Garibaldi Park Whistler A to Z: Mt James TurnerTom Fyles (27 June 1887 - 27 March 1979) was an astoundingly skilled climber that figured prominently in the climbing community of Vancouver for more than two decades.  From his apparent introduction to climbing and mountaineering in 1912, to his prolific array of elite level climbing ascents that began in earnest just four years later.  In 1916 he solo climbed The Table in Garibaldi Park, a mountain almost universally considered to be too difficult and dangerous to climb.

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Those that knew Tom Fyles well admired his friendliness, enthusiasm, boundless endurance and incredible ability to read a mountain and navigate the best route to the summit.  Despite, or possibly because of, the difficulty and danger of The Table, many attempts were made in the years after 1916.  In 1922 a second successful ascent was finally achieved and it was Tom Fyles once again.  Fyles managed to make it to the top and this time he fixed a rope to a small tree and Neal Carter and Bill Wheatley climbed up to join him.  This made Fyles, Carter and Wheatley the second mountaineering party to successfully climb The Table.  They left their rope from the summit attached to the stubby tree and jagged, firm rock for their ascent and future climbers.  The following year, in 1923 Wallace Burr and Clarence Fisher made the next recorded ascent with the help of this rope.  It is thought that the next successful ascent on The Table wasn't made again until 1926, when Tom Fyles led another team of three to the top.  The fixed rope that Fyles left in 1922 was apparently last used in 1932 when Don Woods, Bestor Robinson, John Yeon and P. Desiata used it to reach the summit, then replaced it with a new one before making the perilous descent back down.  Though there may be other ascents of The Table lost to history, it appears that Fyles was the only climber to free climb the table, ever..  And he did it twice before fixing the rope in 1922.  Famous BC climber Dick Culbert appears to have climbed The Table in 1959 when the fixed rope was long gone, though unlike Fyles, he judiciously hammered pitons into the rock and fixed a rope along the way. 

Tom Fyles Vancouver Mountaineer

The list of first ascents by Tom Fyles is considerable, and it is believed owing to his modest personality, that many first ascents credited to large BCMC parties were led by him.  For example, the first recorded ascent of Mount Elsay was on May 6, 1923 by a BCMC group of 29 hikers led by Tom Fyles.  Some of his first ascents include, the true summit (North Peak) of Black Tusk and The Table, both solo.  In the Tantalus Range across the valley from Garibaldi Park, beyond Squamish he made first ascents of Mount Pelops, Mount Dione and Mount Omega.  Closer to Whistler, Fyles led two groups, one in 1928 and the second in 1931, to the first ascent of Mount Cayley and Tricouni Mountain.  They made several attempts on the very dangerous Mount Fee, but were unsuccessful.  During the two forays into the mountains they named all three mountains, Fee and Cayley after fellow mountaineers who recently died.  Down in the mountains around Vancouver he was the first to climb American Border Peak, Widgeon Peak and Mount Judge Howay.

Mount Judge Howay

Perhaps as significant an achievement to Tom Fyles' mountaineering talent was his incomparable passion and devotion to encouraging new climbers.  His enthusiasm and leadership seemed to propel newcomers to mountaineering into well rounded experts in short periods of time.  Alec Dalgleish, Stan Henderson, Eric Brooks, Mills Winram, Bill Wheatley and Neal Carter to name just a few out of countless people he inspired to become giants in BC mountaineering.  Neal Carter, who at just 17 years old, was introduced to the BCMC by Tom Fyles, would make first ascents of Wedge Mountain and Mount James Turner and go on to explore and name countless peaks around Whistler.  Neal Carter was the driving force behind massively extending Garibaldi Park to include the mountains north of present-day Whistler.

Carter and Townsend First Ascent Wedge Mountain

Tom Fyles and Alec Dalgleish partnered in three remarkable expeditions into the unknown wilderness of the Coast Mountains of BC in the early 1930’s.  In 1930 they, along with Stan Henderson explored deep into the mountains at the head of Bute Inlet.  In 1932, Tom Fyles, Alec Dalgleish, Neal Carter and Mills Winram went on an amazing expedition into the mountains at the head of Lillooet River.  The following year, in 1933, the same four explored the mountains at the head of Toba Inlet.  All of these expeditions would result in first ascents and the naming of many previously unnamed mountains.  Decades later, Mills Winram would describe Tom Fyles personality and style with undisguised respect and admiration.  "Tom was a natural leader.  If he said we can do this or we can't do that, you realized he had assessed all the possibilities.  He had the complete and utter confidence of the people he went with."

Tom Fyles Discovers Mountaineering

Tom Fyles grew up in Bolton, a town in Manchester, England, where he was born in 1887.  In his early twenties he worked as a joiners apprentice, and at 23, in 1910 he and his brother emigrated to Vancouver.  In an interview in 1973 Tom Fyles recalled his first impressions of Vancouver and the surrounding mountains. 

It was all so new.  I can remember going down Granville Street looking at the stores.  They were all so different than what they were in Bolton.  I particularly noticed the mountains the first time we were on Powell Street.  It was a beautiful, bright day, breezy and the mountains across the way.  We though t i was wonderful, and we were quite sure we were going to go up there.  I didn't know anything about how to get up [to the mountains] but we went across on the ferry and got on the street car at the terminus and then we walked.  First time we didn't even get to Mosquito Creek.  But we soon got over that.  There was a man in the Post Office - I worked in the Post Office not long after I came here, in 1912- and he was a member of the Mountaineering Club.  He suggested I went up with him to the cabin on Grouse, which I did on a snowy Saturday evening. and that was the start.  I joined the Club.  In 1914 I went to Garibaldi with the Mountaineering Club.  We came out just [at] the beginning of August, just when war had been declared.  The party went in on the weekend and I couldn't go till the following Tuesday.  The PGE was just being built and only went as far as Cheakamus, 'bout 12 miles up from Squamish.  But you could get a coach to there, and then I walked along the Pemberton Trail and found my way in to Garibaldi.  I had a little confusion getting in but I got there.  I was all alone.  I hadn't been beyond Squamish before that.  But I knew that looks of the mountains when I saw them from up above.  I could tell what they all were because I'd read about them.  And of course, I joined the party.  We did a number of things and then decided that we might have a look at The Table.  We went round the Panorama Ridge and down to the Barrier and down to The Barrier and over to The Table.  We spent some time looking at The Table.

