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Feature - Mountain perspectives from Rogers Pass

Celebrating the 2002 International Year of Mountains at the birthplace of North American mountaineering


Strange things happen when you hang out in the high mountains. I'm sitting on a rocky outcrop atop Abbott Ridge in Glacier National Park when I meet a Canadian mountaineering legend. Pat Morrow and his wife, Baiba, appear - or at least it seems so - out of thin air.

Morrow is one of the first Canadian climbers to summit Mount Everest. He is also the first person to climb the highest summits on each of the Earth's seven continents. He is now a renowned outdoor photographer and filmmaker.

While we sit there drinking in the view of the entire Rogers Pass area, we chat about life in the mountains. Morrow was born and bred in B.C.'s East Kootenay region, where he developed a passion for high places. His global travels have given him a series of unique insights that now form a well-rounded mountain perspective.

"My experience in foreign mountains have shed light on the treasures we have here in Canada and the national parks," he says. The Morrows now make their home in Canmore, Alberta. When they moved there in 1987, Canmore was a sleepy mountain town of coal miners and mountain climbers. Then came the 1988 Winter Olympics and an improved economic climate and the town has since experienced a non-stop development boom.

"In 1987, Canmore's population was 4,000," he says. "Now, it's 10,000 and still growing."

Canmore is no longer a bucolic mountain hamlet, but home to golf courses, strip malls and condominium complexes. Morrow's lament for his adopted home sheds some light on what is currently happening in Whistler and other B.C. mountain towns like Golden and Fernie.

"This is happening in mountain towns all over the Canadian and American West," he says, "and it is altering the quality of the experience."

The Morrows and I are here in Rogers Pass as part of a weekend full of events to celebrate the 2002 International Year of Mountains. We stop talking for a minute, sit silently and stare out at the scenery of the Selkirks.

Rogers Pass is a fitting place to meet a legend like Pat Morrow. In 1888, two members of the British Alpine Club summited the hulking 3,100-metre Mount Bonney and started a long history of mountain climbing here. Rogers Pass is now recognized as the birthplace of North American mountaineering. On Abbott Ridge, I followed in footsteps that are more than 100 years old.

The Morrows leave and start their descent back down towards the valley. I decide to stay put for a while and pull out my topo map. My finger traces across contour lines until it stops at my present location. I'm sitting at about 2,400 metres - higher than either Whistler or Blackcomb mountains - in the midst of high peaks and great glaciers.