The Ski Camp at the 'Old Mill' Site (1925 - 1926)
Articles by Pollough Pogue
Pollough Pogue's cabin at the abandoned Nasmyth millsite, 1925. Pogue is on the far left wearing the woolen toque.
(Eilif Haxthow Collection)
The Wet Camp
March 25, 1925
On a rainy day, two weeks ago, I found myself a homeless man. I was driven, by the inescapable seasonal chronology of circumstances, from the dwelling which had served as my winter shelter; house-rents, in the watering place in which I dwell, rose, with the arrival of the robin, to their summer altitude.
I had the means of camping-out in my possession, tent and blankets and a few indispensable iktahs of equipment. I decided to camp-out. Campsites are far from free in the neighborhood of the village; I wanted a free campsite, with a clear stream and some other merits which few rented-campgrounds have. The slope of Black Mountain, clothed up to the 500 foot level with alders already spreading canopies of lavender to declare the spring renewal, and above that sweep of delicate color, with conifers rising in success of bluish tiers and flights, invited my Gypsy spirit.
For four days, in the quiet continuing rain, I back-packed my camp iktahs up the trail, making many trips. I had chosen a campground in a little flat beside a noisy creek at the 1,500-foot level, just below the snow-line. When you climb a mountain trail in March you return to winter, passing again through months that to the comfortable citizens in houses at sea-level are happily past. It was balmy spring on the beach; at 1,500 feet the rain changed to wet snow. It was late February there; January was higher up but sent down a chill. The trail was steep; the packs heavy; I was weak from illness, but the great peace of the mountain forests quieted my spirits. Camp was made in the rain. Poles were cut and peeled. The tent was stretched. A decayed lumber flume supplied planks for floor and box-like bunk. This was filled with overlapped “boughed-up” hemlock and balsam boughs. The ground-cloth was laid on the matted branches; the blankets were spread. The sheet-iron stove was set up. By making a number of deep saw-cuts in a big cedar log peltried with moss, and slabbing off the pieces, I obtained dry wood short enough for the small heater.
While the last of the work of making camp was accomplished (not forgetting to tie some coloured rags to the nearby trees to scare away the evil spirits), there was what to my unhoping resignation as to the weather, seemed a singularly incredible diminution of the rain or sleet. There came an unhoped for, hardly believable suffusion of warm light in the western sky. Presently the ashen clouds shrank slowly back and disclosed an area of soft blue like a sudden view of heaven. This widened, and the low, infrequent sun appeared and sent a sudden radiance into the little open space where stood my wet camp. My chilly sidehill flat, sodden and dripping trees and salal were flooded with gold, and shone like a field of paradise. The miasma of sardonic pessimism cleared away from my soul. A varied thrush uttered and repeated its musical shriek, a song-sparrow whistled its silver prelude, the ventriloquial booming of a grouse began apparently close at hand. The myriad magenta fruit of the alders below my camp became a rich rose-pink in the shining western light.
That evening I spent in deep comfort, robed in my blanket coat beside a hot stove (I had taken a new cold), but later, reading, in my blankets, Charles Marriot’s “ Modern Movements in Painting,” I was seized with a toothache. I did not sleep. Toward morning I extinguished my candle and listened to the delicate, surreptitious movements of a deer-mouse among my stores (all in tins). The rain began again with a soft treading on the stretched tent-roof, but soon it thickened.
For the next three days it rained, changing, with the night chill, to soft, heavy snowflakes for the sake of variety. Great grey clouds like great grey masses of fog drifted down the mountainside, immersing my encampment. Look from Vancouver across English Bay to the dark slopes of Black Mountain, and you’ll see, if the weather has not changed, these ashen clouds wrapping the mountainside. Behind this obscurity is my camp.
The Snow-line Comes Down
May 5, 1925
As, with hardly a pause, the characteristic rain descended, I found comfort in the supposition that my camp, on Black Mountain, was at any rate below the snowline. But this belief, which seemed to rest on secure foundations, proved after all to be a fond creation of fancy. I had been taking too hopeful a view of the mountain weather. The snowline came down to me one memorable night, and stayed two days. It was as if the calendar had backed up, whimsically, from April to January. I had noticed, the night before, that the leaves of the alders beside the creek were almost complete, a pure and vivid green, and next morning I awoke and found my camp engulfed in snow.
