Book Review: Banff & Lake Louise History Explorer – An Altitude SuperGuide by Ernie Lakusta

In early May, 2015, SPHP’s spouse presented SPHP with the book Banff & Lake Louise History Explorer – An Altitude SuperGuide by Ernie Lakusta as a gift.  This 160 page book was published in 2004 by Altitude Publishing Canada Ltd., The Canadian Rockies, 1500 Railway Avenue, Canmore, Alberta T1W 1P6.  ISBN  1-55153-636-6 (pbk.)

Lupe and SPHP spent much of Lupe’s 2013 & 2014 summer Dingo Vacations in the spectacular Canadian Rockies.  So SPHP was excited to have the opportunity to learn more about the region when SPHP received the Banff & Lake Louise History Explorer – An Altitude SuperGuide by Ernie Lakusta as a gift.

SPHP wasn’t exactly sure what the book was going to be about, but it turns out the title accurately describes it as a history explorer.  This is not a book for anyone looking for hiking/backpacking trails or mountaineering information for planning new excursions into the Canadian wilderness.  It is a book for anyone interested in the history of the exploration of the Banff and Lake Louise areas.

The Banff & Lake Louise History Explorer – An Altitude SuperGuide starts with some of what little is known about early settlement of the region by prehistoric peoples, but mainly deals with the history of exploration by those of European descent starting with the Palliser Expedition led by Captain John Palliser in 1858.  The book features many black and white photos of explorers, climbers, guides, politicians, and businessmen important during the frontier days and early development of the area.

The book’s chapters are organized mainly by geographical regions in and around Banff and Lake Louise.  There are maps showing the locations of many mountain peaks, rivers, lakes and glaciers.  In addition to the historical black and white photos, which focus mainly on individuals, there are many color photographs.  The color photographs mostly feature various mountain peaks, but also include waterfalls, lakes, rivers, glaciers, wildlife and other points of interest.  Within each region’s chapter, each of the most prominent mountains has a write-up of its own giving the summit elevation and anywhere from a paragraph to a page of historical information about the peak.

At the end of the book are a chronology, references, and an index.  The references list many sources of more detailed information which might be of interest to the reader.

SPHP enjoyed reading the many stories in Banff & Lake Louise History Explorer – An Altitude SuperGuide about the historical personalities and their connections to the mountains.  (SPHP was a little disappointed that Bill Peyto was not mentioned.)  SPHP especially enjoyed the color photographs and write ups on mountains Lupe and SPHP have seen during Lupe’s two trips to the Canadian Rockies.  Although the book contains no information on specific trails for present day exploring, SPHP did get some ideas on new places Lupe might want to check out the next time she and SPHP get back to the Canadian Rockies.

Overall, the Banff & Lake Louise History Explorer – An Altitude SuperGuide is an excellent concise introduction to the general history of the early exploration and settlement of the Canadian Rockies.  Reading it and seeing all the beautiful mountain photographs made SPHP eager to return to the Canadian Rockies with Lupe.  This book is a great souvenir of the Canadian Rockies, but if you want to get out and explore them you will need more detailed information from other sources.  The Banff & Lake Louise History Explorer – An Altitude SuperGuide can, however, give you ideas on where you might like to go.

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Book Review: Ain’t it Hell, Bill Peyto’s Mountain Journal

A spring snowstorm hit the Black Hills, SD on May 9-10, 2015 putting Lupe’s planned Expedition No. 129 on hold.  The G6 wasn’t going anywhere in this weather.  Lupe’s options were down to romping around in the snow in the back yard, attacking the snow shovel when SPHP went out to shovel the walk out front, or snoozing and warming herself by the fire in the fireplace.  She did some of each.

Lupe’s back yard on May 10, 2015.

Lupe 5-10-15

So instead of a trip report on Lupe’s postponed Expedition No. 129, it is time for a book review!  SPHP’s spouse bought and gave the paperback book “Ain’t it Hell, Bill Peyto’s Mountain Journal” to SPHP while on vacation in the Canadian Rockies in July, 2003.  The edition SPHP has is the 3rd printing, 2001 (ISBN 0-9699732-0-9) and says it is available from EJH Literary Enterprises in Banff, Canada.  The book was originally copyrighted in 1995 by author E. J. Hart.

Ain’t it Hell is largely based on a journal Bill Peyto kept only sporadically from 1895 to 1921.  Hart gathered additional information from many sources; “not enough for that biography, but plenty for a work of historical fiction using the known facts as a basis around which to structure the story.  Ain’t it Hell is Bill’s story, as closely as I can recreate it over 50 years after his death.”

