Hollyburn Mountain (1927)
Nasmyth Mill Site - Hollyburn Ski Camp at First Lake
Articles by Pollough Pogue & Photos from HHS Archives
January 11th, 1927
Living in the green timber, and feeling the magic of nature, the charm of the woods, I have got from them something vigorous and stimulating, a feeling of renewal, as well as continued impressions of fresh beauty, as if I walked daily in endless galleries filled with noble and lovely paintings.
After nearly two years of life on the mountain, trying, in an unassuming spirit, to come to an understanding with nature, to take on some of the character of fir and cedar and hemlock, so as to blend with the forest, I feel that I have reached at least the early stages of proficiency in the wilderness craft.
In habits of living, I have receded some distance along the back track away from artificial civilization. Like the birds of the mountain I go to bed at dark and like them I get up long before the tardy winter dawn has given form to the great sidehill thick with trees, outside my cabin window.
If there is no moon a blue twilight, which touches the snow with a bluish wash, runs before the dawn.
Unless they are obscured by fog or haze I can see from my window the street lights of Point Grey, as I saw them the evening before, regularly spaced seams sewn in bright thread across the invisible peninsula.
Daylight comes slowly, particularly if the sky is thick with clouds. Sometimes, to me, drinking coffee by candlelight, it seems to hold back, with a long deliberate pause between the blue twilight and the whitening of the sky that tells me actual day will be soon.
My impatience is silently reprehended by the motionless trees, standing stiffly in the snow, their snow-weighted boughs sloping sharply downward, expressing infinite resignation.
Darkness settles over the woods much more quickly and definitely in the evening than daylight disperses darkness in the morning.
While the light is still grey outside I hear the first stirrings of my only companions since the ski camp was moved up to First Lake.
Sharp squawks and mellow flute notes that could not, you would say, issue from the same throat, but are made by stellar jays, the faint whine of a towhee a twittering of juncos and the ringing trilling song of a Douglas squirrel tell me that guests are coming for early breakfast.
Outside the cabin window I have nailed a shelf, where I put broken bread and scraps of meat. The porch table was formerly the free lunch counter, but now, to bring my visitors where I can get a closer view of them, the lunch is spread just outside the window glass.
To observe my guests accepting my hospitality with but a pane of glass between us is of singular interest to me. The characteristic you would think most remarkable about them is their sleek and well-groomed appearance, very noticeable at such close range. The fur of the squirrels and the feathers of the birds are rich and glossy. Not one is in the least untidy or disheveled. I have never seen, in the woods, a dirty or unkempt bird or animal. All are spruce and smart-appearing. You would think that they never had been in contact with anything unclean or besmirching. They must spend a good deal of time in cleaning and grooming themselves. They are a good example to human beings. They live out in the rain and all sorts of weather, yet they never look wet or bedraggled. None of the wild creatures I have seen in rainy weather have ever been soiled by mud though many of them resided in cavities underneath stumps and in burrows in the ground. The white-footed mouse is the most immaculate of all small creatures, yet it dwells in places where dust and litter accumulate.
I have seen in the woods but one animal, a bear, that showed any indication of age or decrepitude. I have never seen a squirrel, or any of the smaller mammals, or a bird, that looked old or had any appearance of senility or of any infirmity. They all look dapper and spruce and trim.
A Forest Cafeteria
January 16, 1927
Since winter came to the mountain, the feeding shelf outside my window has been a place of popular resort for the birds which are winter residents here, and squirrels, in daytime, and sometimes animals considerably larger, at night, as their tracks show next day.
Birds of several species, on terms of amity, like chickens or pigeons, have fed together on the shelf, but the near approach of a Douglas squirrel will scatter the little flock as a coyote would hens.
Two large and handsome Douglas squirrels, between whom there seems to be a good understanding, and who, possibly, are mates, often take possession of the shelf, and while they are feeding – and usually they stay until there is not a morsel left – they will not allow birds or other squirrels to pick up a crumb.
Usually other squirrels, from trees that extend their branches over the cabin porch, keep up a chorus of sharp, rapid chirring and barking, meant for abuse and vilification, which is ably replied to by the two claim-jumpers, who continue to curse and swear and threaten while they eat.
Every now and then one of the shrieking, sputtering squirrels in the tree branches makes a bashi-basouk charge on the freebooters who are hogging the lunch, but invariably these brigands drive the fuzzy-wuzzy back to the tree branch, either by truculent bluffing or by a snapping nip from needle teeth.
Watching the drama, and very much afraid of the squirrels who tyrannize over them, there sit in positions of safety near by two stellar jays, a whisky jack (there are a pair of them dwelling near my cabin now), a towhee and several juncos. But for the tyrant squirrels, these birds would be busily picking up crumbs from the lunch counter. They are viewing the tragi-comedy acted by the squirrels with quite as much interest as you would if you witnessed it, but they are gazing at the bread crumbs on the lunch shelf with hungry looks.
Of course the stellar jays are not much less tyrannical and villainous than the squirrels. When the squirrels have satisfied their voracious appetites for broken bread and scraps of meat, or are absent looking after less important affairs of life, for eating is of course their chief business, the stellar jays will swoop upon the free lunch and will not allow the smaller birds to partake of a crumb until they have glutted themselves.
But the towhees, the male handsome in Indian red and pearl grey and inky black, the female in dull colors like a nun, but both fat and happy, and the obese varied thrush, richly clad in umber and sepia and red, wearing his dark gorget proudly and strutting with the supercilious [sic] dignity of a fat man of my acquaintance, and the plain little juncos can assemble on the shelf and pick up bits of bread amicably together.
