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Mariner Mountain:
Or Searching for the Grail on the Holy Cross

by Lindsay Elms

When it came to climbing around the mountains there weren't too many places prospectors in the late 1800's and early to mid 1900's couldn't get to. It was the lure of gold and the excitement of possibly finding the mother lode and striking it rich. Every prospector dreamed about this and with every find that feeling would get stronger! However, it was like finding a needle in the haystack as a rich Quartz bearing vein containing enough of the valuable mineral might only be twenty centimeters wide on the surface, covered with moss and surrounded by tall trees or steep bluffs. It took a sharp eye, some basic knowledge on geology and a lot of luck to be successful. On Vancouver Island one area that saw prospectors scouring the adjacent mountains with their fingers crossed was the Bedwell Valley.

Mariner MountainCreeks cascading from the surrounding mountains were inspected and hanging valleys and gulches where minerals might lie trapped saw prospectors staking claims and working hard to make a living. Although they hiked nearly every square inch of the mountains, many of the summits were rarely visited. Usually minerals were found lower down on the slopes. Of course one exception was Big Interior Mountain (1,857m) at the head of the Bedwell River where a rich claim containing copper and a hint of gold was found. The range of mountains between the Bedwell River and the Moyeha River were no exceptions. From Abco Mountain (1,526m) above Moyeha Bay and east to Mount Cotter (1,200m) at the head of Penny Creek then north to Mariner Mountain (1,778m) or Holy Cross Mountain as it was originally called, prospectors searched for the allusive gold bearing quartz.

Although numerous people searched the Bedwell Valley one of the most important characters was Walter Guppy who lived in Tofino. When Walter turned eighteen in 1936 he qualified to purchase a Free Miner's Certificate and struck out on his own as a prospector. Zeballos boomed in that year but gold fever was already rife on the coast. Thus began Walter's obsession with the Bedwell and surrounding valleys, which continued on into 1999 when his health began to fail him.

One mountain that Walter spent considerable time searching its slopes was Mariner Mountain. Walter could see Mariner Mountain from his living room window and in one of his books he related how someone had told his mother that this prominent mountain was called "The Sleeping Giant," however, Walter found it difficult to see the likeness of a human form in its crags and peaks. Walter wrote that Mariner Mountain: "…is impressive with its vast expanse of bare rock (bigger than any clear-cut) broken only by its glacier which recedes to some extent but is still of considerable proportions even at the end of summer."

Quartz cross or holy cross on Mariner MountainAccess to the slopes of Mariner Mountain was via a trail built up Noble Creek by a party of prospectors who staked the Belvedere group on September 18, 1898. This claim was Crown granted in 1911. The party included the Von Brendel's who held pre-empted land at the head of Bedwell Sound at the turn of the century and built a homestead, which was later passed on to their son John Von Brendel. In the 1960's Walter used this trail to access a boulder-strewn gully to the east of Noble Creek that was locally referred to as "Dry Gulch." Here he staked the Cub group of fourteen claims that overlapped some of the Belvedere group and some showings formerly held by Noble Cornelius after whom the Noble Creek is named. Walter wrote that precipitous slopes fringed the surrounding gulches and he concluded that it was only the lower section of the property that was even remotely accessible and then only by experienced alpinist or mountain goats. He believed the gold showings which occur in interlacing quartz stringers in the granodiorite rock in the gully had the potential to be a feasible mining operation but it was the low copper assays that geologists from the Utah Construction Company looked at and determined that a mine wasn't viable. Later changing political situations and the rising tide of environmentalism eventually ruled against the possibility of Walter being able to do anything with this property.

View from Mariner Mountain  summit looking towards Beadwell SoundHowever, it is this trail that the prospectors built to reach their claims that mountaineers now use to access Mariner Mountain on their quest to reach the summit of one of the remote high glaciated mountains on the island. The trail leaves the Bedwell River and winds up the south side of Noble Creek to the col immediately to the south of Mariner Mountain. Although the trail is infrequently used and the occasional stretches of old cedar boards are now covered with a thick veneer of moss the trail follows a natural line and is therefore easy to locate. From the col the route ascends towards the obvious white quartz cross in the rock, hence the name Holy Cross Mountain. This cross is clearly visible by mariners out at sea and was used as a reference point when sailing up the west coast.

