As a teenager growing up in Kimberley, B.C., filmmaker Pat Morrow read one of the great classics of Canadian mountaineering literature, Where the Clouds Can Go, the autobiography of Conrad Kain, which was compiled from Kain’s diaries and other writings after his death in 1934.
Born in Austria in 1883, Kain’s father died when he was only nine, forcing him to leave school at 14 to support his family. He worked as a goatherd and quarryman, but soon followed his love of the mountains, beginning his guiding career in 1904. Before long he was regarded as one of Europe’s finest mountain guides, and in 1909 he accepted an invitation to guide in Canada at the Alpine Club of Canada’s 1909 Lake O’Hara Camp — the first guide ever hired by the ACC.
Although he spent three seasons guiding in New Zealand, where he made 29 first ascents, Kain chose to make Canada home, settling in the hamlet of Wilmer in the Columbia River Valley. It was also in Canada that Kain made his most impressive climbs, particularly his now legendary first ascents of Mount Robson in 1913, and in 1916, Bugaboo Spire and Mount Louis in the Bow Valley region of Banff National Park. Among the hundreds of Canadian mountains he guided clients up, 50 were first ascents, and many set new international guiding standards. In 1910, Kain started the Canadian Rockies’ first ski club in Banff.
“I’m a great admirer of his attitude toward the mountains,” Morrow said. “For him it was all about sharing, he made all his first ascents with clients.”
That life-long admiration, coupled with Morrow’s relocation to Wilmer (a hamlet of about 120 homes), last August after 20 years as a Canmore resident, resulted in perfect timing for him to become involved with the Conrad Kain Centennial Society.
Formed in 2004, the CKCS came together as fans of Kain’s, including several mountain guides, decided to mark the occasion of his arrival in Canada, and to celebrate his legacy of honesty, decency, respect and love for the mountain wilderness.
Kicking off the celebrations, which are planned to take place at intervals over the next few years leading to the centennials of some notable first ascents, the CKCS is hosting the first Conrad Kain Mountain Film Night in Invermere, B.C., just south of Wilmer, on Friday, April 4.
In addition to a selection of films from the 2008 Vancouver International Mountain Film Festival Tour, the event will include the unveiling of a new climbing wall at Invermere’s J.A. Laird School, and presentations on future events and one on Kain’s life by CKCS chair Hermann Mauthner.