Fyles was an early member of BC Mountaineering Club and planned and led nearly all the hikes for several years.  As one member recalled, “In the old days, Tom was the club.  He led every trip.”  Susan Leslie recalled in an article in the Canadian Alpine Journal in 1980, shortly after his death, “ most reports, he was an unimpressive man – quiet, plain-spoken, without ambition.  But in the mountains, Tom Fyles seems to expand.  He became a man whom other people instinctively recognized as a leader.  It wasn’t just that Tom could climb anything, or outwalk anyone, or find his way out of anywhere.  It was that Tom seemed never to be afraid or discouraged.  He had an ample, natural confidence that pervaded the people around him.  With Tom people felt safe.”  In 1917, H.B. Hinman of the Mountaineers wrote, “Too much praise cannot be given Mr. Tom Fyles, on whom the chief responsibility of the climbs rested.  Never have I seen a more indefatigable and efficient worker, a more genial personality, a more skillful and daring climber, yet careful and considerate of his party.” (The Mountaineer Volume X – 1917 p55)

In December 1926 a conflict developed between the old and new members of the BCMC, leading to Fyles and eight other prominent members walking out of a general club meeting and quitting. Tom Fyles was the director, Bill Wheatley and J. H Speer were vice presidents, R. E Knight was the club’s secretary, Neal Carter was the editor, Mrs. Carter was the reporter, Beverley Cayley and W. E Martin were members of the executive committee.  Most, including Fyles would join the Alpine Club in Canada, where he would eventually be honoured as a lifetime member.  In 1977, with Tom Fyles approached his 90th birthday, Neal Carter pushed to have Mount Taillefer, near Bella Coola, renamed Mount Fyles.  Tom Fyles, his brother and two other companions first climbed the area in 1919 and the mountain had appeared on early maps as Mount Fyles.  As the Canadian Permanent Committee on Geographical Names has a general principle to not allow names of living people, the name Mount Taillefer became the official name.  The following year, in 1978, Tom Fyles received official notification that Mount Fyles and Fyles Glacier were officially approved on August 25th, 1977.

First Ascent of The Table 1916

The Table, in Garibaldi Provincial Park is an extremely difficult mountain to climb owing to its steep sides and disintegrating rock.  The very few written accounts are terrifying and without exception conclude that it is too dangerous to climb.  The first ascent in 1916 was led by one of Canada’s greatest rock climbers and possibly the most underappreciated ascent in the history of climbing.  Unfortunately, Tom Fyles was as modest as he was an expert climber and a detailed account from him of the legendary climb is surprisingly hard to find.  The few details known, added with the astoundingly harrowing ascents that followed in the next few decades, make his initial ascent of The Table border on miraculous. Joseph T. Hazard, in his excellent book, Snow Sentinels of the Pacific Northwest, recalls that Fyles made that solo ascent after his two BC Mountaineering Club companions gave up and watched for hours as he surmounted the final 240 terrifying feet!

The Table from Black Tusk

Words seem unable to grasp how difficult The Table is to climb; however Hazard illustrates it well when he described the 1923 ascent he witnessed made by Wallace Burr and “Happy” Fisher. “Wally and Happy climbed a fifty-foot face of scaling rock, of disintegrating, columnar structure, to a sharp edge. Here Happy lay on his back for thirty minutes, bracing himself in position by hooking his legs to both sides of the knife-edge of rock. He held Wally's legs in his arms while for a half-hour Wally cast the middle of a hundred-foot rope at a point of rock, thirty-five feet above.”  Hazard continues to describe how, “Climbing The Table is one near impossible obstacle after another.” And, “Each requiring a tremendous feat of courage and expertise to overcome.”  Hazard’s admiration of Tom Fyles’ skill and bravery is subtly expressed when he concludes, “How he did it alone, he can only tell.  He is modest and will not give the whole story.”

Joseph T. Hazard Approaching The Table 1922

The first organized hiking into the Black Tusk/Garibaldi Lake region of Garibaldi Park was done by the BC Mountaineering Club in 1912.  Led by the club president Mr. W.J. Gray who, in 1914, described The Table with a mixture of awe and terror.  “The dark forbidding walls of the “Table” have defied our most expert rock climbers.  The slightest disturbance is sufficient to bring down a shower of sharp stones upon the head of the unwary climber.”  He goes on to compare Black Tusk and The Table and concludes that Black Tusk is comparatively easy while “The Table on the other hand, offers but a succession of somber cliffs on all sides, the lower slopes of which are covered with a heavy talus, and are swept by stone avalanches at intervals.”  Gray later recalled how the most determined rock climber in their party was, “slowly progressing up the western face when he was summarily arrested by the next man in line, who intimated that “if he had fifty lives, he would not climb any further.” So, The Table remains as the only peak within reach of the camp which has not been climbed.” 

The Table First Climbed by Tom Fyles in 1916

The Table Garibaldi Park Map v6

The first ascent of The Table would be achieved just four years later by a newcomer, and by all accounts, a novice climber. Tom Fyles, in 1916 made the solo ascent alone while his two BCMC climbing companions watching from below.  One good contemporary account of the first ascent of The Table on August 7, 1916 was published just a couple weeks later in the Vancouver Daily World newspaper with the byline, “Written by a Member of the Party.”  The article strangely doesn’t mention the other two climbers in Tom Fyles’ party.  “A party of three left the camp on the morning of August 7th and made their way around the shores of Garibaldi Lake to the base of The Table.  Early in the afternoon the leader had marked a course up the eastern end, and began to climb upwards by means of a narrow chimney.  The rocks were very loose and progress correspondingly slow.  It soon became apparent that there was great danger from falling fragments, and it was decided to allow the leader to attempt the climb alone, while the rest of the party sought shelter.  Above the chimney the climber ascended over the eastern arête, then traversed diagonally up the perpendicular north face till a point was reached almost level with the summit.  Ten minutes more and The Table was conquered.  The descent was even more dangerous, and some idea of the difficulties may be gathered from the fact that three hours were spent climbing up 300 feet and down again, allowing sufficient time to build a small cairn and leave a record.”

