Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Impressions of Mount Robson

Impressions of Mount Robson
By W. Lacey Amy
From The Canadian Magazine, March 1913. Digitized by Doug Frizzle, Dec. 2015.

Mount Robson, said to be the highest peak yet discovered in the Canadian Rockies, is perhaps the most talked of mountain in America at the present time, and withal one of the least known. Until the new transcontinental railway, the Grand Trunk Pacific came within sight of it during last summer this spectacular peak was almost a myth to the general public. Even yet only about a score have been in at its base, and but one expedi­tion of two men has managed to reach its cloud-capped peak. From a distance of ten miles it overlooks the new railway through the Yellowhead Pass, and those few who have explored around its base declare that it is the centre of a new world of wonders. Regarding it as a mountain of impressions, Mr. Amy has endeavoured to present its effect upon him.Editor

MOUNT Robson is essentially a mountain of impressions. From the craggy massiveness of its imposing base to the filmy clouds that con­ceal its peak, it is built for effect, a forcible suggestion of stability and omnipotence. To see it in its usual dress of veiled retirement is to camp humbly at, its feet, praying for a change of mood. To look on its peak and sides bathed in the splendours of a British Columbia sunset is to re­turn quietly to civilisation, still humble, but proud that in its might the mountain saw fit to uncover its head to you.
The towering mass of rock and snow and ice is a living personality. It is a king, an emperor, a god. Its natural state is dignified privacy. Its moments of unveiling are as the thriceloved smiles of kindly regal grace.
Our special train of government and railway officials was creeping slowly down the steep grade of the Fraser canyon on the way to a huge engineering difficulty in the Tete Jaune Valley. The warning had been given out by the superintendent that just ahead of us, around a mountain spur that pushed to the edge of the river, Mount Robson would come into view, and every face was turned to­wards the monster of the Yellowhead Pass. No faster than a man’s walk, we gingerly crawled down the moun­tain rails of recent construction, the rushing Fraser hundreds of feet be­low, and mountains crowding the car windows on the other side.
It was too slow a pace for approach to the storied mountain, and the min­utes passed wearily. The superin­tendent came from his private com­partment and we complained of the delay in Mount Robson’s appearance. The official glanced through the win­dow for a landmark. Then he lean­ed in close to the glass and looked up, far up, and pointed. “There,” he said. And the tension of the mo­ment threw into the voice of this workaday man the thrill of a drama­tic climax.
Up higher we looked, higher and higher. There, far above where any eye in the car had been searching gleamed dimly a whiteness of serrat­ed shades, a patch of dreamy solidity in a garment of fleecy clouds. Over the very car top it seemed to hang, so high was it; and yet to that peak was ten miles of air line.
In its frame of clouds it was like the pictured Yuletide dream of a hungry child. It was an intangible, implacable, ununderstandable spot in the heavenssomething created for the eye of faith alone, a filmy revelation of promise and conviction, a lowering from Heaven of a touch of unknown glories.
Its effect on the group of watchers was but a sigh—the sincerest homage in man’s vocabulary. Even Mount Robson smiled. The clouds began to roll slowly aside, or rather to melt, as if the mountain had withdrawn them within itself as too intimate for dis­persion.
The spot of whiteness enlarged into less of vapour and more of gleam. The bright sunlight in which we bath­ed swung up and softly for a moment touched the peak. Then the moun­tain recovered its head but in ack­nowledgment of reverence pushed the lower clouds down until a black ridge came through the snow; then another and another, until in hard lines and spots of gray rock and black shadow the lower reaches came to view.
But always around the peak float­ed that vapour. Mount Robson was not prepared to come wholly forth. Its face was too much glory for a first view. Men have waited weeks for a glimpse of its peak and been forced to leave unsatisfied. Humble admir­ers have travelled for months for Mount Robson alone, and the peak has rebuked their worship by holding itself secluded. But one Power can melt those cloudsand man never forgets it in sight of the king of the Pass.
