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Mount Maxwell [Baynes Peak]:
1922 Climb on Salt Spring Island

From the Daily Colonist September 10, 1922.

Climbing Face of Maxwell's Mountain, Salt Spring Island.

By Captain Horace Westmorland

At the invitation of Captain Best of Ganges, Colonel Greer and I went to Salt Spring Island on August 18 [1922] to attempt to scale the 700-foot rock wall which forms the upper portion of the southwest face of Maxwell's Mountain, which is so clearly seen in profile as Fulford Harbor is entered from the sea.

Baynes Peak, Mt. Maxwell Provincial ParkOn Saturday, August 19, we motored from Captain Best's home at Ganges to the Fulford-Burgoyne Bay Road and from Maxwell's farm had a good look at the rock face. It appeared from this viewpoint that a way might be forced up the cliff by a shallow scoop which terminates on the rock face in a deeply cut chimney a few feet from the right of the main buttress. Continuing to the Burgoyne Bay wharf, we had another view of our objective from a different angle, and still the same chimney offered the best route to attempt, affording, as it did, a possible way up the cliff at its highest point. Other chimneys both to right and left of the main buttress would have been an evasion of the rock face at its best, and we therefore decided not to consider them at present.

Ascent Begun
Setting the aneroid down by the sea at zero, we struck into the bush by a logging trail accompanied by Captain Best and two of his boys, who very kindly carried our ruck-sac and climbing rope for us. About an hour's steady walking took us to the broken ledges below the cliff and a few minutes easy scrambling to the foot of the great wall, where we halted for a rest and a sandwich before tackling the difficult part of the climb; the aneroid here read 1,350 feet above sea level. After staving off the cravings of the inner man, Colonel Greer and I roped up, and, taking leave of our companions, who intended to return from this point. I took the lead, and traversing round the foot of the main buttress, made two unsuccessful attempts to lead up the initial 50 feet of rock face, but at a third attempt a little further to the right was more successful.

Our great difficulty was the nature of the rock. The whole 700 feet of the cliff is "conglomerate" and the embedded pebbles and "cobble stones" came away when tested as holds in a most treacherous and disconcerting manner, and as heavy showers of rain had now commenced to fall, the whole surface of the rock was slippery. A few short pitches from ledge to ledge brought us to the foot of the shallow chimney we had selected from below. From here the leads were exceptionally long. Several times in succession the writer led out 85 to 90 feet of rope before reaching a stance from which he could be confident of holding the second man in case of slip.

Difficult Climbing
The type of climbing was unpleasant, there being a good deal of vegetation in the back of the shallow chimney. This vegetation was alternately a help or a source of danger, as it was, respectively, firm or loose. There was also a prevalence of moss, which when cleared away, revealed only smooth roundnesses and not the clean-cut holds we hoped for. Whenever possible we employed the method known to climbers as "backing up," but for considerable distances the walls of our chimney were either too indefinite or too far apart to permit of it. The leader found the long length of rain sodden rope from his waist a serious handicap to balance, and after a particularly steep 90-foot lead up the wet rocks it was a relief to find the chimney cut deeply into the face of the cliff, forming a narrow cave, on the sloping floor of which it was possible to lie down in temporary safety and comparative comfort for a breather before singing out the customary "Come on" to Colonel Greer and gathering in the slack of the rope as he mounted slowly upwards to this airy haven of rest.

On his arrival we studied the prospect before us. High above our heads the smooth wall of the chimney projected out over the shear face of the cliff. Direct progress upwards was barred by the overhanging roof of the cave, and though we thought it possible to overcome the difficulties of the chimney itself by back and knee methods, whether or not a way could be forced out of the cleft to the rock face either to right or left we could not foresee. From where we rested the true right wall appeared the more possible of the two, and when the second man had anchored himself facing the right wall, by bracing myself across the chimney and raising each shoulder alternately to gain a little height in the strenuous method known to mountaineers as "backing up," it was possible to progress slowly upwards. On this occasion the "backing up" was rendered a little more strenuous than usual by the overhang of the retaining wall. Some twenty feet of this brought me to the outside edge of the top of the chimney on a level with its roof, and if we were to succeed in our attempt an exit had to be made on to the rock face to the right or left. The right wall on which we had pinned our hopes proved to be unclimbable, wet and holdless. The left wall was more broken, though offering rounded and moss covered holds. However, twelve feet up the face, growing plucky in a crevice in the rock, was a sturdy little pine, affording a belay from which to manipulate the rope for the second man as he climbed the difficult chimney, and further, a safe starting point for the final pitches above. I therefore decided to endeavor to reach this tree.