The Douglas squirrels are pure pagan savages, pugnacious and given to brawls and turbulence. They are vociferous braggarts. But they are ferocious fighters. I saw three in a regular dog fight on my porch table the other day. They fought like terriers. But they were so quick, whirling and spinning around, snapping and slashing at each other, that the eye could not follow all their movements. All were cursing pirates, in their snarling chirr-chirr-chirring lingo.
Our Douglas squirrels are beautiful rascals, with coats almost as richly red-brown as a marten’s, and orange-yellow (the color of creamy buckskin) underbodies.
(L-R) Rudolph Verne, Ole Anderson, Oscar Pearson, Andrew Irving & Axel Sneis at the Hollyburn Ski Camp, 1927 (HHS Archives)
Ski Jumping and Skating under Full Swing
as Winter Lays Thick Mantle of Snow on the Plateau of Hollyburn Ridge
January 16th, 1927
Nestling 3,000 ft. above sea level on Hollyburn Ridge, West Vancouver, is Greater Vancouver’s own St. Moritz.
Up until this winter almost unnoticed but for its many scenic beauties, which were a powerful attraction to hikers, its admirable adaptability for winter sport has been recognized by an enterprising though small group of sportsmen and the Hollyburn plateau bids fair to become an exceedingly popular resort. Situated on the plateau is a string of six lakes, the largest of which is about 350 by 100 yards in dimension.
Last year, a group of four men first took over the old ski camp at the Nasmyth mill level on the ridge. About four months ago the move to the plateau was commenced. Plank by plank, as the building was demolished, was carried by the “pioneers” to the plateau one and half miles above. The bricks for the chimney were carried eight at a time. Every bit of material on the slope on the mill site was increased in value tenfold by the fact that it saved a trip down the ridge to the municipality. The skeleton of the old mill itself was taken down and the lumber used in the construction of the new building.
The camp building is 75 feet long and 25 feet in width and at present is the home of five men who are still working on improvements of the…. Although the ski trails have not all been completed, there are plenty of small slides and trails on which pleasure seekers can disport themselves.
It is planned to develop a number of small jumps, the largest of which will be fifty feet in length, providing thrills galore for the beginner in the sport. In time, excursion parties to various points on the plateau will be arranged while competitions over distances ranging from two miles to seven for both experts and beginners will be instituted as well
While the camp opens today, it is not expected to be in full swing for another two weeks when the surface of one of the lakes will be cleared of snow for skating and the jumps completed.
The altitude of the plateau is similar to popular winter sports resorts in Europe according to Mr. Verne, all of which foreshadows a future for the newborn camp on Hollyburn Ridge.
View of fog banks over Vancouver from the 2500-foot level on Hollyburn Ridge, 1931 (Gerry Hardman Collection)
At the 2500-Foot Level
January 23, 1927
From the ice-blue sky in the northwest a round moon like a plate cut from ice did not withdraw in the morning until about 8 o’clock. Above the mountain the sky was sharply clear, but the white clouds of fog, like steam from a vast caldron were rising from English Bay and the Strait of Georgia.
Two days back the air, all day, had been thick with dropping snow that clung to the trees.
The tall hemlocks and amabilis firs around my cabin were wrapped in heavy fleece of snow.
The night before had been cold, with an Arctic frost that made the air icy. All the stars I have ever seen danced in the thin electric air.
Almost invariably I go to bed with the birds and squirrels. But the spell of the stars, their blue magic flashed through infinite space, held me. As I watched them, thoughts busy with the riddle of the universe, the bright cold crept through my mackinaw. I turned to go inside the warm cabin, but it was then that the ghostly rays of the Northern Lights shot up as if to point out the beauty of the stars. The aurora always fascinates me; I regarded the shivering and fragile beams until they flickered and dropped and came no more that night to advertise the frosty north.
Very early next morning I awoke and the cabin was pale with the moonlight which my senses had mistaken for the dawn.
For some time, through misty sleep, I had felt numbing cold. The edges of my blankets, where my breath had moistened them, were stiffened with frost. A sharp jarring groan came from the flooring of the cabin as I dropped from my bunk on the floor boards.
The water pail contained a block of solid ice. My canned supplies piled, the night before, on a shelf behind the stove, as the warmest place, were frozen. Loaves of bread were frozen in a bread box. The windows were enameled with elaborate floreate patterns in blue ice. Condensed milk was solidified into white concrete.
Outside was a bright and savage cold. Myriads of diamonds flashed back the moonlight’s silver from snow-padded logs, from the two-foot snowcaps on the stumps, from the snow-burdened tree boughs.
I had not before experienced such cold on Hollyburn. My cabin walls are thin, and I think the temperature was almost as low within as without. It might have been, I speculated, a few degrees below zero.
As I fed my stove with dry wood until the cabin warmed, and made coffee, some tall, young hemlocks outside crashed sharply at times as if the frost was splitting them.
At exactly 8 o’clock the first sun rays darted across the big sidehill below the cabin and struck the snow-covered trees with orange light.
January 25, 1927
Because the house mouse is offensive and annoying all mouselike animals are given an evil name, and it is very seldom that anything good is said about mice.
But when a man is living alone in the bush he finds all wild life of interest.
My cabin is inhabited by a large number of whitefooted mice and I have got very well acquainted with them.
Of course they are most active at night, but in winter days when the cabin is dim and in corners and beneath table, bench or bunk or behind the stove, crepuscular, the beautiful, bright-eyed, big eared deer mice emerge from cracks in the board walls and fill their cheek-pouches with bread crumbs which I have scattered on the floor for them.
With their sleek coats of soft shades of slate-grey, fawn and white, and their large, erect ears, they have some resemblance to miniature deer, particularly in their sharply alert, listening poses. Of all the smaller mammals I think they are the trimmest, neatest and cleanest in appearance, and the most graceful and finely modeled.
