Garibaldi Park Whistler A to Z: Mt James TurnerCharles Townsend moved from England to Vancouver in the early 1920's where he met Neal Carter while studying at UBC.  They worked together in the summer of 1923 as surveyors for the hydroelectric project that would eventually result in the hydro dam on Daisy Lake along the Sea to Sky Highway.  Townsend was a member of the British Columbia Mountaineering Club during his few short years in Vancouver. 

Whistler & Garibaldi Hiking

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Townsend climbed and explored several mountains around Whistler back in 1923, when much of the area remained unexplored.  Along with his friend Neal Carter, they embarked on a mountaineering expedition that was recorded in detail and expertly photographed.  Wedge Mountain, the strikingly wedge-shaped mountain next to Blackcomb Mountain was first climbed by them, and the following days they pressed on through unknown glaciers to summit and name Mount James TurnerMount James Turner is the third highest mountain in Garibaldi Provincial Park at 2703 metres(8868 feet).  It is only surpassed by Wedge Mountain at 2892 metres(9488 feet) and Wedge's neighbour Mount Weart 2835 metres(9301 feet).  Mount James Turner is quite a remote mountain in Garibaldi Park and takes about 8 hours to reach it from Wedge Mountain. Remarkably, this expedition was documented by Charles Townsend and photographed by Neal Carter.  Despite the largely uncharted terrain which involved bushwhacking, large creek crossings, treacherous, unknown mountains and numerous glacier crossings, the story reads as a relatively mild walk in the woods.  Certainly they were extremely tough, skilled and fearless mountaineers that had a love of exploring mountains that is inspiring to read.  Hearing the word for word account gives you the beautiful sense that you are with them on their journey through these mountains as they were first climbed. Charles Townsend wrote two articles about their two week expedition in the BC Mountaineer newsletter. The first in October 1923 with the title, 'Trip to Wedge Mountain and Mt. Turner'. The second, 'Fitzsimmons Creek Mountains', was printed in November 1923. His articles are shown below in italics. Neal Carter's photographs have been added to the article as well as dates and headings to clarify where they were on each day. Neal Carter's black and white photos have been partially colorized to enhance their appearance. 

Charles Townsend's 1923 BC Mountaineer Articles

BCMC Newsletter October 1923


By Chas. T. Townsend

Mr. Neal Carter and I had been planning all the summer to make the first ascent of Wedge Mt. as soon as we could get away in the fall. Accordingly on Saturday evening, September 8th, we landed with our belongings at Alta Lake. Having nearly a fortnight before us, we decided to make Rainbow Lodge our headquarters, and to make two trips, one up Wedge Mountain, and the other to Avalanche Pass, the proposed 1923 camp site.

September 9,1923: Alta Lake to Camp #1 on Parkhurst Mountain

We left half our grub at the Lodge, and with the other half and the rest of our belongings, started out from Alta Lake on Sunday morning bound for Wedge Mountain. We followed the railway for 4 miles to Mile 42, as from Rainbow Lodge we could see that the main ridge from Wedge Mountain hit the railway at about this point. From the railway we travelled east following logging roads for about a mile, and after that picking our way through the trees (there was very little bush), for another half-mile until we reached Wedgemount Creek, where we had lunch. Our journey so far had taken us 3 hours. Wedgemount Creek was larger than we had expected, and we were lucky in finding a log on which to cross quite a short distance above where we struck the creek.

Neal Carter Wedge Creek Log Crossing 9 Sept 1923

Neal Carter Crossing Wedge Creek 9 Sept 1923

On the east side, the hill rises very sharply from the water for about 800 feet, and as the bush was thick, we were very glad of a rest when we reached the top. From there on, the ridge is a succession of bluffs, thickly wooded.

First Glimpse of Wedge Mountain 9 Sept 1923

First Glimpse of Wedge Mountain 9 Sept 1923

At about 5,000 feet elevation the trees thinned out, giving place to meadows, which must have been beautiful when the flowers were in bloom. We were nearly “all in” when we found water at about 6 pm, and we made camp as quickly as possible. We were now in an ideal place for an attempt on Wedge Mountain, being at an elevation of 6,000 feet, and at the extreme limit of timber line.