Rather Hazardous
For this change of plan it was necessary to turn and face the left wall, and in this exposed position, with inadequate holds, great care was required, and even when the movement was completed position was only maintained by bracing a leg across the chimney, not by any definite holds. I did not envy Colonel Greer who was waiting below, doubtless wondering whether or not the pitch would "go," and, if it would, why I did not get on with it. Feeling that I would need all the intrepidity ascribed to mountaineers by a certain parson during a sermon he preached in Keswick, of all places, who likened the steadfastness required in the endeavor of life to that "of the intrepid mountaineer who courageously climbs upwards, cutting his steps in the roaring avalanche." I pulled myself cautiously round the edge of the rock wall to the exposed rock face, and by careful balance worked my way slowly upwards until I could thankfully grasp the friendly pine and belay myself behind it. Greer then came up in much better time, and victory was in sight, for only two problems remained - steep rock face above us and then a short traverse to the right. A possible solution of the steep face above us could be seen where great masses of the conglomerate were split in huge poised blocks, but a closer inspection showed them to be unsafe. I then tried a little to the right, but fifteen feet up found the slippery holds inadequate, and had to descend. A few feet to the left the rock was steep to the verge of overhanging, but there were small holes here and there which looked firm. The situation was almost Dolomitten in the sheerness of the direct plunge downwards of over 600 feet "as straight as a beggar can spit, " and the firmness of those holds was comforting. Greer, looking upwards, could see little excepting the well nailed soles of my climbing boots. Our friends below, just as I was on the worst part, were calling anxiously, as they could not see us in the driving mists, and I had the same sensation as a golfer when someone speaks in the middle of his swing. Every faculty was required to preserve balance or the slippery rocks, and the calls were a distraction. The rope swinging from my waist dislodged a small piece of rock, which struck Greer on the forehead, but, seeing my precarious position, and having heard my muttered remarks on the subject of the people who shouted unnecessarily, he with the self-restraint of a stoic, remained silent.

The pitches had increased in severity as we climbed higher up the face, but this was the last real difficulty, and after some thirty feet I was able to crawl onto a safe resting place, a shelf of rock with a shallow cave-like roof. Colonel Greer joined me on this shelf, and from it we traversed to the right along a narrow ledge requiring a delicate touch to the top of the cliff. The aneroid read just under 2000 feet. The rock wall had given us a climb of nearly 700 feet, and we had taken over four hours over it.

We announced success to our, by now anxious friends in a triumphant Engadine yell, coiled our hundred-foot Alpine Club rope, lighted our pipes, and with thoughts turning to hot tea swung along through the mists in a wide detour to avoid further contact with the cliff, and sloped down to Burgoyne Bay, where a most hospitable welcome awaited us, tea, bully beef and cucumber sandwiches being the much appreciated order of the day.

We were informed by the islanders that the face had not been ascended in the past, and we cannot recommend it as a rock climb in the future. The conglomerate is treacherous and insecure, and the cliff is excessively, steep and forbidding. We enjoyed the climb, for there is always joy in the successful overcoming of difficulties, and there is a curious sense of enjoyment to be derived from being wet through and very tired. A legend is told of an Indian maiden who stilled the flutterings of her broken heart by jumping from the top of the rock to the abyss below. Probably the cliff is better suited to that purpose than as a playground for cragsmen.

This feature had been named Mount Baynes c1859 by Captain Richards, RN, and so-labelled on British Admiralty Chart 2840, 1861, however local residents began calling this Mount Maxwell at about the same time, resulting in the May 2, 1911 decision to adopt "Mount Maxwell (not Mount Baynes)". Through correspondence with local authorities on Saltspring Island, it was agreed in 1939 to designate the highest point on the landmass Baynes Peak, and name the newly-created surrounding park Mount Maxwell Park. The following information comes from British Columbia Coast Names, 1592-1906 by John T. Walbran. "[Saltspring Island] ...Captain Richards when surveying here evidently wished to associate the island with Rear Admiral Baynes, commanding at the time, 1857-1860, the Pacific station, his flagship, staff and officers etc. He therefore named the highest mountain Baynes, after the Admiral; Ganges Harbour after the flagship; Fulford Harbour after the captain; Burgoyne Bay after the commander; Southey Point after the admiral's secretary; Mount Bruce after the previous commander in chief; and Cape Keppel after a friend of Admiral Baynes."


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