Knickers and Hemp Ropes on Mount Waddington

Mountain
The Mystery Mountain Project Team. Photo: Eric DeLorme.

Many of us may wonder what it was like for previous generations of hardy souls to travel into uncharted territory and tackle unclimbed peaks with rudimentary equipment. This July, one group of Canadian climbers is aiming to evoke the spirit of yesteryear by re-enacting a series of 1920s attempts on the highest peak entirely in British Columbia, Mount Waddington.

The Canadian Explorations Heritage Society leads re-creations of notable historical expeditions. This includes using equipment, clothing and food that are authentic to a given era. Following a 2016 centennial ascent of Bugaboo Spire in British Columbia, the amateur mountaineers are heading back to the region to tackle one of North America’s most serious mountaineering challenges.

Mount Waddington stands just over 4,000 meters tall and is located in a remote range of the Coastal Mountains. If you can’t afford a helicopter ride into base camp, you’ll have to bushwack from the coast for weeks. If you get there and manage to make the summit, you’ll join a select few to have ever stood on the top.

The technical Main Summit of Mount Waddington. Photo: Jones Ski and Alpine Guides

Due to its remoteness, Waddington wasn’t known until the mid-1920s, when Don and Phyllis Munday, Canadian climbers and geographers, first spotted a prominent peak to the north from Vancouver Island, more than 250km away. Over the next few years, the Mundays set out on a number of exploratory expeditions to find the enchanting spire they had seen. They called it the “Mystery Mountain”.

Phyllis Munday (centre) with husband Don and daughter Edith, circa 1923. Photo: mountainlifemedia.ca

The Mundays traveled by boat, then bushwhacked and skied over glaciers to reach Waddington a number of times over the next 10 years. In a 1928 expedition, they succeeded in reaching the lower, Northwest Summit, but did not reach the highest point and true summit due to an unclimbable 100-meter gap beyond their abilities. They never managed to climb their Mystery Mountain, with the first ascent going to the pioneering German American climber Fritz Weissner and colleagues in 1936.

This modern re-creation titled the ‘Mystery Mountain Project’ will sail to Bute Inlet, 150km up the coast from Vancouver. From here, they will bushwhack over 50 km through the difficult Homathko River valley, past grizzly bears, icy unfordable waters and an obstacle course of devil’s club. They will then cover a further 20km of huge glaciers to reach the mountain, where they will climb the Bravo Glacier route. The climbers and camera crew will advance expedition style, ferrying 1,000 kilograms of food and equipment to various camps. This will include both modern and vintage gear, some of which will be actual antiques, and the rest homemade in the original style.

Mystery Mountain team members testing out a homemade Egyptian Cotton Tent. Photo: Canadian Explorations Heritage Society

In May 2016, a team of professional climbers retraced the Mundays’ journey and summited Waddington successfully (see the video below). However, they used modern equipment and food.

About the Author

Ash Routen

Ash Routen

Ash is an outdoor and adventure writer with a PhD in Exercise Science. He lives in the UK and has also written for Rock and Ice, Outside, UK Climbing etc. He recently led a 634km foot crossing of a frozen Lake Baikal in Siberia. See more at www.ashrouten.com.

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Paul Hansen
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Contrary to the opening paragraph, I believe that Mt. Fairweather, on the Alaskan border, is the highest British Columbia peak, while Mt. Waddington holds the distinction of being the highest peak entirely within British Columbia.