Garibaldi Park Whistler A to Z: Mt James TurnerAlec Dalgleish (1 August 1907 - 26 June 1934) was a highly respected mountaineer and climber out of Vancouver in the 1920's and 1930's.  His enthusiasm and dedication to climbing was boundless.  He used The Camel, a vertical cliff on Vancouver's Crown Mountain to train.  Though commonly done today, in Dalgleish's day, training for rock climbing was very unusual and underscored his drive to excel at the nascent sport of climbing.  In the late 1920's he became friends with Tom Fyles, a veteran Vancouver mountaineer and arguably the greatest climber of the era.

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Alec Dalgleish and Tom Fyles became close friends and embarked on several pioneering expeditions into the still unknown regions of the Coast Mountains.  In 1930 they, along with Stan Henderson, explored the source of the Teaquahan River at the head of Bute Inlet.  They were the first climbing party to venture onto the enormous Homathko Snowfield and the first to summit Bute Mountain.  In 1932 Dalgleish and Tom Fyles teamed up once again, this time with Neal Carter and Mills Winram.  They explored up the headwaters of Lillooet River and made a series of first ascents on and around Mount Meager.  From their towering vantage point they saw countless unnamed peaks stretching to the ocean.  The following year, in 1933 they all set off on another remarkable journey into the unknown headwaters of Toba River.  Despite weathering brutal terrain, considerable bushwhacking, and dangerous river crossings, they managed to make the first ascent of a towering and forbidding mountain they named Mount Julian.  The next mountain Dalgleish set his sights on was the greatest prize of the era, the still unclimbed Mount Waddington.  In his book, Pushing the Limits: The Story of Canadian Mountaineering, Chic Scott writes that, "He was one of the few local climbers who might conceivably have had a chance at climbing Mount Waddington." 

Winram, Dalgleish, Fyles and Carter 1932

1933 To the Cradle of Toba River!

Near the summit of Mount Meager in 1932, Neal Carter, Tom Fyles, Mills Winram and Alec Dalgleish could see for the first time, the vast range of unknown snowy peaks stretching west to the ocean. Carter recalled that moment in his article ‘Exploration in the Lillooet River Watershed’ he wrote in the Canadian Alpine Journal in 1932, "An entirely unknown, heavily glaciated range over 9000 feet high lay some dozen miles to the west, behind which the tips of several peaks exceeding 10,000 feet in elevation could be distinguished. These lay in the direction of the headwaters of the Toba River and it was evident that they would have to be approached from that direction." Alec Dalgleish recalled, "how we sat on the summit of Meager Mountain, a hitherto unclimbed peak of the B.C. Coast Range and vainly endeavored to identify the snowy ranges which rose to the north and west. The desire to view these peaks more intimately grew within us during the following winter and we finally decided to explore the source of the Toba River which we thought might lead us into them.” In 1933 Carter, Fyles, Winram and Dalgleish would embark on another mountaineering expedition into the unknown mountains and glaciers at the source of Toba River.

To the Cradle of the Toba River! by Alec Dalgleish

To the Cradle of Toba River Alec Dalgleish

Dalgleish wrote two wonderfully detailed articles about their ambitious, second expedition in the summer of 1933. One appeared in the 1933 edition of the Canadian Alpine Journal and the other in the Vancouver Province on August 19th, 1933. Both articles wonderfully detailed their journey almost day by day, and you quickly get a sense of the brutal terrain they faced through they faced bushwhacking for miles through harsh and unknown terrain. The Province article “To the Cradle of the Toba River!” was illustrated with a drawing, photo and map. The Canadian Alpine Journal article titled, “The Source of the Toba River” includes eight photos taken by Dalgleish, as well as detailed map drawn of the area they covered. Mills Winram was interviewed in 1979 about his past hiking adventures and talked about the Toba hike. The interview was printed in the excellent book, “In the Western Mountains: Early Mountaineering in British Columbia” published in 1980. The following is a day by day account of their expedition as recalled by Dalgleish and Winram.

Day 1: Vancouver to Toba Inlet

On Saturday, July 8th, 1933 Neal Carter, Tom Fyles, Mills Winram and Alec Dalgleish boarded the steamship Chelohsin in Vancouver to begin their 250 kilometre boat journey to Toba Inlet.

