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Marjorie's Load:
Big Interior Mountain's South Summit

by Lindsay Elms

Marjories Load 1910From the main summit of Big Interior Mountain there is a subsidiary summit to the south that has an unromantic name that fell into obscurity for many years. The peak was christened Marjorie's Load after twenty-one year old Lady Marjorie Feilding who in September 1913, reached the summit of Big Interior Mountain with a party of interantional investors that included her father, Rudolph Feilding (the 9th Earl of Denbigh), Sir James Sivewright, Major Frank Johnson and his brother H.H. Johnson (a consulting engineer) and Herbert Latilla. Accompanying the party were two vendors representing the Ptarmigan Mine owners: J.D. Mcleod and H.F. Hunter and Captain John Corry Wood, the MLA for Alberni. Whether Lady Majorie or any others of the party climbed to its satellite summit is unknown, however, the incongruous name has been revived and although unofficial it is being used by mountaineers.

In 1912 the investors purchased the Ptarmigan Mine located on Big Interior Mountain for a quarter million dollars. The staked claim contained extensive copper deposits with a hint of gold. Grand plans were envisioned for making the mine a profitable venture, however, the purchasers never saw any financial reward from the project due to the outbreak of the First World War. Construction of an aerial tramway that was to rise five thousand feet to the mine site came to a halt and the road up the Bear (Bedwell) Valley was abandoned. The investors were hoping to have the Bear River called the Denbigh River, unfortunately, the name Bedwell eventually won out.

Spasmodic interest occurred over the next forty years, however, in the late 1950's early 1960's diamond drilling occurred on the summit of Big Interior Mountain in an attempt to estimate the full extent of the copper and gold deposits and see if mining would be viable. Mineral prices were high around the world and historical claims saw investors reassessing the deposits. A small bunkhouse was erected on the ridge between the main summit of Big Interior Mountain and Marjorie's Load. The remains of the site are evident by the debris left behind, however, much of it has been removed in an effort to clean the area up. Lower down the slope on the Bedwell side was another small cabin that housed an engine that drove the diamond drill. The cabin was built over a small creek with the water used to cool the engine. Evidence still lies strewn around the slope: 44 gallon fuel drums, steel auger rods running up the slope to where the drilling was situated and the dilapidated remains of the cabin. Again it is unknown if any of these workers climbed to the summit of Marjorie's Load, however, an added bonus in regards to living on-site was obviously the incredible views. Maybe for the workers it wasn't necessary for them to go to the summit.

Big InteriorIn July 1965 a party of scouts from Port Alberni headedup the Drinkwater Valley for a weeklong summer camp. The leader of the 1st Arrowsmith troop was Rolf Bernstein and in the party was his son Ralph, Jamie Bracht, Gene Demens, David Roach and Richard Myrfield. All the boys were between the ages of fourteen and sixteen. Rolf was an experienced leader with a number of climbs to his credit. In 1961 he climbed the Golden Hinde with a scout group starting at the Wolf River confluence with Buttle Lake. From there they proceeded up under Mount McBride to Marble Meadows and on into the Hinde. In those days very few had traveled this route and the trail from Phillips Creek to the meadows wasn't in existence. There were no cairns or flagging to mark the trail and Rolf used his navigational skills learned through scouting to find the way. On the 5th day they summitted the Hinde and then returned the way they had came.

This trip into Big Interior Mountain began with them getting a boat to drop them off at the head of Great Central Lake. The following day they hiked into Della Falls where they set up their camp from which they were to base themselves from for the rest of the week.

On the morning of July 23 all six were up early hiking the old miners trail up beside Della Falls to Della Lake. Joe Drinkwater constructed the trail after he had staked the gold claim at Della Lake and the copper claim on the summit of Big Interior Mountain in 1899. The weather was beautiful with hardly a cloud in the sky. After traversing around Della Lake they climbed up to Bear Pass between Nine Peaks and Big Interior Mountain. From here they then climbed the long ridge ascending to the Big Interior's south peak (Marjorie's Load.) There was still a lot of snow on the ridge at this time of the year but it was firm and they didn't have to labour in soft snow. Eventually they arrived at the base of the summit. Although the rock was steep they found it secure and the boys were able to scramble to the summit. They spent half an hour enjoying the view from the top before they had to descend but before they did they dated and signed their names on the back of a cardboard film wrapper and along with a scout badge, placed it in an aluminum film canister and deposited it inside a cairn they built. On the descent they stop for a quick swim at Della Lake to cool off after a long hot day before down-climbing the trail beside the falls to their camp.

Although this may not have been the first ascent of Marjorie's Load it is the first recorded ascent. Their film canister and note was still on the summit when I discovered it in 2004 and after braving the elements for thirty-nine years was still as good as the day they placed it there.

Over a period of seven years while teaching mountaineering I had accumulated what amounted to a total of about two months time on and around Big Interior Mountain. I had been to all the satellite summits except for Marjorie's Load and explored numerous aspects of the mountain in search of early mining activity. As the old saying goes: I knew the mountain like the back of my hand. In August 2004 I went back onto Big Interior Mountain again and set up a bivvy camp near the summit in one of the old mine adits on the Della side of the mountain. It had been a scorching hot day but a light breeze began blowing in from Bedwell Sound late in the afternoon and it finally started to cool down. After dinner Val Woottonl and I decided that it was such a beautiful evening that we should wander over to Marjorie's Load and scramble to its summit. We climbed along the crest of the ridge examining the various minerals in the rock and looking at the spectacular views. At last we arrived at the North Ridge that led to the summit. After some steep climbing and airy exposure I decided to attempt another route. We climbed down and traversed the snowfield around to the West Ridge. Some more steep climbing but with less exposure and ten minutes later we were on the summit just after 8 in the evening.

Note on Marjories LoadWe watched the sun set and just as we were about to leave Val found the little film canister under a rock in the cairn that we hadn't over-turned on the first look. I always find it thrilling to find some evidence of the early climbers and to find it in good condition. With the Bedwell Sound area being one of the wettest places on Vancouver Island anything left out to the elements for thirty-nine years has to be watertight. We made our way back down from the summit and ambled along the ridge to our camp arriving just after 9. I couldn't help wondering if Val hadn't found the canister would I have missed it? It is worth having that second set of eyes at times!

Upon arriving home I phoned Rolf Bernstein in Port Alberni. Now in his mid 80's Rolf continued climbing until 1980 when he made his last trip into the Golden Hinde. His note that he had left there nineteen years previously was gone, however, a few years after his 1961 climb of the Golden Hinde he received a phone call from someone who had found his note on the summit.

Just as notes are left in bottles to float around the world until found by someone wondering along a beach, notes left on summits are there for others to read in the future. Although some find the idea of leaving notes on the summit as appalling as garbage on a trail, it is these notes that record the history of a given mountain. Not all trips are recorded but the summit registers can be a source of information and make for some interesting reading.

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