Archive for May, 2009

Candidate: #20

Location: Alberta, Banff National Park

Elevation: 2,949 metres (most commonly given)

Range: Canadian Rockies

Driving from Canmore to Banff one looks up to the multi-peaked wall of rock outside the left window, its upper ridge undulating with the rhythm of erosion. From the viewpoint over the Bow River, a short drive above the Banff town site, Mount Rundle takes the form of the classic text book mountain illustrating a seabed uplifted by tectonics – the left face is layer upon layer of crumbling sedimentary strata, the right face a smooth slope like the surface of a flat sea bottom. Drive a little farther to Vermillion Lakes and that slope becomes the prominent feature, tilting up to a sharp apex before the cliffs fall away. This is arguably one of the most photographed and painted mountains in the Rockies.

Mount Rundle is, in fact, an excellent geology text book example of a sandwich mountain, with sediments from two different ages sandwiching a third. The upper limestone layers are known as the Rundle Formation and were named after the mountain. They are of Mississippian age and were formed about 330 million years ago. Below the Rundle Formation one can easily spot the gently sloping layers of shale that are named after the town and known as Banff Shale. The bottom part of the sandwich is limestone again and of Devonian age. Formed 350 million years ago, these limestone layers are the Palliser and Fairhome formations. What is interesting here is that the rocks at the very bottom are much younger, from the Cretaceous and Jurassic periods. The older rocks of the Devonian and Mississippian ages were carried along the Rundle Thrust Fault and set atop the younger rocks. It also beautifully illustrates how the tilt of the bedrock can influence the shape of the mountain, in this case a dip-slope or writing desk geological formation.

Mount Rundle received its name from John Palliser, a man whose name appears more than once in Canadian geography and geology. The mountain was originally named Terrace Mountain by James Hector, and previously known by the Cree name Waskahigan Watchi, which means “House Mountain”. John Palliser chose to name the mountain after a missionary, Reverand Robert Rundle, who traveled from England to Canada in 1840 and worked among the natives until 1848. He is known to have learned to speak Cree and wrote hymns in their language. He also worked with the Assiniboine and became very involved both with their culture and the Cree culture. His visits to the Rockies left him deeply impressed and on one occasion he even attempted to climb a peak but came back down unsuccessful. The loose rocks that often fell and the steep slopes that dropped into nothingness had scared him too much. However, it was his missionary work with the aboriginal people that had impressed Palliser so much that he named the mountain after Rundle. The mountain was eventually climbed in 1888 by James J. McArthur.

Because of the easy slope on the west side, Mount Rundle is likely the most scrambled mountain in Banff National Park. Strong winds keep the route clear of snow. Rundle is actually more like a small mountain range and has seven peaks, the third from north to south being the true summit. The eastern end of Rundle is affectionately known as EEOR, pronounced like Eeyore in A.A. Minle’s book about Winnie the Pooh. The initials stand for East End Of Rundle. This is not the official name. There are popular climbing and scrambling routes here too.










Next: Mount Athabasca


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Candidate: #19

Location: Alberta, Banff National Park

Elevation: 2,766 metres (Bivouac reports 2,850m)

Range: Canadian Rockies

The view that met James Hector’s eyes in 1858 when he traveled down the Bow Valley must have been as impressive to him as it still us to those of us who visit for the first time. Some 19 kilometres away, there is a mountain that appears to sit in the valley on its own, a mountain that resembles a gigantic castle. It was easy for Hector to name this mountain. Indeed Castle Mountain, with its nearly horizontal strata and near vertical cliffs and towers is known as a castellated mountain. As it is easily seen from Highway 1 it is one of the most photographed views of the Canadian Rockies.

