An Earlier Time in the Mountains

July 17, 2010

Fred didn’t intend to step on the rusty nail.  He had noticed something different about the window shutters of the old Brewster Creek Warden’s cabin and had gone to inspect them.  The shutters were closed and had nails driven through from the inside to offer a painful deterrent to any bear trying to break in to get at the food stash.  Unfortunately, Fred didn’t notice the other part of the deterrent, which were more reversed nails sticking out of the floor of the veranda.

Fred, Jim, and Roger had taken a week off from high school summer employment in 1961 to hike into Mount Assiniboine in British Columbia.  Their hiking gear was from the army surplus store, cooking was done over an open fire, and evening shelter was a lean-to constructed every day from trees, branches and moss.  Each morning the boys tore down the lean-to and distributed the remnants into the woods, leaving as few signs as possible that there had been a camp.

The hike up Brewster Creek from Banff had been tough.  The heat of the day and the loss of sleep - caused by swarms of mosquitoes - had sapped their energy.  Picking the middle of July for the hike had turned out to be a bad idea.

The camp that they set up near the Brewster Creek Warden’s cabin was at the edge of an open pasture that was covered in wildflowers, not far from the bottom of Allenby Pass.  Fred’s accident ended the boys’ hopes of reaching Mount Assiniboine this time.  They decided they had to wait for the pain in Fred’s foot to subside enough to make the return hike.  Thankfully it was an agreeable place to while away a few days.

While they were sitting around their fire and chatting on the second day, a guide on horseback rode into their camp accompanied by a couple of clients that looked like they had never been on a horse.  The riders were on their way to the CPR lodge at Lake Magog below Mount Assiniboine.  The old, grizzled guide was not pleased to see the boys camped there and gave them a stern lecture on ensuring their fire was out when they left.   His tone clearly indicated he was not used to seeing young people out in ‘his’ country and that he didn’t want any harm coming to this mountain oasis.


What a state the old fellow would be in today if he rode through the same area.  The constant stream of hikers in the summer and cross-country skiers in the winter would probably depress him.  He wouldn’t need to have the same concern about open cooking fires and constructed lean-tos though, as gas stoves and fancy, light weight tents have replaced those artefacts of mountain camping.

On one hand, I think it is good to see so many people appreciating the Canadian mountain back-country, while, on the other, I find it sad to see wilderness borders constantly being pushed back.  Those that came before lived in a wonderful moment of Canadian Rocky Mountain back-country life, where one could be in true wilderness without having to travel great distances or put oneself at risk.  I’m glad I am one of those people.