Tag Archives: Charles Townsend

Speaker Series: The life and times of Neal Carter

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In conjunction with our current temporary exhibit showcasing photographs from the historic 1923 Carter-Townsend Mountaineering exhibition, this event will showcase the life & times of Neal Carter. For nearly half a century, Neal Carter explored the vast Coast Mountain wilderness. garnering dozens of first ascents. and discovering up whole regions of unexplored backcountry for the enjoyment of future generations.

More than just a climber, Neal Carter also had a wide-ranging professional career in hydrology, cartography, marine biology, and geographical nomenclature. We are extremely fortunate to have none other than Karl Ricker, a local legend in his own right who knew Neal Carter personally, speaking about Carter’s wide-ranging personal and professional accomplishments.

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From the Carter Collection: The view south from Wedge to our familiar W-B backcountry.: (l to r) Overlord, Pattison, Davidson, Castle Towers, and Decker.

Karl’s talk will be followed by a presentation by Whistler Museum Programs Manager Jeff Slack, showcasing a selection of gorgeous photographs from Neal Carter’s 1923 mountaineering expedition in Garibaldi Park, adding stories and context along the way.

As a bonus, we will also be screening a compilation of Neal Carter’s home videos from several other pioneering mountain expeditions throughout the Coast Mountains. This video was recently made available to us by Neal Carter’s daughter, Louise Schmidt, and has never been screened publicly.

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Impressive solitude near Whistler’s peak.

Where: Whistler Museum

When: Wednesday December 7. Doors at 6, Show at 7pm.

Tickets: $10, $5 for Museum members and Club Shred.

For tickets and more info call 604-932-2019.

Mountain Profile: Wedge Mountain

On this blog we try to highlight many of the unique characters in Whistler’s history. Being a mountain community, however, many of the local mountains are arguably as familiar as any person.  In the past we’ve set the spotlight on Fissile Mountain; today we shift slightly northwards to Wedge Mountain.

Wedge is an iconic local peak first and foremost because at 2895 m (9497 ft) it’s the tallest peak around. In fact, it’s summit is the highest point in Garibaldi Provincial Park (not Mount Garibaldi, as is commonly assumed), and all of the southern Coast Mountains. To find a higher peak you need to go the remote Mount Dalgleish, 100km to the north west, or to Mount Baker, across the border in Washington State.

Wedge Mountain is visible from just about anywhere in the valley, Rainbow Lodge and the entire westside have an especially clear view. Wedge is the most prominent peak, directly above the cabin in this photo, it's wedge-like shape quite evident from this angle.

Wedge Mountain (at right, above the cabin) is visible from just about anywhere in the valley, Rainbow Lodge and the entire westside have an especially clear view. The mountain’s wedge-like shape is quite evident from this angle.

The origin of the name Wedge Mountain is uncertain, although it presumably describes it’s triangular, wedge-like shape as seen from the Whistler Valley. The name is probably local in origin (like Whistler Mountain), as this name was already in use when Vancouver mountaineers Neal Carter and Charles Townsend made the first recorded ascent of the peak in 1923. When Garibaldi Provincial Park expanded in the late 1920s, a suggestion was made to rename the peak “Mount Vancouver,” but for whatever reason it never stuck.

Speaking of Carter & Townsend, we have already written about their two-week exploratory mountaineering trip to the region in 1923 which included the first ascent of Wedge (blog article here, full photo gallery here, and a virtual video recreation of their climb, using their own written account here), but needless to say, it was a dream trip.

The view south from Wedge to our familiar W-B backcountry: (l to r) Overlord, Pattison, Fissile, Trorey, Davidson, Castle Towers and Decker.

The view south from just below the summit of Wedge,  towards our familiar W-B backcountry. Charles Townsend, photograph by Neal Carter.