1916 Ascent of The Table Tom Fyles

In an interview with Dan Bowers in 1973, Tom Fyles recalled the first ascent of The Table.  He described how two year previous, he attended the 1914 summer camp with the BCMC.  He was unable to travel with the club and had to get there four days later by navigating the route himself.  A pretty challenging feat when you consider that he had never been north of Squamish before and the walking route began along the Pemberton Trail about halfway between Squamish and Stoney Creek.  Today we call Stoney Creek, Rubble Creek, but in 1914 the route to Black Tusk Meadows began at Cheakamus River.  The route ascended over boulders in roughly the same direction as the 2 kilometre access road used today to reach the Rubble Creek trailhead parking.  The route then followed the recently cut trail through the wilderness 12 kilometres up to the alpine meadows near the base of Black Tusk.  Fyles recalled that he was able to find his way, at least partly, from recollections from what he read about the descriptions of the mountains.

The Table and Mount Garibaldi

The Table in Garibaldi Park

Fyles described his described his first look at The Table.  “The Table is a flat-topped mountain made of basalt and it has a rather peculiar opening at one end that's an archway. The whole area looks like an inverted cup with a handle. It's not very high. It's quite abrupt, and quite steep and made of loose rock.  Whilst we went most of the way around and looked at the different chimneys, we didn't do anything more on that trip. We were camped at Black Tusk Meadows and so it made an all-day journey going round the lake. We went round the lake and we came back over Red Mountain.”  What we call Mount Price today, was called Red Mountain back then.

The Table Jug Handle

Tom Fyles recollection of the first ascent of The Table is wonderfully modest and conceals the terrifying difficulty.  “I had a long rope. The Mountaineering Club only had two ropes in those days.  One was a hundred feet; the other was sixty feet. I think I had the hundred-foot rope. So, I pulled this with me, and I intended to be able to help another man up with the end of the rope. I went up all the way alone, and then traversed across the face a little toward the west and managed to get into another gully which led to the top. The top, of course, was the big more or less level area, just one or two bits of scrubby trees and a few flowers. I walked all over it and I was able to talk to my friends who were there on the ridge below. They were making tea for the time when I got back. I was quite happy to have got to the top because it had been a challenge for some time to different members of the Club. I got down without any great difficulty. There were loose rocks, but by having two handholds and two footholds at the same time, it was possible for the odd piece of rock to give way. But we got down and had our tea and enjoyed it and walked back around the opposite side of the lake from what we'd come over.”

Second Ascent of The Table 1922

In 1922 Tom Fyles, Neal Carter and Bill Wheatley made, almost certainly, the second ascent of The Table.  Thirty-seven years later, in 1959 Neal Carter wrote a letter to Karl Ricker, in which he briefly mentioned the remarkable day.  “I was on the second ascent (again in 1922 - I must have been crazy that year). That's one mountain that I never want to climb again! The only consolation was that it was in the fog, so we couldn't see how far the drop below us was as we three clung to the loose chunks of rock that kept threatening to pull out of the sheer wall.”  Pictured here is the start of the successful 1922 ascent of The Table with Tom Fyles on the left, Bill Wheatley top middle and Neal Carter bottom right with the famous rope around his neck that remained fixed for a decade.

In an article written for The Province newspaper shortly after the 1922 ascent, Neal Carter wrote about the treacherous climb in detail.  Recalling how after the first ascent in 1916, “Mr. Fyles, pronounced it so rotten and loose as to warrant the name of an unjustifiable hazard; in 1920 he made two attempts to re-ascend it, but failed.  This time we started off with 180 feet of alpine rope and the slogan “Table or bust.”  We nearly “bust.””  Carter then continues the story in beautifully vivid detail.

“The weather was most unpropitious and soon after commencing the ascent, rain began to fall.  Tom Fyles went up first, with a rope about his waist, and all went well up to the first little pinnacle.  Here it was deemed advisable to continue up the arête at the low end; said arête being about as solid as a child’s house of blocks.  Sixty feet of rope brought the party to the next stopping place, a little dip in the sharp arête that made a niche just big enough for two of us while Tom continued the ascent with 120 feet of rope dragging behind him.  Shower after shower of rock whizzed past our heads as we sat almost motionless for fifty-five minutes during which only 110 feet were gained.  Finally, a dim shout was heard: “All right,” and our stiffened bodies were given a chance to exercise themselves on a slanting traverse of a precipitous rock-face composed of the shakiest material imaginable.  Fully half a ton of rocks were unavoidably dislodged during the ascent and descent; and did not add much to the confidence of the climbers as they went singing past in the fog to fall uninterrupted on the scree slopes below.

As the rope was followed upward in the fog, it finally landed us beside Mr. Fyles in another niche on a level with the summit, but connected to it by about twenty-five feet of wobbly, knife-edged ridge.  One of these rocks was partially demolished to enable us to grip a reasonably firm rock as we straddled along it.  Once the summit was reached, it was like stepping on to a macadamized field.  We built a good-sized cairn on the edge in plain view from below, and placed our own as well as Mr. Fyles’ previous record in a subsidiary cairn beside it, around which were transplanted a few erigeron, or mountain daisies.  Several meanings may be taken from this as to our feelings towards the descent; however, camp was reached again at 7 o’clock and The Table was conquered for the second time after a five and a half hour climb of 240 feet and back, though 120 feet of rope remain attached to the top as a mute token of a guaranteed safe descent for all three of us.  It may be some time before another name is added to the three already in the cairn.”

When Neal Carter refers to the summit as like stepping on to a macadamized field, he was using a term evidently more common at the time than now.  Macadamize is defined in regards to road building as laying and compacting successive layers of broken stone, often with asphalt.  So, Carter's description of the surface of The Table is that of a paved road comprised of broken stones and asphalt.

The Table Conquered a Second Time

Mount Cayley & Mount Fee 1928

In July of 1928 Tom Fyles, Bill Wheatley and Eric Brooks bushwhacked their way from the train station at McGuire to the head of Brandywine Creek. McGuire is located 16 kilometres south of Whistler Village, off the Sea to Sky Highway, roughly between Brandywine Falls and Cal-Cheak. In 1928 it was a large community centred around several sawmills and was one of the main train stations that ran through the valley.  The head of Brandywine Creek that Fyles' party bushwhacked to in 1928 is now known as Brandywine Meadows. During this expedition they made the first ascent and named Mount Cayley, which Fyles modestly recalls it as, "an interesting mountain and a good climb." They named it after a friend and fellow club member who died just a month previously, Beverley Cayley. After Mount Cayley they set their eyes on another interesting and unnamed, jagged peak.  Fyles described it as a ridge of rock 500 feet above a snow ridge and resembled a, "crest of a wave just ready to break." They made two attempts but were defeated by the loose rock of the upper section. They named this forbidding peak, Mount Fee after another fellow BCMC member and friend that also recently passed away, Charles Fee(1865–1927).