For three days before, and immensity of cloud, a vast body, as big as half the mountainside, of heavy vapor, had enveloped my encampment, blotting out, in a thick mystery of grey, the slopes above, the descending tops of forests below, and the customary magnificent view of sea and land spread beneath.
Most of the time heavy discharges of rain fell from the monstrous swollen reservoirs of this cloud; the closest trees were wrapped in gauze; a ghostly dark made, in full day, a candle necessary for reading in the tent.
At times there was a thinning of the rain and raising of the lower parts the cloud; the light grew stronger as if the shades had been drawn back from windows, and immediate trees, swallowed up or almost obscured before, emerged from the grayness and disclosed, in unclouded detail, their forms. But these periods of slackening of the rain and release from the pressure of the cloud, were brief. I reclined, reading, in the tent, entertaining with precarious optimism the hope of eventual sunshine, at least for a day. “
On the night of the third day, toward dawn, I was aware, without being completely released from a heavy sleep, of exceptional cold, and half awake, inserted myself farther among the thick blankets. When I awoke to full consciousness, the tent-roof sagged beneath a heavy weight of snow. I put on my boots in haste. Outside, there was a spectral light. Trees whitened with snow stood ankle deep in the drift. On the tent roof the snow was four or five inches deep, and with a snowshoe I shoveled it off the canvas. My campground, my little open flat with its park-like groups of trees, all draped in phantom white, was a striking vision of some ghostly borderland between a country of dreams and the real earth. For a background it had the great sweep of mountainside above, with orderly tiers of conifers rising one above the other, and each of the myriad trees had at a pillow of snow.
Overhead the sky was without cloud, and jeweled with stars. The sun rose clear but its warmth [down] until toward midday soften [them?] and start a silver dripping from [the] trees
Pony Tracks on Hollyburn
May 15, 1925
When Fred Scott, the dude wrangler, wearing the romantic cowboy trap. plugs of his calling, and sitting loosely in a Texas saddle on a characteristic pony, appeared at the ski camp on Hollyburn wrangling one happy dude decorated with a pictorial if needless pair of goatskin chaparajos and seated in a stock saddle on a gentle dude horse, Eilif and Bill and I felt that Hollyburn mountain had reached a new degree of progression in its development as a popular alpine resort.
The word ‘dude’, as a colloquial expression meaning a youthful fop, was dropped from familiar slang many years ago. You never hear it now used in its old sense. But in a special limited sense it has persisted. It now means a helpless individual, tourist or health seeker, who visits the Western mountains or the stock ranges, riding the trails on a subdued pony, attended by a cowboy escort.
In the abrupt and racy vocabulary of the stock country, ‘wrangler’ means a competent man who has charge of a string of horses, or a bunch of dudes, or a single dude. The ranches which accept dudes as paying guests are called dude ranches. The careless cowpunchers who tenderly nurse these dudes and save them injury or death on the pony trails and in the hills are called dude wranglers. I have never heard that these efficient gentlemen of the saddle cared particularly for their job of watching over the dudes, but there is good money in it. A long time ago the experienced Western men used to call the dude a tenderfoot. That word is seldom used now. I think there is more scorn in the word dude.
It gives a mountain distinction in this tourist country to have a dude wrangling outfit of saddle ponies attached to it. This is what has happened recently to Hollyburn. Fat and lazy people, who would never reach the top of a mountain if they had to walk up may now sit in a Mexican saddle and be carried up the big hills behind West Vancouver by a domesticated broncho, who must feel some mortification, but, of course, has to earn his lIving, and like many of us, must submit to some abasement of pride in doing it. The dudes joyously buckle on the panoply of the Western rider, the elaborate spurs, the leather chaps, and, assisted into the saddle, look almost as if they had ridden horses before. Human beings such as these dudes love to masquerade, particularly in the gallant accouterments of the horseman.
