A Life In The Wilderness

although the two men had to use a certain amount of dissimulation to make the climb. At the trip’s outset, Wheeler had promised Harmon, Kain, and another well-know climber, the Reverend G.B. Kinney, a chance at the unclimbed Mount Robson, the highest peak in the Canadian Rockies (3,891 metres), if they would accompany the expedition. When the group reached the Robson area, however, Wheeler began to find excuses for keeping the men away from the big peaks. The trio became convinced that Wheeler wanted to save the major first ascents for a later ACC camp, and so it was that minor insurrections sprang up in camp, Harmon and Kain left camp one morning on the pretext of making a glacier reconnaisance in the great Robson amphitheatre and came back late with the ascent of Mount Resplendent secured. Kain added further fire to Wheeler’s ill-suppressed fury when, a few days later, under the pretense of walking down the Emperor Falls gorge, he undertook a solo overnight climb of Mount Whitehorn, a climb he later described as ‘one of the craziest and most foolhardy undertakings that I ever made in the mountains,’* Yet his rationale was easily understood by his alpinist companions: ‘I could stand it no longer,’ he wrote, ‘being among beautiful mountains without climbing one.’

The return to Banff had its points of interest as welL Leaving Maligne Lake (now part of Jasper National Park) on September 18, a late start, the party encountered heavy snowfall in the high mountain passes close to the Continental Divide. Harmon found the logistics of moving a pack train through deep snow so photographically stimulating that years later, on his journey to the Columbia Icefield, he deliberately set out to duplicate the experience! Trips such as the Purcell and Rainbow expeditions were exceptional opportunities and a far cry from the usual ACC
climbing-camp endeavours, which Harmon enjoyed but ultimately found restrictive to his art. Travelling with large groups of people, keeping their pace (literally roped to their pace on the climbs), and going where they went often prevented him from catching the images he sought, His style required both a freedom to roam and a freedom to wait. An auspicious meeting of light and subject was not an event that occurred on demand, and on occasion Harmon’s photographic ‘lingerings’ would become major feats of endurance.* Thus as years passed the photographer began to organize his own trips, making it clear to everyone at the outset that it was a photographic expedition to be taken at a photographer’s pace. It should be noted, though, that Harmon remained a strong supporter of any group effort that would involve people with the mountains, He maintained close contacts with the ACC and was a founding member of both the Trail Riders of the Canadian Rockies, established in 1924, and the Sky Line Trail Hikers of the Canadian Rockies, organized in 1933.

Recognition came early. By 1908 the Banff paper, the Crag and Canyon, was keeping a close eye on the activities of the ‘artistic photographer’, and in 1910, Longstaff, in an article on the Purcells trip in the Canadian Alpine Journal (iii, 1911), opined that the expedition was ‘fortunate in getting Mr. Byron Harmon , , , whose Canadian mountain photographs are so deservedly popu
lar, to come with us, ... '

*Walter Wilcox, in Tlie Canadian Rockies (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1913), writes eloquently of the need for patience if one is to photograph the Rockies successfully:’ ... it is easy to prove that in an entire year there are only a few minutes, or at the most, a few hours in which the conditions are perfect for exposing a plate. Let us say that only during three months is the ground free of snow. Of these ninety days the large majority will be either stormy, or overcast, or very windy, and of the remainder some will be densely smoky, or too brilliant, so that the problem quickly narrows down to a possible ten perfect days. In each of these there will be only one or two hours in which the direction of sunlight is favourable for any given picture, and during these hours only a short time in which the ever·drifting douds are properly grouped, the water surface unruffled, and the sunlight falling on foreground, or distance, or wherever you desire it to be’ (p. 213).

A Life In The Wilderness

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