Today, most people know Wedge because of the notorious Wedgemount hiking trail, arguably one of the toughest and steepest around. The trail leads up above treeline to Wedgemount Lake and the Wedgemount Hut, built by the BC Mountaineering Club in 1970 under the guidance of long-time local outdoorsman, environmentalist and community icon Don MacLaurin. The hut is of the same gothic arch design as the Himmelsbach Hut at Russet Lake, and many other backcountry huts in the region.

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The idyllic Wedgemount Hut and Wedgemount Lake, with Wedge Mountain looming in the distance, right above. Jeff Slack Photo.

This is as far as most people make it, and that’s more than enough. Summiting Wedge is a far more challenging ordeal, requiring proper ice and rock gear and the skills to use them, but the standard North Arete route is considered one of the classic mountaineering routes of the Coast Mountains. There are also a number of popular steep skiing lines on the mountain, the most popular being the massive NW couloir visible from Highway 99 at the north end of town.

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Wedge’s massive North face. Jeff Slack Photo.

Few places in our region feel as “big” as the high alpine area around Wedge Mountain, but it is just one of many peaks that make our mountainous milieu special. What mountain would you like to see profiled in a future Whistorical post?

Blending Old With New, part 3 of 3: The First Ascent of Mount Diavolo

With the first snow in the valley we figured we’d give you one last blast of summer before we fully commit to the changing season. This week we’ve got the final episode of our Google Earth virtual tour of the 1923 Carter/Townsend mountaineering expedition, (see the previous installments here: Wedge Mountain, Mount James Turner).

This video represents the second half of their two-week trip, and includes perhaps the most interesting scenery, as they actually climb Whistler Mountain itself and we’ve included a few great photos of the ski area decades before any runs were cut or lifts were installed. It also portrays the most difficult climbing on Mount Diavolo (which they named due to their experience on the peak). When reading mountaineering accounts from this period you sometimes forget that they were often written in a very understated manner (an inheritance from the British “stiff upper lip” school of mountain literature), so when Charles Townsend actually admits to some serious challenges along the way it means that things got more than a little tense.

Recreating this Google Earth-based tour has been a lot of fun, and a great learning experience for us here at the museum. Now that we’ve figured out a few more technical tricks we’ll be looking put together more multimedia content that blends historical photos with contemporary technology to give you a whole new take on our amazing natural surroundings.

(For a contemporary take on the same terrain, check this video from a few years back by local ski-mountaineer J.D. Hare. This video is also a very effective if you’re simply looking to get excited for the fast-approaching shred season.)

Blending Old With New, part 2 – A Virtual Tour of the First Ascent of Mount James Turner

This week we resume our virtual recreation of Neal Carter & Charles Townsend’s 1923 exploratory mountaineering expedition. This video, the second of three, depicts the first ascent of Mount James Turner. (Check last week’s clip here).

Though lower and less well-known than its neighbour Wedge Mountain, Mount James Turner is still a formidable peak, revered for its remoteness and technical challenges by hardcore climbers and ski-mountaineers. For a more recent episode of James Turner lore, check this account of the mountain’s first ski descent by local ski builder and steep-ski pioneer Johnny “Foon” Chilton. Note that Foon and friends skied Turner’s massive north face, while Carter and Townsend approached from the south.

Our story will conclude next week as Carter and Townsend head up the Fitzsimmons Creek Valley to spend a week based out of a now-gone prospector’s cabin in Singing Pass. Watch for some striking photos from the undeveloped summit of Whistler Mountain, and their gripping attempt on the aptly named Mount Diavolo.

Virtual Mountaineering? The First Ascent of Wedge Mountain, 1923

This week we’ve got something a little different for you.

We’ve written before about the beautiful Neal Carter photo collection, which documents a two-week exploratory mountaineering expedition into the mountains surrounding Alta Lake by Neal and his friend Charles Townsend  in September 1923.

Approaching the summit of Wedge Mountain.

Approaching the summit of Wedge Mountain.