There is little similarity between these exquisite creatures and the house mouse.
All wild life has a beauty and elegance of pelage that domestic animals and creatures who live on the bounty of civilized man are deficient in.
In the early evening, when the candle is lit in the cabin, the white footed mice often appear, pursuing each other, apparently in play, about the floor and walls. Sometimes pursuer and pursued hasten across the table at which I am sitting. As they scurry they emit a series of minute shrieks like the laughter of tiny elves.
Always at night when I get into my bunk and blow the candle out, the whitefaced mice take complete possession of the cabin, for it is not yet the hour when the furtive and silent pack-rat appears. The deer mice work hard gathering the food I have left on the floor for them, removing it to their caches in the walls of the cabin, and coming back for more.
Food that I want for my own use I have to keep in tins. Inexperienced campers and hikers who leave food where the mice and trade rats can get it, find that these small animals can carry away a considerable amount of grub during their nocturnal activities.
Sometimes, reclining in my bunk in the evening, I am entertained by a musically disposed whitefooted mouse that pours out a succession of thin warbling notes, not unmelodious. Also I sometimes hear mice thumping a tattoo [sic] with their tails on the floor boards, suggesting that they have a signal code such as rabbits have.
"The Start", Hollyburn Pacific Ski Camp Lodge, First Lake, Hollyburn Ridge, circa 1932 (Nordal Kaldahl Collection)
February 6th, 1927
The morning was cold and clear. Though dawn now came through the trees many strong stars still sharply sparkled. They were blue-white, like fragments of ice.
The porch floor boards snapped and crackled frostily under my weight as I shoveled from my door the fresh snow that had fallen during the night. Beginning the afternoon before, the snow had flurried down in a long slanting warp, a thick texture that almost filled the air. An hour or two before dawn, I think, the wind swung from east to west, the sky cleared and the temperature dropped quickly.
The damp snow on the surface had hardened into a firm mat.
The thatches of snow on the tree boughs were crusted with Christmas-tree frosting.
When the southeastern horizon is not hidden by cloud or haze, I can see from my cabin the sun roll up from behind the wide shoulder of Mount Baker.
Often I have seen, as on this particular morning, the first flashes of light from the sun touch suddenly the hemlock tops, bound in snow, with rich orange.
Above my cabin is a large clearing now covered by four feet of snow, which lies in great dimples on the slope where the cookhouse and bunkhouse stood before they were taken down to be reincarnated as a ski camp at First Lake.
Over this sweep of white the sunlight threw a soft glow, broken by the blue shadows of the trees through which the light came.
As the sun whee1ed higher the frosted snow on ground and trees flickered softly with rainbow hues.
As I gazed with admiration and wonder upon this sumptuous play of light and colour, a tall and flying figure shot through the opalescent dazzle, and shouting, passed me in blurred flight. Skidding around a sharp turn in the trail below me, he was gone, before the spray of snow tossed up by his long skis subsided.
It was a ski-runner from the ski-camp at First Lake. He had slid all the way down the snow-trail from the lake, and on the sharp slope above my cabin had gained the velocity with which he had rushed past me as I stood beside the trail.
The depth of snow, and the crust, would enable him to slide down to the 1000-foot level without a stop unless he was spilled on a turn.
From the ski camp at First Lake, at the 3000-foot level to the 1000-foot level, the trail, about an hour and a half long for a hiker, is steep enough to provide joyous momentum for the ski-rider. On curves his skis may skid into the banked snow and spill the slider, but there are long slopes down which he may glissade at the speed of a toboggan.
Hollyburn Ski Camp circa 1928 (HHS Archives)
The Ski Hill
February 9, 1927
The hikers who climb the Hollyburn trail to the ski camp now show the real spirit of outdoor sport; the snow lies deep on the trail and the hiking is not easy. Hundreds of enthusiasts, mushing in single file have ploughed a narrow furrow difficult to walk in.
But after three hours of slipping and staggering up the trail, healthy exertion that is a very wholesome thing for a white-collar man, you arrive at last on the top of the mountain, a very beautiful and fascinating place.
You will admit that the grandeur and of the great evergreen forest muffled and cloaked in snow, compensates you for the labor of the climb.
Before you teach the ski camp you hear wild yells and loud laughter ringing through the sedate fir woods. This hilarity tells you that the ski hill is not far away. A beginner on skis, in the gyrational spasms of a spill, is an object of mirth. When a skier takes a spill, the most sedate spectators laugh, and the skier who has tumbled must laugh too, to show that he is a good sportsman.
The ski camp at First Lake, the 3000-foot level, is a big two-storey cabin on the shore of the lake, on the edge of the great Hollyburn plateau. The dark snow-trimmed masses of the heavy forest surround the small lake; the ski camp with its high-pitched roof of shakes, harmonizes with the woods. If you would like to dwell for a while in a solitude of hemlock, cypress and fir, to recuperate your health, or cure any of the maladies Of high-speed civilization, you could not go to a better place. Except for the cheerful vociferations of the skiers, there is primieval stillness up there.
On the opposite side of the lake from the camp there is a steep sidehill, and this has been cleared of timber for the necessary width to make a snow slope down which ski-runners may glissade.
This is a thrilling sport, closely akin to tobogganing. The six-foot skis harnessed to your feet are not as easily controlled as a toboggan, of course, and you are standing erect. From my own experience I can say that the speed, the velocity of skis on a hill, is about the same as that of a toboggan on a slide.
Until you have had some practice and have developed a kind of instinct you are helpless and the long narrow boards, the most vindictive of all inanimate things, do what they please with you.
