The Great Cairn Hut

Great Cairn Mountaineering Trip

July 24-31, 1999

Notes on the area

Some Notes on the Area

Here are some notes from the Climbers Guide for the Columbia Mountains - Central. Times are presumably for travel on foot in the summer.

The two ranges generally accessed from the hut for climbing are the Sir Sandford and the Adamants.

The Sir Sandford Range

Mount Sir Sandford, Edward Feuz's "King of the Selkirks", is an impressive and challenging titan, with no easy route to its lofty summit. In this wilderness region, it must be acknowledged at the outset, the difficulties of overland travel are considerable. Yet, there are compensations. Except at Fairy Meadows, few other climbers will be met.

Mount Sir Sandford is truly "The King of the Selkirks". Unrivaled in altitude and in massive bulk, Mt Sir Sandford (3522 m) towers loftily above its satellite peaks. There is much excellent climbing to be had in this historic group, particularly on the the big snow and ice routes of the main peak. The Sir Sandford Range is not for rock climbing; concentrate here on snow and ice.

The Adamant

"The mini-Chamonix of the Columbias."

Though Mt Sir Sandford, a short distance to the south, is the single highest summit in the Selkirks, the imposing Adamant-Austerity massif is the largest uplift in the Northern Selkirks. Indeed, the sheer granite faces of the main Adamant peaks are among the most impressive in British Columbia. The rock is comparable to that in the Bugaboo and Vowell groups of the Purcells. The Adamants, however, combine superb rock climbing, challenging glacier approaches, and excellent snow and ice routes to provide mountaineering with a distinctly alpine feel. Few who climb here will come away disappointed.

Area History

This is an area steeped in history. Anyone going here should have at least a vague idea who pioneers such as Edward Feuz and Howard Palmer are.

In the 1870s the area was explored as part of the search for a through-route for the Canadian Pacific Railway. Moberlys explorations may be the earliest visits to the core of the region. However, when Rogers Pass was chosen over Moberly Pass for the rail line early mountaineering became concentrated in that region and the Big Bend area of the Selkirks became a backwater.

In 1888 Professor Arthur Coleman went into the region and ascended Tabernacle Mountain in the Gothics with Frank Stover. He also ran his outfit down the infamous Surprise Rapids of the Columbia River on a makeshift raft. The raft overturned but little was lost - a better fate than some others, both before and after. His endeavors are described in his book (see below).

With Mt Sir Sandford visible from the Rogers Pass area it soon attracted the interest of alpinists. Howard Palmer spent several years exploring the area and attempting to climb the peak. Finally in 1912 Palmer and Holway reached the summits of Sir Sandford and Adamant Mountain, guided by Edward Feuz and Rudolph Aemmer. Palmers book, although out of print, as a true classic. (See below.)

Following Palmers explorations mountaineering interest was again diverted for almost 35 years. There was the war, the closing of Glacier House at Rogers Pass, and the interest in the Rockies, Purcells, and Coast Range.

Following the second world war a "highway" was constructed along the Big Bend of the Columbia from Golden to Revelstoke, improving access and increasing activity. In 1948 began three decades of explorations by William Putnam and Andrew Kauffman II. They were often accompanied by Benjamin Ferris, David Michael, George Bell, and others. Putnam was the guiding spirit behind the construction of the Fairy Meadows hut and, with Ben Ferris, of the Great Cairn-Benjamin Ferris hut.

In the 1960s and 1970s word spread and visits were made by the Harvard Mountaineering Club and Appalachian Mountain Club. And also by such great climbers Yvon Chouinard, Robert Hall, Robert Kruszyna, Doug Tompkins, Fred Beckey, the late Ed Nester, and others. In the 1970s, when Mica Dam was constructed and Kinbasket Lake flooded, the Big Bend Highway was lost to submersion. But in the 1980s new logging roads and an improved trail up Swan Creek once again improved access.

Books and Maps

Of Historic Interest:

Palmer, Howard 1914 (Out of Print)
Mountaineering and Exploration in the Selkirks
G.P. Putnam, NY

Coleman, Professor Arthur P. 1911 (Out of Print?)
The Canadian Rockies: New and Old Trails

Kain, Conrad 1935, reprinted 1979
Where the Clouds Can Go
American Alpine Club, NY

Putnam, William Lowell 1982
The Great Glacier and Its House
American Alpine Club, NY

Climbing Guides, Maps:

Fox, Laurilla, Putnam and Whipple
The Columbia Mountains of Canada - Central
American Alpine Club, NY

82N/12 - Mount Sir Sandford (Sir Sandford and Adamant ranges)
82M/9 - Goldstream River (Western Sir Sandford)
82N/13 - Sullivan River (Northern Adamant, Fairy Meadow)

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