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. That stopped bears from breaking into the cabin for food. Unfortunately, Fred didn’t notice the other part of the deterrent; more reversed nails were sticking out of the floor of the veranda beneath the window.
Fred, Jim, and Roger had taken a week off from high school summer employment in 1961 to hike into Mount Assiniboine, on the border of Alberta and British Columbia in the Rocky Mountains.
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. The next day was to be the final hiking day. They would climb Allenby Pass, which was a challenge in itself, then over the high meadows, which they expected to be covered in mountain wildflowers, and finally set up camp at Lake Magog, in the shadow of Mount Assiniboine.
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. It was clear that he wouldn’t be able to make the tough climb up the pass. It was more important to them for Fred to get home safely than to make it to Mount Assiniboine, so they decided to wait for the pain in Fred’s foot to subside enough to make the return hike to Banff. Thankfully, it was an agreeable place to while away the time.
The next day, while they were sitting around their fire and chatting, 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.
After their supper that evening, a park warden rode into their camp. He was a young man and stopped for a bit to chat with the boys before going to the warden’s cabin for the night. The next morning he invited the boys to come and see him before leaving. He had camp coffee and some freshly cooked buns for them to start the day. What a treat that was.
The boys loaded their packs on their backs and off they went on their two day hike back to Banff.
What a state the old guide 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’m saddened 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.
Note: The photo is not one of mine. It is one of many posted on-line and I thought it was excellent. No name was given so I can’t credit the photographer.