomst Creek we found ourselves nearly six miles upstream with the going becoming steadily worse. Since upstream progress was halted, we started up the canyon wall to make a camp near timberline on the eastern slopes of Mt. Defiance. We were now in position for our second ascent.
Clear weather spurred us on as we neared the glacier that twists down the east side of the mountain and we were faced with negotiating the 200 feet of steep glacial snout. Step cutting proved the answer, followed by more ice antics on an icefall midway up the glacier. By this time day was drawing to a close and we had just attained the rocks several hundred feet below the summit. Rather than turn back, we decided to risk a bivouac and make the summit. At four-thirty in the afternoon we had reached the top of Mount Defiance. Now we faced the problem of reaching camp before dark. To do this would mean finding a route that bypassed the glacier. With luck on our side, we found the route and were at camp by nightfall.
Time had slowly elapsed until we had less than a week remaining, so we realized that we were not to reach the peaks at the head of Noomst Creek. There was one outstanding crag which had caught our eye on the ridge south of Mt. Stupendous and on the eastern side of the headwaters of Noomst Creek. Our last project was to attempt this fine peak which we chose to call “The Horn.” Reaching timberline across the canyon from Mt. Defiance, we traveled south until stopped by storms. On the next clear day our party made a last effort to reach and climb this Horn. By noon we reached the base of the peak and by mid afternoon were at the top of the glacier which flanks the peak on the north. The ice- covered rocks that towered above us nearly a 1000 feet were not to be attempted at that time of day. We returned to our camp to leave the following day in a storm for the Bella Coola valley.
The weather was finally catching up with us. Our trip began in California August 22nd and ended in California September 23rd. We were therefore not surprised to encounter a few days of poor weather; rather we were greatly surprised to have had as many sunny days as there were.
Travel through the dense brush soaked by rain was quite a gruelling walk, but at last we reached the Bella Coola River and, after half a day of exciting episodes, we forded the river to the road on the northern side of the valley. Soon we had covered the 30 miles of road to the settlement and were awaiting our steamer.
William E. Long
*See Munday’s account of this region, C.A.J., 1937, pp. 41-49.