Mount Cayley 1928 Fyles Ascent

In the July 23rd, 1928 edition of the Vancouver Sun, the headline read, “More Peaks Conquered ‘Mount Cayley’ Named To Take Place On Map”

A new mountain will take its place on the map as “Mount Cayley” named after the late B.C. Cayley, son of Judge Cayley of Vancouver. If the recommendation of the Alpine Club party of five who climbed it is followed. It lies in the area of mountain peaks and ridges untouched by mountaineers in the country between the Squamish and Cheakamus rivers, and reaches a height of 8075 feet. The idea that all the peaks within reach of Vancouver have been climbed is erroneous. From Garibaldi Park some outstanding spire pointed to a new region of exploration which intrigued certain members of the Alpine Club of Canada. Accordingly, last week a party with well-filled packs pushed upward through the brush out of Maguire, 30 miles beyond S25quamish on the P.G.E. railway. The party consisted of Tom Fyles, R.E. Knight, W.G. Wheatley, B. Clegg and E. Brooks.  For six miles the going was easy over the old mining trail which linked up several claims. At a little over 5000 feet altitude, open meadowland was reached and here camp was pitched amongst heather. At the head of Brandywine Creek mountain peaks which offered exceptional difficulties beckoned the climbers. Several ridges of 6500 feet to 7200 feet were conquered. These divided the Brandywine, Callaghan and Squamish rivers and revealed delightful panoramas of the Garibaldi park peaks and the large glaciers and peaks of the upper Squamish valley.  The highest peak of the district proved to be a volcanic rim with spire-like towers, rising out of a snowfield which ran for many miles along the crest of the divide to the headwaters of Squamish valley. It required two attempts to climb this peak and an aneroid reading gave the height as 8075 feet. This is the new “Mount Cayley” in honor of B.C. Cayley who for several years was an ardent mountaineer. A second difficult volcanic flake of rock which rose to approximately 7500 feet, defied two determined efforts to climb it. It can be seen from Maguire station and remains unconquered. As a result of the trip local mountaineering circles will be interested in new photos and data available.

The Peaks of Bute Inlet 1930

Running up the coast from Vancouver between Vancouver Island and the mainland are several large inlets, also known as fjords.  Fjords are characterized as long, narrow arms of the sea that stretch far inland and are usually extremely deep. In Vancouver when you drive across the Lions Gate Bridge, you will be crossing Burrard Inlet, a relatively shallow-sided fjord formed during the last Ice Age. Up the coast from Burrard Inlet is Howe Sound, a huge fjord that extends to Squamish.  The Sea to Sky Highway famously runs along Howe Sound to Squamish before climbing into the mountains to Whistler. Called a ‘sound’ instead of an inlet or fjord because of its wide entrance. Particularly large and wide fjords/inlets are generally referred to as ‘sounds’ in the English language. Beyond Howe Sound are countless fjords stretching up to Alaska, though two in particular captured the attention of mountaineers from Vancouver in the 1930’s, Toba Inlet and Bute Inlet.  Because these inlets cut so deep into the mainland of British Columbia, they provided comparatively easy access to scores of unnamed mountains that mountaineers in the previous decade had spotted from a distance. Geographically speaking, these inlets lead to regions that roughly extend to Mount Meager. Mount Meager lays near the headwaters of Lillooet River, which flows down the valley to the town of Pemberton.

Northwest of Vancouver the major inlets are Howe Sound, Jervis Inlet, Toba Inlet, Bute Inlet and Knight Inlet.  In the summer of 1930, Tom Fyles, Alec Dalgleish and Stan Henderson went on a two-week expedition into the relatively unknown mountains at the end of Bute Inlet.  At over 80 kilometres long and averaging 4 kilometres wide, Bute Inlet is a spectacularly wild and beautiful fjord that leads to 9000 foot mountains and glacier filled valleys.  Despite its beauty, even today, it is infrequently visited and relatively untouched.  In an article written by Fyles in the 1930 edition of The Canadian Alpine Journal, he describes the topography beautifully.  "In this group three or four peaks exceed perhaps 10,000 feet in height, and elevations of 8,000 or 9,000 feet are the general rule.  A large section is covered by a plateau of snow from which glaciers descend like the overflow of a generously iced cake.  Reference to a map might reveal in that section about half a dozen names and a few; short lines meant for rivers, but for the most part it is shown blank... This section is part of the Coast Range which stretches in an almost impenetrable line from the head of Howe Sound, 30 miles north of Vancouver to the Bella Coola valley, a distance of over 200 miles."

Peaks of Bute Inlet Map

The journey to the head of Bute Inlet was by a weekly boat service that sailed every week from Vancouver on Saturday.  Sailing overnight, the Union Steamship “Chelosun” dropped them off on the small jetty at Homathko at the head of Bute Inlet.  From the ship they had hoped to get an idea of peaks to aim for and routes to navigate, but despite the clear weather, the steep sided inlet kept their planning to a minimum.  They decided that a relatively easy mountain should be climbed in order to gain a viewpoint over the region to plan their more ambitious climbs.  They decided on a modest sized 7000 foot mountain named Mount Evans, immediately north of their arrival point.  Fyles recalled,

The first problem was to row across the mouth of the Homathko River and find a landing sufficiently high on which to deposit our belongings and, as the tide was low, some time was lost.  It was almost noon when the base of the hillside was reached and the heat was excessive as we scrambled upwards through a tangle of brambles.  By continued effort a point overlooking the glacier was gained at 5pm and an hour and a half later from the crest of the snow-field above, at a height of 6,800 feet, we were rewarded by a splendid view of the surrounding country. Lengthening shadows emphasized the beauty of the array of mountains which had grown into our horizon as we ascended. Beyond the depression where the Homathko River moved seaward, 30 miles away, was Mt. Waddington and its high neighbors, and on all sides were mountain peaks 2,000 or 3,000 feet higher than the ridge on which we stood.

