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The Columbia Mountains of Canada—Central, West and South

The Columbia Mountains of Canada—West and South. Earle R. Whipple, Roger W. Laurilla, William L. Putnam. American Alpine Club Press, 1992. 230 pages, maps and photographs. $25.00.

The long overdue seventh edition of the climber’s guide to the Interior Ranges of British Columbia has finally arrived. The wait has been worth it. We finally have a climber’s guide, as distinct from a compilation of routes that have been climbed.

The Interior Ranges of British Columbia have now been designated the Columbia Mountains, so the title of the guide has been changed to reflect this. While the previous edition ran to two volumes, the latest edition runs to three, reflecting more descriptive climbing activity in the region during the last 15 years or so, and expanded treatment. The “Central” edition covers most of the Selkirk Mountains, from the Big Bend of the Columbia River south to the Lardeau River. The “West and South” edition covers to Cariboo, Monashee, and southern Selkirk Mountains, while the “East” edition covers the Purcells.

The editors must be given credit for an exhaustive search for information (over 200 people are given credit for assisting with research for the guide). The result is the inclusion of many ascents missing from the previous edition, together with numerous more recent climbs. Virtually all routes are now given ratings—a basic feature of any climbing guide, since most users are not the elite capable of climbing any route, but rather are lesser mortals who like to choose appropriately difficult climbs. The rating system used is interesting in that it includes a grade (overall scope and magnitude of the climb), a class (technical difficulty of the hardest move on a rock pitch), an artificial aid indicator (ease of any aid climbing), and a subjective estimate of the overall quality of a route. The presence of snow, glaciers, and/or ice on a route is also indicated. Thus, one can prepare oneself well for a climb. However, one can still experience the thrill of adventure as the editors have tried, usually—but not always—with success, to adhere to Thorington’s dictum that route descriptions should not be as detailed as “handhold by handhold.”

The assessment of route quality will be controversial, as this is such a subjective thing. Not all of the routes have been rated for quality. That so many have been so rated, however, is due to the editors’ admirable and enviable, but ultimately impossible, goal of climbing all the routes. The usefulness of such ratings is itself subjective. While few may disagree with the northwest ridge of Sir Donald in the Rogers Pass area being given the highest quality rating, the accuracy of many other ratings can be challenged.

The guide uses only metric units, which are consistent with those of the new Canadian maps. The editors must again be commended for helping climbers familiarize themselves with the units of the future, and for facilitating use by international climbers.

Blemishes are few. Occasional typos can be found and one paragraph seems inappropriate. This is the only double-page photograph in the “West and South” volume—a grainy one of Mount Sir John Thompson. This is a magnificent mountain which, seen from the west, bears a striking resemblance to New Zealand’s premier ice peak, Mount Tasman. The photo does not really do justice to this and is not very informative. The many other photos, however, are generally of high quality, informative and of the panorama variety.

Perhaps the greatest deficiency of the guide is its treatment of access and human intrusion into the mountains. Of all mountain ranges in British Columbia, the Columbia Mountains have become the most commercialized and privatized. From the U.S. border to the northernmost Cariboos, most of the mountain areas covered by the guide have been licensed to various commercial heli-skiing companies. The heli-skiing often becomes heli-hiking and heli- everything in summer. Large commercial lodges, small commercial lodges, and small private ones have proliferated. From the town of Golden, a helicopter can access approximately 20 private/commercial lodges in the Columbia Mountains. It is impossible to climb in the Premier Range during the summer without hearing helicopters most days. The Monashees, “the most inaccessible” of all the Columbia Mountains, boast a number of private lodges. None of this is described or mentioned in the guide. Climbers seeking a wilderness climbing experience could suffer a rude awakening.

Human intrusion is not only in the form of lodges but also by logging. Access is changing rapidly in the Columbia Mountains, more rapidly than the guide indicates. For example, the guide describes a logging road into the Hellroar Group in the Monashees. This road now has 2 major forks and the valley “8km from the end of the logging road” is now considerably closer. Also, the Scrip Range is described as having the most difficult access of all the Monashees. New logging roads up the valleys of the Adams River and its tributaries have rendered this statement questionable. Users of the guide should contact the appropriate Forest District office of the British Columbia Ministry of Forests. It would have been helpful if the guide had indicated at least the Forest District, if not the address of its office, in which each range or groups of mountains lies.

These comments notwithstanding, the guide is truly a vast improvement over earlier editions and will remain a valuable companion to the Columbia Ranges for many years to come.

Michael Feller