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Museum Musings: Mountain mappers, revisited

From recruitment to expertise, Carter and Fyles grew into mountaineering luminaries
The Table, also known as Table Mountain, in Garibaldi Provincial Park.

Neal Carter started climbing mountains at 15 years old, after a trip up Grouse Mountain with his uncle. Over the next few years, he continued exploring the Grouse area on his own. When he met Tom Fyles, a Vancouver postman and member of the BC Mountaineering Club (BCMC), in 1920, he was introduced to a world of mountaineering possibilities. Fyles, along with fellow mountaineer Mickey Dodds, took Carter on a trip up Goat Mountain. There, they showed Carter the mountains the club was exploring, as well as other areas of interest. Carter joined the club that week and became one of its regulars.

By joining the club and climbing with experienced mountaineers, Carter learned quickly about solid mountaineering techniques—and the associated risks. On a trip he took with Fyles up Cathedral Mountain, he slipped as he was summiting the mountain, a near-accident that taught him about the value of caution. It did not, however, deter him from building his mountaineering career and becoming a leader within the community.

Fyles had a similar introduction to the BCMC. Moving to Vancouver from England in 1910, he was immediately awestruck by the mountains, but did not know how to “get there.” Two years later, after a failed attempt to find a way to the trails, he met a member of the BCMC at the post office where he worked. He took Fyles up to the Grouse Mountain cabin, and that was it; Fyles joined the BCMC. Though it was an adjustment at first—he had never camped before and didn’t know what equipment to bring—he was a naturally talented climber and quickly became an experienced leader.

A few years after Fyles joined the BCMC, he served as a committee member, then became their climbing director for nine years, until he left the club in 1926. He became synonymous with the BCMC, leading several expeditions and successful ascents. Fyles also solo-ascended some difficult climbs, including The Table. Though not a recommended route today, to an early 20th-century mountaineer, it was a welcome challenge.

After the BCMC first encountered The Table in 1914, it was closely studied and was of particular interest to Fyles. A few years later, Fyles and two other members made a trip out to attempt the summit. He led more trips to The Table in the following years, including one with Carter in 1922 that was the second known ascent of the extraordinary, flat-topped mountain.

“That’s one mountain that I never want to climb again!” Carter was reported to have said. “The only consolation was that it was in the fog, so we couldn’t see how far the drop below us was as we three clung to the loose chunks of rock that kept threatening to pull out of the sheer wall.”

Though Fyles eventually left the BCMC, he continued his mountaineering career through the Alpine Club of Canada. He and Carter were on many expeditions together, including the attempt on Mount Waddington in 1934, when they lost their friend, Alec Dalgleish.

Many years later, Carter successfully advocated for a mountain in Bella Coola to be named in honour of Fyles.

Mapping the Mountains, the Whistler Museum’s latest temporary exhibit telling the story of the 1923 Carter/Townsend expedition of our local mountains, ends Nov. 14.

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