The next two days were spent hiking towards and climbing to the summit of Mount Bute. They recorded the altitude at the summit to be 9,200 feet, considerably higher than Mount Evans and they were able to see a lot more of the surrounding mountains.  "A jumble of peaks and glaciers spread in all directions as far as the eye could see. In a deep basin more than 9000 feet below, the head of Bute Inlet lay like a lake amidst a surrounding wall of mountains. Across the mouth of the Southgate River Mts. Rodney, Superb and the Needles Peaks rose from the east side of the Inlet, whilst behind them a fine unnamed group about 9000 feet high looked as if it would offer good climbing."

They returned to their camp and the following day made the long descent back down the valley to their starting point by the river at the head of Bute Inlet. They packed up more food and set off up the valley of the Teaquahan River. For two days, under heavy packs they bushwhacked their way into the unfamiliar wilderness along the wide and crashing river. By the end of the second day they had managed to just cover 10 or 12 miles before finally making camp and, “a cheery blaze and hot meal were very welcome after our strenuous endeavors.”

The next morning, they followed a stream to its source which was an enormous glacier, which they were glad to hike on after miles of erratic, bushwhacking terrain. The easygoing glacier hiking was short lived however, as they came to an icefall a thousand feet high. They eventually skirted the obstacle by climbing a moraine and continuing further up the glacier to 5500 feet and another icefall. This obstacle was not to hard to cross and they once again continued up the glacier, which they named Eva after the name the locals use for Teaquahan River. Continuing along a ridge they soon reached an altitude of 8000 feet and finally got a good look at the difficulty that lay ahead. With the head of Eva Glacier blocked by an impossible to climb ridge, they decided to return back to camp. On their return journey along the moraine along the lower icefall, Henderson was bowled over by a large rock that he inadvertently disturbed. He received bad bruising to one leg and fortunately did not fall down the steep moraine. He was able to walk back to the camp, however was too battered to hike the following day. As Fyles later recalled,

The following morning, leaving Henderson to nurse his bruises, Dalgleish and I retraced our steps of the previous day and followed the upper part of Eva Glacier to where it merged into the great snow plateau at a height of 7,000 feet. Rising from the snowfield about a mile away, appeared a rocky blade 1,500 feet high, and as it was evident this would make an excellent viewpoint, the intervening distance was crossed and the southern arete climbed. It provided an interesting scramble. The highest point, a projecting rock about 50 feet high (which suggested the name Gargoyle for the peak) almost defeated our efforts to scale it but with the aid of a rope thrown over a convenient corner, the obstacle was overcome and a cairn built on the summit. The day was again perfect and for two and a half hours we stayed to enjoy the wonderful panorama, a sea of peaks wave on wave reaching to the horizon. The expanse of snow out of which our peak protruded spread in an undulating plateau 15 or 20 miles long and several miles wide, and formed the most interesting object of our view. Two or three peaks about 10,000 feet in height rose to the northeast; Mt. Goodhope near the south end of Chilko Lake farther east, while the big peak we had seen from Bute Mountain and which we had hoped to climb, looked temptingly near. Mt. Waddington again showed clearly to the northwest. Descending the rocks and picking up our trail on the snow below, we went down the slopes, reveling in the changing details of the snowy landscape with the deepening of evening shadows. On reaching camp we were rejoiced to find our friend much improved by his easy day. The following morning the journey out to the inlet was commenced and by taking easy stages to help our lame companion the trip was made in two days. Here we enjoyed the hospitality of Mr. and Mrs. Adkins, who were in charge of logging operations. The memory of a great feast from a table carrying a variety of food not included in our own bill of fare, will long remain.

Mount Cayley, Tricouni and & Mount Fee 1931

Three years after Tom Fyles, Bill Wheatley and Eric Brooks bushwhacked their way into the alpine of what we today call Brandywine Meadows, Tom Fyles returned. In the middle of July of 1931 Fyles pulled together another team of climbers to pick up where they left off in 1928.  Once again, they were unable to conquer Mount Fee, however they climbed Mount Cayley via a different route and climbed and named another mountain, Tricouni Mountain.  They chose the name tricouni, as it appears as three cones from a distance. Overall, the trip was a great success as the weather was perfectly sunny the entire time and they did considerable climbing and exploring.  They did however conclude that Mount Fee is too dangerous and an, "unjustifiable climb."

Mount Cayley Photos by Tom Fyles 1931

Explorations in the Lillooet River Watershed 1932

Winram, Dalgleish, Fyles and Carter 1932

The Source of the Toba River 1933

Near the summit of Mount Meager in 1932, Tom Fyles, Neal Carter, Mills Winram and Alec Dalgleish could see for the first time, the vast range of unknown snowy peaks stretching west to the ocean. Carter recalled that moment in his article ‘Exploration in the Lillooet River Watershed’ he wrote in the Canadian Alpine Journal in 1932, "An entirely unknown, heavily glaciated range over 9000 feet high lay some dozen miles to the west, behind which the tips of several peaks exceeding 10,000 feet in elevation could be distinguished. These lay in the direction of the headwaters of the Toba River and it was evident that they would have to be approached from that direction." Alec Dalgleish recalled, "how we sat on the summit of Meager Mountain, a hitherto unclimbed peak of the B.C. Coast Range and vainly endeavored to identify the snowy ranges which rose to the north and west. The desire to view these peaks more intimately grew within us during the following winter and we finally decided to explore the source of the Toba River which we thought might lead us into them.” In 1933 Carter, Fyles, Winram and Dalgleish would embark on another mountaineering expedition into the unknown mountains and glaciers at the source of Toba River.

To the Cradle of the Toba River! by Alec Dalgleish

Dalgleish wrote two wonderfully detailed articles about their ambitious, second expedition in the summer of 1933. One appeared in the 1933 edition of the Canadian Alpine Journal and the other in the Vancouver Province on August 19th, 1933. Both articles wonderfully detailed their journey almost day by day, and you quickly get a sense of the brutal terrain they faced through they faced bushwhacking for miles through harsh and unknown terrain. The Province article “To the Cradle of the Toba River!” was illustrated with a drawing, photo and map. The Canadian Alpine Journal article titled, “The Source of the Toba River” includes eight photos taken by Dalgleish, as well as detailed map drawn of the area they covered. Mills Winram was interviewed in 1979 about his past hiking adventures and talked about the Toba hike. The interview was printed in the excellent book, In the Western Mountains: Early Mountaineering in British Columbia, published in 1980. The following is a day by day account of their expedition as recalled by Dalgleish and Winram.

