A Life In The Wilderness

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Harmon told Lewis Freeman, a freelance writer and adventurer, of his master plan in the late summer of 1920 when the two men met at the Lake of the Hanging Glaciers. He had allotted himself twenty years to photograph every major peak and glacier in the Rockies and Selkirks and, having finished the first run-through, would be ready to start all over again. At their first meeting Harmon was sitting out a seemingly interminable period of bad weather - waiting, as he so often did, for the light. Freeman took note of the wait and later wrote:
It was in that quiet, patient, persistent way that he had been photographing the mountains of the Canadian West for many years, and it will be just in that way he will continue until he shall have attained somewhere near to the high goal he has set for his lifework. ... It is a privilege to have met an artist who works with so fine a spirit, who has set himself so high an ideal.*
Lewis Freeman
Whereas the early exploring sessions with Wheeler had been exciting, Harmon’s later photographic and movie trips were adventurous to the point of danger. He was forever ready to set up a shot to capture the most romantic implication of any given event. If there existed a choice between doing something an easy way or doing it in an arduous but more visually exciting way, Harmon would invariably opt for excitement.

Nor was he against accelerating the course of nature occasionally to suit his purposes. In 1922 he joined forces with his old friend Conrad Kain and two clients from Minneapolis on a pack-train trip to the Lake of the Hanging Glaciers to film a massive avalanche. He had confidence that just such an occurence might happen while he was at the lake, since he and Kain had secreted thirty-six sticks of dynamite into the pack duffel. Cora Best, one of the Minneapolis dudes, graphically described
*Lewis Freeman, 011 the Roof of the Rockies (New York: Dodd, Mead and Co. 1925), p. 11.
dudes, graphically described the resulting high comedy for the Canadian Alpine Journal (xiii, 1923):
Conrad went over and dug a hole in the ice and placed his dynamite, tamped it down and lighted the fuse. When he came back he remarked that something should come loose as there were seventeen sticks about to let go. Harmon took a last anxious look into the finder .... He mopped his face and looked along the line to see if everything was ready. It was .... The earth shook, the air turned purple: Mother Nature agonized, and a few pounds of ice tinkled off into the water as the smoke drifted away. But, of course, that was understood. We were waiting for the aftermath, the mighty avalanche we were sure to get. Now, when Old Bill [a pack horse] had been unloaded he had strolled off to browse on some tufts of green and no one had given him a second thought. When the first report of the discharge took place, Old Bill started a little charge of his own .... He came down the stretch hitting on all fours, his mane flying, his nostrils dilated and flaming, his eyes holding the fire of battle. He hit Harmon first! Down went the camera and Old Bill walked up the spine of the vanquished photographer, hit the second, third and fourth cameras with sickening precision and careered off down the valley. And then it happened! The whole top of the mountain eased off a bit, toppled and crashed to the glacier below in the mightiest of mighty avalanches.
Dr. Cora Johnstone Best, 1922
Harmon organized his last extended trip into the mountains in 1924 -a seventy-day sao-mile trip to Jasper via the Columbia Icefield and the headwaters of the Athabasca River-hoping to photograph the last remaining obstacles to the completion of his work: the mountains and glaciers of the Columbia Group. With two or three major deviations, the route followed the line of the Icefields Parkway that runs today from Lake Louise to Jasper.

A Life In The Wilderness

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