September 10, 1923: Wedge Mountain

Early the next morning we started up the ridge. At the end of it we found quite a gap in between us and the base of the mountain, and I should suggest to any others who might make the climb, that it would be more advisable to keep on the south side of the ridge at an elevation of about 6,000 feet, instead of climbing to the top of it. This would bring them to the foot of the gap and at the base of the easiest face of Wedge Mountain.

Wedge Mountain from Ridge Above Camp 10 Sept 1923

Wedge Mountain from Ridge Above Camp 10 Sept 1923

As it was, we had to descend into the gap, cross a number of ridges composed of masses of loose rocks, probably moraines at one time, and then cross a small glacier, before we got on to the climbable slopes of the mountain. The glacier we named “Eclipse Glacier.” 

Charles Townsend Eclipse Glacier 10 Sept 1923

Charles Townsend Eclipse Glacier 10 Sept 1923

From there to the peak, about 2000 feet, we were travelling over talus slopes, the rocks being on an average cubes about 2 feet in thickness. We reached the summit at 115, after having had a good view of a partial eclipse of the sun a short time before.

Charles Townsend West Face Wedge Mountain 10 Sept 1923

Charles Townsend Climbing West Face Wedge Mountain 10 Sept 1923

 Charles Townsend Wedge Summit Looking East 10 Sept 1923

Townsend Wedge Summit Looking East 10 Sept 1923

The summit of the Mountain is a long ridge ending in quite a sharp peak at the eastern end. It is very precipitous on three sides, but is readily accessible on the south side, up which we had come.

Charles Townsend Wedge Mountain First Ascent 10 Sept 1923

Charles Townsend Wedge Mountain First Ascent 10 Sept 1923

Owing to the clearness of the atmosphere, we had a magnificent view, and were able to secure some fine photographs. Immediately to the south of us was the Spearhead Range, which has been practically unexplored. It contains seven fine glaciers on the north side, and, as we afterwards discovered, one on the south side.  What particularly attracted us was a valley immediately south of the peak of Wedge Mountain. This valley pointed north and south, and contains beautiful meadows. At the head of it, on three sides, there are three large glaciers, one of which has a splendid ice-fall. The meadows are probably at an elevation of about 5,500 feet, and they lie in the centre of the Spearhead Range, so that a party intending to climb in that district would do well to investigate the possibilities of a camp there. We named the place “Glacier Meadows.” It would also seem to be possible to climb peaks in the Fitzsimmons district from there, as there is quite a low pass over to the Fitzsimmons Valley. Mt. Overlord, and a number of other peaks at the head of the Fitzsimmons glacier, possibly could be climbed in a day's trip.  

Panorama South from Wedge Mountain 10 Sept 1923

Panorama South from Wedge Mountain 10 Sept 1923

On the north side of Wedge Mountain are several large glaciers, one of which we called “Wedge Glacier,” and another the “Crescent Glacier.” To the east of us lay a peak which we resolved should be the object of our next climb. It lay across a valley from Wedge Mountain, and promised to be an enjoyable three-day trip from camp.

First View of Mt James Turner from Summit of Wedge Mountain 10 Sept 1923

Mount James Turner from Wedge Summit 10 Sept 1923

The 1st Ascent of Wedge Mountain - A Virtual Tour

September 11, 1923: Hike Around Wedge to Camp #2

The next day, taking with us just enough food for three days and our bedding, and leaving our tent behind, we hiked round the southern slopes of Wedge Mountain, keeping just above timber line to avoid the bush.

Neal Carter About to Leave Camp 11 Sept 1923

Neal Carter First Camp 11 Sept 1923

 Charles Townsend Looking at Green Lake from Above Parkhurst Camp 11 Sept 1923

Charles Townsend Green Lake from Parkhurst Camp 11 Sept 1923

To obtain water we had to drop down about 800 feet into the valley east of Wedge Mountain, which we had seen the day before, where we found a delightful camping spot. The journey from camp to camp took us about 5 hours. We lulled ourselves to sleep under the stars that night with soothing strains from the camp orchestra.

