Peak Finder

Photo: Mount Rae from the south at the Storm Creek Bridge on Highway #40

Mount Rae

  • 3218 m (10,558ft)
  • Naming History
50.6228N -114.975W
Located in the upper Elbow River and Pocaterra Creek valleys; south buttress of Elpoca Pass

Range: Misty
Province: Alberta
Park: Kananaskis
Headwater: Bow
Major Valley: Highwood
Visible from Highway: 40S, 742
Year Named: 1859
Named by: John Palliser
Named for: Rae, John (Dr. John Rae, while in the employ of the Hudson's Bay Company, conducted four major expeditions into the uncharted Canadian Arctic.)

Mount Rae, is the northernmost mountain of the Misty Range. Below its northern slopes, which feature a small glacier, lies Elbow Lake, the source of the Elbow River.

At 3218 metres, this massive, block-shaped mountain is the highest which may be seen from the prairies. Although we can only see the upper portions of its steep eastern cliffs from the east, a distinctive "notch" is very apparent from Calgary and areas to the south. The triangular shaped peak is on the northwestern corner of the mountain.

During the 1940's Don King and a group of friends from High River explored and climbed in the Highwood and Sheep Valleys. They began a tradition, which lasted for several summers, of camping on the summit of a mountain west of their home town and, at a pre-arranged time and date, shooting flares into the night sky. After two unsuccessful attempts from the east in two previous summers, the group was successful in 1953, reaching the summit by what is now known as Ptarmigan Cirque. The road over Highwood Pass had been built the previous summer. A cairn without record was found at the top.

The ridge connecting Mount Rae and Mount Arethusa has been unofficially named King Ridge to honour Don and his friends and their explorations in the Misty Range.

Born in 1813 in the Orkney Islands, John Rae's childhood experiences in that challenging environment likely contributed to his success in Arctic exploration. Later in his youth he lived in Newfoundland where he learned boating, shooting, and fishing. After becoming a medical doctor, he returned to Canada in 1833 to work with the Hudson's Bay Company, spending ten years as the surgeon at Moose Bay. Living in the Canadian wilderness, he became legendary as a hunter and snowshoer prior to undertaking exploration in the Canadian Arctic.

In 1846, Dr. Rae was chosen to undertake the final stage of surveying the Arctic coast. He conducted four major expeditions into the uncharted Canadian Arctic between the years 1846 and 1854, and in the course of these journeys travelled vast distances by canoe, small boat, dogsled, snowshoe and on foot. Whereas other explorers of the era claimed that, "the objective of polar explorations is to explore properly and not to evade the hazards of the game through the vulgar subterfuge of going native," John Rae learned from the aboriginal people and adapted to the Inuit techniques of living off the land. He listened carefully and learned such things as how to build an igloo and live off the land during his travels. After acquiring these skills he became the first European to survive and Arctic winter while living solely off the land. His stamina was said to have been phenomenal.

During the course of his Arctic expeditions, Rae travelled an incredible 10,500 km on foot an sailed and additional 10,700 km in small boats.

His greatest accomplishment in the Arctic was establishing the final link (Rae Strait) in the long searched for Northwest Passage.

During 1853-1854 Dr. Rae completed his final Arctic journey, during which he hoped to uncover John Franklin's fate and claim the 20,000 pound reward for doing so. Near Pelly Bay, on the east side of the Boothia Peninsula, he met a solitary Inuit who had first hand information. Rae was told that 35 to 40 white men had starved to death west of a large river ten to twelve days from Pelly Bay. After questioning other Inuit, Rae learned that the white men had last been seen travelling south over the ice and later that year the graves of some of them had been seen. Rae returned with some articles that the Inuit had collected, including a silver plate marked with Franklin's name.

When Rae returned to Britain with the news of Sir John Franklin's fate, including his belief that the expedition's members had ended their days eating human flesh, he was not well received. Victorian Britain seemed unwilling to accept that fact that Franklin had failed, particularly on the word of the natives. In fact, Franklin's wife, Lady Jane, used her influence to turn pubic opinion against Rae and for a time deprived him of his proper place in the history of the Canadian Arctic. When it was proved later that Rae's reports were accurate, the British admiralty reluctantly agreed to pay Rae a portion of the reward money.

A peak in Nunavut (80? 53' 00" - 68? 04' 00") also honours John Rae.

Although official records show that Mount Rae was named by James Hector, this seems unlikely. Hector's explorations were considerably north of Mount Rae and he would have never seen the mountain. On the other hand, John Palliser would certainly have noticed the peak as he travelled through the Kananaskis Lakes area in 1858.

As well, there is no record of James Hector ever meeting John Rae whereas Joyce McCart (who is currently researching a book regarding the Palliser Expedition) advises that Palliser actually visited Dr. Rae in Hamilton during the winter of 1857/58. Palliser was likely very impressed with Rae's accomplishments and decided to honour him in this way.

Rae lived in Hamilton, Ontario from 1857 until 1859 and was married in Toronto in 1860. His last major expedition was one that involved the Canadian Rockies. In 1864 he travelled from the Red River settlement, through the mountains to the Pacific in order to survey a route for a proposed telegraph line. He travelled through the Yellowhead Pass during August and eventually reaching Victoria on September 28th.

William Barr, a Canadian historian, recently compared Rae's trip through the mountains with that of Milton and Cheadle's trip taken the previous year. Making the point that William Fitzwilliam (Viscount Milton) and Cheadle were not nearly as capable travellers as John Rae, he wrote, "Rae, the consummate traveller, described his workmanlike trip -a journey that involved no serous mishaps or accidents -in a straight-forward, matter-of-fact manner. There were no dramatic accidents or even incidents, and certainly nothing remotely comparable to Milton and Cheadle's nightmare journey from Tete Jaune Cache south to Kamloops during which the entire party came close to starving. In short, Rae's journey was precisely what one would have expected of him. And, as one would also expect of him, he maintained his reputation as a traveller 'sans pareil.'" [McKoogan]

[Additional Information: "Fatal Passages -The Untold Story of John Rae, The Arctic Adventurer Who Discovered the Fate of Franklin" by Ken McGoogan. In writing the biography Mr. McGoogan made extensive use of Rae's 820 page diary.]

Photo: Looking southwest to Mount Rae from Highway #66

Looking south-southeast to Mount Rae from the upper Elbow Valley

Looking east to Mount Rae from Highway #2

Photo: Mount Rae from the northwest on Piper Pass

Looking south-southeast to Mount Rae (courtesy Brenda Everitt)

Looking north-northwest to Mount Rae from Mount Lipsett

Looking east-southeast to Mount Rae from Mount Indefatigable Ridge

Looking southeast to Mount Tyrwhitt from Mount Indefatigable Ridge