Byron had passed by the eastern rim of Columbia Icefield first in 1911 on the return trip from Mt Robson and Maligne Lake. The existence of the Columbia Icefield was known from the time of David Thompson but little known about it. In 1923 J. Monroe Thorington, an American mountaineer, took a party onto the Icefield which climbed several of the peaks for the first time. As this party had taken horses onto the ice Byron knew it could be done, however dangerous and outlandish the idea.

The Columbia Icefield lies at the apex of the continent. Water flows north via the Athabasca River to the Mackenzie River and Arctic Ocean, west via the Bush and Columbia Rivers to the Pacific, and east via Saskatchewan River to Hudson Bay. The Icefield itself comprises 150 square miles of ice and snow atop a giant underground karst formation with glaciers flowing like tentacles in all directions and smaller icefields bounding it in the west.

In 1920, while filming and photographing the Lake of the Hanging Glaciers in the Purcell Mountains, Byron met American adventure writer and film maker Lewis R. Freeman. They stayed in touch. Byron invited Freeman to join him and assist with the motion picture work.

Also on the journey were Ulysses La Casse, cook, who had been with the Thorington party in 1923, Soapy Smith, the head outfitter, and his assistant Rob Baptie. The packhorses were hand picked and left in pasture all summer to prepare them for the hardships of the trip. As well as 8000 ft. of motion picture film, and a motion picture camera and two still cameras for each photographer, the horses carried all the provisions to last until Jasper, tents and camp gear. Byron also brought homing pigeons which he had been raising in Banff but never tried out and some successful messages were sent. Freeman brought a radio set and portable typewriter and succeeded in sending messages to California from the top of the continent.

Lewis Freeman wrote about their joint adventure in an article for the April 1925 edition of The National Geographic magazine: Mother of Rivers - The Great Columbia Icefield of the Canadian Rockies. He subsequently published a book, On the Roof of the Rockies.

The trip was a great success. One confusing aspect remains, however. Many of the images in the National Geographic article are credited to Lewis Freeman while the same images were used by Byron in Banff for his own purposes. With two photographers along, both working on large format cameras set up side by side at times by Freeman’s own account, I have concluded they simply duplicated some of the same images.

Teepee at Bow Lake is an example. Byron planned this shot ahead of time bringing along the teepee and setting it up in a marshy area which would never be used as an actual campsite but which is wonderfully photographic. The identical shot appeared in Mother of Rivers credited to Lewis Freeman and also appeared in postcards, viewbooks, and framing prints published by Byron. This image proved to be so iconic that other local photographers copied it in future years and set up teepees in the same location for the entertainment of the tourists.

The complete article is very interesting and will be added to the Byron Harmon website under the About section.

A Life In The Wilderness

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