September 12, 1923: Mount James Turner

The first part of our climb the next day took us over four high ridges, very much similar in composition to Wedge Mountain. This brought us to an elevation of about 7.000 feet, where we came out on to a glacier which we called the “Quarry Glacier” From there we had a good view of the peak of Mt. Turner, as Neal had named it, in memory of the Rev. Jas. Turner. Once across the Quarry Glacier, we had to cross the Turner Glacier, much larger than the former, and flowing east, while the other flowed west towards Wedge Mountain.

Neal Carter on Turner Glacier (now Chaos Glacier) 12 Sept 1923

Neal Carter Fingerpost Ridge and James Turner 12 Sept 1923

We were now at the foot of the cliffs at the base of the peak. These cliffs run east and west from the base of the peak; on the west side they form a striking ridge of jagged rock surmounted by fantastic pinnacles. Owing to this peculiarity we called it “Finger-post Ridge” We had some trouble getting up the cliffs to the east of the peak owing to the extreme looseness of the rocks, but once on top, we were ready for the final climb. The peak is a mass of jagged rock, most of which is very loose and dangerous, and I doubt whether it could be climbed from any direction other than the east. An hour's rock-climbing took us to the summit, where we arrived at 1:30. The top itself was so small that it was hardly big enough for a cairn. On three sides the cliffs were very precipitous, while even the face up which we had come looked very steep from above.

Charles Townsend James Turner Summit 12 Sept 1923

Charles Townsend James Turner Summit 12 Sept 1923

Once again we had a magnificent view, particularly of Wedge Mountain, which looks very fine from that side. Three glaciers to the north we named respectively, “The Chaos,” “The Needle,” and “The Albert Edward” glaciers.

Charles Townsend Mount James Turner 12 Sept 1923

Charles Townsend Mount James Turner 12 Sept 1923

We reached camp again at about 6 p.m. 

September 13, 1923: Camp #2 to Camp #1

Townsend does not write about September 13th which was spent moving from their second camp to their first camp on Parkhurst Mountain.

September 14, 1923: Camp #1 to Alta Lake

The next day we packed back to our first camp, and the day following down to Alta Lake, the latter journey taking us six hours. Our aneroid was found to be untrustworthy, so we had to estimate our elevations from well-known peaks in the Garibaldi district. Thus we made Wedge Mountain to be 8,400 feet high, or higher than Castle Towers, and Mt. Turner to be 8,000 feet, or 400 feet lower than Wedge Mountain. At Rainbow Lodge we had an excellent supper, which partially made up for a week of dried goods, and afterwards collected the other half of our grub preparatory to making an early start the next day up Fitzsimmons Creek.

The 1st Ascent of Mount James Turner - A Virtual Tour


BCMC Newsletter November 1923


By Chas. T. Townsend

September 15, 1923: Alta Lake to Fitzsimmons Cabin

We left Rainbow Lodge at 11 a.m. and found the trail up Fitzsimmons Creek was excellent to travel on, and, but for some exciting moments with wasps’ nests, we had an enjoyable day’s journey to the cabin on the meadows below Avalanche Pass. The two miners we found to be not at home, so we made ourselves comfortable in their absence.

Charles Townsend Fitzsimmons Trail 15 Sept 1923

Charles Townsend Fitzsimmons Trail 15 Sept 1923

September 16, 1923: The Fissile, Refuse Pinnacle and Overlord

The next day we spent in climbing Mt. Overlord, which had been climbed for the first time by Mr. and Mrs., Munday a few months earlier. They had much more snow for their climb, and were able to go up the Fitzsimmons Glacier from the base of Red Mountain. Owing to the opened up condition of the ice, however, we thought it better to keep to the rocks as much as possible. To avoid the glacier we climbed the east peak of Red Mountain, which connects with Mt. Overlord by a narrow ridge, composed of a series of sharp pinnacles. The rocks were so rotten on this ridge that we called the largest pinnacle “Refuse Pinnacle,” on account of the trouble it gave us in circumnavigating it. Once round this, we got on to the neve of a small glacier, and a short walk took us to the summit of Mt. Overlord.

