A week on BC’s Mummery Glacier: Peaks and Plants Galore

Aug 7 – 14, 2021 at the Alpine Club of Canada’s General Mountaineering Camp

As I get older I often feel whatever meager mountaineering skills I ever possessed – or thought I possessed – are all too quickly disappearing in the rear view mirror. But, damn it, I still love to be up high in the mountains on a bluebird day. So off I went to the ACC’s 2021 General Mountaineering Camp above the Mummery Glacier in BC’s stunning Rocky Mountains. It wasn’t my first GMC – I’ve been to three others – but always to work with university students. This was my first time as a full-on guest with nothing to do but put a bit of rock, ice, and snow under my boots and please myself.  

Map of Mummery Glacier 2021 GMC. Scale 1:50,000. Data layers: ©NRCAN; Gaia Topo (meters): ©Gaia GPS; OpenstreetMap. Generated by Mary Sanseverino, Jan 31, 2022. Using: Gaia GPS, Trailbehind Inc.; Adobe Photoshop 23.1.1.
Snow-school on the Mummery Glacier

Mary at “snow school” on the Mummery Glacier.

I will admit to some trepidation. I had a hip replacement in 2019 and found it took me longer than I expected to get back into some semblance of “mountaineering” form. I was worried I might be a liability for any team that had me on it. I’m pleased to report I wasn’t looked upon as the weakest link. I guess some of the old tricks of the glacier-travel-trade stood me in good stead! Indeed, the leadership at this camp was so outstanding I don’t believe anyone ever felt like a liability.

That said, I wasn’t out every day bagging big peaks because I also wanted to do a little “citizen science” exploring some of the biotic communities in this remote area. We mountaineers often find ourselves moving through landscapes that most people can only dream of. We get to see rare and endangered species in their natural habitats; to observe abundance, diversity, and change in unique places that are little-travelled. I find it personally very satisfying to spend a bit of my mountain time looking closely at the plants and animals that frequent these remote areas.

Today, through the use of applications like iNaturalist (www.inaturalist.org), we can use GPS-enabled smartphones to quickly and easily capture observations and submit them to a scientifically curated global database of the natural world. If you can point a camera you can help extend scientific knowledge of the world at your feet. I took the opportunity to do just that while at the Mummery Glacier GMC.

The Mummery Glacier with Mt. Poland to the far left, the Mummery massif in the centre, Mt. Karakal just right of centre (tops in the sun), Jones Peak (in shadow), Nanga Parbat Mtn, Gilgit Mtn, and the top of Mt. Helmer just peeking out on the far right. Mahoskus Peak in hidden between Nanga Parbat and Jones.

Before showing some of the more interesting iNaturalist finds let me take a moment to set the scene. Located about 45 km almost due north of Golden BC, the 2021 GMC base camp (approx. 2200 m) was situated on a small plateau at the top of Mummery Creek. The camp was about 150 metres away from the mighty Mummery Glacier behind a tall lateral moraine. The glacier was very active. Ice fall from far across the valley boomed out most evenings and in the deep still of the night you could hear the ice creak and groan as it moved inexorably downslope.  

As many will recall, the summer of 2021 in BC was full of heat, smoke, and fire, so I didn’t hold out much hope for good views from any of our GMC climbs. In fact, given the grim conditions on the morning we flew in I was worried that some days might be too smoky to do anything but hang out in camp. Never have I been happier to be wrong. We did get a spot or two of rain, but more importantly the wind changed direction early on and cleared the smoke from our skies. We had bluebird conditions for a good part of the week! The day we moved out was the day the smoke moved back in.

Looking at the Mummery Group from Amiskwi Pass: A.O. Wheeler, 1917. Our 2021 GMC location would be under a lot of ice if we held it back then! Photo courtesy of Library and Archives Canada / Bibliothèque et Archives Canada, and the Mountain Legacy Project.

As with most mountains in the Canadian cordillera I’m always interested in seeing historic images of the area before I visit. For some years now this has been part of my repeat photography research with the Mountain Legacy Project (mountainlegacy.ca) at UVic. I love looking at these extraordinary images, thinking about how they were made and what mountain travel must have been like before the advent of good roads, maintained trails, and helicopters.

Arthur Wheeler, co-founder of the Alpine Club of Canada, was a surveyor and topographic map maker. He and his team were in this area in 1917 and 18 taking black and white glass plate photos of these mountains. The images would be used to produce topographic maps of the area. The image featured here was taken in 1917 from above Amiskwi Pass. It looks over the Blaeberry River toward the Mummery group, the Mummery Glacier, and peaks along the BC/Alberta border. The station where the panorama was taken, as well as its approximate field of view, is on the map.

Unfortunately, Mountain Legacy doesn’t have a repeat of this photo yet. But, on our flight in to camp we could easily see how much loss of ice and snow this area has undergone. Back in Wheeler’s day glaciers and icefields like this made for easier access to remote peaks. Today climate change and glacial recession has made this type of access quite a bit more difficult.  

Over the course of a week, what with “snow school” on the first day and a special glacier walk given later in the week by one of our guides, I covered pretty much the entire of the Mummery Glacier from toe to upper accumulation zone. I did Mt. Barlow with a big team early in the week, and went out with three other ladies and a guide to climb Mahoskus Peak toward the end of the trip. The views from here were particularly grand.

Aug 12, 2021: The views from Mahoskus Peak looking eastward.
Mary taking some "hydro-therapy"

Mary enjoying some well-deserved “hydro-therapy”. Photo by Roger Taylor.

As well as making many new friends, another treat was to spend time with ACC-VI friends Peggy and Roger Taylor who were at the GMC during the same week as me. Roger – always one for finding the best water-based adventures on any mountain – discovered “The Spa” (aka Mummery Creek) and several “hydrologic treatments” were taken by the three of us.

It took me more than a day to do a plant census of the area along the eastern side of the Mummery Glacier. There I was, happily traversing the land with radio in one hand, iNaturalist in the other, and “real” camera in my backpack. I recorded 100 observations encompassing 42 different species. The Paintbrushes were outstanding, but my favourite flowering plants were the tiny Fourpart Gentians. As always I was impressed with the tenacity of plants to grow in the harshest of conditions. Much of this landscape has only recently been exposed due to glacial recession, yet every little patch of soil seemed ablaze with life.

One of the benefits of using a tool like iNaturalist is the ability to aggregate data into groups and publish it for anyone to see and use. As I was working with my observations I noticed four other climbers had also submitted data from the same area. It turns out they attended earlier GMC weeks. I was able to put my data together with theirs into the Mummery Glacier GMC 2021 project. It is available for anyone with an Internet connection to access.

In total we had 189 observations covering 70 species. Our efforts have provided research-grade information about biotic communities in the Mummery Group to scientists, naturalists, students, etc. And, in undertaking this kind of study we follow in the footsteps of many Alpine Club of Canada members who, especially in the early decades of the Club, took time out of their mountaineering activities to document the natural world around them.

All in all a grand week spent high in the Canadian Rockies: great friends, great climbing, great exploring, and the great outdoors – sign me up for more!!

More photos

Blue ice

1 thought on “A week on BC’s Mummery Glacier: Peaks and Plants Galore

  1. That paintbrush is just stunning! I have a soft spot for all gentians so I’m with you on the four-part gentian. It looks very much like Autumn gentian and I think I would have assumed that’s what they were. Shows I should really make use of iNaturalist… (We saw so many on one section of the Rockwall in 2020 – they were so tiny and so easily missed that you didn’t dare step off the trail.) We’re not mountaineers but I have to admit that attending one of the GMCs does look like fun…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s