Gradually the train swung into line with the Grand Forks valley that leads to the very base of Mount Rob­son, and for miles we gazed back the rift over the tree tops to the rugged sides and shoulders that opened up in succession. The train stopped where a mountain stream had foiled the best efforts of the engineers; but only three men left the car to consi­der the problem.
One thought had come into mind at the moment the snowclad peak had peeped through the clouds. Awe was therescorn for the puny things of men. And with it came almost a blush for the two men who dared to breast that height. Kinney shows to the world an intrepid mountain climber, a man of iron nerve and muscle and daring. But that first thrill of awe drove away even respect for the man who would break through those clouds, drive his hob nails into that virgin snow, glory in violating the mountain holy of holies. It was temerity, not bravery.
Mount Robson was not created to be climbed. Its purpose is fulfilled in the silent thoughts it brings, in the reverence it compels for that which is above man and his handiwork.
Mount Robson is the St. Sophia of mountaindom, earth’s contact point with Heaven.
At Tete Jaune we dropped the en­gineers; and in the evening the car, with but five aboard climbed the- grade for the little switch in the mountains where it would lie all night. It was a clear bright evening, as clear as only mountain air ean be, and on the platform of the car back­ing shakily upward we anxiously awaited Mount Robson’s mood.
Under any condition Mount Rob­son is grand. But there is nothing in man’s experience to prepare him for what broke forth around the curve as the car swung into line with the Grand Forks valley. For once, the only time in an extended visit, the mountain stood forth clear to the last inch of its peak. And then was vis­ible the reason for its position among mountains.
Veiled, it is the symbol of dignity and distinction. Awe and reverence and silent applause are its by right divine. Unclouded and clear there is almost the same grandeur; but in the watcher there is little awe, little humility. Instead of a sigh,, there breaks forth an exclammation of praise and wonder. The giant is still dignified, cold, superior; but it is the borrowed dignity of a May Queen, not of a god; the superiority of a cab­inet minister, not of a king.
In the picture Mount Robson was a piece by itself. The other moun­tains shrank aside to leave it the cen­tre of the stage. The highest peaks around were bare of snow, but Mount Robson was white to the waist. Down its gleaming sides splashed three glaciers, solid lines of white, ending in glistening bulbs that tried to reach out to the valley at its feet. The sun threw into relief every hollow and line in its craggy side. As reverence lessened the mountain glowed and obtruded like a crude splotch in a tremendous painting.
Mount Robson open to its top over­does the thing. It is bizarre, unusual, spectacular, a queen of the tender­loin. But always it is immutable, immovable, heavy, imposing. Its mood of dazzling brilliance is not its best. Its reluctance to unveil is know­ledge. One would not miss that blaze of radiance for all the wonders of the Pass; but it is happiness complete to look on it but once.
Man may push his way over the pathless wilds to the mountain’s foot, and there stand beneath a clifflike side that climbs thousands of feet straight above one’s head. He may listen in there to the roar of a thous­and avalanches where not even a tremble is seen. In cloud and sun­light, in snow and rain, in daylight and moonlight he may wait and watch for Mount Robson’s varying moods. But never will leave him the memory of that feeling of respect and humility that surged over him as his eyes went up and up from the car window to where there was thought of nothing but sky and Heaven.

Mount Robson’s feet are there to sit at. And sufficient for man is the world of wonders she unfolds for his delight and admiration. But Mount Robson’s peak is for man to guard as he would his religion. Man’s petty ambitions should not be sated up there where the clouds from above settle into fields of ice that bring down to earth the splendours of glacier and torrent and fall. Mount Robson’s feet, like rain, may be en­joyed without intruding on the workroom whence they spring.

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As an armed forces brat, we lived in Rockcliff (Ottawa), Namao (Edmonton), Southport (Portage La Prairie), Manitoba, and Dad retired to St. Margaret's Bay, NS.
Working with the Federal Govenment for 25 years, Canadian Hydrographic Service, mostly. Now married to Gail Kelly, with two grown children, Luke and Denyse. Retired to my woodlot at Stillwater Lake, NS, on the rainy days I study the life and work of A. Hyatt Verrill 1871-1954.