Circling the Summit

Mount Waddington is the highest and not to be denied monarch of the British Columbia Coastal Mountains. A network of extensive glaciers spread out in all directions and snow crowned peaks bow before this lord of the mountain manor.

It was in June 1925 that Don and Phyllis Munday spotted what they thought was Mount Waddington from Mount Arrowsmith on Vancouver Island, and for the next 20 years, Don and Phyllis (and many different friends) attempted to summit Mount Waddington.  Don wrote extensively about their many trips to Waddington in The Unknown Mountain (1948). Next year will mark 90 years (1925-2015) since Don and Phyllis were inspired to pioneer treks and climbs to Waddington’s ice sculpted  mountain castle high above valley life and far from the madding crowd.

I was fortunate in 2006 (80 years after Don and Phyllis began their trips to Waddington) to join a group of mountaineers from Vancouver Island to celebrate the birth of the many Waddington climbs. We trekked up Cokely on the Island, inspired by Don and Phyllis’ mountaineering life that took such a vocational turn after spotting this unknown mountain (Cloudburst: Fall/Winter 2006). If Don Munday wrote about Waddington in a most readable and compelling manner, then Don Serl’s The Waddington Guide: Alpine Climbs in one of the World’s Great Ranges (2003) is the go to and must read book for the serious and committed Waddington peak keeners. It is significant to note that in 1955, Sir Edmund Hillary spoiled Phyllis Munday by flying her to the Waddington range of mountains, plane landing and all, and offered Phyllis an afternoon to just to sit and soak in the setting that shaped her and Don’s lives for many years.

A pilot friend of mine contacted me the week of November 9th, asking if I’d be interested in flying up to Waddington, circling the grand chief and doing some above glacier landscape photo shoots while cruising the vast ice and snow landscapes. How could I say no? The morning of November 16th was the green light to go day, so into the four seat Cessna 206 we climbed, and it was off the runway and upwards. The sky was a perfect blue canopy, sans clouds, no wind and a temperature inversion at Waddington; it was above freezing, making it hard to believe it was mid-November.

The flight took us past some of the finer summits in the Fraser Valley , Robie Reid and Judge Howay, around the impressive Mt. Garibaldi, then up through the Pemberton Icefields.  The plane (four of us in it) climbed ever higher, like a small bird, as we effortlessly and smoothly cruised between rock faces on all sides and up the trunk of the long and wide turquoise coloured and deeply crevassed glaciers.

If the thickly glaciated mountainous entrée was a sheer charmer, then the flight up the lengthy Hamathko Glacier to the summit of Waddington  (and our many circles of it from various angles) was a sight that silenced tongue and pen. Cameras could not be still, though, as it was all so surreal to be so close to such a knife-edged peak surrounded by the vast array of lesser summits. The Plummer Hut below us had been the temporary home to Waddington climbers over the years. Don and Phyllis would be amazed, 80 years later, by what we had seen about the Waddington environment in such a short space of time.

We could not hover long at such heights with the gas tank slowly being depleted.  It was soon time to descend down the long Waddington Glacier to Bute Inlet and back to the Fraser Valley, a full four hours in flight to Waddington, now a generous and not to be forgotten memory.

All photos and videos below courtesy of Brett Rueff.

Ron Dart

Ron Dart

Ron Dart has taught in the department of political science/philosophy/religious studies at University of the Fraser Valley since 1990. Ron lived in Norway-Switzerland from 1972-1974 where he absorbed the finest of the Norwegian and Swiss alpine culture and tradition. Ron has trekked, skied and climbed many trails, mountains and glaciers in Europe and North America for many a pleasant decade—he has, also, published articles, book reviews and trip reports on mountaineering in Appalachia, Cloudburst, Canadian Alpine Journal, British Columbia Mountaineering Club, The B.C. Mountaineer, Gazette, Avalanche Echoes and other magazines. Ron has published two books on mountaineering culture: Mountaineering and the Humanities and Thomas Merton and the Beats of the North Cascades.

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