Tuesday 23 March 2021

A Mountaintop Experience

In February I wrote about Bertha’s visit to Cambie, BC in 1915. Photos she kept of that remote and wild place, along with others found online, allowed us to identify her watercolour painting of the majestic Avalanche Mountain.

We have another delightful mountain scene painted in watercolours, less finished, smallish (12.7 x 12.7 cm), more a quick sketch, showing a scene we had not been able to identify in the past. But the process of learning more about the Cambie visit gave me hope it might be possible to identify the subject of this one as well.

Bertha M. Ingle: Untitled, watercolours on textured paper

I began to explore what other views might have been available from the CPR tracks in the area of Cambie, Glacier, and Rogers Pass. It would certainly have been possible to walk along the trackbed to explore such views. Because the Trans-Canada Highway now runs through Rogers Pass and environs close to where the railway tracks were then, I could ‘travel the tracks’ without leaving home, using Google’s Street View.

North of Avalanche Mountain is Mount Macdonald, a towering peak whose north face is visible from the Highway. A present-day trail called Hermit Trail that runs north from that point gives even more impressive views of Mount Macdonald. Could that be the mountain in Bertha’s watercolour sketch? It surely didn’t look like a perfect match, but using a photo taken from Hermit Trail I consulted our team of family and friends.
North face of Mount Macdonald seen from Hermit Trail

One team member, a talented and accomplished artist herself, rose to the challenge right away. She soon found an interesting photo of Avalanche Mountain that had some of the right elements. Going back to Google, I eventually had to ‘travel’ a couple of miles west from where Cambie was to see that same view from the Highway. I felt it was unlikely Bertha would have chosen to paint Avalanche from such a distance when much closer views were more easily available.
Avalanche Mountain seen from about two miles west of former Cambie site

Undaunted, our team member cleverly contrived to create a useful visual aid, a replica of Bertha’s watercolour painting where the profiles of the mountaintops and the shapes of the snowfields below were enhanced. This replica made it quicker and easier to compare the painting with online photographs.
Enhanced profiles and shapes from Bertha's watercolour

And then came the breakthrough! She found an old postcard photo of a peak that lies to the south of Avalanche, called Mount Sir Donald. Here was the best potential match yet, perhaps not exactly right in a few details, but still ...
Vintage postcard of Mount Sir Donald

Meanwhile I had begun to consider the possibility that Bertha’s watercolour might show a view not from the CPR track level, but from the hiking trail running south from near Glacier, the trail that we know she climbed to reach the summit of Mount Abbott. And now it all started to fall into place. I discovered that Google Street View includes the trip along that trail (and countless other trails), so I could search, myself, for a place where Mount Sir Donald would be visible, looking east from the trail. Trekking (virtually) back and forth I eventually found the view from a spot that I’m sure must have been very close to where Bertha, on that proud and joyful day when she was a mountain climber, stopped to paint a memento of her accomplishment: a delightful view of the west face of Mount Sir Donald.

I suspect it took her only a few minutes to make the sketch, but it is with us now, more than a century later, and we shall treasure it always.
Bertha M. Ingle: West face of Mount Sir Donald, BC

I encourage readers to take the virtual hike up the trail to Abbot Ridge and Mount Abbott. One can see what the terrain is like, see the magnificent views it affords of mountain grandeur, gaze toward horizons many kilometres distant. “Hills peep o’er hills, and Alps on Alps arise!” as Alexander Pope tells us. While not a difficult ascent by the standards of others in the Rogers Pass area, it was an accomplishment that Bertha had every right to celebrate.

1 comment:

  1. Another wonderful discovery David! Bringing Berthe Ingle’s work to light must be so rewarding for you. I so enjoy these postings.