Whether the early prospectors actually climbed to the summit of Mariner Mountain and who and when that occurred is anyone's guess, however, the summit towers of this mountain have lured a few mountaineers over the years. As already mentioned, access via Noble Creek is the easiest route and the ascent is usually completed in a three day round trip but there is a beautiful multi-day traverse from Bedwell Lake up Mount Tom Taylor and down to Mariner Mountain which can then be exited at either Bedwell Sound via Noble Creek or Herbert Inlet (Moyeha Bay) via Abco Mountain.

The first recorded traverse from Mount Tom Taylor to Mariner Mountain happened in June/July 1985. Paul Erickson and Rob Macdonald, members of the Vancouver Island section of the Alpine Club of Canada, had long talked about climbing Mariner Mountain but it took a few beers as a catalyst and the arm-twisting of Ken Denman and Rick Eppler that finally saw a plan evolve from the bar table to reality.

On June 28, 1985, Doug Banks of Tofino Air flew in the four to Bedwell Lake where they arrived shortly after noon. After traversing around a couple of lakes that also form the headwaters of the Bedwell River, they then struck up the East Ridge of Mount Tom Taylor. By 7 p.m. they were on the summit ridge but with the weather being good they pressed on. They found Tom Taylor's North Ice-field a willing highway and eventually after numerous ups and downs stopped at the end of the Southwest Ridge satisfied with the day's progress.

Paul Erickson, Rick Eppler, Ken Denman in bergshrundThe next day with the weather changing they picked their way down of the end off the ridge and up a prominent gully to gain the ridge leading to Mariner Mountain. At this point the weather decided to stop threatening and actually do something - rain! They continued along the ridge, traversing the east side in rain and fog, both of which had become progressively worse. Arriving at a col, which was an obvious feature on the map, they decided to put their tents up and get out of the rain which had by now made them soaking wet and cold.

It rained and snowed for most of the night, but things improved toward dawn; enough that they were able to hang things out to dry. Now they began to waffle: should they drag their packs on up Mariner Mountain and continue with the plan to traverse to Abco Mountain or bag Mariner and make a run for the Bedwell. It's easy when you are on your own but with a party of four it can be difficult to come to a group consensus. Eventually they decide to keep going with the original plan and pushed on but again the rain and fog set in. Moral was getting low and while huddling under a bergschrund they finally decided to abandon their packs and give up on the idea of traversing across to Abco Mountain. They had lost too much time but the summit of Mariner Mountain was still a possibility. Armed with a topographical map and an aerial photograph for navigation they were able to grope their way by keeping recognizable features in sight. This way they could not get lost. Macdonald wrote:

As we traversed the large snowfields under the rock ridges which stuck up everywhere, the weather and clouds started to lift and we could see what a little Island gem this place was. It was therefore a letdown to find evidence of previous exploration in the form of a rusty nail hammered into the summit. A cairn would have sufficed. Under improving weather we went over and bagged the east summit as well. After a couple of gendarmes we dropped back to the packs and down to a decent campsite.

The next day looked so fine we decided to return to the summit snowfields and climb some of the outliers, particularly the line of four trending north. The weather was perfect and we virtually climbed everything in sight. It was sound rock and the ascents were made from the south

After a day of rampant climbing they then had to contend with a bushwhack down to the Bedwell River coming out almost opposite Sam Craig Creek. They were obviously unaware of the prospectors trail down Noble Creek. Once in the Bedwell they found the old overgrown logging road and were picked up the next day on schedule at mouth of the Bedwell River.

Since then several other parties have made that same traverse but most climbers ascend Mariner Mountain via Noble Creek and the old prospectors trail. Of the mining there is very little evidence visible, as the vegetation grows back over things very quickly, however, on the col to the south of Mariner Mountain a significant source of magnetite was found by Bert Clayton and Joe Felber. Today, several mine adits and old mining equipment can still be found on the col; proof of some of the extensive prospecting that occurred on the mountains surrounding Bedwell River.

Mariner Mountains East Peak from North Gendarme Mariner Mountains East Peak
Mariner Mountains satellite summits Mariner Mountain summit massif
Mariner Mountain and glacier Alpine lake on Mariner Mountain
Mariner Mountains North Gendarme
Mine adit on Mariner Mountain

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