Carter, Winram & Fyles on the Chelohsin July 8th, 1933

Carter, Winram, Fyles Ship to Toba 8 July 1933

Day 2: Head of Toba Inlet

The Chelohsin arrived at Redonda Island in Toba Inlet at 4am on Sunday morning, July 9th, 1933. Dalgleish recalls:

Here we were met by Bill and Joe Barnes, sons of Walter Barnes, trapper and farmer of Toba Inlet, and his Indian wife. We stowed our supplies in their dilapidated though dependable gas-boat and were soon chugging our way through the winding channels whose waters changed slowly from deepest blue to glacial green as we neared the head of the inlet. At half past one we reached the head. Progress up the river would have to be delayed until high tide at 6:30 the following morning. The weather was glorious and a snowy peak rising some six thousand feet above Bill Barnes’ little shack invited us to climb it and see what was up the river.

We made elevation rapidly on an open timbered ridge, thickly populated by large and hungry mosquitoes. At 6 o'clock we reached the summit but the sky had clouded over and all we could see beyond the head of the river was a great, white, glacier-clad slope, the peaks above hidden in the clouds—thirty miles away it must be as the crow flies—but we hoped for the best and put our trust in the gas boat.

We left the peak by 7 and descended the last two thousand feet in darkness and a driving rain. In a log chute a few hundred feet above the salt chuck I slipped and fell some ten feet between two huge logs. My heartless companions roused me from blissful unconsciousness and the descent was completed without further mishap. We descended in darkness and rain to spend the last few hours of the night on the rough floor of Joe Barnes’ shack among his numerous children.

Day 3: Boat Journey Up Toba River

On Monday, July 10th, 1933 they were finally able to start their long boat journey up Toba River battling the strong current and with the weather turning to rain. Dalgleish continues the story:

With the high tide on Monday morning, we started up the river and at 2:30 in the afternoon reached the first forks, sixteen miles from the inlet. Here we transferred from the gas boat to a dugout canoe with outboard motor and continued on our way. With the weight of six men and our far from inconsiderable packs the canoe made slow headway against the rushing waters. Concealed snags were a constant menace to the fragile bottom of our craft but we escaped damage, thanks to the keen eyes of Bill and Joe. The going in the torrential river became slower, sometimes we barely seemed to crawl. Again, a patch of slow water allowed us to shoot ahead at a more encouraging speed. Soon we had to reinforce the kicker with the oars and about 7 p.m. reached a deserted hand-logger's cabin and decided to spend the night.

Day 4: Canoeing Up Toba River

On Tuesday, July 11th they continued up Toba River by canoe, fighting against its ever increasing current, making painfully slow progress. Dalgleish continues:

After spending the night in a deserted logger’s cabin, we continued in the canoe on Tuesday. The river grew swifter and swifter and finally we took to the shore while Bill and Joe cajoled the canoe along with pole and kicker. It was slow going, but so long as progress was being made the packs were more comfortable in the canoe than on our backs. At noon we came to a rapid and decided that the time to backpack had come at last. We had travelled twenty-five miles of the river by boat. Unfortunately, so snake-like are the windings of the Toba that our airline distance from the head of the inlet was only about fifteen miles.

Fyles, Winram & Carter Toba Expedition July 11th, 1933

Fyles, Winram and Carter Toba 1933

After bidding farewell to Bill and Joe who were to meet us at this spot eleven days later, we divided our supplies into four packs, finding to our surprise that these weighed but fifty-five pounds each. Surplus equipment was left in a trapper’s cabin nearby, the last habitation on the Toba River. We followed a sketchy trapper’s trail along the river bank. Sometimes the trail was good but it had a disconcerting trick of petering out in the midst of almost impenetrable tangles of devil’s club, vine maple and other exasperating Coast Range vegetation. For the rest of the day we plodded along the riverbank, sometimes on a sketchy but recognizable trail and again wrapped in clinging devil's club and salmonberry bush, fighting for minutes at a time to gain fifteen or twenty feet. At 9 p.m. we camped on a ten-foot strip of sand bar by the side of the river.

Day 5: Bushwhacking

Wednesday, July 12th, 1933, day 5 of their expedition was a day of little progress as the bushwhacking continued. Dalgleish has little to say about this day:

On Wednesday we struggled along all day and in the afternoon the river swung sharply to the north, shamelessly contradicting the north-easterly course shown on the map. We followed its new course for half a mile on a beautifully open gravel bar before camping.

