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Sierra de los Tuxtlas
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Mount Albert Edward:
Skiing to Forbidden Plateau's highpoint

by Lindsay Elms

Mount Albert EdwardMount Albert Edward rises up to 2,093 metres (6,867 feet) and is the sixth highest mountain on Vancouver Island. The earliest ascent appears to be in 1890 by William Ralph. Ralph was employed by the British Columbian Government to survey the western boundary of the Esquimalt and Nanaimo (E. & N.) Railway Company Land Grant. He started from Otter Point near Sooke Bay and continued to the foot of Crown Mountain west of Campbell River, the culminating point of the land grant. He traveled virtually in a straight line whereby every five miles he placed a post or built a rock cairn that could be seen from a distance so that a survey bearing could be taken. Mount Albert Edward, although technically not on the survey line, was very close and because of its straightforward terrain would have been an easy access route to the boundary line.

Of all the 2,000 metre peaks, of which there currently appears to be sixteen (see Island 6000) of them going by the latest 1:20,000 trim maps, Mount Albert Edward is the most ascended peak. Some say they climbed Mount Albert Edward while others will say they hiked it, whatever interpretation you use it is aAlan Rossiter standing atop the cairn on the summit of Mount Albert Edward breathtaking mountain to get to the top of for people of any age. In the spring of 2000, Ryan Heuman, a grade 12 student from Stelly's High School in Sanaachton with cerebral palsy was pulled in a specially designed sled to the summit by his teachers and classmates, toddlers have been carried in backpacks and the plateau pioneer Len Rossiter, who in 1995 at the age of eighty-eight, scrambled to the top. As yet there have been no centurions! Literally hundreds every year visit Mount Albert Edward's summit. Some do it as a three day trip camping at Sid's Cabin or Circlet Lake for two nights. Others do it as a two day trip while some complete it in a day. Runners use it as a marathon training run and it has been ascended, from the trailhead at Mount Washington, in under two and a half hours. In the winter it has been climbed on snowshoes and on skis, again either as day trips or overnight. In good conditions it has been skied from the Raven Lodge at Mount Washington in about the same amount of time as it takes to run it in summer. But what all this information fails to convey is the struggle and perseverance by the early pioneers to reach its summit on skis back in the 1930's when skiing was in its infancy on Vancouver Island.

In 1936 three skiers from the Vancouver Ski club went up to the Forbidden Plateau and spent the night in Mount Becher cabin. The next day they attempted to get to Circlet Lake but snow conditions were such that they had to turn around. The following year four locals attempted to ski to the summit of Mount Albert Edward but were thwarted by bad weather, however, in January 1938, a party of six that included Don and Phyllis Munday made the first winter ascent of the mountain heralding a new era of ski mountaineering on Vancouver Island.

Every year now Mount Albert Edward attracts skiers who want to experience the thrills of back-country runs on the mountains beautiful slopes. With lighter equipment, accurate weather forecasting and all the information which comes from guide books and the Internet nowadays, the ascent is somewhat easier through knowledge but the skier must still persevere and at times struggle to achieve their goal as snow conditions haven't become any easier and the weather can still be just as fickle now as it was back in the 1930's.

From the Comox Argus June 4, 1936.

Ski-Running On Albert Edward
Members of Vancouver Club will try high peak

For the first time the snow slopes of Mount Albert Edward, the giant of the Forbidden Plateau group will have the imprint of skis. It should be wonderful for the pastime. For a mile or more there is an even slope up the head of the 7,000-foot giant without a tree or any other projections to hinder their flight. The three skiers are members of the Vancouver Ski club. They are V. Mahar, A. Anderson and Gordon Keyes. They went up to the Forbidden Plateau Lodge on Monday and spent the night in Mount Becher cabin. They found the snow on Mount Becher sticky and going fast. On Tuesday they went down to McKenzie Lake and from they propose to push on to Circle Lake for their assault on the big peak.

From the Comox Argus March 25, 1937.

Bad Weather Foils Climbers
Snow prevented local skiers from climbing Mt. Albert Edward

Just bad luck - nothing else - robbed four local skiers of the thrill of climbing Mount Albert Edward in its winter mantle of snow. Dick Idiens, Roger Schjelderup, Capt. H. G. Ash and Miss Mia Schjelderup made the attempt, setting out on Sunday. They went up Mount Becher and made reasonable time to Croteau's cabin, arriving there between six and seven o'clock. Roger and Dick were an hour ahead of the other two, planning to get a meal ready for the latecomers. But when the rearguard arrived they were still digging. The cabin was completely covered in snow, many feet of it - and it took two hours to get inside to the warmth of the log cabin where so many happy parties have been held, and to get a meal. On Monday it snowed. Circle Lake was nearly reached but any climb was out of the question. Tuesday it was worse. Snow came down fast and one could not see more than 20 feet ahead. On Wednesday they came out through sunshine, rain and snow. They made good time although the snow was soft most of the way. They left Croteau Lake at noon and arrived at the lodge at six, after a stay of an hour and a half at Mount Becher cabin. They had a fine time, although they failed to reach their objective. This is the second time local skiers have attempted Mount Albert Edward under snow conditions, and twice they have been foiled by poor visibility.

From the Comox Argus January 27, 1938.

Climbed Mountain In Blizzard
Mr. and Mrs. Don Munday on top of Albert Edward on skis

Mr. and Mrs. Don Munday, who went ski-ing on Mount Albert Edward last week with Captain [Rex] Gibson of Edmonton and Miss Ethne Gale of Saanichton with Len Rossiter and Dick Idiens as their guides, climbed on skis to the top of Mount Albert Edward returning to Courtenay on Tuesday. They had poor visibility and wild weather for their trip for the most part. The first night they went to Mount Becher where they stayed in the cabin. The next day they found the snow so yielding that sometimes they sank to their thighs on the skis and they stayed in the cabin at McKenzie Lake for the night. The next day they went through to Mr. Croteau's cabin which was so snowed in that they dug their way down to the door and cleared it with some difficulty.

Soup-to-Nuts Dinner
Once inside with the fire roaring in the stove on which [Eugene] Croteau has cooked so many meals the party were soon snug and warm. Mrs. [Phyllis] Munday is a wonderful camp cook and they actually had a dinner of many courses from soup to nuts. No one who has not climbed in the winter will appreciate how good it tasted.

The thermometer which they had taken once registered 73 degrees, and they had to take means to cool off. When they woke in the morning they found that it had snowed another six inches or more in the night and blocked up the entrance again and they had trouble getting out. The next day they broke the trail to the foot of Mount Albert Edward and the next made the ascent to the top. They had no particular difficulty in getting on top of the ridge and the summit, but on the long ascent to the summit the wind was blowing so hard that it drove the snow into their eyes and made it impossible to see more than 50 feet. The surface of the snow was packed and hard as the roof of a house, but it was not possible to take any runs because they could not see where they were going far ahead, and the west wind was so strong that they had to dig in with their poles to make any progress.

Mr. and Mrs. Munday, who are pioneers in mountaineering in B.C. enjoyed the comradeship of the trip very much and praised highly the skill with which their local guides took them through a country whose contours were rounded with snow and where all blazes were hidden.

Carrying wood to make a fire for lunch on Mount Albert Edward 1940'S   Gertie Wepsala, Western Canada Ski Champion on Mount Albert Edward 1939

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