It was on an experimental jaunt, to discover the best trails, or those suitable for horses, that Fred Scott, a long-limbed young man used to the saddle, wIth a weather-beaten, competent Western Canadian face, a big ranch hat and high-heeled boots arid a belt with a large brass buckle, rode up to the ski camp at the old Naismith mill. He swung from his careless seat in the saddle and his great spurs clanked as his high heels touched the ground. His one adventurous dude climbed less casually down. The dude immediately expressed pride in the achievement of having ridden a horse up Hollyburn. He admired enthusiastically the scenery from the ski camp. A wonderful spot, invigorating air, what! We haven’t got the habit of enthusiasm, hut we thought him a very agreeable dude. Fred Scott said nothing until he had fed his horses. Then he talked in a quiet drawl, slowly arranging a cigarette with a wheat-straw paper and the inescapable tobacco dust from a small cotton back. With big battered fingers he nimbly rolled up the quick tobacco. It was, he said, a fine mountain we had. A good trail. They had made her fine.
Cloudy With Showers
December 6th, 1925
For three successive days and nights, on the mountainside where I am living in a small tent, rain has continued with but momentary pauses, but the sustained rain, in November, is not exceptional. The Coast climate is merely carrying on its immemorial tradition. The somewhat agitating, faintly adventurous circumstance in my life at present is that my tent is perched on a raised flooring insecurely supported by poles in the midst of a farming torrent.
A short while ago I laboriously constructed this scaffolding, a new location for my tent. On a sharp sidehill it is necessary for the camper to build such a structure in order to get a level place on which to put his tent. The staging which my tent had occupied for some time was, I considered, excessively informal. I fabricated, more elaborately, old boards from a ruined shack and long stakes hammered into the sidehill a fresh foundation from my tent, in which I regarded as an advantageous locality. An observant man would have perceived that, in the wet season, water flowed voluminously down the sidehill where I erected my staging; the earth was ploughed and carved by hurrying sluices of water; a wild creek, in the rainy season, would have been, to one with ordinary mental capacity, easily predictable, but I don’t remember noticing these indications at the time.
It was especially fine weather and I had never experienced so long a succession of engaging autumn days, with the willow and the ollalie and the fern, yellow and red like flame, lighting up the gloomy fir woods like blazing torches.
Then came, a week ago, a day thick with cloud. The rain came, rather trivial at first, a mere flutter that night, on the tent canvas, a shower like thin spray. But next day great clouds settled down over the mountain like a darkness. A dark texture of fog moved amongst the bluish-green firs like evening shadows. The vapor blotted out the familiar sidehill. The forest was ghostly with mist. As I lit my candle that night within my canvas walls the thick drum of real rain began on the roof. This is a pleasant sound, when you are comfortable in a small tent with a good fire in the stove and plenty of dry wood. A warm tent in the shelter of the mountain forest is a snug place on a stormy night.
As I drifted to sleep the flume creek, fifty yards from the tent, became audible again after a long period of silence; it began to hum among its boulders. Next morning when I awoke the creek was roaring like a mill. When I went to wash myself and fill my coffee-pail I could not get close enough to dip my pail without getting sluiced with spray. The creek had become a cataract.
There was no suspension, for the next two days, of the rain’s monotonous activity. Great masses of water vapor wrapped the mountain and dragged over the sidehill.
The forest’s autumn finery was tarnished and my spirit was tarnished also.
The mountain seemed to be dissolving into water and the deliquescing process expressed itself in wet sounds of many liquid tones. The rain and the cascading creek and the new streams that had begun to gutter the sidehills made an aqueous symphony of streaming spouting harmonies.
Toward noon on the third day the channelled sidehill beneath my tent became a foaming torrent. On the plateau above there had been a deluge and the water was obeying the law of nature by taking the shortest route to the ocean.
It appeared to me during the afternoon that most of it had probably scorned the creek and had chosen a course that ran right under my tent.
As I write these words, the cataract underneath the tent platform is swelling and its local imminent thunder has drowned out the roar of the flume creek.
Apparently there’s lots more water further up the mountain and it is still raining. Today is the fourth day. I’m not alarmed, but I have a feeling that the poles which support my tent flooring are getting undermined by the rush of water.
I understand how Noah felt as he watched from the bridge of the ark for the return of the dove.