Day 6: First Glimpse of Source of Toba River

On Thursday, July 13th, the sixth day of their expedition they finally were able to see the peaks and glaciers at the source of Toba River. They could finally plan their exciting days of alpine hikes. They also became aware of how they had just three days of climbing before having to start the long descent back down the river. Dalgleish wrote in his Vancouver Province article:

Next day two hours travelling brought us to two equal branches of the river, one continuing to the north, the other coming in from the east. Without reluctance we left our packs upon the bar and made a hurried ascent to a height of 4500 feet on the ridge to the west. At last we could see the actual sources of the river. The northern branch flowed from a sinuous green glacier some two or three miles above the forks, cascaded over a band of cliffs, tore its way through an amazingly narrow cleft in a ridge of rock and then tamed down a little for the final mile before joining the east branch. The north branch glacier appeared to descend to a very low level, between one and two thousand feet above sea level; the east branch came also from a large glacier about the same distance from the confluence but somewhat higher, perhaps twenty-five hundred feet above the sea.

What drew our attention most however, was a massive peak which reared its impressive bulk at the head of the east branch glacier. Great ice-falls half masked in snow draped its shoulders from which rose a double peak, one chisel-shaped, the other a sharp rock tusk. A difficult thing to explain to the non-mountaineer but it was just one of those peaks! It must be climbed, even if we climbed nothing else. In solemn conclave that evening we apportioned the rest of our time. We would pack five days grub up the east branch. A day in and a day out would allow three days to climb. Then a day to explore the source of the north branch and two days to get back down river to meet the canoe.

Day 7: The Nose of the Glacier

On Friday, July 14th, 1933 they packed five days worth of supplies and hiked up the east fork. In his Vancouver Province article Dalgleish wrote:

Friday was clear and hot as we slowly mounted along the side-hill, packs now reduced to about forty pounds. The underbrush was reasonably penetrable but it was 5pm when we threw down our packs on a flat space of gravel not fifty feet from the great mud covered nose of the glacier. Our elevation was only twenty-seven hundred feet above the sea, yet all about us stretched a waste of rock and ice. For wood we must resurrect bits of smashed and gritty tree trunks brought down from the higher benches by snowslides. Two or more miles farther on, our chosen peak thrust its sharp rock summit from the clinging ice-falls of the glacier. We climbed into our bags early that night, dedicating the next day to its ascent.

Day 8: Summit of Julian Peak

On Saturday, July 15th they reached the summit of an unknown peak which they named Julian Peak. Julian Peak turned out to be the only mountain they climbed. Mainly this was due to the short window of time that had to climb, but also due to the difficult and time consuming glacier travel required to reach the nearby summits. Weather would also cause delays by reducing visibility so much as to make navigating the maze of glacier crevasses near impossible. Yet another difficulty they faced was caused by the brutal ordeal they faced hiking. Mills Winram described the days leading up to the 15th their battered condition they were in when they climbed Julian Peak:

It turned out we only climbed one mountain. which was later named Mount Dalgleish, after one of the members of our party who was killed on Mount Waddington the following year. But as to the bushwhacking part, that valley had an awful lot of devil's club. And we hadn't taken our gloves with us, so in spreading the branches apart, we inevitably got lots of thorns in our fingers, and they became painfully infected. And some days, we couldn't go further than three or four miles and then we'd struggle out to the shore of the river and camp on the gravel bars. And then next morning, we'd waken about 4 or 4:30, have a quick breakfast, put on our pack and struggle on through the bush again. The weather had been cool and rainy, so when we got up near the headwaters, the river was down, and we were able to cross it quite easily. It would be maybe fifty feet wide at that point, and it didn't go much over our boot tops. And then we went up to where the river came out of the snout of what is now the Dalgleish Glacier, and we camped on the gravel there. The next day we made our climb right up to the peak, which is about 9,700 feet, and came back to our camp.

In his newspaper article ‘To the Cradle of the Toba River’ Dalgleish recalls July 15th, 1933 in great detail:

Before daylight we were up and as the first glints of sunlight appeared on the highest peaks we crossed the tongue of the glacier and started up a steep, rocky slope. Above it we knew lay the upper snowfields which mounted in great icy curves to the summit. The rocks were soon passed but we were still far below timberline and more than two hours were consumed in fighting through the inevitable tangle of slide alder which clings to any avalanche-swept slope below the five thousand foot mark.

At last the upper glacier was reached and we roped up before threading our way through the maze of crevasses which criss-crossed its snowy surface. Some were good honest gaping holes but others were treacherously masked beneath a thin layer of snow. The snow grew softer under the growing heat of the sun and we plodded more and more slowly up the glaring slopes, eyes sheltered by dark glasses, and a protective coating of grease paint on our faces, At two in the afternoon we stepped on the summit, our aneroids giving the altitude at 9150 feet. It was a perfect day, and all the peaks from Mt. Garibaldi in the south to Mt. Waddington in the north were spread out around us. These are the moments which fully reward the mountain climber for all his hours of labor.