You start from the top of the hill with a nervous feeling but In a mood of reckless desperation. Soon you are travelling fifty miles an hour, or it seems like that. Then, in an immeasurably short space of time comes the inevitable spill.
If you are a beginner there is no possible way to avoid it. When you are near the bottom of the hill and passing the considerable gallery which is all ready to laugh at you the skis, by a fiendish quirk, hurl you headlong. After a few giddy spins you drop on the back of your neck in the snow with your skis waving in the air. You are lucky if the next glissader does not dash into you in his meteoric flight.
The shock of your, gyrations and impact with the hardened snow is considerable, but you must not get irritated when you hear the immoderate laughter of the large gallery.
You must laugh also, though you are suffering pain and distress.
If you don’t you are a poor sport.
Skiers on the 'Popfly' hill on the east side of First Lake, circa 1928 (HHS Archives)
Sunday, February 6th
February 11, 1927
On Sunday, in a totally different climate from that of sea level, about four hundred men and women who had hiked up the long and steep trails to the Hollyburn ski camp at First Lake, three thousand feet above the city, ski-ed and tobogganed in clear sunshine and the strong pure mountain air. The snow at First Lake is seven feet deep.
The gloomy forest through which the trail ascends is dressed with snow above the one thousand-foot level. In sharp contrast to the bare ground below that level, the snow-caparisoned woods, the dark trees with boughs bent low under the weight of their heavy trappings of snow, suggest a sub-arctic forest.
To most of the enthusiasts who climbed to the ski camp on Sunday the snowy forest was a playground; the deep snow had a ‘festive’ aspect of carnival. In a frolicsome spirit they tumbled on skis and snowshoes and were pitched off the slewing toboggans, sprawling in the snow, with joyous yells and happy laughter.
The wintry sunshine with its magic currents of vitality stirred the blood.
The crowding trees around First Lake, standing solemn and dignified in the snow, never before heard such merry-making. All day the ski-runners shot down the sharp slopes on the high south bank of First Lake, tobogganers dropped in swift flight down the slide, hikers ate and drank strong Swedish coffee and danced to phonograph music in the big ski camp. It was an animated and colourful scene.
Beyond the ski camp lay the wide Gambier white meadows of the Hollyburn plateau, great snowfields just now the home of beautiful desolation, primeval silence and mystery.
Up there one feels the spell of the high and lonely snows. As you push along on snowshoes or skis you will see great peaks which seem to be sculptured from snow, silvered by the sunlight and sharply shaded with pure blue.
The aspect of the scene is both lovely and a fierce and wild.
The big plateau has a mother-forgotten, and sheltered look and the north wind cuts through the sun warmth with a frosty edge.
The snow has transformed the plateau; the lakes and much of the topography is lost in its depths.
In summer you would say that this plateau needed no added charms to make it the perfection of natural beauty. In winter, without such a variety of delightful features, it keeps your interest by its simple grandeur.
Bending on our snowshoes we mushed down the big sidehill from the plateau to the old Naismith sawmill clearing.
The sun, completing its winter path, dropped behind the Vancouver Island mountains and soon became a pure Antwerp blue, with a sharp profile against a darkening sky. There was a small moon like a crust of greenish ice, and faint stars soon shivered among the tree tops black as if drawn in charcoal. As moonlight and starlight bright and the air grew colder and the whole aspect of the forest night was that of ages before man.
An owl, in the black solitude of the woods, like a muffled bell, began tolling, "whoo-whoo, whoo, hoo!"
February 12, 1927
Through the silent aisles of the great snow-upholstered Hollyburn forest I followed on my snowshoes the big round footprints of a mountain lion until the tracks descended into a deep and narrow gulch. It was nearly sundown, and I did not care to follow the animal into the gulch. The tracks were quite fresh. I did not carry a gun.
So I returned to my cabin. As I dragged the long tails of my six-foot snowshoes in my back-track I wondered why the cougar sank only a few inches in the snow as it walked, where I, without snowshoes, would have floundered hip-deep or buried myself to the waist.
The paws of the cougar are very large and heavily padded, but not any more so than my own feet enclosed in four pairs of woolen [sic] socks and deerskin moccasins.
A human being bears more heavily on the ground; gravitative force exerts itself to a greater extent on a man’s body than on that of a wild animal of the same weight.
Of course an animal’s weight is distributed on four legs. But this does not explain why wild animals walk so lightly in deep snow.
“Snowshoes,” an old bushman said to me, as he tucked a pinch of copenhagen under a lip, “are mankillers.”
He was right. Unless the snow is firm and dry or is surfaced by a crust, which does not happen often in the Coast Mountains, snowshoe hiking is more laborious than any other form of exertion. If you are not in hard physical condition you will not travel far through the bush on snowshoes. And if they are the factory-made kind, sold in sporting goods stores, your snowshoes may not last any longer than yourself. When you have mushed for an hour or two, the filling is soaked and slackens, and forms a bag like the one we used to make in our lacrosse sticks to hold the ball. If you have not adjusted the ties or bindings with the cunning of experience, they will work loose and give a lot of trouble. If the snow is wet and soft, or loose and deep, you will work and sweat almost as hard on snowshoes as you would if you had to wade through the snow without them.
The trouble with the commercially made and sold snowshoe is that it is not big enough, and the filling usually is too light. Sometimes the webbing is heavy enough and the frames stout, but the shoes are too small. For snow conditions in our Coast Mountains, the bigger the snowshoe the better, up to seven feet in length. The frames should be curved up at the front ends. Most factory-made shoes are almost flat. This is a serious deficiency. They should be turned up like the bow of a toboggan. The reason why is obvious. The flat shoes dig into the snow and take on a load like a shovel.