December 15th, 1925
In my cabin at the ski camp I was awakened by the scurrying of the inevitable pack-rats on the ceiling boards overhead.
I could not get to sleep again.
The small window was dark, but I felt that daybreak was not far off.
The fragrance of coffee filled the single room. Made in the mountain cabin in the midst of a tall forest in the dark of a winter morning, coffee is a superior and magnetic drink. Drinking it, hot and strong, your spirits rise; it furnishes the stimulus you need at early dawn. A singularly engaging aroma arises from the cup and the rich liquor is charged with an elevating glow productive of the most hopeful optimism.
As the darkness faded, I saw through the window that a fall of snow had covered the ground and decked out the solemn conifers with ivory-white trimming that had a holiday suggestion.
I decided to spend the morning cutting wood. In firewood I have expensive tastes and indulged them freely. Western Cyprus is the choice wood I burn in my cabin stove.
On an old trail near the mill are several yellow cedar logs, cut and left there by the last haywire operator who “went broke” logging cypress up here because the cost of getting the yellow logs down the amount was too high.
Western Cypress or yellow cedar, as loggers call it, was never intended for firewood. To those who know British Columbia timber it has not the familiar aspect of a native wood. If you saw it as dressed lumber you would be reminded of costly tropical or Oriental wood. It is sulphur yellow in color, and is silky in texture when polished. There is an abundance of it, but it is high on the mountains. Though it is the most beautiful of woods and the demand for it in the lumber market is good even at over $100 per thousand board feet, the annual cut is very small because the trees grow in difficult places and almost always between the 2500 and 4,000-ft. levels.
And there is a good deal of it on our mountain, and so much of it on the ground that we use it for firewood.
Half a mile from the camp there is a cypress log about sixteen feet long and three in diameter, resting on two other logs in the deep damp mountain forests where the trees have lichens like the grey hair of old age growing on them, and a grey moss like grey whiskers hanging from their branches, and where the shadows drift among the lichened trunks like brown smoke and the silence is like a spell of mystery.
But that morning the thin spread of new snow rendered the silence heavier, but made the woods less somber.
The sharp scratching of my saw in the cypress log presently broke the stillness and made the gloomy place seem less unearthly.
The sawdust on the snow was yellow as cornmeal. The curious snuffy Oriental smell of Cypress rose from the sawdust.
When I had a sawed-off several short sections I split them into very small sticks, which lay scattered on the new snow glinting like bars of gold in the level sunrays which presently came flashing like bright spears through the hemlock branches.
Above the Fog
January 3rd, 1926
Usually in the mountains the higher you climb the farther you get into the year’s past. You climb from summer to spring and from spring to winter. But just now you can climb back to summer anywhere in the Vancouver mountains. On the heights it has been September for a week. Since Christmas Day the summer sun has been shining in a clear sky of Italian blue.
Looking from the twenty-five hundred foot level on Hollyburn, down over the field of vision below we view a curious spectacle. The sight usually presented to the eye is hidden by a vast expanse of cloud like a grey-blue billowy sea. The city and district of Vancouver, the peninsula of Point Grey, Lulu Island and the delta of the Fraser and all the lands and islands beyond are buried. Only the tops of the highest trees on Point Grey are projecting through the clouds like the tree tops of a submerged island. The southern horizon is the Cascade range, dominated by the blue and silver cone of Mount Baker. The western horizon is the Vancouver Island coast range.
The mountains are rather sharply silhouetted against the utterly clear sky. Above the level of the fog clouds which lie perhaps five hundred feet deep over the sea and land below, all is clear, fair and bright. Since Christmas we have not seen a cloud in our sky. The sun shines with the brilliance of September. The whole mountain above the five hundred foot level is enveloped in warm sunshine. There is no snow on the mountain below the four thousand foot level and above that level the snow is but a couple of feet deep.
We look down from our elevation on a world imprisoned in a darkness of winter fog. For six days the vast floor of vapour has lain beneath us. At times it puffs up in balloon-shaped bulges in certain spots. It is of interest to see the factory smoke from industrial districts below, and sometimes funnel smoke from ships come through the fog in spots and slowly spread a brown stain over a square mile of cloud.
