Where the Crowds Can Go? 1)
A Meditative Gaze into the magic Looking-Glass of WILDERNESS from the Moyeha/Bancroft Creek Divide

Sandy Briggs

[This article appeared in the Island Bushwhacker Annual, Issue 20:3/4 (1992), the newsletter of the Vancouver Island Section of the Alpine Club of Canada. It also appeared around that time in the Gazette, the newsletter of the Alpine Club of Canada, the headquarters of which are in Canmore, Alberta.]

….Once upon a time, in a land not so terribly far away, there was a rock, a rather small rock. The details of its formation are not important to my story, and are, in any case, a little speculative. Suffice it to say that it had once been part of a much larger rock, which had been thrust skyward in the orogenesis of aeons past. With patience, yet with persistence, this larger rock was worked upon by the forces of heat and cold, of wet and dry, of seismic rumblings, and even by the action of little vegetable fingers, until a smaller fragment, the little rock of my concern, tumbled from its lofty perch onto a mountain terrace, where again it was acted upon by water and by ice. Its edges rounded, its surface pitted and dappled with lichen, this rock came to rest upon a small patch of gravel and rough soil, a patch which gradually conformed to its presence, so that ultimately the rock came to have a place of its own, a place where it belonged, where it fit and where no other rock would fit. There, undisturbed on its gravel terrace, on the side of the mountain which is known to humans as Moyeha, sat the rock through many human generations.

It came to pass that every year in the summer, in a depression near this rock there formed, from melting snow and from rain, a pond of the clearest and most dazzling water that it is possible for you to imagine. The surface facet of this liquid gem reflected the sun in its daily arc across the sky. It reflected the white and the grey and the black clouds and the soaring hawks. It reflected, had anyone been there to see, the moon and the twinkling stars. It reflected one side of the little rock, and, quite recently, it reflected my thoughts. It is this last-named reflection which you now see.

I had thought that a trail had been cleared on the forested ridge leading westward from Upper Myra Falls and into the hill country north of Mt Thelwood. That this proved not to be the case is philosophically comforting, though it bent somewhat the plan for the first day of our trek. A small path leading to this ridge departs the Upper Myra Falls trail just before the falls and is marked by a CDMC sign saying only “THELWOOD”. The path descends to the creek near the forks, from which point one is on one’s own, but for bits of animal trail and a few old pieces of ribbon. We lugged the heavy packs steadily upward, turning the only significant bluff on the right, and steadily into the late evening, by which time a source of water was long overdue. Finally, just at dusk, we reached the summit of the ridge (3600 ft) and found a small brown pond which, with boiling, answered our wishes perfectly. The first day, one of unplanned strenuousness, ended with our contented contemplation of the full moon rising over Mt Myra.

The next day we continued southwest, which makes it sound easier than it was, to gain the northwest shoulder of Mt Thelwood, where we camped in a heavy mosquito infestation at 5100 ft. We had no further problems finding water and, indeed, we swam in almost every second lake and pond for the remainder of the trip. The following morning we skirted the northwest summit of Mt Thelwood, crossed the glacier, and deposited our packs at the col between the two south summits. A quick scramble put us on top. The note left by Don, Wendy, and me in 1988 had been read only once (?) in the interim, in 1991 by a C.O.L.T. group from the Lodge. This is not a high-traffic area. We descended southward from the col and traversed onto the steep southwest ridge of Mt Thelwood, which we descended uneventfully but for the observation that we had strayed perhaps too far west on the upper part.

The flats west of the Thelwood/Moyeha col sport a small lake not marked on my map. Here are the headwaters of Bancroft creek. Our lunch was followed by a straightforward hike up to the rock tarns on a terrace (4000 ft) northwest of Mt Moyeha.

Here, beside a pond, is the little rock to which you have already been introduced. Here are no fire rings. Here are no twist-ties, no rusty cans. Here are no scuffed turfs, no dried imprints of human footsteps. This is wilderness! Here is a piece of land so perfect in its being that one cannot help but be struck, and a little saddened, by the way a careless rubber-soled boot cuts into a soft patch of moss, breaks a delicate flower, or tips a small rock from its earthen cradle. To undo these changes is impossible.

I meditated over the crystalline water, this most uncommon common substance, and I reflected in the blue-green mirror. I saw THE rock, the one my toe had rolled from its bed, and I went back to replace it.