The mountain enjoyed nearly one hundred years of its appropriate name before it was suddenly changed to Mount Eisenhower in 1946. The name change was made by Prime Minister Macenzie-King in honour of the American General Dwight D. Eisenhower, who was the Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe during the last battles of World War II, a day before he was to visit Ottawa. The abrupt name change irked the government of Alberta who were not keen at all to have their mountain’s name changed. After 33 years the name was finally changed back to Castle Mountain, with the lone tower at the south end retaining the name Eisenhower Peak, when Joe Clark, an Albertan, became prime minister.

Despite its imposing cliffs from the highway view, Castle Mountain has a few routes that are relatively easy to climb from the backside. From Rockbound Lake it is a long slog to the top that came require 12 hours for a round trip. There are no trail markers once up on the rock route above. In winter it is possible to climb with crampons. Arthur P. Coleman was the first to reach the summit in 1884.

Castle Mountain is known as a classic example of a Middle Cambrian sandwich. The upper cliffs are composed of Eldon limestone, the lower cliffs are Cathedral dolomite, and the ledge in between in Stephen shale which correlate to the rocks that contain the Burgess shale fossil beds in Yoho National Park. One other classic sandwich mountain in the Rockies is Mount Rundle.

Below Castle Mountain are the few remains of an internment camp from WW II where mostly people of Ukrainian descent were detained. Conditions were harsh and the camp is now considered one of the dark spots in Canadian history. More information can be found on the Wikipedia link below and here.










Next: Mount Rundle

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Candidate: #18

Location: Alberta, Banff National Park

Elevation: 3,266 metres on PeakFinder; 3,274m on Peakware and Bivouac; 3,307m on Wikipedia

Range: Canadian Rockies

“Even in this region of magnificent peaks, Mount Chephren stands out with a supreme majesty and beauty all its own. Among all mountain lovers it will always hold high place. Its dark frontal tower of purplish rock rounded to a beehive, its immense, deeply carved buttresses, the symmetrical bands of darker rock and dazzling snow which crown its summit give it an individuality which stamps itself at once on the memory. A luxurient forest throws its cloak of living green about its feet, but, above, the great walls rise in naked precipices for nearly a mile. Lying upon the main mass of the mountain is an immensely thick ice cap which sweeps down around the great tower in a pure white snow saddle like a white scarf flung over its shoulders.”

These words of praise for Mount Chephren were written by Mabel Williams in her 1948 guidebook for the Banff-Jasper Highway. Rising to 1,600 metres above Lower Waterfowl Lake and the Mistaya Valley floor, Mount Chephren is a mass of limestone sitting atop quartzites from the Lower Cambrian Age. Its peak tapers into what could look like an overturned cup. Alternating bands of rock and snow encircle the upper part of the peak.

Chephren was not always known by this name. It was originally named Pyramid Mountain by J. Norman Collie in 1897. He gave the name White Pyramid to the snowy peaked neighbour of Chephren. However, in 1918 the Interprovincial Boundary Commission decided that the name should be changed on account that a little further north in Jasper National Park there was already a Pyramid Mountain. J.M. Thorington, a well-known mountaineer and author of the time, was asked to consider a new name. Liking the connection with Egypt he chose the name Chephren, or Kahfre, for the fourth pharaoh of the Fourth Dynasty of Egypt, who had the second of the three great pyramids built.

Mount Chephren has some difficult climbing routes and can be scrambled up the south slopes to gain the west ridge, but is more well-known for its two or three extreme Grade V 5.8+ routes. The mountain was first ascended in 1913 by J.W.A. Hickson and E. Feuz Jr.










Next: Castle Mountain

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Candidate: #17

Location: Alberta, Banff National Park and British Columbia, Yoho National Park

Elevation: 3,464 metres

Range: Canadian Rockies

One thing that surely attests to a mountain’s popularity with tourists is the number of web site hits for stock photography and web site postings of photos of the mountain. While searching for information about Mount Victoria I had to wade through dozens of hits pertaining to photographs of Mount Victoria. Looming in the background of Lake Louise as seen from the Chateau Lake Louise, Mount Victoria and the Victoria Glacier, often seen reflected in Lake Louise in photographs make for one of the iconic images of the Canadian Rockies, along with Mount Robson, Mount Assiniboine and Lake Magog, Moraine Lake and the Valley of the Ten Peaks, Mt. Rundle reflected in the Vermillion Lakes, and Peyto Lake with Mt. Patterson. It has been written on at least two sites that Mount Victoria is the most photographed mountain in North America. It’s not hard to believe as fleets of tour buses unload tourists year round at Lake Louise and everyone with a camera snaps the view across the lake.

