Located north of the head of Waiparous Creek. Ghost Park, Alberta
Photo: The east face of Mount Davidson from Waiparous Creek (Courtesy Robert Lampard)
Mount Davidson is located 15 miles north of Lake Minnewanka in line with Devil's Head. It is a prominent peak that can be seen from as far away as Red Deer and Calgary. The row of peaks behind it swing westward 15 miles to Mount Oliver before they again angle northward making it more prominent.
The naming history of Mount Davidson is interesting in that it was named by the Geographic Names Board in 1935, but for some reason the name was never added to the government maps. Although technically named, the peak’s name was essentially forgotten until 2003.
In November 1934 the Alberta Motor Association and the Rotary Club of Calgary had requested that a Rocky mountain be named after him. Initially it was to have been along the Lake Louise/Jasper highway, then under construction. On rethinking their choice, the sponsors asked if it could be one that was visible from Calgary.
Despite the March 1935 minuted approval by the Geographic Names Board and a further confirming letter to the family in 1943, the name Davidson was never added to the Alberta Rocky Mountain map.
With assurances from the family that there had been a mountain named after Jim Davidson, Glen Boles and I looked for it. Neither of us could find any Mount Davidson in Alberta. Fortunately a clipping from the Calgary Herald and the two correspondence letters from the family and the Rotary Club of Calgary pinpointed the date of the approval. The Geographic Names Board revisited their minutes, found the error and immediately added Mount Davidson to the Lake Minnewanka map (820/06).
JAMES WHEELER DAVIDSON: JOURNALIST, EXPLORER, CONSUL, AND BUSINESSMAN
Mount Davidson highlights a significant Calgarian, Albertan and Canadian, James Wheeler Davidson. He is perhaps the best internationally known Albertan who lived in the first half of the 20th Century. It seems everywhere he went or everything he did had a vision to it. His association with the Rocky Mountains, Banff and Lake Louise was no exception. Moreover he was a member of the Canadian Alpine Club.
James Wheeler Davidson’s first international prominence came in 1893/4 when he joined the second Peary Expedition to find a route over the North Greenland icecap to the North Pole. After rescuing two of his friends, he froze his feet in a seven day storm. Unable to walk, Dr. Vincent sledded him out forty-five miles to the base camp. In the storm, the one day trip became three. On day three their condition became desperate, Dr. Vincent went for help. Davidson continued rolling and sliding down the icecap another six miles. He was found six hours later by a relief party when their Husky spotted his exposed foot under a rock.
Unable to walk for the next five months, Davidson was evacuated. During his exit he met a Brooklyn Journalist and pestered him until he agreed to send him to the Far East to report on the Sino- Japanese war. He was tipped in Japan that Formosa (Taiwan) was the next point of action. So Davidson went as the only journalist to Formosa and attached himself to the Chinese Army. When the Japanese army arrived and camped 10 miles outside Taipei, Davidson and two companions, armed with revolvers and a white flag walked to the Japanese camp and convinced them to enter the city. Returning early the next morning they sent a crier with a gong through the streets rumoring the arrival of a massive Japanese force. The Chinese soldiers fled, turning the City of Taipei over to the Japanese without the loss of a man, although outnumbered one hundred to one.
Davidson then went on to an illustrious career as a US Consul in Formosa, Manchuria, and Shanghai. He spent six months surveying the new Trans Siberian Railway in 1903. He also wrote the still classic text “Formosa: Past and Present” for which he received an FRGS in 1903.
Born in Minnesota in 1872, Davidson followed his family’s financial interests in banking and investments to Winnipeg (1906) and Calgary (1907). He and his partners bought and subdivided three-quarters of a million acres of CPR lands around Beiseker and east of the C&E Trail. He took his profits and bought into the Crown Lumber Company. By 1912 it was the largest in Western Canada.
DAVIDSON AND ROTARY
In 1914 Davidson joined the new Rotary Club of Calgary. Following WWI he became the President of the Calgary Rotary Club (1919), a member of the Rotary International on Extension Committee (1920-6), and the 3rd Vice-President of Rotary (1926) before being asked to make a second international chartering trip on behalf of Rotary.
The first trip was made in 1921 to start Rotary in Australia and New Zealand. The second lasted thirty-two months when he chartered twenty-three clubs in twelve different countries and linked Rotary Clubs from Europe to Japan.
He came home to a hero’s welcome. Unfortunately he was in failing health. James Wheeler Davidson passed away on July 18, 1933, at the age of 61.
