Peaks of the Icefields Parkway
“A new world was spread at our feet; to the westward stretched a vast icefield probably never before seen by the human eye, and surrounded by entirely unknown, unnamed, and unclimbed peaks.”
J Norman Collie, 1898
It may be hard to imagine now, but the Columbia Icefield and surrounding peaks have only become accessible within the last century. When J Norman Collie and his climbing companion Hermann Woolley viewed the icefield from the summit of Mount Athabasca in 1898, it was like discovering a whole new world. The area was remote and difficult to reach. There were no roads and no railroads. Fur trade routes and First Nations trails were to the north and to the south. The icefield was in no-man’s land. It’s no wonder Collie believed he and Woolley were first to view the awe-inspiring icefields in 1898.
Since that time, the area has opened to adventurers and explorers and most peaks now have names. Some, in fact, have had several names. This list tells the stories behind the naming of some of the most significant peaks and geographical features along the Icefields Parkway.
Huge thanks to Dave Birrel of www.peakfinder.com for allowing us to borrow content from his amazing website. Please visit this website to find out everything you’d want to know about almost all the Mountains in the Rockies.
1. Pyramid Mountain, 2766m (9075 ft)
Pyramid Mountain is the highest peak in the vicinity of Jasper Townsite. From Disaster Point, downstream on the Athabasca River from the peak, it is perfectly symmetric, with long evenly sloped ridges to the north-west and south-east.
Snow tends to accumulate on the face which is seen from Disaster Point and generally lingers into mid-summer providing a striking contrast to the other nearby peaks.
The mountain was first climbed by Rev. George Kinney and Conrad Kain. Pyramid Mountain suffered some abrupt erosion when the elevation of the mountain was reduced by ten metres in order to place a telecommunciations tower is now located on the summit. The tower was removed in 2004.
Prior to James Hector”s visit, the mountains was previously known as Priest”s Rock and the name remained in use for a while afterwards. In their book, “The Northwest Passage by Land,” Milton and Cheadle describe their trip through the mountains in 1863, writing, “To the west, the Priest”s Rock, a pyramid of ice, shone brightly above a dark pine-clad hill.”
The peaks of the Victoria Cross Range are gently contoured and have a reddish-orange hue to them that comes from the oxidization of iron minerals that are found in the rock that forms much of this range. They are of Pre-Cambrian age, the rock being significantly older than the mountains to the south. Most are made of rock that was formed over a billion years ago. Composed largely of gritstone (sandstone, with the addition of grains of feldspar and mica) and slate, they are “softer” than those to the south and erode more easily, leaving a more rounded and worn profile.
2. Edith Cavell, 3363m (11034 ft) (1916), WWI
This massive snow-covered peak just south of Jasper has had several names over the years. The fur-traders called it “La Montagne de la Grande Traverse” (mountain of the big crossing).
It was also called Fitzhugh and Geikie. Fitzhugh, Jasper’s original name, was the name of the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway’s president and general manager. The name Geikie comes from Scottish brothers, both geologists, who were part of Scotland’s Geological Survey in the late 1800’s. James Geikie is known for his studies on glaciation.
The mountain was given its official name in 1916, just five months after a British nurse, Edith Cavell was executed by German soldiers. She was convicted of treason for helping 200 British, French and Belgian soldiers reunite with their armies after having been cut-off by German forces in German-occupied Belgium.
In 1924 a road was built up the Astoria River valley to beyond Cavell Lake, allowing access to the base of this impressive peak. Although our current business license with the national parks doesn’t allow us to guide cycling groups up this road (mostly due to it’s narrow and winding nature) If you have the desire and some extra energy you can ride to the base of the mountain yourself. We highly recommend this if you’re ever in and around Jasper with your bike. It’s quite something to approach this impressive peak from the unique perspective of a bike. Be prepared to be seriously humbled.
In Aug 2012, Ghost Glacier (an impressive hanging Glacier on the north-face of Cavell) collapsed exploding into the lake below sending a tidal wave of displaced water, rock, ice, debris and mud down the valley and access road. This unbelievable force consumed, gobbled and covered hiking paths, parking lots and outhouses. Thankfully this happened at approximately 5.30 in the morning leaving no eyewitness accounts of the monumental collapse. The area has since been restored although there is still clear evidence of the event and is quite something to see.
3. Mount Hardisty (1859), fur trade
Named by Hudson’s Bay Company explorer James Hector after the company’s Chief Factor Richard Hardisty. Hardisty is credited for saving the life of missionary Father Lacombe in 1865 after he’d been shot in a skirmish between Crow and Blackfoot fighters. Hardisty took in Lacombe’s traveling party at his home in Rocky Mountain House, where he tenderly cared for them.