Blackie's cabin in Strachan Valley built by Harry Collins circa 1930
The Higher Lunacy - Pollough Pogue
The following article, written by Pollough Pogue about 1931, describes the exploits of early Hollyburn's cabin builders and the trials and the trials and tribulations of the first ranger hired by West Vancouver to collect the annual $10 tax levied on each mountain cabin. The article was found in a scrapbook assembled by Brownie Morris.
Week-end after week-end they struggle to high plateaux, bearing window-sills, stoves and other cabin equipment. Sunday evening they descend, weary but happy.
Back to work they go, to office, store, and factory, the humdrum of modern business. Their communion with the Outdoor Spirit has cleared their eyes and brain. For a few hours they were rulers of frozen slope and lonely peak; denizens of a fairy world.
That those upper strata of our mountains have strangely affected the youth of the country and caused them to leave warm beds for cold, snowy trails and warm homes for wind-swept heights is stoically accepted by friends and relatives of those so afflicted. They are acknowledged victims of some "higher lunacy". Few suspect the subtle influence of the old man who lives in the shadows around the twin peaks which guard Vancouver's harbour.
Such lunacy delights in sending its victims through the worst snow storm of the year; up the most inaccessible peaks and along the worst trails with the heaviest packs. Most pathetic are cases of those who openly boast of their subjection to the mountain phantom.
High honour is still accorded one individual, originally an inhabitant of Hollyburn, who conceived the brilliant idea of erecting a cabin not far from Mount Strachan. This determined apostle of higher lunacy strove for years to cart enough lumber on his back to erect his lonely outpost. Eventually, when he had developed proportions of a draught horse, contracted spavin, athlete's foot and a general atmosphere of an ancient male mountain goat, he assembled enough materials to get to work. Now, according to best reports, he exists in solitary sublimity in the snow among the squirrels. Occasionally the latter try to break into the cabin but so far have been unable to penetrate that shell of solitude. (Editor’s Note: Pogue is referring to ‘Blackie’s cabin’ which Harry Collins built in Strachan Valley and named after his girlfriend. The Collins ski run honours Harry’s achievement.)
The achievement of this high priest of the outdoors is regarded with awe in the mountain fraternity and sets an example to all youths who would be real outdoors men. Other lesser lunatics have also achieved considerable measures of fame. One or two live in piano boxes in particularly inaccessible portions of the mountains. From these pleasant retreats they are supposed to gain a particularly marked degree of mountain spiritualism. Theirs are the plums of higher lunacy.
It is not known how far the mountaineers would reach if placed end to end. There is no doubt, however, about what it would be; a very pleasing sight. One noted mathematician suggests they would look quite natural.
Until recently, doings of the cabineers were obscure. Now the “Gougers," "Orphan Eights" and a score of other Hollyburn hiking fraternities are basking in limelight emanating from West Vancouver’s council. That body decided that for inhabiting cabin on the West Shore slope, mountaineer's must pay $10 per annum.
To enforce the edict an inspector has been appointed who aptly illustrates the strange influence of the old man of the mountains. Although not resembling "der inspector” of the comic strip; this mountain guardian of law and order is 'regarded' in somewhat a similar light, His job is no sinecure.
"Man works from sun to sun but der inspector's work is never done." Thus did one hiker summarize the official’s duties.
Perhaps, as he walks along the lower levels of the ridge, he spies a number of youngsters demolishing a fine stand of timber for a cabin which will never be finished. After admonishing the young foresters he walks away with a feeling of duty well done only to be disillusioned by renewed chopping and "Bronx cheers" as he disappears into the woods.
As he climbs higher the snow gets deeper and joints which were once supple begin to groan and complain. Suddenly der inspector remembers he must investigate an unfavourable report regarding an establishment maintained by three youths known as the "Tricky Trio." They are reputed to swear, smoke, drink, wash dishes in water supply streams and kill grouse. Such are some of the milder indictments against these charming outdoorsmen.