Julian Peak July 15th, 1933

Julian Peak Panorama 15 July 1933

We sat long on the peak, taking photographs and angles and scanning the horizon with binoculars to recognize old friends and make vague speculations on future ascents of various previously unseen peaks which bulked above the lesser ranges. Two huge peaks rose to the north somewhere near the Bishop River. Our shoulders ached at the thought of the back-packing necessary to reach them.

View West From Julian Peak July 15th, 1933

View West from Julian Peak July 15th 1933

We felt it our privilege, as the first climbers, to apply a name to the peak we were on, and it was decided to call it Julian Peak in honor of the old Toba Indian chief. He is eighty-six years of age and still lives at the head of Toba Inlet where he was born. As a boy he had crossed from the head of the Toba River into the Lillooet. Toba Mountain would seem appropriate for the higher peak (approximately 9600 feet) to the northwest, as it is the highest point on the Toba River drainage system. We left at last and descended the mushy snowfields, avoiding the morning's tangled bush by a detour on steep rock, and reached camp by fading evening light.

Alec Dalgleish Below Julian Peak July 15th, 1933

Alec Dalgleish Below Julian Peak July 15th 1933

Day 9: Rest and Recover

Sunday, July 16th, 1933 was devoted to resting and recovering. Dalgleish wrote briefly of the day:

Sunday was a day of rest, more, I am afraid, for the good of our bodies than our souls. Mills had a very sunburnt face due to his child-like faith in the anti-actinic properties of castor oil, and I was quite lame with an infected sliver in the calf of my right leg. Tom’s hands were very sore from the effects of devil’s club needles. The familiar spirits of the Toba River apparently resented our intrusion.

Day 10: Toba Mountain

On Monday July 17th, 1933 while Dalgleish rested at the camp, Fyles, Carter and Winram set out to climb Toba Mountain. Dalgleish described the day:

On Monday, Tom, Neal and Mills made an attempt upon Toba Mountain. Attempting to follow a route which appeared feasible as seen from Mt. Julian, they found themselves in dense fog amidst a maze of crevasses. Crossing toward the southeast face to avoid these, they managed to ascend the east ridge to a height of 8400 feet where a combination of fog and general bewilderment as to the nature of intervening glacier-covered ridges forced them to turn back after spending over two hours huddled in a scooped-out hole waiting for the clouds to lift. On descending to the great snowfield which lay between Toba and Julian they got below the fog and decided to explore its northern extremity. Almost an hour and a half was required to reach this point but they were rewarded with a view of the upper reaches of the great Lillooet River Glacier. These appeared to originate chiefly in the snowfield on which the party stood, though other tributaries came in from the north. The ice also sloped to the west and almost certainly curved around the west side of Toba Mountain to feed the north branch of the Toba River.

About 8pm, in heavy rain, they squished into camp and made short work of a huge pot of macaroni and dried vegetables over which I had brooded with dripping jaws all afternoon. A council of war was held that night over my right leg. It was swollen to regal proportions and colored in delicate shades of violet and magenta. Four days remained until we met Bill and Joe down the river and it had taken us three to reach this point. Handicapped by a cripple we must allow ourselves plenty of time to get out. Sadly we decided that we would start the retreat on the morrow.

Day 11: Begin Hiking Out

On Tuesday, July 18th, 1933 they began their return journey. Dalgleish wrote:

Despite two days rest my leg was still worse on Tuesday morning and as we were to meet Bill and Joe on Friday we decided that we must start out at once. I forced a climbing boot upon my protesting limb and by evening we were back at the junction of the north and east branches.

Day 12: The River Crossing

Mills Winram recalled the difficult river crossing they faced on their return journey on Wednesday, July 19th:

By this time, Alec Dalgleish had a bad infection in his heel, and he could hardly walk without the aid of a cane. So we hobbled down the glacier to the place where we had crossed the river. Only it had been hot weather in the interval, and now the river was about six feet deep, and roaring down full of mud and boulders. We knew we couldn't cross it in that state. So we cut down a tree, hoping to bridge it that way, and the first tree we cut down was swept away almost at once. And then we tackled a big cedar, a partially dead tree about three and a half feet at the butt. And after an awful lot of work with one little axe, it did come down and it bridged the river. And water rushed across the middle of it about three or four inches deep, and it shook with the force of the current. But we had to get across. I grabbed my pack and I rushed right across, and I wouldn’t have gone back over that thing for anything. Neal Carter came across after me, and then Tom Fyles came across carrying his own pack, and helping Alec Dalgleish who couldn't balance himself alone. And somebody had to go back and get Alec 's pack, so Tom made a second trip across that awful log, which I'm sure went out in the next hour.