Banff where Bill Peyto used to have his guide and outfitting business is now an upscale tourist destination.
Banff was a wilderness community served by the Canadian Pacific Railroad back in the 1890’s when Bill Peyto used to have his guide and outfitting business here on the Bow River.  Now Banff is an upscale tourist destination.  This photo looks N along Banff Avenue from just S of the bridge over the Bow River towards downtown and Cascade Mountain.

Ebenezer William Peyto was born in England on February 14, 1869.  In early 1887 he left England, and by late March or April of that year was working for the Canadian Pacific Railroad near Kicking Horse Pass in the Canadian Rockies.  From then on “Wild Bill” Peyto spent most of his rough and varied life in the Canadian Rockies.

The Banff Springs Hotel was built in 1887-1888 by the Canadian Pacific Railroad to attract tourists to the Canadian Rockies.
The Banff Springs Hotel was built in 1887-1888 by the Canadian Pacific Railroad to attract tourists to the Canadian Rockies.

He soon knew as much or more about the mountains as almost anyone else around.  Bill Peyto’s usual base of operations was Banff, and he became Banff’s most legendary mountain man.  Bill Peyto was a hunter and trapper, prospector, guide and outfitter.  Eventually he became one of the early wardens for the national park service.  After marrying his first wife, Emily, Bill built a small cabin for her in town along the Bow River.  He continued to spend a lot of time, though, at his other hideouts in the mountains, most notably one near a copper mining claim in an area he called the “Bookrest”.

Lupe at the Banff Springs Hotel in July, 2013
Lupe at the Banff Springs Hotel in July, 2013

Prior to the 1890’s, many of the peaks of the Canadian Rockies had never been climbed.  Tourists and alpinists were just starting to arrive on the scene in significant numbers.  Bill Peyto’s initial fame grew mostly out of his work as a guide and outfitter for climbers like Walter Wilcox, Dr. J. Norman Collie, Edward Whymper, and Reverend James Outram who either were or would become famous mountaineers.  Many years later, as a park warden, Bill Peyto helped find and rescue Mrs. Stone alive from a ledge on the slopes of Mt. Eon eight days after her husband, Dr. Winthrop Stone, fell to his death.

Banff Park and Cascade Mountain, July 2013
Banff Park and Cascade Mountain (9,836 ft.), July 2013
Lupe in Banff Park
Lupe in Banff Park, July 2014
Lupe in Banff Park, July 2014
Lupe in Banff Park, July 2014

Twice Bill Peyto left Banff and the Canadian Rockies to go to war on behalf of the British Empire.  In 1900, he was wounded fighting the Boers in South Africa.  Despite being 46 years old, in 1915 he enlisted again.  By 1916 he wound up as a machine gunner fighting the Germans in Europe during WWI.  Bill tried to enlist a third time in Calgary following the outbreak of WWII, but was turned down at over 70 years old.

Lupe at Bow Falls just downstream from Banff in July, 2013.
Lupe at Bow Falls just downstream from Banff in July, 2013.

Ain’t it Hell is full of stories from Bill Peyto’s life.  Once he brought a live lynx into a bar in Banff.  After his first wife passed away, a photo of Bill that won an award at the Toronto Fair eventually brought him a second wife.  He slept outside in minus 30 degree weather to keep from getting soft.  Ain’t it Hell is also full of references to famous mountains, lakes, and rivers in the Canadian Rockies and to his experiences dealing with climbers, explorers, other guides, prospectors, businessmen, and politicians of the age.

The tack storage building Bill Peyto owned currently on the grounds of the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies in Banff.
Bill Peyto’s storage building on the grounds of the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies in Banff.  His old cabin is also there near by, and can be toured.

Bill’s life was not easy.  The mountains were wild and spectacularly beautiful, but there were also very real dangers and almost none of the amenities providing the comforts of life we take for granted now.  He was a tough guy and frequently tough to get along with, living in a time and place where self-reliance was necessary to survive.

Bill Peyto died of cancer on March 24, 1943 at the age of 74.  He is buried in Banff Cemetery next his first wife, Emily.  Bill Peyto’s cabin and a small log storage building he used to own have been moved from their original locations along the Bow River to the grounds of the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies in Banff.  Bill Peyto is also commemorated by a restaurant named Wild Bill’s Legendary Saloon in Banff.  Near Lake Louise, is Bill Peyto’s Café at the International Hostel and Alpine Center.

However, it seems likely the tributes that would have pleased Bill Peyto most are farther N.  Along Icefields Parkway No. 93, on the way from Lake Louise to Jasper, is Bow Pass a few kilometers N of Bow Lake.  Just to the W of Bow Pass is Peyto Lake, fed by the melt waters of the Peyto Glacier coming down from the Wapta Icefield below Peyto Peak.

