In 1947, the mountain that stood out for all employees at the Privateer Gold Mine was called Mount Zeballos. The peak was clearly visible from the road near the Recreation Hall. Its proper name may be Zeballos Peak, and it may be a part of the Rugged Range, but we were mine workers, not mountain climbers or naturalists, and we knew it as Mount Zeballos. Some of us thought that the peak we could see just begged to be climbed.
That spring, we got at least two months of continuous rain. Not pouring down rain, but the steady drizzle that kept up day after day. After that there was another two months or so of on-again rain, so it was well into summer before I could do anything about climbing that mountain. While I was waiting, I asked questions. How far was it? How do you get there? What else was up that way? There were more questions than answers. To get close to it the road went past the Privateer and the Central Zeballos and on to the Homeward Mine. I did get a chance to walk the road as far as the Homeward on a decent Sunday for exploring. It was about four or five miles from the Privateer. Not much there, and it was obviously too far to the right. Next week I would do better.
The next decent Sunday (we worked six days a week) I went past the Central Zeballos to where I could see the river from the road. This was Nomash Creek, just before it met the Zeballos River. It was shallow enough to wade across. On the other side of the creek, there was supposed to be a blazed trail to Zeballos Lake, which was at the foot of the mountain. I found the trail then lost it, and then I got lost. It should be remembered that this was before the logging got started in that valley. By the time I found myself again, the day was shot.
The following week I found the trail and the lake, it wasn't easy but I didn't get lost. The distance from the Privateer was probably about five miles. I had a swim, ate my lunch and headed back. Now, who was I going to talk into climbing that mountain? Even I wasn't foolish enough to do it on my own. I didn't know the accountant, Bill McDermot very well, he was married so he didn't live in the bunkhouse or eat in the cookhouse. When talking about Zeballos Lake and how I got there, Bill showed a fair amount of interest, and asked if I would show him the way to the lake. I asked when? He wanted to go on the following Saturday. I couldn't go on that Saturday. By that time, I was the assayer at the mine and my own boss, but I had work to do that had to be done. We compromised, I drew him a map and I would leave as soon as I could on Saturday afternoon, and meet him and the manager's son, Wilf Hewat, at the lake.
The next Saturday I started early, worked hard and was able to get away from camp just after 1 p.m. (I skipped lunch as well). I went up that road at a good clip and was on the blazed trail by about 2:30. Not far up the trail I ran into Bill and Wilf, they had gotten lost and had only just got back to the trail. They were packing a lot of stuff that I hadn't bothered with; sleeping bags, food and utensils. I had food and a blanket (I was young and foolish in those days). We made the lake and they were beat. I went for a swim. I didn't realize that Bill had a camera and took a few pictures of me, in the buff; the pictures showed up in camp a few weeks later! I don't remember the other two swimming. We decided to try the climb on the Labour Day weekend, so we went back to the mine after lunch.
Bill and I left the mine camp just after breakfast on the Sunday. Wilf backed out. We had our lunch at the lake, and then looked for a good place to start up. We found a good place and started to climb. It was not a hard climb and we took our time. I had never climbed a mountain before and Bill was out of shape. There were problems with the underbrush at first, and then it got a bit steep in places. Right near the top it was more difficult, but we made it. Wow! The view was terrific! We could look down on Zeballos Lake and I took one picture showing the shadow of the mountain on the lake. We took other pictures showing each of us with a cairn we built at the peak. We also left our names and the date in a can for somebody else to find later.
I was surprised to find that we were not up as high as some of the peaks on the other side of the lake. That was the Rugged [Haihte] Range, and a couple of its peaks are about 1,000 feet taller than the one we were on. We later found out that Mount Zeballos was only about 5,100 feet, and the ones across the lake were over 6,100 feet. None of those peaks stood out as well as the one we were on, and they looked further away as well. I think we picked the right peak to climb.
Darkness came suddenly. There was no way we were going down that mountain in the dark. We had food but no water. Bill thought I had the water and I thought he had it; I think I was the one to make that goof. It did cool down considerably, and there was a breeze on the peak, so we dropped down below the peak. There was no flat space to lie flat and we had not brought a blanket. We were thirsty, cold and miserable. It was a long night and we were both glad to see the dawn. We went up again for another look around before the final decent. What a breathtaking sight it was, with the sun just coming up and everything below in the shadows!
I had always thought that climbing down a mountain was the easy part. Don't believe it! We had to be careful or we would be going straight down. It was hard to pick the best path to follow. Coming up we could look ahead and pick the best way, going down we couldn't choose as well, but we made it with no accidents! It was still fairly early in the day so we drank about a gallon of water each and climbed into our blankets for a few hours. We started home after we ate our lunch. The weather had turned cloudy and cool. I am glad we had such perfect weather for the climb. It was slow going back to the mine. Bill's knee was acting up and he was hobbling a bit before we got back. I was beat. The climb had taken a lot out of me. We were both quiet and thoughtful on the trip back. I don't know what he was thinking, but we had been as close to nature as you can get, and that can make you contemplate as to who you are and where you were going to live. Those thoughts only stayed with me for a few days but they came back to me many times in the years that followed.
I still remember that climb and my first time looking down from the "Top of the World!"
ascent of Zeballos Peak was probably in 1931 when the surveyors Alan
Campbell and H.E. Whyte set up a station on the summit. Eight
years later the Geological Survey of Canada sent a team who also made
a survey from the summit. However, since Walter Moffat's ascent in 1947
there have been only a few recorded ascents but that is not to say that
there weren't other ascents by those who are only out occasionally or
by locals. Syd
Watts and John
Gibson climbed the peak in late July 1983 but because of bad
weather never saw anything so the pair returned on August 21, with Rolf
Kellarhalls and his son Markus (from Quadra Island) and Rick
Eppler, and climbed Zeballos Peak again this time in perfect
weather, recordeding their ascent in the Island Bushwhacker (summer
1983 p. 5). Then on June 29, 1998, Lindsay Elms and Elaine Kerr climbed
Zeballos Peak via Kiapit Peak and a high level ridge walk from Woss Lake
(Island Bushwhacker 1998 p. 31).