Mount Victoria straddles the Great Divide and thus sits on the border of Alberta and British Columbia. The summit is accessible from either side. There are two summits, the southern one being the higher. Access from the British Columbia side requires a final scramble up a scree slope. The Alberta side may be the more frequented route because of the Lake Louise parking lot and the trail following the lake to the mountain. As with Mount Temple, falling rock along the routes is a hazard. Below the serac where the glacier hangs on the eastern side is a place called the Death Trap because of frequent ice falls. Crossing from the northern summit to the south there is a difficult point called the Sickle. Apparently Mount Victoria is not so bad to climb when there is no snow on the route.

There is some discrepancy over when the mountain was named exactly and George Dawson’s maps of 1886 leave Victoria unnamed. However, it seems that the name was given in 1897 after Queen Victoria. Previously the mountain had been known as Mount Green, named after William Spotswood Green of the British Alpine Club who visited the Canadian “Alps” in 1888 and wrote a book “Among the Selkirk Glaciers”. It is often said that Green’s book is what pioneered mountaineering interest in Canada. Mount Victoria was first climbed in 1897 by J. Norman Collie and his party.








Next: Mount Chephren

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Candidate: #16

Location: Alberta, Banff National Park

Elevation: 3,544 metres (3,540m and 3,543m are also given)

Range: Canadian Rockies

There are three points that constantly crop up on sites about Mount Temple. The first is the impressive description that all give to this very massive mountain, the third highest in the Southern Rockies, with its towering cliffs that loom over Lake Louise and Moraine Lake. The second is that it is probably the most climbed mountain over 11,000 feet in the Canadian Rockies because, despite its imposing appearance, there is a relatively easy scramble route up the southwest side. Most sites I checked gave good descriptions of what to expect when climbing up the scramble route and they all mentioned the danger of falling rock dislodged by other climbers. Wearing a helmet is well advised!

The mountain was named by George Dawson in 1884 after Sir Richard Temple, the leader of the British Association filed trip to the Canadian Rockies in the same year. Ten years later, Mount Temple became the first mountain over 11,000 feet in the Canadian Rockies to be climbed when Walter Wilcox, Samuel Allen and L.F. Frissel used the southwest route to reach the summit.

While the scramble route never seems to be unoccupied in good weather during the climbing season and the scramble is relatively easy, though dangerous mostly for falling rock, as with any mountain Temple should not be underestimated. One web site says an ice axe is recommended even if there is no ice on the route. In 1955, a party of 11 American teenage boys were climbing the mountain without their adult supervisors when an avalanche swept ten of the boys down into a bottleneck of rock. Seven of the boys perished in what was Canada’s most tragic mountain accident. Only one person in the group had an ice axe.

Massive, majestic, and towering, Mt. Temple is popular whether appreciated from above or below.











Next: Mount Victoria

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Candidate: #15

Location: British Columbia, Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park and Alberta, Banff National Park

Elevation: 3,618 metres

Range: Canadian Rockies

The highest peak in the Southern Continental Ranges of the Canadian Rockies, Mount Assiniboine’s pyramidal form has attracted and enchanted tourists, hikers and climbers since the end of the 19th century. The first European to catch sight of the mountain was probably Catholic priest/explorer Pierre-Jean De Smet when he camped at what is now known as White Man Pass in 1845. When George Dawson who was doings surveys in the Rockies in 1884 saw the peak from Copper Mountain there was a trail of cloud streaming from the summit and it reminded him of smoke coming from the tee-pees of the Assiniboine Indians, thus he named the mountain Assiniboine. Previously published maps of the Rockies did not name the peak.