Snowshoes have played such a part in the early history of Canada that every school and public building should have a pair hung on the wall.
Twenty years ago and farther back than that snowshoes were popularly used in winter sport, but now skis have crowded them out to a great extent.
Skis are used mostly like toboggans, for sliding down hill. Only an expert ski-er [sic] can make much progress uphill on ski.
The ski-ing on Hollyburn is practically all coasting down the ski-hill and glissading down the trails. Little cross-country ski-ing has been done.
A good ski-er can of course mush through the bush on ski just as we do on snowshoes. But considerable skill and experience is needed for bush work.
But snowshoes are superior to ski for mushing. But the snowshoes must be properly made, big enough to carry a man, and with very stout frames and filling. When the snow is dry and packed, or crusted, there is no more splendid, exhilarating winter sport than mushing through the bush on snowshoes.
As your webbed racquets carry you over the deep snow-cover beneath which logs and brush and boulders are buried you realize that your road is clear before you through the mountain forests; you feel the spell of the big wilderness and the spirit of the snow-musher urges you on. You lengthen your stride. The trailing snowshoes make only a crisp rustling; the dim anthem of the wind moving slowly through the snow-thatched boughs is the only other sound.
If the sun is shining and the air frosty the mountain woods, striped by purple shadows, are strangely beautiful. In the mystic moonlight, you feel that you are musing through a magic forest, too lovely to be terrestrial.
For comfortable snowshoeing you must put on all the socks you can, and either deerskin moccasins or shoepacks without roughlocks.
The Canadian snowshoe has helped to develop transportation and trade and assisted greatly in exploration and surveying. It is a characteristic Canadian implement. The ski can not [sic] take its place in the Canadian woods.
June Gillrie feeding a whiskey-jack, Hollyburn Mountain, early 1940's (June Gillrie Collection)
March 10, 1927
In thick snow fell steadily and intensified the tremendous silence of the great white plateau.
Gliding swiftly down the long snow slopes from Hollyburn peak, our skis running on the crust, tossed up the new snow like fountains of foamy spray.
Our spirits ran high for we had a boyish enthusiasm for the snow, and the cold, fresh, pure air of the wintry mountain top was as strong as wine.
We felt a pity, tinged with contempt, for indoor people of our acquaintance who feared the cold and hated snow, and who did not know that they could get a new lease of life by breathing the stimulated air of this splendid wilderness.
With our blood running as fast as our skis skimmed the snow, we reached the lower meadows. I had with me the materials for making a fire and boiling tea.
Tea made in the bush, is a delicious and powerful drink, almost intoxicating in it’s inspiring qualities. No one knows the real virtues of tea who has not taken it very hot from a blackened tea pail in the winter woods.
In a little covered place is closed by the heavy dark boughs of alpine hemlocks we made a small fire with dry wood carried in a packsack from my cabin below, and hung a tea pail over it with a piece of haywire and a tripod made of three ski staffs set up in the snow.
Sheltered from the storm by a batch of branches, we smoked our pipes and added to the melting snow in the tea pail, until it was full of steaming water.
The sharp smell of the burning cedar and the smoke soon brought whiskey-jack from afar.
The great jay perched close to the fire, having something of the aspect of a little old ragged goblin of the snowfields in his hunched-up attitude, his thick, loose, down plumage and a bunch of fluffy feathers that hung down like soiled white whiskers over his throat.
He waited, apparently patience, until we had boiled the tea and taken the luncheon out of the pack sack and unwrapped it.
Two or three times he made a soft and quavering sounds, fluid and silvery, as if imitating the flute of some mountain Faunus.
I placed a morsel of meat on the snow close to my feet, and whiskey-jack drifted down from his perch like a bunch of feathers, and silently carried my offering away, but in half an minute returned for more. He was liberally fed, but packed several bits of food some distance away.
Soon there were two great greys floating down to pick up the scraps we laid on the snow very close to the fire. They evidently cached their loot, perhaps near a nest warmly built and hidden in the thickness of conifer boughs, and perhaps crowded with young birds not long hatched. I have never seen the nest, but at this time of year, or earlier, in the high mountain forests, where the snow was fifteen feet deep, the young whiskey-jacks are hatched.
At the Snow Post on the Hollyburn Plateau: (L-R) Walt Kennedy, Buddy Barker, Millie Kennedy, ?, ?, Jack Turner, George Cooper March 4, 1928 (Buddy Barker Collection)
The White Plateau
March 19, 1927
Since the beginning of March the snow depth has increased three feet on the Hollyburn plateau and is now up to the sixteen foot mark on the snow gauge.
This snow cover has made the great flattened top of Hollyburn Ridge goblin country. of fantastic aspect and strange fascinating beauty.
The white flood of snow, lying in long ridges and furrows like a frozen sea, has been rising steadily since November; it has submerged lakes and meadows, and altered natural configuration, covered up uninhabited cabins, and almost overflowed many of the dwarfish alpine trees, until only their twisted and deformed tops are now above the surface.
The romance of this waste of snow is in its suggestion: it is similar in Arctic character to unvisited regions of perpetual snow at the extremities of the earth; it calls up in my mind these fields at adventure, as Thoreau’s Pond, in winter, was “so unexpectedly wide and strange” that looking at it he “could think of nothing but Baffin Bay.
If you have imagination you can feel here the thrills of an Arctic explorer; you can hike for long distances on skis or snowshoes; the wide mountain country between Capilano Canyon and Howe Sound lies open to the adventurer And danger and excitement are not always a flight of the fancy. The hiker may easily meet with real adventure here by being incautious. The other day a snowshoer had a real thrill. He was on the rim of the plateau where there began a sharp snow slope that dropped steeply thousands of feet into Capilano Canyon, with a few interesting features like precipices and cliffs and gulches en route. The snow surface wan hard and glare. His snowshoes began to slip. He could not get them off. He was slipping downward with increasing momentum, and in a few seconds would have been sliding so fast that he could not have stopped himself. Fortunately in passing a tree he caught a wiry branch before it was too late.