River Crossing July 19th, 1933

River Crossing July 19th, 1933

Day 13: Trapper's Cabin

Thursday afternoon on July 20th they arrived at the trapper’s cabin where they arranged to meet the boat the following day.

Day 14: Canoeing Down Toba River

Dalgleish wrote briefly about Friday, July 21st, 1933: "Friday, while Tom and Neal engaged in a titanic struggle with the bluffs and bushes of a nearby hillside, Mills and I loafed on a gravel-bar and joyfully hailed the canoe as it crept around the bend that afternoon."

Day 15: Toba River to Toba Inlet

On Saturday, July 22nd, fifteen days from when they started, they emerged from the wilderness and back to the farmhouse on Redonda Island in Toba Inlet. Dalgleish wrote: “The swift return trip down the river made without incident, though we will long remember the dinner set before us by Mrs. Mattson, mother of one of the Toba River farmers.”

Day 16: Depart Toba Inlet by Boat

On Sunday afternoon on July 23rd they were on the boat back to Vancouver and Dalgleish recalled, “Monday morning, July the twenty-fourth we slid through the First Narrows, back once more, with mixed feelings of joy and regret, to the land of street cars, sidewalks and clean shaves.”

Mills Winram recalled their journey back to Vancouver and reflected on what the Toba expedition meant to him when interviewed in 1979:

At mealtime, the waiter wouldn't let me sit in the little dining room on the boat because I had this great running sore - a spectacular hit from a devil's club thorn. Poor Alec Dalgleish was worse than me because he was limping from his bad heel. And the others looked puffy, and their skin was all burnt out from glacier burn, and infected with thorns. It took me at least a month and a half after that just to get back my full energy. I was sleeping quite a lot to get over it. I suppose it's something like a military campaign. After you've really struggled very, very hard physically, you have to relax for a while.

But we saw a place that no one else had been. We knew we could do what no one else had done; there were a few other people who could do it, but we had managed to do it. And this is a reward you can claim without paying taxes on it. It's just curiosity. If no one else has been there, it’s a sort of fatal attraction. It may not sound like much, but when this fellow Mallory was asked in 1924 why he bothered to try to climb Mt. Everest, he couldn't think of any other reason, except to say no one else had been there, and therefore he'd like to see what it was like. And that's the way we felt.

Dalgleish's Canadian Alpine Journal Article Map

Toba Expedition Sketch Map

1934 Mount Waddington Tragedy

In the winter of 1933-1934 Alec Dalgleish and Alan Lambert laid out a plan to make an attempt on Waddington, a mountain that required a journey of several days to get to.  Eric Brooks and Neal Carter were to join them on this three week attack on the Coast Mountain's highest peak.  Mount Waddington is also British Columbia's highest mountain if you don't count Mount Fairweather and Mount Quincy Adams, which straddle the Alaska, BC border.  The assault on Mount Waddington would end in tragedy however, when Alec Dalgleish fell to his death while on a roped descent along a smooth, outwardly sloping ledge.  The belaying rope remained taut for just a moment before being cut by the sharp edge of a frost-shattered rock.  The cause of the fall was never determined as the only sound heard was a slight scratching of nailed boots on the rocks.  Lambert looked up and saw Dalgleish for just an instant before he disappeared over the cliff.  To quote Chic Scott again from Pushing The Limits, "Dalgleish was a very popular figure amongst Vancouver climbers, and could have drastically altered the course of Coast mountaineering had he lived."  After his death, Mount Julian was renamed Mount Dalgleish.

Dalgleish Cairn at Icefall Point 1934

Several friends of Alec Dalgleish made the considerable journey to the scene of the accident just a few days later. Due to the precarious location of the accident it was estimated that it would take six men several hours to recover his body. As Neal Carter wrote later, "The slopes of Mount Waddington were chosen as the last resting place of Alec Dalgleish." Eric Brooks, Alan Lambert, Frank Smith, Stan Henderson and two of Dalgleish's work friends constructed a memorial cairn, "incorporating Dalgleish's skis and a suitably protected scroll now stands on a prominent elevation above Icefall Point, facing the scene of the last endeavour of a true mountaineer."

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