Oh hiker! Oh climber! You who are new to such places and you of many mountain memories! Here is WILDERNESS! Here is a place where your visit is recorded in the stony ground. Seldom has my mark in the land, the mark made by my heavy foot, so rebuked me, so questioned my actions. And in my daydream in that magical place I heard, or so it seemed, each severed strand of moss, each broken flower, each crushed blade of grass, each unseated stone,

“… and from them rose
A cry that shivered to the tingling stars,
And, as it were one voice, an agony
Of lamentation, like a wind, that shrills
All night in a waste land, where no one comes,
Or hath come, since the making of the world.” 2)

We set off for higher ground and Rick happened upon a bear calmly drinking from a moss-fringed pool. The reaction of the bear was to look, and then to lope gracefully away. The reaction of Rick was awe. Not shock. Not fear. Awe! The bear this beautiful muscular animal, black fur shining in the sun. The bear through whose home we trod. Perhaps there is room here for us four and the bear, today?

We had some trouble gaining the Moyeha/Bancroft divide, maps being what they are, and terrain being not always obvious even in the light of a clear day. Strenuous exposed scrambling took us not to the col west of Mt Moyeha as we had hoped, but to a high shoulder of that mountain somewhat northeast of the col in question. From here Dave scouted a good descent and we were able to move out onto the divide a little way to make our third camp, with a splendid view of the pristine Moyeha watershed and sprawling Mariner Mountain with its icy ruff.

The next morning we passed through a col near a spectacular hanging lake and up onto the ridge to its north. Continuing north we encountered a cliff inhabited by a collection of trees - trees which both mark and provide the only reasonable ascent. We scrambled a little precariously upward, then traversed over the 4800 ft bump and descended about half a kilometre to its northwest, where we stopped to survey our universe, and our plans. Already it was day four of a planned eight day trip, and though the weather had been perfect the terrain had enforced a very moderate rate of progress. One of us had a knee that had been acting up, and it seemed that continuing would thrust us past the ‘mellow trip concept’ according to which I had conceived this outing. I took a telephoto panorama of the remote western skyline of Strathcona Park, including Lone Wolf Mountain, ‘the Scimitar’ (the twin summit later to be called ‘Scissor Peak’), Mt Splendor, and Mt Matchlee, as well as numerous unnamed peaks, some past the edge of my map.

We retraced our way down the cliff, this time belaying two sections. Back, then along and down to the wonderful hanging lake. Here we swam. Here we floated in water so clear it was almost like being suspended in the sky, but colder. How, oh how to visit such a place and not let go, for a moment, of the rational, the scientific, the analytical? How not to imagine here and now that some numinous magic formed these rocks just so, and made sparkle this pool in which we are today so privileged as to bathe? How, yes how to know what part of the magic is in just being here and what part accumulated with each step over rock and log and stream during the beautiful sunlit days of our approach?

We scrambled eastward to some ponds near the lake on the southwest flank of Mt Moyeha, where we camped for our fourth night amid even more mosquitoes than before. On the fifth day we climbed Mt Moyeha by its west ridge. Our note from 1988 had apparently been read only once (?), by a C.O.L.T. group in 1989. That’s all! (3)

We broke camp and descended directly north from our col to a waterfall draining the Moyeha rock tarns. After some exploration we found a straightforward route to the tarns - hug the cliff on your right before the falls - where we placed our fifth camp.

Here is my place of reflection, the home of the little rock. Here I recall the words of the Master to disciple Kwai Chang Caine in the television series Kung Fu. The young Caine is to begin an exercise in movement:

Behold the rice paper, fragile as the wings of the dragonfly, clinging as the cocoon of the silkworm. When you can walk its length and leave no trace, you will have learned.

We too moved, less gracefully perhaps. Over our metaphorical rice paper, the wild carpet of earth and stone, moss and flower, eastward through the Mt Thelwood/Mt Moyeha pass and down the stony upper channel of Thelwood Creek. An unnecessarily tedious bushwhack brought us finally to the ‘square lake’ east of Mt Thelwood (keep to the east of the stream from about 3700 ft up) where we had a long and a late lunch. We then climbed over the 5100 ft bump to our east and startled a deer on our descent to the next saddle, in which we placed our sixth camp.

Upon reaching point 5355 the following morning we found the remains of a once-large cairn scattered about the summit, and no sign of any marker of this horizontal control point. We then wended our way among the ‘granite lakes’ west of Mt Myra. Here too are no fire rings, no charred logs, no ribbons nor cans. How many of us, seeking our own true path, can follow it through such places and leave no trace? (There are two senses to the question.) How many will come if the ‘barrier of fatigue’ is removed? Is every glistening lake and every shining summit to have a cleared and graded trail, a horse track, a cable-car, a heli-pad?