Tying on his snowshoes he sets off in the general direction of the cabin. On and on he plods, occasionally tripping over a half-covered limb or staggering under weight of a miniature avalanche from an overhanging bough. Surely he has progressed enough, he thinks, but no habitation looms out of the maze of tree trunks. At last, after a fruitless search, he bends his weary steps towards the mountain.
There, at the ski camp, hearty laughs greet his story. With embarrassment he learns that the "Tricky Trio" are fictitious characters. They are names given to snow, wind and cold, he is told by several higher lunatics.
To the mountain community $10 is a lot of money and when the inspector approaches a cabin to levy the annual tax. It is in most cases empty. Of course the fire may still be burning and a kettle simmering on the hearth, but the inhabitants are missing. Perhaps those tracks leading across the little ravine were made along time ago - they look suspiciously fresh, but - the inspector trudges wearily to the next mountain home. There, too, he is greeted with stony silence while pairs of eyes stare furtively from the shelter of nearby tree trunks. On he goes; his cross is a heavy one.
A little cabin snuggled in among the trees sets alight the spark of optimism in the unfortunate man's breast. Surely there is someone in it.
"Come in," shouts a cheery voice in response to the official's knock. His ultimatum regarding the tax is followed by blank stares, however. At last a lank individual, chewing easily at cut plug and attired in full hiker regalia, including a six-inch sheath knife, three or four heavy belts, six or seven sweaters and a leather jacket, rises to explain the situation.
The cabin is not really theirs, he relates. They - the other three hardy mountaineers - only helped to build the structure and as a reward are sometimes allowed to spend a week-end in it. The dispeptic trio on the bunk nod vehemently.
So it continues. Once in a while the hard-worked official manages to reap the bounty for his cabin "sniping" but those on the outside are of the opinion that his duties consist mainly of trudging through miles and miles or snow. His optimism and stamina must be noteworthy. Undoubtedly he can "take it."
Of course the majority of ridgemen give their full! support to the ranger. There are an unexpected number of mountaineers with really good log cabins who are in favor of the municipal license. They believe it keeps the hill clear of many who construct· ramshackle affairs and throw garbage about.
Grouse Mountain cabineers seem to have kept themselves in better order, for supervision there is only occasional. It may be, of course, that lights of Vancouver gleam too close for those seriously afflicted with higher lunacy. These individuals seek the murkier depths on Hollyburn's slopes.
Outdoor Spirit has now extended his domain beyond Grouse and Hollyburn and his disciples are building retreats in the heights on Dog, Seymour and Dome Mountains. There is no doubt about it, the old man is gaining power. On windy, blustering nights, when snowflakes whip out of the northeast, he comes down from his mountain home and peeks in a window of the great log cabin at the Hollyburn ski camp. There he sees hikers and skiers, their faces glowing in the warm light of a log fire as they relate yarns of long ski runs, arduous snowshoe trips or back-breaking trips along the high ridges.
As the firelight flickers lower and the murmur of voices dies away, silhouettes of ski and packboard stand out against the polished logs. All is ready for another day in the wilderness.
"How fare my subjects on Grouse?" the old spirit asks himself in a voice which sounds like wind sighing through trees.
Attaching himself to a particularly lusty gust, he sails through the tree tops and over to Grouse plateau, where more outdoorsmen and women have gathered in Camp Telemark, headquarters of Grouse Mountain Ski Club. Several other large cabins house members of the Outdoor Club and the Winter Sports Club.
All is well, but before returning to his cosy cave by The Lions the sprite wings his way to the eastern Seymour range to see that all is well in the cabin of Don Munday and other habitations of that far-flung boundary. After watching similar scenes in a score of cabins he whirls his solitary way to his great dark cave, where in brooding loneliness he awaits the time when summer sunshine again chases his subjects to seashore and golf course.
There are many who don't believe the old mountain spirit exists and think he is just a myth. They are advised to go into the mountains to try and find him. His home is really under The Lions - all hikers say that. Go there on a three-day trip and try and locate his lookout. You may not find it but there is enjoyment, scenery and health in the search.
And who knows? Maybe he will cast his· spell upon you too and brand you with the mark of higher lunacy.