Neal Carter on Pinnacles Leading to Overlord 16 Sept 1923

Neal Carter Pinnacles to Overlord 16 Sept 1923

Once again we were blessed with a very clear day, and we secured an excellent panorama of the Garibaldi district and the Pitt River mountains, The large Cheakamus Glacier with its huge ice-fall showed up particularly well, and in the distance we could see Mt. Cathedral, of the local mountains, and Mt. Baker in the far distance. Some of the peaks to the east of Mt. Overlord looked as though they might give us some good climbs, one in particular, not far from where we were, looking very inviting.

Peaks from Overlord Looking Northeast 16 Sept 1923

Peaks from Overlord Looking Northeast 16 Sept 1923

We had no more time that day though, so we went back to the cabin. On our way back we found it easier to go over the top of Refuse Pinnacle, and to drop down to the glacier at the foot of it. We crossed the neve of this to Red Mountain, where we picked up our tracks of the morning.

Charles Townsend on Refuse Pinnacle 16 Sept 1923

Charles Townsend on Refuse Pinnacle 16 Sept 1923

Our sleep that night, and every night we spent at the cabin, was seriously disturbed by a couple of large pack rats and a number of mice, which kept up an incessant clatter among the pots and pans, and knocked over everything moveable. The last night we were there it turned much colder, and the pack rats carried a large portion of our firewood from behind the stove to the floor under our bunk, where they were evidently trying to make a nest.

September 17, 1923: Whistler Mountain

On Monday, September 17th, we made a half-day trip to Mt. Whistler. The top is a series of mounds, and it takes some time to find out which is the highest. From the highest point we had a fine view of Rainbow Valley, and the Garibaldi district tempted us to photograph it again, Mt. Whistler is said to be 7,200 feet in height, but it did not seem to us to be any higher than Helmet Peak, 6,800 feet.

 Charles Townsend Whistler Mountain 17 Sept 1923

September 18, 1923: Fitzsimmons Cabin to Mount Diavolo

The next day we set out to climb the peak we had seen from the top of Mt. Overlord. We followed our old tracks over Fitzsimmons Glacier and Refuse Pinnacle until we came to the glacier just below the peak of Mt. Overlord. We crossed this in an easterly direction until we came to some pinnacles on a ridge running east from the peak we had just left. The weather up to now had been growing more and more threatening and cold, and at this point the clouds descended on us like a thick fog, accompanied by a high, cold wind, which, however, did not disperse them. We followed the rocks downward towards our objective, of which we occasionally caught a glimpse, and we soon discovered that the only way we could climb it was to cross a knife-edge ridge of ice about 150 feet long, and then find a way up the rocks. Crossing the ice took us some time, as we had to cut steps, Neal breaking his ice-axe in the process.

Charles Townsend on Ridge to Diavolo Peak 18 Sept 1923

Charles Townsend Ridge to Diavolo Peak 18 Sept 1923

The rocks were loose, as usual, and we had an exciting climb to what we thought was the top. We were mistaken, however, for the top was about fifty feet away and about ten feet higher. The only way to it was along a very sharp knife-edge, which we had some trouble in negotiating. Once on top we hurriedly built a cairn, and retraced our steps as soon as possible, for it was bitterly cold. The peak we named Mt. Diavolo, owing to its character and the weather conditions under which we climbed it. Its height we estimated to be about 7,700 feet.

 Charles Townsend Straddling Diavolo Summit 18 Sept 1923

Charles Townsend Straddling Diavolo Summit 18 Sept 1923

September 19, 1923: Fitzsimmons Cabin Rain Turned to Snow

Townsend didn't write about September 19th as it was spent in the cabin avoiding the bad weather. 

Charles Townsend Fitzsimmons Cabin 19 Sept 1923

Charles Townsend Fitzsimmons Cabin 19 Sept 1923

September 20, 1923: Fitzsimmons Cabin to Alta Lake

The next day (19 Sept) it began to snow, keeping up until we left the day after (20 Sept), by which time there was about two inches of snow on the ground.

The 1st Ascent of Mount Diavolo - A Virtual Tour

Neal Carter's Article in The Vancouver Sun 30 Sept 1923

Neal Carter also wrote about the expedition which appeared in the Vancouver Sun in the September 30th, 1923 edition. His excellent article is titled 'Rugged Peaks are conquered in BC Wilds' can be found here.

Carter and Townsend First Ascent Wedge Mountain

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