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The Red Pillar:
The Cliffe Glacier Sentinel

From the Comox Argus August 6, 1931.

Great Alpine Region Has Been Explored.
Courtenay Party Climbs Virgin Peak And Crosses Three Great Glaciers

Red Pillar and Cliffe Glacier in WinterAs a result of an exploration trip into the heart of Vancouver Island, a party headed by Mr. W.A.[Adrian] B. Paul of Comox climbed a virgin peak several hundred feet higher then the Dome and traversed several great glaciers. They returned on Monday night. The party consisted of Messers. W.A.B. Paul, Arthur Leighton of Nanaimo, Ben Hughes and Jack Gregson of Courtenay.

When the party climbed the Comox Glacier two years ago they saw to the west two great peaks, one on each side of and guarding another and unnamed glacier. A ridge appeared to run down to the headwaters of the Puntledge River and an arrête to connect the Dome with this other range. There was not time then to go farther but they determined to go back some day and explore this unknown terrain.

They found twenty miles from Courtenay in an airline a great alpine region of glaciers and peaks. In August they crossed a snow slope which would give a safe run for a toboggan of half a mile and wonderful ski-ing. Patches of "pink snow" were so common as to cause no comment and in some spots millions of jet black Ice-worms covered the surface of the Pillar Glacier.

It was hoped to find an easier way than over steep Mount Evans [Kookjai Mountain] to the Glacier Dome, but until a road has been built through the devil's club and alder thickets which makes going so tedious up the Puntledge divide, that is the easiest route to the great snow peak which is seen from Courtenay.

The Pillar Mountain
The Pillar mountain cannot be seen from Courtenay but is observable from Comox. The first objective of the party was to climb this peak. Leaving the south end of Comox Lake at 9:30 on Friday morning, the Dome base camp on the second of the little lakes was reached in time for lunch. There is a fair trail beyond this for perhaps an hour, then there is nothing to be done but fight a way through devils club and thicket alder bottom or take to the side hill. The brawling Puntledge, a bright and sparkling mountain stream issuing from the Pillar glacier, here meanders in a dozen sluggish streams through a swamp and all of them have to be waded. It was seven o'clock at night before the exhausted party, carrying heavy packs, arrived at a little Isle of refuge in the valley and camped for the night.

Herb Warren filling his water bottle on the way to the Red Pillar 1950'sA Ruddy Mountain
Next morning the ridge leading up to the Pillar was found and at eleven after a hard grind open ground was won. The Pillar was close at hand, a reddish mass of rock just as formidable on close inspection as from the Dome. It was attacked on Sunday morning early. After crossing a snow slope, packs were left on a spur overlooking a glacial lake fantastically green, and the north face attacked. It was found to be impregnable. Next a way was sought up the steep west face. The climbing was always difficult, every hand hold counting. Three quarters of the way up to the top the chimney chosen to ascent was found to be blocked with chock stones so large there was not a chance to squirm through and it seemed likely that the Pillar would remain unconquered. At this time the sound of a plane was heard in the sky and looking straight up from their perch on the rocky face a plane was seen high in the air going over to Buttles Lake.

The Top Is Reached
Immediately after another chimney was found and after some hazardous corners had to be negotiated the party were on top at ten minutes past ten. The top is flat with a snow field of several acres and a ptarmigan and her family were very surprised to see the first humans that had ever climbed up there. A cairn was built and a record with a recommendation from the mountaineers that the peak be named the Pillar.

On the other side of the glacier rose the black mass of the Camel [Argus Mountain] (two humps) in remarkable contrast to the ruddy colour of the Pillar. The climb up the west face had been so difficult that a route was attempted down the south face and one was found not quite so precipitous but more tedious. On getting back to the glacier on the south a route was seen which might conceivably be much easier then either of those undertaken.

Snow Sports In August
It was one o'clock when the spur where the packs were was reached and blazing hot. Half an hour later the four were crossing the great Pillar glacier flowing to the Pacific; this is the divide, for the glaciers between the Pillar and the Camel runs into the Gulf of Georgia. The descent from the Pillar base on to the glacier was made with considerable difficulty. The snow slope being quite steep, but once down the snow was firm and unbroken by a single crevasse. One could put a toboggan at the top of the slope and go for half a mile. It was a quarter to half a mile wide. At its east rim it was hoped to find a way over the base of the Camel to a snow ridge running across to the Dome.

Red Pillar and Cliffe GlacierImpassable Pass
After some very difficult climbing over screes a point was reached where a snow slope had to be crossed, perhaps thirty feet wide. The snow was at an angle of sixty degrees and the slope ran down to the glacier below. One slip and a yawning crevasse would have entangled the climber away if he reached that far alive. We carried no rope and had no ice axes to cut steps and were in heavy manhauling order with full packs. It was hard as the thirty feet was probably all that divided us from the Dome and a known camping site on the other side with a good trail home. But it was too big a hazard to take. It was seven o'clock before a very reluctant decision was arrived at to return, and then all speed was made to get back to the high level camp where wood, water and hemlock beds awaited us, but it was not until nine we got "home." As we left at half past five in the morning we had been fifteen and a half hours on the hoof, many hours of which had been spent in difficult rock and snow work, and the other under heavy packs.

A slightly better route was found on the way home and the journey was made in thirteen and a half hours. It's a long and hard trip but the country is amazing in its possibilities for winter sports. Mr. W.A.B. Paul slipped down a bergschrund and cut his head, but the injury was not serious. This was the only casualty beyond scratches, sunburns, galled shoulders and torn garments. Jack Gregson, the youngest member of the party, besides collecting some rare beetles for his collection, more than won his spurs as a mountaineer.

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