A Life In The Wilderness

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Of all his trips, it is the best documented, for accompanying Harmon was Lewis Freeman, who wrote an unfortunately exaggerated account of the expedition for the National Geographic (using many of Harmon’s photographs) and later wrote On tlie Roof of tlie Rockies, about the trials and tribulations of the trip. The book is dedicated ‘To Byron Harmon, who, through his photographs, has given the Canadian Rockies to the World’.

Harmon’s propensity for the exciting shot led them into some rather peculiar situations. Forgoing the obvious and easy river fords, Harmon would repeatedly ask the packers to drive the horses through some slightly rougher waters, in one case driving a good portion of the pack train into, around, and under a log jam. On another occasion, failing to get the desired footage of a mountain goat’s being shot and falling off a high precipice, Harmon had his companions rig up a goat carcass so it would ‘leap’ off a cliff while being filmed from below. The goat leapt, all right, and came within millimetres of driving Byron a good distance into the glacial ice he was shooting from.

The pack train was also outfitted with a radio and passenger pigeons,* Freeman wishing to prove that radio reception was possible in the wilds of the western mountains, and Harmon wanting to see if the pigeons could thread their way through the peaks back to Banff. The radio worked extremely well, both as a receiving instrument and as a prop for an endless array of photographs, but the pigeons were a major disappointment.

One other experiment consisted of crossing a glacier tongue with the pack horses. This improbable action was taken both to give the party a better look at the mother icefield, the Columbia and to avoid travelling
*Harmon was an avid naturalist and was sympathetic to all forms of animal life- so much so, in fact, that he never owned a rifle and would hunt only when absolutely necessary. Throughout his life he kept various pets, including dogs, pigeons, and a squirrel that used to ride in his coat pocket. At one point he brought home a porcupine for his children, and deer were always encouraged to wander into his house from the street to eat food scraps in the pantry.
an alternate route consisting of forty miles of flooded river flats. Although some problems were encountered in getting the horses off the glacier, where they had to slide down a narrow ramp of ice flanked by deep crevasses, the traverse went smoothly and Harmon put the event to good photographic use.

Despite the adventures, or misadventures, of the journey, the expedition was successful, right down to the calculated snow storm in Jonas Pass on the way home, and Harmon returned with 400 stills and some 7 ,ooo feet of film. It was somehow fitting that he had been forced to wait eight days for the light to reach Mount Columbia, the second highest peak in the Rockies, the monarch of the Icefield, and one of the last mountains he felt he needed in his collection. It wasn’t until the afternoon of the eighth day, after time, food, and patience were exhausted and the pack train had been sent on down the valley, that Harmon, lingering behind, caught his image. The light played on the summit for less than forty minutes. At the end of those few minutes, Freeman recalled, ‘The black rectangles of paper tom from Harmon’s film-packs were piled up behind his tripods like the brass shells around a hard -pumped machine gun at the end of a battle.’

Harmon did not abandon the mountains after his 1924 Icefield trip. Winter and summer he was out with dog team and pack horse, with skier and hiker, but the Icefield expedition was his last extensive exploratory journey. He found that his business required more and more time, as did his desire to see new places and experience new things. Nearly every year from the midtwenties on he managed a major trip outside the mountains, often travelling to the American Southwest, but often as not to more remote, exotic spots: Mexico, Guatemala, Hong Kong, Europe, and once, in 1930, around the world. No matter where he went, he always insisted upon his return that the Rockies were the best of all and, indeed, wherever he went he carried

A Life In The Wilderness

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