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Argus Mountain:
A Dominion Day First Ascent

From the Comox Argus July 6, 1949.

Virgin Peak Is Climbed

The Bell Brothers Made the Ascent of Argus Mountain on Dominion Day.

Messrs. Bill and Alec Bell of Courtenay climbed Argus Mountain on Dominion Day. They are the first to make the climb. The peak is on the left side of the Cliffe Glacier and is considerably lower.

From the Comox Argus July 13, 1949.

Argus Peak Is Conquered

Mr. Bill Bell Made First Ascent on July 2nd

Snow gully on Argus Mt. 1949Back-packing into the rugged country west of the Comox Glacier Messers. Bill and Alec Bell found very deep snow on the Cliffe Glacier of which the guardian peaks are The Red Pillar and the Argus Mountain. On the morning of July the second Mr. Bill Bell climbed to the top of Argus Mountain but found the Red Pillar too treacherous.

Eighteen years ago a party consisting of Messrs. Ben Hughes, Arthur Leighton, Jack Gregson and W.A. [Adrian] B. Paul climbed the Red Pillar for the first time. Two years before they had seen the great mountain to the west when they were on their way to the Comox Glacier and had resolved then to attempt it. At that time there was no logging up the South Cruikshank and the Trout [Willemar] Lake at the end of Comox Lake had not been logged so that their journey started from the end of Comox Lake with fifty pound packs. They took boats to the middle of the second Trout [Forbush] Lake and then continued up the valley to the source of the Puntledge.

The Red Pillar
They came to the Red Pillar at the west face. It looked very formidable. They scouted the north face and it was impregnable. They came back to the west face and went up the rock, moving slowly from hand-grip to hand-grip. Once they thought they were stalled when they found a great rock chimney but they found another chimney and came out on a small plateau on top where they startled a ptarmigan and her brood. Once on top they found an easier way down the south face. On top they left their names in a cairn asking that the mountain should be called the Red Pillar to denote its characteristic color and shape. They hoped to get back by way of the ridge that runs from the Comox Glacier to the Argus but found the going so steep on the scree of the flank of Argus and the footing so treacherous that they turned back when they came to a snow bridge that went off very steeply a thousand feet or so. They had no ropes. Shortly after this a member of the typographical section of the Department of Lands from Victoria came up to Courtenay to consult with local climbers to decide the nomenclature of peaks and other prominent points in the area of the Forbidden Plateau and Strathcona Park. They confirmed the Red Pillar in its name.

Too Many CamelsComox Glacier from Argus Mt. 1949
The party who made the ascent suggested for the companion peak the name of Camel, but the official said there were numerous "camel" mountains already in Canada. He suggested that it should be called Ben Hughes Mountain but the proprietor of the Argus objected to this as being too personal, but agreed that it should be named after the paper he owned, and so it was. The color of the Argus rock is as black as the Red Pillar is red suggesting that there is a fault running down the centre of the Cliffe Glacier, one of the chief sources of Comox Lake.

A Tough Trip
On their trip two weeks ago the Bell brothers had the advantage of a flying start up the South Cruikshank branch of the Comox Logging. They struck from it across to Evans Mountain [Mount Kookjai] and camped on it for the first night at the 3500 foot level. It rained hard and they were traveling light without any protection from the elements. They followed the usual route to the Comox Glacier and crossed its half mile of snow in a dense fog, a hazardous business as the cliffs at its edge are precipitous. On July the first they camped on a ledge of rock on the ridge between the Comox Glacier and Argus Mountain. They had to lose some altitude to find some fire wood to make a fire. On July the second Mr. Bill Bell climbed the Argus Mountain. Five to six inches of snow had fallen recently on this flank.

Snow Too Treacherous
This is a loose scree dropping off at a very steep angle and it was tough going. The Argus has a snow cleft down its centre and once there the ascent to the top was easy. Mr. Bell then turned a longing eye to the Red Pillar but it was already getting on in the day and the snow on its steep flank looked very treacherous and he decided that without ropes it would be foolhardy to attempt it so the brothers went back the way they had gone without misadventure.

by Lindsay Elms
Today Argus Mountain is climbed regularly by both the route the Bell brothers climbed it by in 1949 (Northwest Ridge) and the Southwest Ridge that ascends from the middle of the Cliffe Glacier. The Northwest Ridge is best climbed in the spring and early summer when the gully is full of snow and rock hazards are minimal. The Southwest Ridge can be climbed any time as it is a rock route that follows the crest of the ridge to the summit.

Mt. Harmston, the Cliffe Glacier and Argus MountainThe Northwest Ridge is reached via the Comox Glacier trail. For those interested in climbing Argus it is best undertaken as a three day trip camping at the Frog Ponds for two nights. On the second day cross the Comox Glacier and climb Argus Mountain then return to camp in the afternoon. On the third day return to the vehicle at the trailhead. Argus Mountain has been climbed from the trailhead to the summit return in under twelve hours by fit, competent climbers.

The Southwest Ridge is reached by a trail beginning at Oshinow Lake that ascends the South Ridge of the Red Pillar. Camp is commonly made at a small tarn soon after breaking out into the alpine a couple of hours from the Red Pillar. A traverse is made on the west side of the mountain to reach the Cliffe Glacier and then a short walk across the glacier to reach the base of the Southwest Ridge. Although it can be done as a three day trip it is worth spending an extra day in the area and climbing both Mount Harmston and the Red Pillar while in the vicinity.

Death or injury is rare on both the Cliffe and Comox Glaciers and the surrounding mountains but one death has occurred on Argus Mountain. In the summer of 1960 a party of thirty climbers headed into the mountain for the weekend setting up a camp near Mount Kookjai. The next day twenty-one stayed in camp while nine went on towards the Comox Glacier. From there five ventured on with the intention of summiting The Red Pillar which meant climbing over the top of Argus Mountain en-route. While near Argus' summit twenty-eight year old Harry Winstone of Crofton fell eighty feet and then slide down five hundred feet of shale and a thousand feet of ice before coming to rest. His companions reached him and made him as comfortable as possible under the circumstances and then two of them set off for assistance, however, he passed away five hours later before rescuers reached the scene.

Accidents in the mountain can happen and when they do they occur fast. Having the right equipment and alpine experience can minimize the dangers but there are always factors that are beyond ones controls. Nowadays rescuers can be on the scene of accidents in a matter of hours because of cell and satellite phones but these shouldn't lead to complacency. Knowledge and experience are gained by traveling in the mountains with experienced people and through workshops on alpine procedures scheduled regularly by various mountaineering clubs. This allows climbers and hikers to safely enjoy the stunning alpine attractions of the mountains Vancouver Island has to offer.

Argus Mountain
  Carved cedar stick on the summit of Iceberg Peak left by Bill Bell 1948
Milla Like, Moving Glacier and Argus Mountain
Milla Lake 1949


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