Tag Archives: Mount Diavolo

What’s in a Name?

We love place names here at the Museum. Researching place names, even seemingly mundane ones, often reveals unique stories about earlier human encounters with the landscape. Apparently you love them too; two of our most popular blog posts ever have listed the meaning behind some of Whistler-Blackcomb’s ski run names (Why is that Ski Run Called Hooker? & Who Burnt the Stew?)

So we were especially excited with the most recent arrival to our archives: a thick folder featuring maps, name lists, and correspondence by prolific local mountaineer/geologist/Olympian father Karl Ricker, dating from 1964 to the early 2000s. Essentially the file tells the official story behind dozens of mountain, glacier and creek names around Whistler (primarily the north half of Garibaldi Park).

In 1964 Ricker was still a student at UBC and an active member of their Varsity Outdoor Club. That spring, along with other VOCers, he had famously completed the first tour of what they dubbed the “Fitzsimmons Horseshoe Traverse” better-known today as the Spearhead Traverse. (The Fitzsimmons Range and the Spearhead Range extend back from Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains, respectively, to form the “horseshoe.” Both these sub-ranges’ names were created by BCMC mountaineers in the 1920s, and officially adopted after Ricker’s 1964 application.)

Of course these intrepid ski-mountaineers set out for adventure, first and foremost. They also recognized, however, that with the development of ski lifts less than 2 years away, these hitherto remote and rarely visited peaks were about to become a whole lot more accessible, and popular. It was time to investigate just what they had to offer.

This exploration, mapping and naming of the Garibaldi Park mountains was the continuation of a process begun in the 1920s by pioneer mountaineers like Don & Phyllis Munday, and especially Dr. Neal Carter. Carter was still active in the naming process with Ricker in 1964, more than 40 years after he began his exploration, cartography, and nomenclature work in Garibaldi Park. 

And so on to the names… Let’s start with the big one: Whistler. The story was already known, but it’s pretty important for us to finally have the official documentation in our archives.

Alex Philip and guest "At the summit of Whistle Mountain," 1920s.

Alex Philip and guest “At the summit of Whistle Mountain,” 1920s.

Locally, the mountain was always known to Alta Lake residents as “Whistle” or “Whistler” Mountain in honour of the whistling hoary marmots encountered by hikers in the high alpine. Somehow this name never made it to the survey officials in Victoria and Ottawa. Instead, this mountain was identified on government maps as “London Mountain,” presumably in reference to the mining claims on the mountain’s north slopes, registered to the “London Mining Group” (they were Brits).

By 1964, of course, high-profile efforts by Garibaldi Lifts to develop a ski hill and bring the Olympics to the southern Coast Mountains were already well underway, As Ricker wrote in his application to the Geographic Names Board,

Despite being published on every map since 1928 as London Mountain, it has not stood the test of time; the mountain is still “Whistler” Mountain to the Vancouver newspapers and to all the advertisements put forth on the development of skiing in this portion of Garibaldi Park. Yet when a newcomer or new park user attempts to find “Whistler” on the map he is faced with unnecessary confusion.

The Geographic Names Board was convinced, and the rest is history.

As for some of the more lyrical names one finds towards the back of the traverse route: 1964 marked the 400th anniversary of the birth of “The Bard,” William Shakespeare. As Ricker noted in his application,

His plays are loaded with a diverse lot of characters; the [naming] committee felt that a few of them aptly described some of the features in the area and that we should contribute to the commemoration of this anniversary. 

The mountains resembled Shakespearean characters? Hear him out:

Mount MacBeth: This hulking pyramid marks “the point of no return” for skiers attempting the full traverse. “Similarly, Macbeth reached a point of no return when he began to kill off his friends.”

Mount MacBeth from Whistler Mountain. Source: Bivouac.com.

Mount MacBeth (the glaciated peak at center/right) as seen from Whistler Mountain. In case “MacBeth” wasn’t accepted Ricker proposed as an alternative “The Fox Ears” due to the appearance of the twin summit. Photo: Bivouac.com.

Mount Iago: While on the 1964 traverse, this peak “appeared to be an impossible barricade to our ski touring party. The summit glacier is criss-crossed with hidden crevasses as well, and as a result the 1964 party was coerced into taking a long detour” (hence Detour Ridge). Later, the party realized that the peak was not so hazardous as suspected, and Ricker drew the comparison with Iago, “a very deceptive fellow in Shakespeare’s Othello.”

Mount Benvolio: The report describes how “when viewed from the north, this peak stands out from Mount Overlord and Fitzsimmons… However, its beauty from afar is somewhat dulled in close up views and its ascent is of no trouble. In Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, the character of Benvolio had similar traits.”

Mounts Angelo and Diavolo, by the way, are not part of this Shakespearean celebration. They were named by Neal Carter in the 1920s. Steep, rocky Diavolo proved a hellish ascent. Its twin peak is snowier and more elegant appearing, and thus earned its name in counterpoint. Ricker heartily endorsed these place names out of respect for Carter, but alo because of their “euphony” (today’s word of the day) especially when combined with their similar-sounding Shakespearean neighbours. (For a great contemporary ski-mountaineering tale from Mount Angelo which adds another layer to this poetic place-naming story, click here.)

There you have it. Who said place names are boring?!

This just scratching the surface of all the great stuff in these folders, there are definitely more blog posts to come. In the meantime, feel free to leave a comment below if you’re curious about a specific name or feature, and we’ll see what we can do.

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.)

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.