DAVIDSON AND THE ROCKIES
Davidson does have a Rocky Mountain connection. His attachment to the Rockies was to the valleys and not the peaks. His focus was on improving roads and road access to Banff and developing Banff as a tourist destination point. This was an off shoot to his grand plan to create the “Sunshine Trail” from Calgary to Salt Lake City. He saw the advantages for American tourists if a good road could be extended from Calgary to Banff, Lake Louise and Windermere. His vision was a circle route for American tourists coming to Calgary then on to Banff, Windermere, Fort Macleod or Idaho. He is reputed to have driven the first car into Lake Louise. He did drive the second car into Shanghai, China in 1905.
He probably had his plan in mind when he chartered the Banff Rotary Club during his District #4 Rotary Governorship year in 1923/4. The next year (1925) he formed the Calgary/Banff Tourist Development Association. It included Norman Luxton, Byron Harmon, Jim Brewster and Calgary Mayor Webster. He also was quoted as thinking how wonderful it would be if there were a cog railway partway up Mount Assiniboine. That followed his trip to the Alps and the Matterhorn.
CLIMBING MOUNT DAVIDSON
We made our first reconnoitering trip to Mount Davidson on April 22, 2003. The mountain is best reached from the Alberta side by driving thirty-five kilometers north on Highway 40 (the Forestry Trunk road) from Highway 1A west of Cochrane. At that point turn left or west on the Waiparous Creek Road and follow it for the next seventeen kilometers. That brings one to the first major creek crossing. Four by fours are mandatory to make the crossing and drive five kilometers before reaching the abrupt onset of the Rockies. A further 4-6 kilometer drive is possible if one has a very high four by four or a Jeep. The road ends at that point and is followed by seven kilometers of bushwhacking. The best route up the creek is on the south or left side of the valley. In the upper reaches the creek bifurcates. Taking the right or northwest tributary and following it for another 1,000 feet or one kilometer to the 6500 foot meadow brings one to a very wide open and beautiful pristine cirque.
On June 28th Lou Sherman, my son Geoffrey and I hiked from 8:00 am to 1:00 pm on a beautiful blue skied day, from the major creek crossing to the cirque. We argued over lunch how to ascend the rock bands that were immediately north of us. If we could reach the saddle 1,200 feet above us, then it was a walk up the back or west side much like the backside of Mount Rundle.
The rock bands proved navigable. After an hour switchbacking through them we reached the saddle. Another forty minutes were required for the last 400 feet to a point just short of the summit. It afforded a beautiful view of Red Deer and Calgary. Black Rock Mountain was very prominent to the southeast. Straight south was the east face of Devil's Head.
With the next trip in mind we noticed on the way down that there was a scree slope at the bottom of the cliff face, of the mountain immediately WSW of Mount Davidson. We couldn’t see all of it but it angled down to a corner and from there, seemed to follow a hidden scree run down to the cirque from which we had started.
A HIGH ROTARY MEETING
The next visit was on August 2nd. Twenty-five Rotarians, friends and family members from five Clubs joined the team. Twenty of the summiters helicoptered over the 11 miles and were deposited at the cirque at 9:00 AM. Another five hiked the upper Waiparous Creek. The previously obscured route was visible. It looked promising and didn’t require route picking through the bands.
A group of nine team members, for medical reasons were flown to the saddle and climbed Mount Davidson from there. This group included James Wheeler Davidson’s Grandson, Don Abramson. He was recovering from a serious ski accident with a fracture of his left leg four months prior. Accompanied by his son Shane and more than motivated, Mr. Abramson took the lead from the saddle and never relinquished it. He arrived at the Summit first. Then came 22 of the 24 summiteers up from the cirque and the saddle to the summit. Unfortunately, haze from the week long Crowsnest Pass forest fire and from the new Burnt Timber fire obscured the horizon.
Once everyone was on top there was a formal noon Rotary meeting. It included building the Cairn; a dedication ceremony to Jim Davidson; the depositing of a capsule with Club banners and Davidson memorabilia underneath the cairn; the insertion of a capsule into the Cairn for subsequent summiters to sign; the presentation of Mount Davidson hats and medals; a champagne ceremony; a christening of the Cairn with flowers, and a prayer for those present and those not.
Calls were made or attempted by cellular satellite phone to Rotarians and others interested in the ascent, from Australia (Royce Abbey, Past RI President) and Thailand (Bhichai Rattakul, RI 2002/3 President) to Edmonton (Mr. “AMA” George McDonald) and Calgary (Marmie Hess). Ms. Hess is the only living person who knew James Wheeler Davidson.
The descent was uneventful and followed the same route as the ascent back to the cirque. Two of the ascent team hiked out. The remaining members departed by helicopter and then drove out for a steak dinner and libations at the Ghost River Campground.
With Alberta and Rotary celebrating their 100th Anniversaries in 2005, another ascent of Mount Davidson is planned to recognize those significant milestones.
[courtesy Robert Lampard; December, 2003]