At night, whitened by the light of the full moon, the great field of cloud has the appearance of a prairie of hummocky snow.
From it come all night the voices, in a minor key, of blinded ships. It is a dreary chorus. A moaning of foghorns runs from Point Atkinson to Brockton Point.
Since Christmas day the weather has been perfection, unbelievable at this time of year. California in the last week of December could do no better. Warm, still days with a brilliant sun in a sky of Italian blue and nights of silver moonlight and velvet shadows, with no frost, at an elevation of nearly three thousand feet above sea level in late December at this time of year is very unusual. . . . The populations below are shrouded in the gloom of wet fog.
We at the ski camp are not altogether pleased by this unseasonable weather, though we cannot find fault with it. The skis in the ski shed are all waxed and harnessed, and we have been looking forward to snow for some weeks. We require snow many feet in depth, with a nice firm crust on the top. Then the wooden wings will carry us far and wide.
A January Gone Astray
January 12th, 1926
The orange and rose colours, like distant cities afire, of the sunset had quickened our imaginations: Eilif, Erik and I had viewed the great spectacle until the tropic colours, the cherry, the wild scarlet faded to a cinnamon now, a khaki stain over the Vancouver Island mountains: the amazing sunset had stirred our emotions, now as wide west blackened, the brightening stars in the deep violet sky were to me like romantic melodies. It had been a memorable day of clear azure sky and a sun warm as that of June, a January as much astray as a compass needle surrounded by magnets. On Hollyburn Mountain the sap rose in the trees, there were buds everywhere; rootstocks were quickening, grass was emerald green. We had seen the yellow wood-violet, a fragile flower to bloom high on a mountain in January, and there had been a rumour of linnea. Varied thrushes and towhees had been seen, and robins lower down; someone had mentioned kinglets and all the bird and animal life of the mountain, except bears, was very active.
On the morning of the eleventh I awoke early in my cabin at the ski camp; blue-white stars, sharp as diamonds, engaged my imagination. Myriads, a powder of glistening crystals, pure as ice, the sky was rich with their delicate traceries, aquamarine, beryl constellations spreading their icy sparkle over the pure velvet sky. Beholding, through the window at first, this singularly lovely pageant of stars, I soon went outside; I stood shivering in the edged freshness of the morning, among the black forms of silent, aloof conifers, for a long time trying to feel all the beauty, the charm and magic of stars. Many more were disclosed, by the night’s utter clarity, then I had ever seen before.
The morning was as sharp as an axe blade. The ground was hardened by frost. The tender blossomed beside the trail, the untimely yellow purple-marked flowers of the viola, would perish, I told myself, in the morning chill.
The moon, a thin crescent of ivory, floated low, near the southeastern horizon, now turning from purple to green; some stars in that part of the sky, receded. A wash of brown-pink appeared above the mountains. Soon they were gilded by the advancing sun. The rolling sea of fog was burnished by a sudden sweep of light. The silhouettes of the mountains were still the colour of wine. But suddenly there was a flight of golden arrows from behind Baker and the sun wheeled up, a chariot of fire. I was temporarily blinded: when I regained my vision, the clouds had vanished; the sun was alone in an utterly clear sky, which was turning blue.
But below, land and sea were buried in thick clouds; the familiar groaning of fog horns and brief repeated whistle blasts of ships came up, as, usual, from underneath the clouds. This extinction of sea and land below appears to enlarge the immensity of the view; as far as the eye can see, the great sea of fog extends; sometimes it rises a little and almost submerges the Cascade range and those peaks of the Cheam and Hope ranges we see to the southeastward. My brain is weary with seeking analogies between it and other familiar things.
Its undulations made it resemble a rough sea commanded to be still by some divinity who had power over it. These furrows were blue with shadow, but the waves, the ridges were coloured by the sun during the day, and at night by the moon, or the starshine. But it suggests to me a vast plain of snow or the corrugated ice-fields of polar regions. At sunrise and at sunset it is gilded by the floor of heaven.
