Garibaldi Park Whistler A to Z: Mt James TurnerCharles Townsend climbed and explored several mountains around Whistler back in 1923, when much of the area remained unexplored.  Along with his friend Neal Carter, they embarked on a mountaineering expedition that was recorded in detail and expertly photographed.  Wedge Mountain, the strikingly wedge-shaped mountain next to Blackcomb Mountain was first climbed by them, and the following days they pressed on through unknown glaciers to summit and name Mount James Turner.

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Mount James Turner is the third highest mountain in Garibaldi Provincial Park at 2703 metres(8868 feet).  It is only surpassed by Wedge Mountain at 2892 metres(9488 feet) and Wedge's neighbour Mount Weart 2835 metres(9301 feet).  Mount James Turner is quite a remote mountain in Garibaldi Park and takes about 8 hours to reach it from Wedge Mountain. Remarkably, this expedition was documented by Charles Townsend and photographed by Neal Carter.  Despite the largely uncharted terrain which involved bushwhacking, large creek crossings, treacherous, unknown mountains and numerous glacier crossings, the story reads as a relatively mild walk in the woods.  Certainly they were extremely tough, skilled and fearless mountaineers that had a love of exploring mountains that is inspiring to read.  Hearing the word for word account gives you the beautiful sense that you are with them on their remarkably journey through these mountains as they were first climbed.  The photo below is Charles Townsend on the summit of Wedge Mountain on 10 of September 1923 at about 115pm.  The unnamed mountain in the background they would climb on 12 September 1923 and name Mount James Turner.

Charles Townsend Wedge Summit 1923

Mount James Turner from Wedge Weart Col

Charles Townsend's Account of the First Ascent of Wedge Mountain September 1923: "Mr. Neal Carter and I had been planning all the summer to make the first ascent of Wedge Mountain as soon as we could get away in the fall.  Accordingly, on Saturday evening September 8th, 1923 we landed with our belongings at Rainbow Lodge, our headquarters for the ensuing fortnight. The next morning(9 Sept 1923), we left half our grub at the lodge, and with the rest of our belongings started out from Alta Lake.  We followed the railway for 4 miles, travelled east along logging roads, then picked our way through the trees for another half mile until we finally reached Wedge Creek.  The creek was much larger than we had expected and we were lucky in finding a log on which to cross.  On the creeks east side, the hill rises sharply for about 800 feet.  As the bush was thick, we were very glad to have a rest when we reached the top.

Mount James Turner from Wedge Weart Col

From there on the ridge is a series of thickly wooded bluffs.  It was along this ridge that we caught our first glimpse of Wedge Mountain since the valley floor.  Continuing upwards at about 5,000 feet elevation the trees began thinning out and giving place to open meadows.  We were nearly all in when we finally found water near 6pm, at the extreme limits of the timberline and we made camp as quickly as possible.  We were now in an ideal place for an attempt on Wedge Mountain and settled in for the night.  Early the next morning(10 Sept 1923) we continued up the ridge however it soon came to an end and we found quite a gap in between us in the base of the mountain.  We had to descend this gap and cross a number of ridges composed of masses of loose rocks, probably moraines at one time and then we crossed a small glacier before we got onto the climbable slopes of Wedge Mountain.  We named this small glacier the Eclipse Glacier as shortly later we had a good view of a partial eclipse of the Sun.  From there to the peak another 2,000 vertical feet we travelled over unstable talus slopes, the rocks being on average cubes of about two feet in thickness.  The summit of the mountain is a long ridge ending in quite a sharp peak at the eastern end.  It is very precipitous on three sides, we reached the summit at 1:15pm.

Mount James Turner from Wedge Weart Col

Owing to the clearness of the atmosphere we had a magnificent view and were able to secure some fine photographs. Immediately to the south of us was the Spearhead Range, which at this time remains practically unexplored.  We were most impressed by it seven fine glaciers along its north side and the range’s potential for future mountaineering excursions was immediately apparent.  To the east of us lay a peak which we resolved should be the object of our next climb.  It lay across a valley from Wedge Mountain, and promised to be an enjoyable three-day trip.  We thus returned to our previous camp and prepared for our next objective.  The next day taking with us just enough food for three days and our bedding, leaving our tent behind.  We hiked around the southern slopes of Wedge keeping just above the timberline to avoid the bush.  To obtain water we had to drop down about 800 feet into the valley where we found a delightful camping spot.   We lulled ourselves to sleep under the stars that night with soothing strains from the camp orchestra.

First Ascent of Mount James Turner

The first part of our climb the next day brought us over four high ridges to an elevation of about 7,000 feet.  From there we had a good view of Mount James Turner as Neal had named in memory of the Vancouver Reverend.  Once across the quarry glacier we had to cross the Turner Glacier much larger than the former.  We were now at the foot of the cliffs at the base of the peak.  With some trouble owing to the extreme looseness of the rocks we climbed the cliffs to the east of the peak.  From here we were ready for the final climb.  The peak itself is a mass of jagged rock most of which is very loose and dangerous and I doubt whether it could be climbed from any other direction.  An hour’s rock climbing took us to the summit arriving at 1:30pm.  Once again, we had a magnificent view.  On three sides the cliffs were very precipitous, while even the face up which we had come looked very steep from above.  Still we descended and reach camp again at about 6pm.  The next day we packed back to our first camp and the day following down to Alta Lake.  The latter journey taking six hours.  At Rainbow Lodge we had an excellent supper which partially made up for a week of dried goods."

Townsend on Wedge, Carter on James Turner

Charles Townsend moved from England to Vancouver in the early 1920's where he met Neal Carter while studying at UBC.  They worked together in the summer of 1923 as surveyors for the hydroelectric project that would eventually result in the hydro dam on Daisy Lake along the Sea to Sky Highway.  Townsend was a member of the British Columbia Mountaineering Club during his few short years in Vancouver.  He moved to California some time in the late 1920's.

Two Fantastic Books About BC Hiking!

Scrambles in SW BCA Passion for MountainsHere are two excellent books on hiking and geology of British Columbia.  Matt Gunn's Scrambles in Southwest British Columbia includes the various routes to the summit of Wedge Mountain as well as summit routes to the neighbouring peaks, Weart, Cook, Parkhurst and Rethel.  Mount Weart is the second highest mountain in Garibaldi Park and is located just north of Wedge Mountain, separated by the Wedge-Weart Col.  Published in 2005, Scrambles in Southwest British Columbia is still the best guide in print or online.  A Passion for Mountains by Kathryn Bridge is a fascinating look at Don and Phyllis Munday's prolific exploration of the mountains in BC.  Based out of Vancouver, they were dominant figures of the climbing community in the early 1900's.  In 1923 they visited their friend Neal Carter in Alta Lake(Whistler) and explored the mountains around the valley.. many for the first time!

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Whistler & Garibaldi Hiking

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