Location: British Columbia, Mount Robson Provincial Park
Elevation: 3,954 metres
Range: Canadian Rockies
Looking only at the numbers Mt. Robson’s splendour and grandiose appearance cannot quite be recognized. Among the major mountains of North America, Mt. Robson is about the 123rd highest. It is the 68th highest major peak in the Rocky Mountains and the only mountain in Canada to appear on the list of the 100 highest summits of the Rocky Mountains. It is the 18th highest major mountain of Canada, though if we consider all summits in Canada over 4,000 metres then Mt. Robson’s place slips to around 25th. Where the numbers begin to sound impressive is when we see that Mt. Robson is the highest mountain in the Canadian Rockies. But more than that, Mt. Robson has the highest prominence of all the summits of the Rocky Mountains – 2,829 metres. In addition, Mt. Robson’s vertical relief from the south side is over 3,000 metres! At this point I think we can drop our list of statistics and look at the mountain for what it is:
“Mount Robson is not only the highest mountain in the Canadian Rocky Mountains but one of the great mountains of the world, and deserving of inclusion in any select list on account of many striking characteristics and a form, beauty, and grandeur transcending any other of the greater peaks of the Rockies… The mountain is unique, and its massive precipices, seamed with different-coloured rock strata, enhance it in both beauty and stature.”
The quotation above comes from Frank Smythe, an English mountaineer who wrote many books about mountains. Indeed, the two classic views of Mt. Robson, the view from the Yellow Head Highway near the Swiftcurrent River Bridge, where the vertical rise is 3,129 metres, and the view from Berg Lake are often used on the covers of brochures promoting not only the Canadian Rockies but the beauty of Canadian nature. Whatever the elevation of other mountains in the Rockies south of the border, or even that of the higher summits of the Saint Elias Mountains, Mt. Robson is likely the best internationally known mountain of superlatives in Canada. Another quote, this one by Arthur Wheeler, describes the mountain with equal enthusiasm:
“In no other pass of the Rockies does one mountain so dominate the entire landscape as does Mount Robson. Its enormous mass towers 7532 feet above the summit of the pass at such close range as to literally over-shadow it. Together with Robson Glacier, curling around its easterly face, Mt. Robson completely fills the range of the eye’s vision. It constitutes a picture of such unique character that it will probably become world-famous among artists as an outstanding example of a tremendous, solitary, self-contained subject in black and white, in the boldest style imaginable.”
The story of the first ascent is a lengthy and incredible tale, and whether the ascent to the summit was truly made became a subject of great controversy. George Kinney and Curly Phillips claimed to have made the first ascent in August of 1909, Phillips climbing with a sturdy staff he picked up in the forest. In those days the nearest train stop was at the current location of Lake Louise and the climbers had to walk 39 days through the bush to reach the base of the mountain. Kinney had made several attempts between 1907 and ’09, originally with expedition organizer A.P. Coleman. In 1909 he went alone and met Phillips along the way. Though Phillips had no previous mountaineering experience Kinney felt he was tough enough for the task. Yet, in spite of all their efforts, when the Alpine Club of Canada reached the summit in 1913 doubt was cast over whether Kinney’s ascent had actually made it over the final dome to the true summit. Now the first ascent is credited to Billy Foster and Albert McCarthy with European Alps guide Conrad Kain taking them up. The story can be read in detail on the Peakfinder and an abbreviated version on Bivouac.
Because of Mt. Robson’s height, winds must rise 3,000 metres to cross the mountain, thus keeping the top of the mountain in clouds most of the time. Temperatures at the top can drop to -20 even in summer and storms can occur year round. All routes to the top are technical though there are some scrambling and walking (hard walking!) routes that go up partway. Excellent detailed information about climbing routes on Robson can be found on some of the links below.
Mt. Robson is believed to have been named after Colin Robertson, who worked for both the North West Company and the Hudson’s Bay Company during the early 1800s. His name was later mis-transcribed as Robinson’s Mountain in the diary of fur trader George McDougall in 1827. Years later William Fitzwilliam and Walter Cheadle wrote about the mountain and referred to it as Robson’s Mountain. To the Texqakallt people the mountain was known as Yuh-hai-has-kun, the Mountain of the Spiral Road because of the horizontal layers of rock that angle upward to the east giving the impression of a spiral road going round the mountain.
Next: Mount Columbia
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