Here the skier or snowshoer is facing naked nature, and there is something vindictive in elemental nature.
To gain Hollyburn Peak now you have to mount over long slants of snow, and there is peril in that for the inexperienced or incautious.
The peak is a very lonely place now, with a silence that takes hold of you like a spell. The view is characterized by wild grandeur and majestical beauty almost too much for the human mind. You feel intimidated by the bigness of things.
But the Lion peaks, so close that you seem to be in direct contact with them, are so lovely, sculptured in creamy snow, with strongly-drawn blue shadows, that you feel, if you have a susceptible nature, a strange and fine exaltation, the emotion that sublime beauty gives.
The peak of Hollyburn looks on all the peaks and snowfields north and east and west for a great distance.
It is an astonishing panorama in simple but big forms, in white and blue.
Gerry Hardman, Black Mountain, September, 1930 (Gerry Hardman Collection)
April 12, 1927
One of the counter tendencies from artificial civilization is the increasing popularity of mountain hiking: probably 1000 hikers each week-end ascend the two most accessible mountains in the Vancouver district, Grouse and Hollyburn. These hikers, of all ages from 10 to 70, of all degrees of bodily conditions from athletes to invalids, climb rough trails to elevations of from 3000 to 4500 feet above sea level, which means hard exertion, heart-pounding and sweat. Most of these hikers have two legs, that I have known at least three men to climb to the 2500-foot level, and one to reach 3000 feet, on one leg. Two of these resolute sportsmen had wooden legs and mounted the trail assisted only by an ordinary walking stick; the third, and he attained higher altitude than the other two, or no artificial leg but used a crutch.
To walk three or four miles up a steep mountain trail demands some character as well as exertion of the limbs. No lazy man ever walked to the top of a mountain. Many hikers have little physical vigor but are supported on the rough trails to a large extent by their mental sturdiness. But hiking hardens the muscles and increases the powers of respiration; climbing makes the heart pump faster, and the mountain air enlivens the blood with a magic element fresher and stronger than the mere sluggish oxygen of sea level.
Many hikers on their first trip up the trails, with vitality thinned by the pale anemia of the apartment, the office and the closed automobile, find the labor of climbing so tiresome that they decide to hike no more. But usually they are on the trail again before long. On the second and third trip to climb more easily, And on the fourth they wonder why it seems so hard the first time. The uphill miles give the hiker thirst unknown on level roads, and it might be true but the brown water of mountain creeks is charged with a mystic charm, so that those drink once of the those cold streams near their high sources Will return to drink of them again and again.
Speaking arithmetically, about 80 per cent of hikers are full of the electric fluid of youth and steep miles are easy to them. They hike fast, and it is their pride that they can make the trip up the mountain in an unreasonably short time. But few of them feel the least interest in nature; they do no dreaming in the woods; they do not listen to the murmur of creeks or the music of birds; they cannot identify the birds; they hardly no one tree species from another; many will call the squirrel chipmunk. If the mountain had no trees on it and no wild life of any kind, I think these young men and women from the city would enjoy hiking quite as much as they do now.
They are healthy and take pleasure in hard exercise outdoors, but there is little sympathy between them and wild nature.
Twenty-five per cent of hikers are Arcadians who worship the nature gods and love the great forest halls hung with green and the wildlife that dwells in them. The beauty of the pure streams and glittering mountain lakes, and of the green trees, and of the shining peaks seen over the plateau’s rim, the mystery of the dark sidehill woods, bird music and occasional glimpses of bear and deer, recompense them for the physical difficulties of the trail. Many are botanists and students of wildlife. Some are poets and dreamers.
Of the other 25 per cent, many are ski-ers and snowshoers, with a healthy liking for the snow and the invigorating sharpness of wintry heights. Early in the dark winter mornings you can see them in the ski camp, applying wax to their skis with a warm rag, or restringing their big snowshoes, and in the gray dawn they go forth, with packsacks on their backs, across the white plateau toward the distant peaks. These men and women form the highest caste of hikers. In summer time they go on from where the travelled trails stop, penetrating the fastnesses and solitudes beyond, backpacking blankets and food and sleeping out in the heather on far unknown mountains. They are acquainted with woodcraft and are at home in the bush away from the trodden trails.
There are others, a small minority, who get lost so readily that their helplessness in the woods is comic. They even wander, in someway incapable of being accounted for, from the beaten trails. Their inherited instincts of direction and locality are apparently atrophied from disuse. Super civilization has deprived them of the senses that men in the bush need sometimes. They should stay out of the woods. Lately a man left my cabin on Hollyburn to go to Vancouver. The trail is like a highway; it is as easy to follow as a city street. Yet he got off it somehow, and lost himself in the bush. He left my cabin at six in the afternoon. The trip to the suburban district below can be made in an hour easily by the trail. At 9 o’clock that evening this man got out of the bush some distance east of Twenty-second street, the head of which the trail joins. He was exhausted, after scrambling and struggling through the brush for hours, without a light. He had got off the trail about halfway down from my cabin. How he did so is inexplicable.