Skis On Hollyburn
January 24th, 1926
Six inches of snow on Saturday and a slight frost on Saturday night changed the climate of the ski camp from summer warmth to something suggestive of appropriate winter cold. At least the air was crisp and Sunday morning, the thin snow was dry until the anachronistic sun climbed the sidehill and from a clear sky looked down on us with all the fervour of June.
Our wistful hope of frost and snow were dashed to the ground as the sixteenth day of bright sunshine since Christmas here at the twenty-five-hundred foot level on Hollyburn mountain began. We felt an incredible antipathy to the sunshine; it would eat up the winter-suggesting snow, a poor exhibit of snow, but all we had.
Eilif issued his skis to the hikers who were howling for them; Saturday’s snow has been followed by little rain, which had been succeeded by the frost, and there was a crust on the snow. Soon a yelling succession of ski-riders shot down the trail from the sawdust heap, curving perilously between the stumps. It was the first time this winter that Eilif had rented his skis; the camp has been a summer resort until now.
For some hours, until the sunshine was moderated by thin clouds, the day was sparkling; sufficient frost electricity survived in the air to give it the kick of hard cider. Life ran high in the ski-ers; with howls and laughter they slid down the snow-covered trail, men and excited girls, splendid as the morning, racing through the shining air.
It was an inspiriting spectacle, and I felt a kind of pity for some “white-collar” men of Vancouver whom I had invited to the ski camp. Because it rained on Saturday in Vancouver they had not come. They have been softened by much comfortable civilization, and they’re afraid of getting their feet damp. They missed much throbbing life and much comedy. For ski-ing means tumbling; the ski–slider must fall, and because his feet are harnessed to seven-foot boards1, he falls comically. For him it is not funny, of course, but it is humorous for everyone else. And though you may sprawl violently and painfully, you must laugh with the others or else you are not a good sport. If you were not a good sport you wouldn’t be ski-ing. So if the shock of falling has not been too great, you laugh to show that you are a person of fortitude, with a healthy sense of humor.
Last Sunday the thinness of the snow made falling so grievous that for the . . . . laugh at the proper . . . . the ground . . . .spirit indeed . . . trail was very hard underneath the snow but the only casualty was a broken ski.
Skis are made of wood but they have been developed to a high dimension of impish perversity of inanimate things. Put them on for the first time and you will find you have no control over your legs. You simply have to go where the skis want you to go. . . . they seldom agree about where they want to go, usually one wants to go west and the other insists on heading east, or south. That is why you tumble. When you are down, getting up demands all your mental and physical powers. Of course you can take the six-foot boards1 off your feet if your fingers are strong enough to unfasten the harness. But if you do this you are not a good sport. You must rise with the skis still on and as soon as you do so the skis start off with you again, usually downhill. When they get you going so fast that the trees and stumps seem to be rushing toward you the skis will each take a different direction. Then you fall. It is the only thing to do.
It is almost as easy to domesticate the skis as it is to tame a wild broncho. But it is fascinating to try. Trying is not so painful if the snow is deep.
There is plenty of snow at the ski camp now. It began to come down on Tuesday night. It snowed hard all day Wednesday. It is real winter now at the ski camp.
1. Pogue refers to “six –foot boards” in another article. The reference to “seven-foot boards” may be an unintentional error.
Mountain Snow Sport
January 27th, 1926
At the ski camp you start from the top of the big sawdust bank and slide on skis down the steep narrow road between the cabins and the stumps. When you get to the stable, the lowest of the cabins, or a little distance past it, you must fall, unless you are an expert, like Uno Hillstrom.
You must tumble, if you haven’t done so before, because you must stop yourself, and the only way to stop yourself is to fall. There is a sharp twist and drop in the trail below the stable, which few ski-ers can negotiate successfully.
If the skis haven’t in their malignancy thrown you before you reach the stable, you try to fall as lightly and as gracefully as you can. Of course there is a gallery watching you. But you are on a steep grade and harnessed to your feet are two long narrow toboggans, over which you have very little control. You have a velocity of about thirty miles per hour. If the skis have not flung you headlong on the curve just before you come to the stable, you have to dash yourself to the ground to stop.