Once word of the great peak got out, climbers from all over made attempts to be the first to reach the summit. The first attempt was in 1893 by guide Tom Wilson and his client Robert L. Barrett, who later went on to visit K2 and commented that Assiniboine’s face looked more imposing than that of K2. But Wilson and Barrett didn’t make an attempt for the summit. Barrett returned two years later with Walter Wilcox, J.F Porter and guide Bill Peyto. They circumnavigated the peak to view the southern slopes. At the time Wilcox noted that great interest had been taken by tourists in the peak that had become known as the Matterhorn of the Canadian Rockies. That party also failed to make an attempt on the summit. At last in 1901, James Outram, together with Christian Bohren and Christian Hasler sr.  made the first ascent.

Although a very isolated peak with no road access, Assiniboine’s beautiful form and its surrounding peaks and lakes make it one of the iconic peaks of the Canadian Rockies. The view of the peak reflected in Magog Lake, above which it rises 1,525 metres, is a classic image. The mountain straddles the border of British Columbia and Alberta and lies within Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park in B.C. and Banff National Park in Alberta. Access from the B.C. side is either by a 6-hour hike or by helicopter. Climbing Mt. Assiniboine is a serious undertaking and not for novice mountaineers. Though most web sites declare that there are no scrambling routes on Assiniboine, one site said the south slope has a less technical, near-scramble that most people don’t known about. The peak can be ascended without much technical climbing in dry conditions when there is little snow; however it is often underestimated and even impossible to climb in summer snow conditions.











Next: Mount Temple

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Candidate: #14

Location: Alberta, Jasper National Park

Elevation: 3,363 metres

Range: Canadian Rockies

Scanning the surrounding peaks from the Jasper town site there is one that stands out among the others for its height and beauty. Mount Edith Cavell, with its tilted strata and bands of snow sends a white incisor peak skyward above the other mountains. In 1924 a road was built up to the base and visitors since then have swarmed to the classic view of the mountain from this side.

Known to the aboriginal people as White Ghost, the French voyageur explorers called it La Montange de la Grande Traverse because once they passed it on their journey to the Athabasca Pass they began the long journey to the continental divide. It later became known as Fitzhugh and Geikie among other names. The mountain received its present name in 1916 and the reason for the naming is an inspiring story. An English nurse named Edith Louise Cavell was working at a hospital in Belgium when WWI broke out. The hospital became a Red Cross and she was responsible for caring for wounded German soldiers. However, she became involved in an underground movement to help British, French and Belgian soldiers escape to Holland. A spy asked her to help him escape and she was found out by the German authorities and arrested in August of 1915, coincidentally the same month that the mountain in Canada was first climbed by A. Gilmour and E. Holway. She was found guilty of having helped more than 200 troops escape, though he still continued to faithfully care for the wounded German soldiers in her charge. On October 12th, 1915 she was executed by firing squad. The night before her execution she was permitted a visit by a British officer and he recorded her final words to him, “I see now that patriotism is not enough. I must have no hatred or bitterness towards anyone.” Her death became an incident for propaganda in Great Britain. In Canada, it was proposed that a mountain be named after her and thus her name was given to the stunningly beautiful mountain with the Angel Glacier tumbling 300 metres down to Cavell Lake. For more information about the naming of Mt. Edith Cavell check the source here.

Mt. Edith Cavell is not only popular with tourists but with hikers and climbers because it has some mostly non-technical scrambles to the top. Summit reports mention some difficult parts with perennial snow where crampons and an ice axe are essential and some scrambles are quite exposed with long drops down to the “mud puddle” (Lake Cavell) far below. Most who have climbed this mountain claim it is one of the most memorable climbing experiences worth repeating.

Mt. Edith Cavell (c) and Sorrow Peak (r).







Next: Mount Assiniboine

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