Gerry Hardman, Snowpost, Hollyburn Mountain, February, 1931 (Gerry Hardman Collection)
Seventeen Feet of Snow
April 13, 1927
The snow-post on Hollyburn Mountain is merely a long pole, set up in the meadow on the plateau at an elevation of about 3500 feet above sea level. It is marked in feet by small pieces of tin tacked to the pole about inches apart. The tin strips once had numbers painted on them and the scale on the post was twenty-four feet. But now some of the tin graduations are missing, and most of the painted numbers have been obliterated by the weather. But one or two near the top are not effaced, and by counting down from one of these you can find out the snow depths, which in the first week of April was a few inches under seventeen feet.
Seventeen feet is probably the average depth of snow on the great Hollyburn plateau this spring, and this depth, of course, is compressed from many more feet of actual snowfall.
For several feet from the ground this snow cover has been compacted by its own weight into an icy mass, and from there up to the surface it is packed closely, except for a few inches of fresh snow lies on the top crust.
Higher up on the mountains, the meadows and parks that sweep to the two eminences, the peak and the knob that form the summit, marked on the maps as 4700 feet, the snow cover is much thicker. In the saddle between peak and knob, in summertime, a park-like meadow, only the tops of the rugged alpine conifers are showing above the snow. Here the snow depth must be twenty feet or more. The peak and knob have lost their contours; they are simply great cones of snow.
The great depths of snow on Hollyburn and other mountains in the Vancouver district must have the effect of setting back, by its chill, the spring at sea level. On Hollyburn the snow begins at about 1500 feet elevation, and at 2500 feet elevation the depth of the snow is about four feet. Above the 2000 foot level there has been no rain worth considering since before Christmas, and no thaw of any account. The cold has been very persevering on the mountain all winter. It is still freezing hard at nights. When the sun shines it is warm, but we have had little sunshine. I am writing this on April 8, and winter is still persisting.
The winter before this one was mild and the snowfall very light. A year ago the snow depth on Hollyburn plateau, as shown by the snow gauge, was about seven feet. There was no snow at the 2500-foot level, and the salmonberry bushes a few hundred feet lower had leaves and blossoms.
I do not remember the snow depth as shown by the snow post two years ago, but I am sure it was much less than this year. Also, three years ago, I think the depth of snow on the mountain was rather small. But wasn’t the snow in the Coast Range quite deep four years ago?
We who live on the mountain think that the snow on Hollyburn will take a long time to melt this year. The snow has not begun to thaw yet. Fresh snow has fallen almost every day of April so far. Up on Hollyburn there is an area of several square miles with a snow covered from four to six feet thick on the side hills and from ten to twenty feet in thickness on the plateau and summit. Much of this snow is very hard at a good deal of it is icy. Much of it lies in localities sheltered from the sun. I think it is quite possible that fields of snow on the top of the mountain will remain all summer. The Swedes at the ski camp, and skiers of the Hollyburn Ski Club expect to enjoy ski sport for two months yet. The Swedes are experienced mountaineers and they think it will be mid-summer before this snow is gone. Snow melts slowly on the mountain. The days may be warm, but the evenings, nights and early mornings are cold even in July.
If such a great body of snow melted fast, the Capilano and lesser streams could not carry the water away fast enough. Much damage would be done by high water.
The coming summer in the mountains will be a good one from the mountaineers’, foresters’ and fire rangers’ standpoint. There will be plenty of water, and the bracken, salal, Heather and other undergrowth to be fresh and damp in the hot weather.
But the influence of so much snow upon the climate of sea level is not a genial one.
Looking west towards Mt. Strachan and Howe Sound from Hollyburn Mountain, January, 1935 (Brownie Morris Collection)
May 8, 1927
In the first week of May there was a considerable snowfall on Hollyburn mountain from the top down to the 2000-foot level. The advent of May was accompanied by a sub-Arctic blizzard on the top of the mountain. At the 3500-foot level on May 4 the aspect was as wintry as ever, except that the gauge on the snowpost showed that the snow has sunk 2 feet since April 1. Then the snow was up to the 17-foot mark on the gauge. Now it is just below the 15-foot mark. The top of the post still sticks forlornly out of a great undulating prairie of snow, Engraved with many ski tracks. The winter wind still blows sharply across the snow waste. Precipitation is still in the form of snow. Ski-ers and snowshoers still glide and tramp over the vast white plateau. When, infrequently, the sun shines, it’s rays are still pale and lukewarm as in winter.
Now it may be said without over stating the truth that you pass from summer to winter in climbing the Hollyburn trail. Up to the 1000-foot level on the mountain, deciduous trees, shrubs and bushes are green with new leaves, and wildflowers are in bloom. May prevails as usual. But as you climb from the lower levels you pass backwards through April and March and, reaching the top of the mountain, you are in January. This climatic retrogression leads you to a region of delight for skiers and all lovers of snow sport. Vancouver may this year make without exaggeration the claim that the pleasures of both summer and winter outdoor sports may be enjoyed contemporaneously within the Vancouver District. There seems no doubt that large fields of snow Will be available on the Vancouver mountains for ski sport during the summer. It is unlikely that the mountain snow- cover above the 3000-foot level will decrease much during this month. In June and July, of course, the snow will thaw, but not rapidly, perhaps, in June. It seems probable that in the sheltered parts of the big Hollyburn plateau, and around Hollyburn peak, there will be areas of snow unmelted when the new snow comes in the early fall. The region of deep snow on Hollyburn is between the 3000 and 4500 feet elevations. At such altitudes the nights are cold, even in midsummer.
Camping out in the Vancouver mountains will be very enjoyable this summer. There will be plenty of water in the creeks and plateau lakes. The Bush will be down in green.
The creeks the carry the snow water from the Hollyburn plateaus are full at this time of year, but this spring they have not been high yet, though below the 3000 foot level there has been much rain. The black pairs of the Vancouver mountains, denned up, we assume, high up in the mountains, may have to prolong their hibernation beyond its usual duration this spring, If it is true that they do not wakeup until the snow melts. Bushmen say that bears do not leave their dens until the skunk cabbages are coming up. Last spring at this time the bears were digging up skunk cabbages on the big side hills of Hollyburn and Black and Strahan.
