A hundred years after Conrad Kain, the Alpine Club of Canada’s first mountain guide, led his intrepid clients to the top of Mt. Robson (3954 metres), his feat was commemorated during a special camp held at Robson Pass in Mt. Robson Provincial Park.
Several members of the Conrad Kain Centennial Society (CKCS) were hosted in tents by the Alpine Club of Canada (ACC) at the foot of the Canadian Rockies’ highest peak from August 21st to 29th. Two “graduates” of the CKCS Bugaboos Teens program, Graham Kinley, 20, from Invermere, and Curtis Hall, 18, from Jaffray were invited to join CKCS chairman Pat Morrow and CKCS member Herb Weller at the camp.
Ontario climbers Dave Franklin, Jim Everard (Morrow and Everard were team mates on a Mt. Everest expedition in 1991), New Zealand Alpine Club representative Andy Thompson, Association of Canadian Mountain Guides (ACMG) guide Max Darrah (based in Jasper) and mountain writer Lynn Martel rounded out the team.
Camp manager Brad Harrison, born and raised in Invermere, provided a warm and friendly tent camp to base out of, along with tasty cuisine prepared by Julie Perkins and Nadja Oberholzer, both based in Golden.
Five ACC members summited Mt. Robson on August 23 under perfect skies as Kain and his clients had done during the 1913 ACC General Mountaineering Camp. The summit party included ACC executive director Lawrence White, Prince George Section chair Frank Spears, New Zealand Alpine Club representative Andy Thompson, BC Parks Ranger Jesse Milner and ACMG Guide Matt Mueller. ACC vice presidents David Foster and Wayne Campbell topped out on the nearby 3408-metre Mt. Resplendent on August 22nd.
Thompson, who stayed on for the second half of the camp, was effusive when he strove to put Kain’s accomplishment in perspective.
“Now that I’ve climbed both Mt. Robson, and Mt. Cook, two of many peaks that Kain ascended, I can honestly say that he was climbing at the topmost standard of the day. Both mountains are serious objectives, threatened by severe weather and dangerous snow conditions. It’s one thing for us to launch out on an ascent these days, with superior climbing equipment and a well-mapped route up the mountain, but for him in his day to tackle an unknown objective this big makes the achievement all the more impressive.”
It should be noted that, when Kain led Albert McCarthy and William Foster up the route now known as the Kain face, none of them wore crampons. And after he chopped several hundred steps in the ice, and proclaimed at the top, “Gentlemen, that’s so far as I can take you!”, he led them on a traverse of the mountain, descending the hitherto unclimbed south face.
The CKCS team walked in to the camp on August 25th with Laurie Schwartz, producer of the play “As Far As I Can Take You”, and actor David Thomson.
After the CKCS group mingled with the ACC team members, David launched smoothly into his role as Conrad Kain and entertained both climbers and a crowd of appreciative hikers from the nearby campsite with a monologue that touched on the highlights of the great Austrian guide’s life in Canada.
It was eerie, and somewhat exciting to see Thomson dressed in tweeds and pipe in hand, poised with a far away look in his eyes, and Mt. Robson rising 2300 meters above Berg Lake in the background. The scene evoked the famous photo taken by Banff photographer Byron Harmon after Kain’s return from the summit to base camp in 1913.
Although our team didn’t get the excellent weather and snow conditions that had preceded us, we made the best of it – guide Max Darrah led Hall, Kinley, and Weller through a rain and snowstorm nearly to the top of Mt. Resplendent. They turned back just a couple hundred meters shy of the summit, obscured in rain and snow clouds, and in the process demonstrated just how far you can safely push if you’re well prepared and motivated.
“The centennial camp was an amazing experience for me, giving me a greater understanding and respect for the mountains and helping improve my mountaineering skills, as well as my photography and videography skills,” said Hall.
Kinley said he “really enjoyed having Max as our guide and learning mountain travel techniques including crevasse rescue and snow and glacial travel. Our camp was also such a treat to come back to from a day of climbing and be served gourmet food with a wood stove pumping heat out to dry our clothes. Thanks again to Pat, Hugo, Max, Jesse, Brad, Julie, the ACC and everyone that helped put on this camp. It was an experience I will never forget.”
The CKCS is especially indebted to BC Parks for financial support of the youth component and Hugo Mulyk, Senior Park Ranger, Mount Robson Area in particular for his personal involvement. Mulyk, Morrow and three others have been invited to participate in a panel discussion, “One Hundred Years On Mt Robson” at this autumn’s Banff Mountain Book Festival.
This year also marks the 100th anniversary of the establishment of Mt Robson Park, and Mulyk orchestrated many other fun and interesting events (including Invermere resident and CKCS vice chairman Brian Patton’s slide presentation on Conrad Kain).
Contributed by Pat Morrow