Day 1: Vancouver to Toba Inlet

On Saturday, July 8th, 1933 Neal Carter, Tom FylesMills Winram and Alec Dalgleish boarded the steamship Chelohsin in Vancouver to begin their 250 kilometre boat journey to Toba Inlet.

Carter, Winram & Fyles on the Chelohsin July 8th, 1933

Carter, Winram, Fyles Ship to Toba 8 July 1933

Day 2: Head of Toba Inlet

The Chelohsin arrived at Redonda Island in Toba Inlet at 4am on Sunday morning, July 9th, 1933. Dalgleish recalls:

Here we were met by Bill and Joe Barnes, sons of Walter Barnes, trapper and farmer of Toba Inlet, and his Indian wife. We stowed our supplies in their dilapidated though dependable gas-boat and were soon chugging our way through the winding channels whose waters changed slowly from deepest blue to glacial green as we neared the head of the inlet. At half past one we reached the head. Progress up the river would have to be delayed until high tide at 6:30 the following morning. The weather was glorious and a snowy peak rising some six thousand feet above Bill Barnes’ little shack invited us to climb it and see what was up the river.

We made elevation rapidly on an open timbered ridge, thickly populated by large and hungry mosquitoes. At 6 o'clock we reached the summit but the sky had clouded over and all we could see beyond the head of the river was a great, white, glacier-clad slope, the peaks above hidden in the clouds—thirty miles away it must be as the crow flies—but we hoped for the best and put our trust in the gas boat.

We left the peak by 7 and descended the last two thousand feet in darkness and a driving rain. In a log chute a few hundred feet above the salt chuck I slipped and fell some ten feet between two huge logs. My heartless companions roused me from blissful unconsciousness and the descent was completed without further mishap. We descended in darkness and rain to spend the last few hours of the night on the rough floor of Joe Barnes’ shack among his numerous children.

Day 3: Boat Journey Up Toba River

On Monday, July 10th, 1933 they were finally able to start their long boat journey up Toba River battling the strong current and with the weather turning to rain. Dalgleish continues the story:

With the high tide on Monday morning, we started up the river and at 2:30 in the afternoon reached the first forks, sixteen miles from the inlet. Here we transferred from the gas boat to a dugout canoe with outboard motor and continued on our way. With the weight of six men and our far from inconsiderable packs the canoe made slow headway against the rushing waters. Concealed snags were a constant menace to the fragile bottom of our craft but we escaped damage, thanks to the keen eyes of Bill and Joe. The going in the torrential river became slower, sometimes we barely seemed to crawl. Again, a patch of slow water allowed us to shoot ahead at a more encouraging speed. Soon we had to reinforce the kicker with the oars and about 7 p.m. reached a deserted hand-logger's cabin and decided to spend the night.

Day 4: Canoeing Up Toba River

On Tuesday, July 11th they continued up Toba River by canoe, fighting against its ever increasing current, making painfully slow progress. Dalgleish continues:

After spending the night in a deserted logger’s cabin, we continued in the canoe on Tuesday. The river grew swifter and swifter and finally we took to the shore while Bill and Joe cajoled the canoe along with pole and kicker. It was slow going, but so long as progress was being made the packs were more comfortable in the canoe than on our backs. At noon we came to a rapid and decided that the time to backpack had come at last. We had travelled twenty-five miles of the river by boat. Unfortunately, so snake-like are the windings of the Toba that our airline distance from the head of the inlet was only about fifteen miles.

Fyles, Winram & Carter Toba River July 11th, 1933

Fyles, Winram, Carter Bushwhack Toba River 11 July 1933

After bidding farewell to Bill and Joe who were to meet us at this spot eleven days later, we divided our supplies into four packs, finding to our surprise that these weighed but fifty-five pounds each. Surplus equipment was left in a trapper’s cabin nearby, the last habitation on the Toba River. We followed a sketchy trapper’s trail along the river bank. Sometimes the trail was good but it had a disconcerting trick of petering out in the midst of almost impenetrable tangles of devil’s club, vine maple and other exasperating Coast Range vegetation. For the rest of the day we plodded along the riverbank, sometimes on a sketchy but recognizable trail and again wrapped in clinging devil's club and salmonberry bush, fighting for minutes at a time to gain fifteen or twenty feet. At 9 p.m. we camped on a ten-foot strip of sand bar by the side of the river.

Day 5: Bushwhacking

Wednesday, July 12th, 1933, day 5 of their expedition was a day of little progress as the bushwhacking continued. Dalgleish has little to say about this day:

On Wednesday we struggled along all day and in the afternoon the river swung sharply to the north, shamelessly contradicting the north-easterly course shown on the map. We followed its new course for half a mile on a beautifully open gravel bar before camping.

Day 6: First Glimpse of Source of Toba River

On Thursday, July 13th, the sixth day of their expedition they finally were able to see the peaks and glaciers at the source of Toba River. They could finally plan their exciting days of alpine hikes. They also became aware of how they had just three days of climbing before having to start the long descent back down the river. Dalgleish wrote in his Vancouver Province article:

Next day two hours travelling brought us to two equal branches of the river, one continuing to the north, the other coming in from the east. Without reluctance we left our packs upon the bar and made a hurried ascent to a height of 4500 feet on the ridge to the west. At last we could see the actual sources of the river. The northern branch flowed from a sinuous green glacier some two or three miles above the forks, cascaded over a band of cliffs, tore its way through an amazingly narrow cleft in a ridge of rock and then tamed down a little for the final mile before joining the east branch. The north branch glacier appeared to descend to a very low level, between one and two thousand feet above sea level; the east branch came also from a large glacier about the same distance from the confluence but somewhat higher, perhaps twenty-five hundred feet above the sea.