The bears in this mountain district are supposed to have their winter dens in the timbered gulches and high hemlock-matted sidehills on the other side of this ridge and in the ridges farther back, where the snow cover is still between fifteen and twenty feet thick. Those bearers will have a long sleep this spring if they don’t come out till their dens get damp with the melting snow. We have seen no bears or bear sign on this mountain yet.
Mount Strachan from Hollyburn Peak, March 25, 1934 (Gerry Hardman Collection)
June Morning On the Snow Crust
June 14th, 1927
Mount Strahan is the next ridge north of Hollyburn. It is separated from Hollyburn by a deep and wide gulch. Strahan is several hundred feet higher than Hollyburn.
As bushmen express it, it is three squaws deep on the top of Hollyburn, the squaws, of course, standing on each other’s heads.
On Sunday, June 5, very early in the morning, standing on Hollyburn peak, a ski-ing party gazed across more than a mile through the great clear deeps of aerial sunshine and saw on the snow on the summit of Strahan minute black figures waving miniature arms.
The huge snow slopes of Strahan dropped steeply down from the top to the bottom of the separating gulch. The great mountainside was interspersed with open parks and meadows and black patches of forest. The ski-ers on the pinnacle of Hollyburn had seen the first sunrays touch with rosy fingers the pure snows on the Lion peaks, softening their grim and desolate aspect. The rise of the sun over the vast field of wild white mother forgot mountains had been a sublime spectacle; the early skiers have beheld it with solemn wonder in their hearts.
Now through the limpid still sunlight they could clearly see the pygmy shapes on the top of Strahan start down the great snow slopes gliding on skis.
Now and then the tiny forms shooting downward disappeared in a patch of timber, reappeared as they speeded in jagged flight in and out of tree belts and open meadows, often compelled to dodge obstacles and to make the sweeping Telemarcken and Christiana turns, beautiful and graceful evolutions, to stop themselves at the edge of an abrupt declivity. Vanishing among black conifers, they were visible again a few moments later rushing down a long slope.
Those who from the top of Hollyburn watched with some perturbation the swift glissade, felt relieved when the daring ski runners shot down the last slope into the gulch below.
It was a perilous stunt never attempted before. Only expert skiers could have descended safely. It had been a wonderful morning of bright and electric cold in the vast solitude of snow which sweeps back from the ski-camp on Hollyburn over the immense field of mountains behind. Until the sun rose high, the alpine snows were crusted with the silver shell. The ski runners were out early, coasting down the long slides to the meadows below.
The alpine air was strong as wine and intoxicated some of the skiers.
Johnson was the leader of a small party that climbed on skis the snowing heights of Strahan.
Johnson is a ski expert, the doyen of the Hollyburn skiers. He is a fine sportsman and enthusiastic mountaineer. You can follow his ski tracks by little brown stains in the snow, for Johnson is prone to the use of a choice brand of snuff. Johnson is greatly esteemed by the skiers on Hollyburn.
So a small gallery, bathed in the magical Alpine sunshine on Hollyburn peak, observed with some feeling of concern, but with the fascinated interest with which we always behold dangerous stunting, the flying descent of Johnson and his companions from the top of Strahan.
When they came herring-boning on their skis back to Hollyburn again, Johnson told us that the glissade from the top of Strahan to the bottom of the gulch had been made in seven minutes.
It takes an hour for a hiker to descend from the top of Strahan into the gulch.
Among the huge snow waves on the high meadows and plateaus, the ski-ing is still good early in the morning, before the sun softens the crust formed by the night frost. The snow begins to get sticky about 9 o’clock.
But after a few more warm days there will be danger of snow avalanches on Strahan and on the sharper slopes of Hollyburn.
A Visitor on Hollyburn", Hollyburn Ridge, June 17, 1928 (Buddy Barker Collection)"
July 22nd, 1927
Bears and rain are the commonest things on Hollyburn now. The other night I was hiking, in the familiar rain, up to my cabin, halfway up Hollyburn. The trail passed through the stumps and old slash of a logged-off area. The mountainside was demurely clad in hits customary raiment of rain-cloud. The stumps were indistinctly seen through delicate veils of mist. One of the blurred stumps suddenly roused up and moved with some celerity into denser obscurity. It was a bear.
Not long ago three bears, a middle-aged female and two hopeful cubs, visited the old logging operation where I live alone. Cooking supper at a fire outside my cabin, I watched the bears as they rambled about the clearing.
I went to bed at dark. I closed and latched my door, because a skunk had a habit of coming into the cabin at night if the door was left open.
Toward morning I was awakened by a noise on the porch. Then the door shook as it was strongly shoved from the outside. I jumped out of my bed shouting, “Who’s that?” I thought my caller was some early hiker or someone from the ski-camp farther up the trail. But as I stepped to the door to open it, there was a dragging and shuffling on the porch.
I did not open the door. The she bear had come up on the porch. With two children I was crossing a high meadow when the children saw two small bears in a big western white pine. The children started toward the tree, but I stopped them. The pine was surrounded by blueberry bushes, and from this brush I felt sure that she bear would appear. But she did not. We watched the cubs until they slipped down the tree and disappeared in the highest thick bushes. Since the salmonberries ripened on the lower slopes, several bears have sojourned in the green jungles on the upper fringes of West Vancouver. In the delightful streets that penetrate the mountain woods, These bears are often seen. Residents on these streets are somewhat agitated, for they keep goats. A spent the night in the strawberry patch on one street