Perfect Pairings: Old School Reads with New School Adventure

Follow in the footsteps of the Rockies’ most legendary adventurers by pairing your next adventure with these great reads.

A Hunter of Peace Book Cover

A Hunter of Peace – Mary T.S. Schäffer, 1911

“Reaching the eastern slope, I think I never saw a fairer valley. From our very feet it swept away into an unbroken green carpet as far as the eye could see…” – Mary Schäffer

Mary Schäffer was one of the most ambitious women adventurers of her time. Proof: in the early 20th century she took on several of the most brazen, difficult exploratory trips in what are now Banff and Jasper National Parks. Like a good boss, Schäffer was unconcerned with gender issues or public opinion. She simply loved the adventure. Her most celebrated journeys of 1907, 1908 and 1911 can be found in A Hunter of Peace, a modern compilation originally published as Old Indian Trails.

***Must-do adventure: Backpack the Brazeau Loop, Jasper National Park, AB

Reference: The Canadian Rockies Trail Guide, Brian Patton & Bart Robinson, Summerthought Publishing

Insider’s tip: The Brazeau Loop throws you deep into Schäffer’s exploration territory, but the terrain was not new to local indigenous people. The knowledge they shared helped Schäffer on her annual expeditions.

Where Clouds Can Go Book Cover

Where the Clouds Can Go – Conrad Kain, 1935

“Mt. Robson is a wicked peak. I know it very well from looking at it: I have not climbed it yet but will surely succeed…” – Conrad Kain

As one of the godfathers of prolific first ascents in the Canadian Rockies, Conrad Kain tackled the most challenging mountains he could find. Kain’s route on Bugaboo Spire was once considered the most difficult in Canada and a formidable achievement in 1916. Kain also solved the Mt. Robson problem, one of the most sought after peaks of the day, by making a stunning first ascent in 1913. Where the Clouds Can Go was first published in 1935 and is a wonderful personal record from this old school guide and climber. Wrought with humility and charm, it definitely deserves a place on your bookshelf as a Canadian Rockies classic.

***Must-do adventure: Climb the Kain Route (5.6), Bugaboo Spire, Bugaboo Glacier Provincial Park, B.C.

Reference: The Bugaboos by Chris Atkinson and Marc Piché, Elaho Press/High Col

Warning: Guys! Don’t be fooled by what seems to be an easy rock grade. Kain’s route has benighted a few very competent climbers over the years.

The Glittering Mountains of Canada book cover

The Glittering Mountains of Canada – J. Monroe Thorington, 1925

This is the record of our mountain memories, which may perhaps have the power of shedding afterglow, even though the light be dim in comparison to realities. And yet, if you glimpse but a bit of it, great indeed will be our reward.”  – J. Monroe Thorington

James Monroe Thorington was a Princeton graduate who was hooked on the mountains of Western Canada. He spent 15 summers in Alberta and B.C. making 50 first ascents including North Twin, the highest peak solely in Alberta. In The Glittering Mountains of Canada, Thorington shares tales from life on the trail during explorations and ascents from 1914 – 1924. One of the most memorable passages cites the explorers finding a lone baby mountain goat, which the cook manages to catch as it tries to scamper away. Luckily, the poor goat is released before dinner talk gets serious.

***Must-do adventure: Hike up Mt. Fairview at Lake Louise. One of Thorington’s favourites, he considered it training for bigger objectives, and it’s a wonderful day trip in September when the larches are aglow.

Reference: The Canadian Rockies Trail Guide, Brian Patton & Bart Robinson, Summerthought Publishing

Insider’s tip: The Lake Louise and Paradise Valley areas have been overrun with larch seekers in the past few years. It’s best to call in sick and visit Mt. Fairview and the Saddleback during the week.

Climbs and Exploration in the Canadian Rockies

Climbs and Exploration in the Canadian Rockies  J. Norman Collie & Hugh Stutfield, 1903

“ As usual, in every direction lay a perfect sea of snow-clad peaks, with hardly a name to any of them.” – J. Norman Collie

J. Norman Collie was literally obsessed with locating the two fabled “giants” of the Canadian Rockies, Mts. Hooker and Brown. Reputedly 16,000 and 15,700 ft high, these two peaks would have been amongst the highest in Canada, so he hired famous Banff outfitter Bill Peyto to take him to the Howse Pass and Columbia Icefields areas in search of them. The ensuing journeys were amazing, but the real joy in this book is the true “wild west” feel of it. The pages are filled with personal anecdotes, not science. References to “picturesque” profanity, escaped ponies, misfired guns and whiskey-fueled mishaps all add to the mountain magic.

***Must-do adventure: Mt. Wilcox scramble. The view from the summit of Mt. Wilcox is bananas: Mt. Athabasca, Mt. Andromeda, Mt. Kitchener and the Athabasca Glacier splayed out before your eyes.

Reference: Scrambles of the Canadian Rockies, Alan Kane, Rocky Mountain Books

Insider’s tip: If you schedule your scramble for mid to late July, you’ll be overwhelmed by the wildflowers on the trail to Wilcox Pass on your way to the peak.

The Rockies of Canada book cover

The Rockies of CanadaWalter Wilcox, 1900

“The thunder of repeated ice avalanches, or the loud reports of stones falling upon the mountains where summer was loosening the frost, several times disturbed my siesta. The dreamy rustle of windblown grass and the varying sound of the torrent were, however, like an endless summer song.” – Walter Wilcox

Walter Wilcox ventured into many corners of the Canadian Rockies, but one of his most remarkable journeys was to Mt. Assiniboine. Get this — he and his team of rugged outfitters managed a complete circumnavigation of the entire peak by exploring the never before visited eastern and southern slopes of the mountain. They pushed through challenging conditions of heinous blow downs and burns, primarily surviving on bacon and tea for four days.    

***Must-do adventure: A long weekend at Mt. Assiniboine. Hike in from Sunshine Meadows and be sure to plan a car drop or shuttle and hike out to the Mt. Shark trailhead via Wonder Pass.

Reference: The Canadian Rockies Trail Guide, Brian Patton & Bart Robinson, Summerthought Publishing

Insider’s tip: Wilcox and his team went into the Assiniboine area via Simpson Pass, but these days you can start your hike from the top of the gondola at Sunshine Village. White Mountain Adventures offers summer shuttles to the meadows for a nominal fee ( Do it!

Joanna Croston

Joanna Croston

Joanna grew up and went to university out East but it wasn’t until she moved to the mountains permanently in 1998 that she really got schooled. After a few years working as a gearhead in some climbing shops, in 2007 she finally found her dream job that merged mountain culture with her love of outdoor pursuits working for the Banff Mountain Film and Book Festival. Since 2014, Joanna has been the Programming Director of the Festival which sees her reading more than 70 mountain literature books and watching 350 mountain films annually. In addition to being a voracious reader, she is an avid backcountry skier and bike commuter. Her book reviews have appeared not only in Highline Magazine but also in the Canadian Alpine Journal.


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