What drew our attention most however, was a massive peak which reared its impressive bulk at the head of the east branch glacier. Great ice-falls half masked in snow draped its shoulders from which rose a double peak, one chisel-shaped, the other a sharp rock tusk. A difficult thing to explain to the non-mountaineer but it was just one of those peaks! It must be climbed, even if we climbed nothing else. In solemn conclave that evening we apportioned the rest of our time. We would pack five days grub up the east branch. A day in and a day out would allow three days to climb. Then a day to explore the source of the north branch and two days to get back down river to meet the canoe.

Day 7: The Nose of the Glacier

On Friday, July 14th, 1933 they packed five days worth of supplies and hiked up the east fork. In his Vancouver Province article Dalgleish wrote:

Friday was clear and hot as we slowly mounted along the side-hill, packs now reduced to about forty pounds. The underbrush was reasonably penetrable but it was 5pm when we threw down our packs on a flat space of gravel not fifty feet from the great mud covered nose of the glacier. Our elevation was only twenty-seven hundred feet above the sea, yet all about us stretched a waste of rock and ice. For wood we must resurrect bits of smashed and gritty tree trunks brought down from the higher benches by snowslides. Two or more miles farther on, our chosen peak thrust its sharp rock summit from the clinging ice-falls of the glacier. We climbed into our bags early that night, dedicating the next day to its ascent.

Day 8: Summit of Julian Peak

On Saturday, July 15th they reached the summit of an unknown peak which they named Julian Peak. Julian Peak turned out to be the only mountain they climbed. Mainly this was due to the short window of time that had to climb, but also due to the difficult and time consuming glacier travel required to reach the nearby summits. Weather would also cause delays by reducing visibility so much as to make navigating the maze of glacier crevasses near impossible. Yet another difficulty they faced was caused by the brutal ordeal they faced hiking. Mills Winram described the days leading up to the 15th their battered condition they were in when they climbed Julian Peak:

It turned out we only climbed one mountain. which was later named Mount Dalgleish, after one of the members of our party who was killed on Mount Waddington the following year. But as to the bushwhacking part, that valley had an awful lot of devil's club. And we hadn't taken our gloves with us, so in spreading the branches apart, we inevitably got lots of thorns in our fingers, and they became painfully infected. And some days, we couldn't go further than three or four miles and then we'd struggle out to the shore of the river and camp on the gravel bars. And then next morning, we'd waken about 4 or 4:30, have a quick breakfast, put on our pack and struggle on through the bush again. The weather had been cool and rainy, so when we got up near the headwaters, the river was down, and we were able to cross it quite easily. It would be maybe fifty feet wide at that point, and it didn't go much over our boot tops. And then we went up to where the river came out of the snout of what is now the Dalgleish Glacier, and we camped on the gravel there. The next day we made our climb right up to the peak, which is about 9,700 feet, and came back to our camp.

In his newspaper article ‘To the Cradle of the Toba River’ Dalgleish recalls July 15th, 1933 in great detail:

Before daylight we were up and as the first glints of sunlight appeared on the highest peaks we crossed the tongue of the glacier and started up a steep, rocky slope. Above it we knew lay the upper snowfields which mounted in great icy curves to the summit. The rocks were soon passed but we were still far below timberline and more than two hours were consumed in fighting through the inevitable tangle of slide alder which clings to any avalanche-swept slope below the five thousand foot mark.

At last the upper glacier was reached and we roped up before threading our way through the maze of crevasses which criss-crossed its snowy surface. Some were good honest gaping holes but others were treacherously masked beneath a thin layer of snow. The snow grew softer under the growing heat of the sun and we plodded more and more slowly up the glaring slopes, eyes sheltered by dark glasses, and a protective coating of grease paint on our faces, At two in the afternoon we stepped on the summit, our aneroids giving the altitude at 9150 feet. It was a perfect day, and all the peaks from Mt. Garibaldi in the south to Mt. Waddington in the north were spread out around us. These are the moments which fully reward the mountain climber for all his hours of labor.

Julian Peak July 15th, 1933

Julian Peak Panorama 15 July 1933

We sat long on the peak, taking photographs and angles and scanning the horizon with binoculars to recognize old friends and make vague speculations on future ascents of various previously unseen peaks which bulked above the lesser ranges. Two huge peaks rose to the north somewhere near the Bishop River. Our shoulders ached at the thought of the back-packing necessary to reach them.

View West From Julian Peak July 15th, 1933

View West from Julian Peak July 15th 1933

We felt it our privilege, as the first climbers, to apply a name to the peak we were on, and it was decided to call it Julian Peak in honor of the old Toba Indian chief. He is eighty-six years of age and still lives at the head of Toba Inlet where he was born. As a boy he had crossed from the head of the Toba River into the Lillooet. Toba Mountain would seem appropriate for the higher peak (approximately 9600 feet) to the northwest, as it is the highest point on the Toba River drainage system. We left at last and descended the mushy snowfields, avoiding the morning's tangled bush by a detour on steep rock, and reached camp by fading evening light.

Alec Dalgleish Below Julian Peak July 15th, 1933

Alec Dalgleish Below Julian Peak July 15th 1933

Day 9: Rest and Recover

Sunday, July 16th, 1933 was devoted to resting and recovering. Dalgleish wrote briefly of the day:

Sunday was a day of rest, more, I am afraid, for the good of our bodies than our souls. Mills had a very sunburnt face due to his child-like faith in the anti-actinic properties of castor oil, and I was quite lame with an infected sliver in the calf of my right leg. Tom’s hands were very sore from the effects of devil’s club needles. The familiar spirits of the Toba River apparently resented our intrusion.

Day 10: Toba Mountain

On Monday July 17th, 1933 while Dalgleish rested at the camp, Fyles, Carter and Winram set out to climb Toba Mountain. Dalgleish described the day:

On Monday, Tom, Neal and Mills made an attempt upon Toba Mountain. Attempting to follow a route which appeared feasible as seen from Mt. Julian, they found themselves in dense fog amidst a maze of crevasses. Crossing toward the southeast face to avoid these, they managed to ascend the east ridge to a height of 8400 feet where a combination of fog and general bewilderment as to the nature of intervening glacier-covered ridges forced them to turn back after spending over two hours huddled in a scooped-out hole waiting for the clouds to lift. On descending to the great snowfield which lay between Toba and Julian they got below the fog and decided to explore its northern extremity. Almost an hour and a half was required to reach this point but they were rewarded with a view of the upper reaches of the great Lillooet River Glacier. These appeared to originate chiefly in the snowfield on which the party stood, though other tributaries came in from the north. The ice also sloped to the west and almost certainly curved around the west side of Toba Mountain to feed the north branch of the Toba River.

