Mystery Mountain, part 1 (1922-1934)

Mechanical Advantage Tools for the Wild Vertical draft

In 1935, Sierra Club Members climbed the northwest peak of Mount Waddington capturing this iconic photo of the main summit.
In 1910 very little of the Coast range had been surveyed or mapped. The earliest reported sighting of Mount Waddington by non-Indigenous people was near Chilko Lake in 1922. Right: 1934 map created by Don Munday, who with his partner Phyllis spent ten years exploring the region for a feasible route up to the summit of Mystery Mountain, as it was known before it was named Mount Waddington in 1928.

Early sightings and attempts

In 1922, while carrying out typographic surveys near Chilko Lake, Captain R.P. Bishop sighted “a peak of great height” in an uncharted region of the Coast Range. The next year, working with Victor Dolmage of the Geographic Survey of Canada, they estimated that the unnamed peak was over 13,000 feet tall. Reports of this discovery “fired the enthusiasm of two Vancouver mountaineers, Mr. and Mrs. W.A.D Munday, who organized an expedition to conquer this new monarch of the Coast range” (The Province, Jan 15, 1928). 

Don and Phyllis Munday

In 1924, Don and Phyllis Munday climbed Mount Robson with Conrad Kain, then believed to be the highest point in British Columbia, and in 1925 began a decade of effort to climb this “peak of great height” in the Coast Range. They initially sighted the range from Mount Arrowhead on Vancouver Island, 140 miles distant, then climbed to high points above Bute Inlet, 50 miles distant, to gain a grasp of the challenge and to get a closer look at the range’s imposing centerpiece that became known as “Mystery Mountain” (also known as Mount Mystery or Mystery Peak). Surrounded by treacherous glaciers on all sides, access into the range would prove a formidable challenge. 

Footnote: many uncharted mountains were called ‘Mystery Mountains’ in this era, including Mount Everest in 1920, known to be the highest peak in the world (but still a mystery of access), the unmapped ‘Bunya’ range in Australia in 1919 (“Queensland’s Mystery Mountains”, despite being well known by Indigenous people), and ranges like the Dzhugdzhur Mountains in Siberia and the Mountains of the Moon in Africa, noted on early maps but not yet known by foreigners. Basically, any ranges not well known by Europeans were often coined “Mystery Mountains” in this era. 

In 1926, after an epic struggle bushwhacking through devil’s club and alder bush from the east via the Hamathko River (noted as the “Terror of the North”), the Mundays traveled up the eastern glaciers to the southern ramparts, deeming the south wall “out of the question,” and unsuccessfully attempted the southeast ridge of Mystery Mountain. 

The southern wall of Mount Waddington. Don and Phyllis Munday first attempted the main summit in 1926 via the southeast ridge (right skyline) but were thwarted by dangerous and convoluted terrain. In 1928 they climbed the northwest summit (left) via the northwest ridge (left skyline). 

In 1927, they discovered an easier approach from the south via Knight Inlet, and attempted the northwest ridge, getting caught in a fierce electrical storm and aptly naming their highpoint, ‘Fireworks Peak’ (one writer later headlined the story, “Storm makes human torches of alpinists.”)

~~~ CONTINUE ~~~

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