Lupe at Peyto Lake 7-28-14
Lupe at Peyto Lake 7-28-14

At 224 pages including the introduction and epilogue, Ain’t it Hell is a pretty easy, quick and fun read.  SPHP has read Ain’t it Hell several times over the years, and each time gets more out of it.  On her summer vacations in 2013 and 2014, Lupe went to see quite a few of the lakes, rivers, mountains and passes mentioned in the book.  Having been there with Lupe, it is even more fun to read about the events that once took place in the beautiful and dramatic locations mentioned in Ain’t it Hell.

Peyto Lake
This view of Peyto Lake is from a lookout deck accessible by a relatively short paved trail.  The turnoff to the trailhead parking lot is at Bow Pass on the W side of the Icefields Parkway Hwy No. 93 a few kilometers N of Bow Lake and the Crowfoot Glacier.

Is Ain’t it Hell a book you might enjoy?  Your reaction to the following May 15, 1910 entry from Bill Peyto’s mountain journal featured on the back cover of Ain’t it Hell is probably a good indication:

“I headed downslope to where the cubs were feeding and came up at them, hoping to scare them into one or another of my mining shafts for protection.  It worked perfectly, as they ran for the nearest dark hole, and I went in with my ropes on the ready to see if I could catch one.  I could hear the little fellows squealing in the dark and I paused a moment to let my eyes adjust.  Just then I heard a tremendous roar and knew the sow was coming on the run looking for her wayward offspring.  It didn’t take her a moment to pick up the scent and she headed straight for the mouth of the shaft bent on destruction.  I knew the jig was up for sure if I lost my head and so very deliberately drew the Colt from my belt and waited for her to find us out …”

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Book Review: The River of Doubt – Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey

The River of Doubt – Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey by Candice Millard, historian and former writer and editor for National Geographic, was originally published in hardcover by Doubleday in 2005.  The paperback edition shown in the photo above was published by Broadway Books, an imprint of The Doubleday Broadway Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc.

101 years ago today, on February 27, 1914, former U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt stepped into one of 7 heavy dugout canoes in the jungles of Brazil and set out to explore a river known only to native tribes, the Rio da Duvida (River of Doubt).  It was a little over a year since his stinging election defeat seeking a 3rd term as U.S. President in the fall of 1912, this time as the candidate of the newly formed Bull Moose (Progressive) Party.

The great Age of Exploration was virtually over.  In 1909, American Robert Perry had reached the North Pole.  In late December, 1911, Norwegian Roald Amundsen had beaten the ill-fated British explorer and hero Robert Scott to the South Pole.  Yet Roosevelt, famous for his daring, energy, and vitality, still dreamed of completing a journey of scientific and geographic importance.

Accompanying Roosevelt were 3 Brazilians, 2 Americans, and a workforce of 16 Brazilian camaradas.  The Brazilian explorers included co-commander Colonel Candido Mareno da Silva Rondon, heroic commander of Brazil’s Strategic Telegraph Commission; military engineer and surveyor Lieutenant Joao Salustiano Lyra; and Dr. Jose Cajazeira.  The Americans included naturalist George Cherrie and Roosevelt’s own son, Kermit Roosevelt.

Colonel Rondon had discovered and named the Rio da Duvida 5 years earlier, when he had stumbled onto its source while on a telegraph line expedition in the Brazilian highlands.  Even he had no clear idea where the river went.  He suspected it might flow into the Madeira, the principal tributary of the Amazon.  The Madeira itself is 2,000 miles long and has a flow equal to that of the Congo, the 2nd largest river in the world by volume.  If Rondon was right, Roosevelt’s expedition would place on the Brazilian map a river nearly 1,000 miles long through a huge mysterious and hitherto uncharted region.

It is difficult, if not impossible, to envision any modern high-ranking American official, much less a President, having the desire or will to undertake such an arduous and perilous journey.  Teddy Roosevelt’s expedition faced rapids, waterfalls, wild animals, tropical diseases, potentially hostile natives, deadly in-fighting, exhaustion and starvation.  All these dangers were personally braved by each and every member of the expedition for 2 entire months while completely cut off from any contact with, or hope of assistance from, the outside world.

Candice Millard’s book is an exciting, fast-paced read.  The River of Doubt is also well-documented, beautifully written, and full of surprising information.  I had never heard anything about this expedition before.  The most disappointing thing about The River of Doubt was how quickly it was over.  In the end, it was a bold, adventurous, but also sad tale that left me wanting more.  Five stars and two thumbs up!  – SPHP

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