About 8pm, in heavy rain, they squished into camp and made short work of a huge pot of macaroni and dried vegetables over which I had brooded with dripping jaws all afternoon. A council of war was held that night over my right leg. It was swollen to regal proportions and colored in delicate shades of violet and magenta. Four days remained until we met Bill and Joe down the river and it had taken us three to reach this point. Handicapped by a cripple we must allow ourselves plenty of time to get out. Sadly we decided that we would start the retreat on the morrow.

Day 11: Begin Hiking Out

On Tuesday, July 18th, 1933 they began their return journey. Dalgleish wrote:

Despite two days rest my leg was still worse on Tuesday morning and as we were to meet Bill and Joe on Friday we decided that we must start out at once. I forced a climbing boot upon my protesting limb and by evening we were back at the junction of the north and east branches.

Day 12: The River Crossing

Mills Winram recalled the difficult river crossing they faced on their return journey on Wednesday, July 19th:

By this time, Alec Dalgleish had a bad infection in his heel, and he could hardly walk without the aid of a cane. So we hobbled down the glacier to the place where we had crossed the river. Only it had been hot weather in the interval, and now the river was about six feet deep, and roaring down full of mud and boulders. We knew we couldn't cross it in that state. So we cut down a tree, hoping to bridge it that way, and the first tree we cut down was swept away almost at once. And then we tackled a big cedar, a partially dead tree about three and a half feet at the butt. And after an awful lot of work with one little axe, it did come down and it bridged the river. And water rushed across the middle of it about three or four inches deep, and it shook with the force of the current. But we had to get across. I grabbed my pack and I rushed right across, and I wouldn’t have gone back over that thing for anything. Neal Carter came across after me, and then Tom Fyles came across carrying his own pack, and helping Alec Dalgleish who couldn't balance himself alone. And somebody had to go back and get Alec 's pack, so Tom made a second trip across that awful log, which I'm sure went out in the next hour.

River Crossing July 19th, 1933

River Crossing July 19th, 1933

Day 13: Trapper's Cabin

Thursday afternoon on July 20th they arrived at the trapper’s cabin where they arranged to meet the boat the following day.

Day 14: Canoeing Down Toba River

Dalgleish wrote briefly about Friday, July 21st, 1933: "Friday, while Tom and Neal engaged in a titanic struggle with the bluffs and bushes of a nearby hillside, Mills and I loafed on a gravel-bar and joyfully hailed the canoe as it crept around the bend that afternoon."

Day 15: Toba River to Toba Inlet

On Saturday, July 22nd, fifteen days from when they started, they emerged from the wilderness and back to the farmhouse on Redonda Island in Toba Inlet. Dalgleish wrote: “The swift return trip down the river made without incident, though we will long remember the dinner set before us by Mrs. Mattson, mother of one of the Toba River farmers.”

Day 16: Depart Toba Inlet by Boat

On Sunday afternoon on July 23rd they were on the boat back to Vancouver and Dalgleish recalled, “Monday morning, July the twenty-fourth we slid through the First Narrows, back once more, with mixed feelings of joy and regret, to the land of street cars, sidewalks and clean shaves.”

Mills Winram recalled their journey back to Vancouver and reflected on what the Toba expedition meant to him when interviewed in 1979:

At mealtime, the waiter wouldn't let me sit in the little dining room on the boat because I had this great running sore - a spectacular hit from a devil's club thorn. Poor Alec Dalgleish was worse than me because he was limping from his bad heel. And the others looked puffy, and their skin was all burnt out from glacier burn, and infected with thorns. It took me at least a month and a half after that just to get back my full energy. I was sleeping quite a lot to get over it. I suppose it's something like a military campaign. After you've really struggled very, very hard physically, you have to relax for a while.

But we saw a place that no one else had been. We knew we could do what no one else had done; there were a few other people who could do it, but we had managed to do it. And this is a reward you can claim without paying taxes on it. It's just curiosity. If no one else has been there, it’s a sort of fatal attraction. It may not sound like much, but when this fellow Mallory was asked in 1924 why he bothered to try to climb Mt. Everest, he couldn't think of any other reason, except to say no one else had been there, and therefore he'd like to see what it was like. And that's the way we felt.

Dalgleish's Canadian Alpine Journal Article Map

Toba Expedition Sketch Map


The Waddington Tragedy 1934

In the winter of 1933-1934 Alec Dalgleish and Alan Lambert laid out a plan to make an attempt on Waddington, a mountain that required a journey of several days to get to.  Eric Brooks and Neal Carter were to join them on this three week attack on the Coast Mountain's highest peak.  Mount Waddington is also British Columbia's highest mountain if you don't count Mount Fairweather and Mount Quincy Adams, which straddle the Alaska, BC border.  The assault on Mount Waddington would end in tragedy however, when Alec Dalgleish fell to his death while on a roped descent along a smooth, outwardly sloping ledge.  The belaying rope remained taut for just a moment before being cut by the sharp edge of a frost-shattered rock.  The cause of the fall was never determined as the only sound heard was a slight scratching of nailed boots on the rocks.  Lambert looked up and saw Dalgleish for just an instant before he disappeared over the cliff.  To quote Chic Scott again from Pushing The Limits, "Dalgleish was a very popular figure amongst Vancouver climbers, and could have drastically altered the course of Coast mountaineering had he lived."  After his death, Mount Julian was renamed Mount Dalgleish.

Dalgleish Cairn at Icefall Point 1934

Several friends of Alec Dalgleish made the considerable journey to the scene of the accident just a few days later. Due to the precarious location of the accident it was estimated that it would take six men several hours to recover his body. As Neal Carter wrote later, "The slopes of Mount Waddington were chosen as the last resting place of Alec Dalgleish." Eric Brooks, Alan Lambert, Frank Smith, Stan Henderson and two of Dalgleish's work friends constructed a memorial cairn, "incorporating Dalgleish's skis and a suitably protected scroll now stands on a prominent elevation above Icefall Point, facing the scene of the last endeavor of a true mountaineer."

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