American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

North America, Canada, British Columbia and Alberta, Ascents in the Northern Purcell Range, 1952

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1953

British Columbia and Alberta

Ascents in the Northern Purcell Range, 1952. In late July three members of the Dartmouth Mountaineering Club, Bill Briggs, Bob Collins, and the writer, with John Briggs, arrived in Spilli- macheen, B. C., to begin a trip into the northern part of the Purcell Range. During the spring we had studied aerial photographs, J. M. Thorington’s books, and Prof. Rosenstock-Heussy’s personal accounts of the ascent of Taurus in 1946. Our main objective was to explore the unknown section of the divide between Bugaboo and Horsethief creeks.

Accordingly, on July 28th, Dick McClain took us in his tractor- wagon combination with a month’s supplies up the old road to the cabin on the forks of the Bugaboo. After a reconnaissance on the 29th in which French Mountain (7600 ft.) was climbed, we set out on the 30th for Phacelia Pass (watershed 7100 ft.) at the head of the south fork (east branch). On the pass that evening a cairn was found with a message left by J. M. Thorington and Conrad Kain in 1933. These two men had been frustrated by fog on their last climb together before Kain’s death, thus delaying the discovery of the Virgin until 1946. Carrying the loads over the pass in the morning, we turned eastward up a branch of Howser River toward the Taurus-Virgin Col. At noon on August 1st we were established at Camp III (ca. 7800 ft.), 200 yards south of the col.

In the afternoon, Bob, Bill, and I made the second ascent of Mount Taurus (ca. 9820 ft.) via a new route on the southeast and east ridges (3:15 hrs.). Two towers had to be crossed and a gendarme by-passed to reach the base of the summit tower. From here a novel “sidewalk,” three feet wide, led diagonally up across the vertical south face. From the far end of this, the summit and the cairn of the 1946 party were easily reached from the west.

The following day we were joined by John, who is not primarily a mountaineer, to make the first ascent of the Virgin (ca. 9500 ft.), which lies due southwest of Taurus. As on Taurus, the climbing up the southeast and east ridges was mostly on rotten Pre-Cambrian sedimentary rocks with many small towers to by-pass or climb over. The highlight of the climb was an 80-foot lead up the final quart- zite cliff band to the spacious rock pile which forms the summit.

August 3rd we moved camp from the Howser drainage across the divide and down to small timber beside a glacier at the head of Forster Creek. This put us in a position to explore a block of granite peaks which slopes upward toward the south to a high escarpment which falls 5000 feet into the Stockdale-Horsethief Valley. Several smooth glaciers two-to-three miles long cover this block and drain to Forster Creek. Crossing the glacier in the Forster Valley and climbing a rock wall to the snout of the westernmost of the large glaciers, we made the ascent of Harmon Peak (ca. 9800 ft.), which supports the south side of a high ice dome (9400-9500 ft.). After some trouble with deep snow Bill led two delicate 60-foot pitches of slightly rotten granite to the top of the summit tower.

Since Bob’s heel had been bothering him, no climbing was done the next day. During the afternoon John and I walked out on to the glacier next to Camp IV to investigate a strange funnel-shaped depression in the ice. This feature, which we called the “Whirlpool,” is about 300 feet across and 100 feet deep. Our “Descent into the Maelstrom” was made by the east slope, the other walls being overhanging near the bottom. Several cracks in the bottom allowed the water to escape. A satisfactory geologic explanation of this peculiar “Whirlpool” has yet to be found.

By the next day Bob’s heel was not sufficiently better, so Bill and I set out up the main western glacier, arriving easily on the high summit (ca. 10,050 ft.) at its head in 3:45 hours, At the top we were greeted by a large, beautifully built cairn containing a message from the Geologic Survey dated 14 August 1912. Ten feet southwest of the cairn a precipice drops off to the north fork of Stockdale Creek. Thus we succeeded in making direct contact with explorations coming from the south.

The view from “Survey Peak,” as we called it, must be one of the finest in the range, including as it does, the southern Selkirks in the west, the Bugaboo and Bobbie Burns peaks in the northwest, the Rockies in the east, and to the south, across the grand trough of the Horsethief Valley, the impressive masses of the Farnham and Horsethief Groups. To the southeast along the edge of the escarpment are Mount North Star (ca. 10,050 ft.) and beyond, Mount Sally Serena (ca. 10,000 ft.), while across the Stockdale Valley to the southwest stand the two peaks of Mount Stockdale (10,100 ft.). No trace of the mysterious Mount Aurora was evident.

Taking leave of the summit, we floundered down the northwest snow face and out onto a long northwest shoulder, where we made the ascent of the peculiar looking Black Fang (ca. 9850 ft.). An exposed 80-foot climb on lichen-covered granite brought us to the tiny summit where there was just room to have lunch.

The evening of August 6th, after an overnight stop at Camp III, we got back to the Bugaboo cabin in deteriorating weather. On August 9th we backpacked up to Boulder Camp, below Snow- patch Spire, to begin a second portion of our climbing. Passing through Bugaboo-Snowpatch Col next morning, we crossed 4 to 5 miles of Warren Glacier to the foot of the long west ridge of the southernmost spire in the eastern Bobbie Burns Group (probably Thorington’s No. 5). The ascent of this granite spire, which we called “Wallace Peak” (ca. 9600 ft.), took about two hours and could be classed as slightly easier than Pigeon Spire, although considerably longer. From the large tabular block at the summit we could look out to most of the Bobbie Burns Group with its many unclimbed peaks and unexplored glaciers. On the return to camp we passed by the lake in the glacier which has been mentioned by previous parties.

The next morning, August 11th, Bob and John set out for Spillimacheen on foot, promising to send Dick in for us on the 15th. Bill and I climbed Pigeon Spire by the traditional route and then made the ascent of Pigeonfeather West (ca. 9400 ft.), one of three pinnacles to the southwest. The key to the route up the face was an exposed finger traverse. On the spacious level top Bill constructed a conspicuous cairn.

Not getting started until noon on August 12th, we crossed the Crescent-Eastpost Col and hiked toward a small spire on the long southern ridge of Brenta, which is just outside the granite stock. Three hours later we had climbed its rotten north face to the virgin summit. Between this spire and Northpost Spire stands a marvelous green-blue lake, a half mile round, with the eastern shores opening onto the alplands. This Blue Lake Spire (ca. 9150 ft.) makes an impressive viewpoint for Bugaboo and the other spires.

We had the time and inclination to attempt Bugaboo Spire but decided against it because there were only two of us far from help. Our last days at the cabin, until Dick came in for us the 16th, were pleasant and relaxing. In the mornings Bill masterminded a series of pancake orgies while afternoons were spent pitching horseshoes and talking to visiting prospectors and foresters. A rich vein has been struck in the mine on Bugaboo Pass, so the road and cabin are scheduled for improvement.

Back at Spillimacheen Dick showed me a mining map of the Spillimacheen Valley which, when considered with the aerial photographs, leads to the following conclusions:

The western drainage of the Bugaboo Group is to East Creek and the Duncan side, rather than to Vowell Creek. This puts Howser Spire on the divide, as maintained by Conrad Kain.

The source of Vowell Creek is Warren Glacier, Warren Creek having no connection with the glacier. Vowell Creek flows northwestward, draining the northern side of the Bobbie Burns Group, and then bends north to join Bobbie Burns Creek which drains to the Columbia River.

Peter Robinson

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