Perhaps you turn end over end. This is what ski-ers call a “spill.” It happens very quickly. You hurl yourself sideways to check your velocity. The trail is too narrow to turn in, even if you know how. Your skis rasp against each other; you feel like an airplane propeller for a few seconds, and then you hit a stump or the bank of snow at the side of the trail.
Watch someone else taking the “spill.” Most of it happens so swiftly that you can’t see details. But at the end of the whirl there are two legs with skis on their feet, kicking violently in the air.
Perhaps instead of the gyratory movement you manage a spin, or a roll, or a skid again just the high bank of the trail. You can’t predict what will happen. But it will be swift and violent.
The way you behave in a crisis like this indicates whether you have sporting blood or not. If you haven’t, one spill will be enough for you. You won’t try it again. But if you have the right to sporting spirit you will continue.
Last Sunday at the ski camp on Hollyburn there was more comedy then you would see in a whole season of vaudeville. The sparkling wine of the wintry air got into the blood of the ski-riders. The sun was shining, but it was not hot enough to take the champagne out of the air. Life ran high end with a sort of joyous madness.
The glissade was hard and crusty early in the morning. With yells and laughter that exactly expressed through joy in being alive, the ski-riders raced down the slope.
Most of these enthusiasts were young men and healthy girls, emancipated from the clumsiness of skirts, which is the true feminine release from bondage of the ages. These Spartan maidens were as reckless as the youths, and fell more gracefully. There were men past middle age shooting with extreme rapidity down that glissade between the cabins and trees and stumps and boulders. At times when a number followed each other on the slide, they would pile up at the bottom in a tangle of breached and stockinged legs and skis. From the interwoven legs and sprawling sweatered torsos would come Homeric laughter. These hardy spirits were game. But all week, as they said that there typewriters and office desks, they will be filled with a great muscular soreness.
If you want to see young and old really enjoy life, come up to the ski camp on Hollyburn next Saturday and Sunday. Winner has come at last to the mountain; the weather is perfection. There’s just enough snow, and perhaps you will have the thrill of seeing, has interested onlookers did last Sunday, the circus spectacle of Uno Hillstrom shooting the glissade on one ski.
The Trail of the Skis
February 5th, 1926
The characteristically Canadian spirit of winter sport led two hundred people up to the Hollyburn plateaued last Sunday. It is a fine spirit that will bring that many people up three thousand feet over a rough winter trails to get the feel of winter, to see the white beauty of the snowy plateau and to enjoy the thrill of a slide down the ski hill.
Among all the hikers, the most splendid sporting spirit was shown by a former officer of the Canadian Expeditionary Force, who lost a leg in France, and climbed to the plateau on Sunday on one leg. I have heard many men and women say that they would like to climb mountains, that they would like to see the wonderful beauty of the plateaux, but that they haven’t got the energy; they do not care for the physical exertion of the climb. These men and women could easily climb to the top, but they lack the spirit, the aspiration which is like wings. It is not the physically rugged type of man, always, who climbs a mountain with the least exertion. Some men and women who are almost without physical strength, whose muscles are weak, but whose spirit is sinewy, climb mountain heights quite as well as the athletic.
I have found that a rough mountain trail is a good test of a man’s or a woman’s sporting blood. The good sportsman or sportswoman does not complain of the difficulties of the trail, and the exertion demanded; a poor sportsman does not grumble. I have known them to sit down beside the trail and to decline to go any farther.
Modern life softens a man’s fiber; comparatively few men will undertake the physical effort for steep trail. I have found that women have much more spirit and endurance, as hikers, then men.
But after the high example shown by the one-legged gentleman who climbed without assistance to the lake district on Hollyburn last Sunday, over a bad trail most of the way (I mean it winter trail), surely my acquaintances whom I have urged to make the trip up the mountain will hardly be able to say that they are physically unfit for the climb. This hiker on crutches is a member of a family notable for its high spirit and sporting instincts.
If ski-riding doesn’t thrill you, then no other form of sport will. If winter sport on a snowy sidehill in a sparkle of sunshine won’t kindle your soul to a joyous flame, then you have lost your capacity to take real pleasure in living.
On Sunday the glissade at the ski camp had only patches of snow on it. This was not surprising, for last week June somehow got adrift from its place in the calendar and came to the ski camp. The snow dissolved rapidly in the hot sun.