Well, since we also have the written account that Charles wrote for the British Columbia Mountaineering Cub’s journal, we plugged some of their photos and words together into Google Earth, and have recreated their encounter with these mysterious, unexplored peaks as a sort of virtual tour that you can follow from the comforts of your home:

This first video revisits the first two days of their trip, during which the pair managed the first ascent of Wedge Mountain – the highest peak around. Instead of contently heading back to Rainbow Lodge, Neal and Charles continued deeper into the Coast Mountain wilderness towards the lesser-known but equally formidable Mount James Turner, which they named after a popular Vancouver reverend.  Check back next week for this episode, as well as their subsequent climb of Whistler Mountain and more first ascents deeper in the Fitzsimmons Range.

Of course, watching this little video doesn’t provide quite the same experience as actually climbing  these peaks.  Since we’re currently enjoying a wonderful window of late  summer weather similar to 1923, hopefully the virtual tour inspires you to get up into the alpine for some fresh air, exercise, and inspiring views!

Neal Carter climbing album

Among the tens of thousands of historical photos that the Whistler Museum holds in our archives, I think Neal Carters’ are my favourites. Carter was one of the most prolific mountaineers on the BC Coast during the 1920s and 1930s, gaining several first ascents. He also managed to turn his climbing hobby into a career, working as a surveyor first on Hydro crews around Garibaldi Lake, and then playing a major role in creating the first official topographic map of Garibaldi Park in 1928.

The mountains immediately surrounding Whistler were of special interest to him. Not only did he personally map much of the area (original copies of his massive topo map are in the Vancouver City and BC Provincial Archives), he was also instrumental in convincing the Provincial Government to expand Garibaldi Park in 1928 to approximately its current boundaries, including the Spearhead Range and the Wedge groups of peaks.

His first excursion into our local mountains occurred in September 1923 when he, along with fellow Vancouver climber Charles Townsend, spent two weeks bagging first ascents in the region. Beyond the sheer joy of two weeks climbing in such sublime terrain, the two were also on the lookout for potential sites for future BC Mountaineering Club summer camps, which had been held almost exclusively in Black Tusk Meadows for the last decade.

Their first night’s camp on the flanks of Wedge. Tent pole technology has come a long way in the last 88 years.

Using Rainbow Lodge as their base (they gave Myrtle Philip copies of their photos from this trip, which is how the museum ended up with them) they first scrambled up Wedge Creek with a week’s worth of provisions. Townsend’s very matter-of-fact account printed in the BC Mountaineer belies their huge, gruelling days of bushwacking, navigating crevasse mazes, and scrambling up terribly steep and loose talus slopes in uncharted terrain.

The view south from Wedge to our familiar W-B backcountry: (l to r) Overlord, Pattison, Fissile, Trorey, Davidson, Castle Towers and Decker.

They managed to bag the first ascents of the twin giants of Wedge Mountain and Mount James Turner (whose summit was almost too small to build a cairn), while surveying and naming many of the surrounding peaks and glaciers, over seven days. Along the way they were treated to remarkably clear conditions, which, combined with Carter’s substantial technical skills as a photographer (crucial for accurate topographic surveys), produced some striking images of the surrounding landscape.

Getting radical near Mt. James Turner.

Returning back to Rainbow Lodge, they revelled in a massive dinner and comfortable night’s sleep in a bed, but were back at it early the next morning heading for the “largely unexplored” Spearhead Range. They first headed for Singing Pass-then known as “Avalanche Pass” and spent a night in the prospector’s cabin.

Impressive solitude near Whistler’s peak.

The rest of that week was spent climbing surrounding peaks such as Fissile (then known as Red Mountain), Overlord, and a further excursion for the first ascents of Mount Diavolo, which they named for their difficult experience on its steep and exposed north ridge.

This is just a small sample from more than fifty photos in our collection that Carter produced over the two-week dream trip. Most of them are beautiful in their own right, but are just as interesting as a unique perspective on a landscape that has become so familiar to us. Scanning through the images, you get a sense of Carter’s excitement and wonder as he peered out over vast expanse of completely undeveloped, largely unknown terrain.