I thought of Graeme Pole’s two thought-provoking essays about the barrier of fatigue. (4,5) . His lament about the helicopter is that “Its use for recreation, for bringing the otherwise unreachable into our immediate domain, represents the height of consumptive elitism: I want it now!” “…while grabbing for more with technological ease, have we let the very wilderness values we seek, slip unnoticed between our greedy fingers?” This debate is not new ,(6,7) , but its intensity increases as our wilderness disappears.

While the ethics in my own record would be found wanting if measured against the rigorous standard championed in his essays, I nevertheless feel that he has made an important point. I do not take offence nor am I indignant, for though we may fall, yea even leap from grace as so defined, it is well to possess a clearly-formed concept of a style of mountaineering which, if not actually perfect, is at least highly resistant to censure. Can we, as players in this great game really be so smug as to think we are untainted by the vice of consumerism which pervades the society in which we live?

I guess the question of how much mechanized access is “Where do I draw that fuzzy metaphorical line?” Graeme Pole seems to have drawn it in a place where it’s not going to cause anybody much trouble, philosophical or otherwise. On the other hand, there are those who draw it up near Mt Tantalus in a place which had Kobus Barnard concerned.(8) I promise I won’t fly to Lake Lovelywater again, but as for other Coast Mountain destinations, well…. Let’s keep talking anyway.

I want to offer you a passage from the fifth book of Tilman, in the second chapter, beginning at the 9th verse:

“I have quoted elsewhere the Bengali proverb that ‘The sight of a horse makes the traveller lame’, and I have some fear that the sight of an aeroplane might make the mountaineer think. To see an aeroplane accomplishing in four hours a journey which will take him nearly three weeks of toil and sweat is bound to give rise to thought -- some of it subversive; whether the time so spent can be justified in the face of heaven and, perhaps, his family or employer; … or … whether it is not his duty to spare himself a little toil and sweat -- a proposition which, of course, strikes at the very root of a mountaineer’s religion.” 9)

In an earlier paragraph he writes:

“Perhaps such an uncouth method of approaching a mountain can be justified in a place such as Alaska, where the mountains are more inaccessible [than in the Himalaya], [and] the season shorter, …” (9)

Yes, I have been in helicopters and aeroplanes ? my philosophical house has some glass walls, as it were ? but I cannot help but lament with Kobus Barnard that for more and more people, hiking is no longer part of climbing. (8)

Perhaps we should be advised by the words of climber-poet Liliane Welch, who writes “I cannot live without my feet being in touch with the ground…. What had my feet heard and seen? … June and July dawns, hiking up peaks and down snow fields, fording crystalline waters in air transparent as glass, behind the presence and solidity of rock half-hidden in clouds, they felt the mountains’ granite heart pounding. … Why walk? … To be put at the edge of conversing with the great poem of our earth.” (10)

If your path leads you through that wilderness, pass gently. Pass in harmony, not in combat, “for nothing can live well except in a manner that is suited to the way the sacred Power of the World lives and moves.” (11)

And respect the place of the little rock.


Postscript: Trip Summary: Sandy Briggs, Rick Reeve, Dave Whitehead and Jorg Dahms. July 14-21, 1992, Strathcona Park, Vancouver Island. Exploration westward along the Moyeha. Bancroft Creek divide including ascents of Mt Thelwood, Mt Moyeha, and Mt Myra.

1) Where the Clouds Can Go is the title of the autobiography of legendary Rockies guide Conrad Cain.

2) Tennyson, Morte D’Arthur
3) It turns out that Frank Wille & co had been there on June 20th and had not found the note tube.
4) Long Trails, Distant Suns – An Adventure Ethic, Canadian Alpine Journal Vol. 73, 1990
5) The Feast Before the Famine, Canadian Alpine Journal, Vol. 74, 1991
6) True Mountaineering Spirit, Dieter Offerman, Canadian Alpine Journal, Vol. 59, 1976
7) The End of the Mountains, Christopher Jones, Canadian Alpine Journal, Vol. 54, 1971
8) Time to Fight for Some of the Old Values, Canadian Alpine Journal, Vol. 73, 1990
9) Two Mountains and a River, 1949
10) Praising the Earth With Our Feet, an essay by Liliane Welch in her collection Seismographs, 1988
11) Black Elk, in Black Elk Speaks, John G. Neihardt, 1972