But at First Lake there was some snow left and on Sunday Eilif took his skis up there. It is about three-quarters of an hour to an ordinary hiker, from the ski camp to First Lake, which is a little over three thousand feet in elevation. Here, in the gay sunshine, the ski-ers, with shouts of laughter, shattered the silence of the mountain forest. A considerable gallery found the spills of the ski-riders high comedy. Many clamored for skis, but unhappily, there were not skis for all. Eilif and Erik have this winter not enough skis for rent to meet the demand. There has been since the snow came to greater demand for skis than was expected, and many pairs have been broken on the glissades.
As fields for winter sport the plateaux on Hollyburn and Grouse are very satisfactory in normal winters, but this winter has been very disappointing to outdoor sportsmen. What is really the warmth of spring or early summer has prevailed on the mountains of elevations up to three thousand feet, and above this level temperatures have not been low enough to keep the snow from melting. There is still very little snow on the wide plateaux of Hollyburn; at the snow post it is about as deep as it is, normally, in early December. All the signs usually read by woodsmen point to an early spring. Bear tracks has lately been seeing in the snow at Hollyburn.
February 12th, 1926
Early in the winter Bill took a trip to Cypress Lake, and saw the tracks of a marten, and of a weasel. He set some small steel traps, baited each with a bluejay.
The bluejays are numerous around the ski camp. Bill, Erik and Eilif, as well as myself, are fond of birdlife. Bluejays are the winged devils of the woods, as weasels are the four-footed devils. Bluejays cause terror among small birds, which are much agitated what a bluejay is near. Bluejays search for birds’ nests, and empty the nests of eggs or newly hatched birds. Bluejays make good bait for traps, so Bill and Eilif caught several.
The first thing to be caught in our trapline was a raccoon. Bill cased it, that is, stripped the skin off it without making a longitudinal cut in the hide. It is of interest that in the latest edition of Webster’s dictionary it is said that “case”, used in this sense, is an obsolete word. This is an error; trappers and fur dealers all use this word in this sense. The skin of a small fur-bearing animal, that is not cased, is bought at a very low price by fur dealers, and trappers now generally understand that they must case all their catches.
We ate the raccoon; it was good eating. It tasted like turkey.
The raccoon’s skin, stretched on a board, inside out, was hung up to dry.
The next animal captured by the steel jaws was a weasel, an ermine beautiful in snow-white fur, soft and thick, with the characteristic black tail-tip.
I had been sorry for the raccoon, but I was glad weasel got caught. A weasel is an assassin that kills rabbits, grouse, white-footed mice and shrews from murder lust, whenever he wants food or not. He is the spirit, among wildlife, of rapacity and slaughter, and all the smaller mammals fear him more than than any other . . . . enemies. Like a number of other wild creatures who are pure devils without a renaming quality, the weasel is very beautiful, graceful and swift. This may also be said about his cousin, the marten, who is hardly less cruel and terrible.
Eilif cased this evil spirit of the woods with delicate care, getting the bone out of the tail without breaking the tail, a difficult thing to do. As the beautiful skin was slowly stripped from the lean body, disclosing the strap-like muscles, the long, gaunt frame suggested that of a miniature greyhound with its hide off.
When Eilif at length had drawn the pelt over the attenuated body to the head, He saw a slight movement in the snowy fur of the head. He parted the fur with a finger and saw the rear part of living wood-tick. The minute creature had bored a hole through the weasel’s skin in a place where its host could not reach it with its teeth. The ermine could not get rid of the tick by scratching at it with its paws.
The tick would have bored into the ermine’s head and would probably have killed it.
This, we thought, would have been nature’s ideal justice.
We did not eat the ermine. It is one of the animals that woodsmen do not eat. They eat no animal of the weasel family, which includes the marten, the mink, skunk and land and sea otters. These are among the most valuable fur bearers.
The slender body was used as bait for the traps. Eilif and Bill have traps set on marten trails and hope to get a number of these beautiful fiends. Here the martens are grouse killers and the presence of a marten or a pair of them in a district accounts for the little heaps of grouse feathers you find so often in the woods.