A Life In The Wilderness

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the following scene after a particularly rough day on the Purcells trip:
To improve our humour we held an Indian dance. Dr. Longstaff and the two packers put on bear hides and I the goat skin. Mr. Harmon, the photographer, was the band. His instrument the pans. So we danced about the fire, making a terrific din.*
Dr. T.G. Longstaff
The following summer Harmon again took to the trail with Wheeler and Kain in a larger party, including four scientists from the prestigious Smithsonian Institution, on a three-month trip to the Rainbow Mountains in what are now Jasper National Park and Mount Robson Provindal Park. The purpose of the expedition was threefold: Wheeler wanted to survey the region and investigate the Mount Robson environs as a possible site for a future ACC camp, and the Smithsonian men were interested in the flora, fauna, and geology of the area.

It was a major trip into an uncharted region and, as might be expected, did not lack excitement. Kain described some of the problems in his diary, not the least of which was travelling with a photographer:
Not incorrectly is this called the ‘Wild West.’ No houses, no roads; only old Indian trails. The valleys are wet and boggy, and one often sinks in to the knees. We have already ascended some mountains, But tfie getting tfiere! On our first excursion we were almost buried by an avalanche, and Mr. Harmon had to photograph it at the very worst moment!
Conrad Kain
This trip, Harmon’s most extended mountain tour, was important, matched only by a trip to the Columbia Icefield thirteen years later. After ninety days in the wilderness even a mediocre photographer restricted to the valley bottoms could be expected to bring in a few decent plates. For an avid and seasoned photographer, on an expeditipn that scaled more than thirty peaks, there was bound to be an abundant harvest. And, judging from the results, Harmon was able to add credibility to his dictum that in order to know and photograph the mountains one had to walk through them, shooting them from the valleys up and from the summits down. Many of the finest prints in the collection date from this 1911 trip. Viewed collectively, they are a superb document of mountain travel and exploration. If one cares to look further, reading between the highlights and the shadows, one finds a special understanding of the mountains and what it means to measure one’s life against them. The underlying exuberance of exploration, the dare and labour and ecstasy of the ascent, the challenge of the hunt, and the quiet days in camp are all there; but above all is the heady feeling of being fiere, in a vast and nameless place, close to the extreme leading edge of life. Harmon was not an articulate philospher, but these photographs of the broad rock faces and undulating glaciers, of men dwarfed on immense icefields, of climbers working on rock, snow, and ice, or weary but self-satisfied explorers resting in camp, speak eloquently for him.

Aside from the photographic aspects of the trip, two events occurred that were a source of great personal pride to Harmon. He and Kain achieved the first ascent of Mount Resplendent, at 3-362 metres a major peak in the Mount Robson area, and he was in the first party to cross through the mountains ‘from steel to steel’, from the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway at Fitzhugh (now Jasper) to the Canadian Pacific Railway at Laggan (now Lake Louise).

The ascent of Mount Resplendent was particularly gratifying,

A Life In The Wilderness

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