A Life In The Wilderness

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in its hierarchy, and on several occasions he was asked to accompany special expeditions sponsored by the Club or its leaders. These trips had immeasurable importance for him, giving him a chance at extended travel in areas he probably wouldn’t have seen by himself. Two journeys deserve particular mention.

In the fall of 1910, A.O. Wheeler asked Harmon to accompany a three-week trip into the Purcell Range, west of the Rockies and south of the Selkirks. The expedition had two purposes: to explore and map an area new to Wheeler, and to give a visiting Himalayan mountaineer and arctic explorer, Dr. T.G. Longstaff, a chance to hunt in the wilds of western Canada. In his memoirs, Longstaff remembers the mountains in 1910 as being at once beautiful and threatening:

There is nothing more beautiful in any other mountain scene, but its menace is inescapable. The secret may lie in the density of the forests and their pathlessness: here is no reassurance of ancient tracks, no passes crossed by generations of caravans. The mountains of Europe and Asia recall gods and dryads and the long procession of man. These empty wilds are peopled only by our bare imagination, apt to primitive terror: there is no past except starvation.*
Dr. T.G. Longstaff
One man’s menace, however, is another man’s lure, and to all but the packers (who eventually had to turn back because they couldn’t get the horses through the dense forests of the Purcells) the trip was an exciting and successful tour. Wheeler managed his survey; Longstaff was so successful in his hunting that modern conservationists cringe when reading how he took three grizzlies in one afternoon (an event that Harmon photographed and turned into a best-selling postcard); and Harmon got his photographs.

Just as the alpinists of the day were pleased to capture a new
peak by hand and rope, so Harmon was pleased to capture a new area on film, and the Purcells offered a particularly rewarding prize. Early in the trip, Harmon spent a day with the packers ahead of the main party clearing a trail for the horses. When he returned to camp that evening he was in an exultant mood. He had, he reported, discovered a massive glacier, the ice of which was pierced by what Longstaff later described as ‘a collection of the most striking aiguilles I ever saw in the western mountains ... [which] shot up from behind the glacier like arctic nunataks out of an icecap: quite sheer, without a speck of snow’ (p. 231). The glacier, first known as Harmon’s Glacier, is today called the Bugaboo Glacier and its expanse of ice and the surrounding peaks constitute one of North America’s most famous climbing and skiing areas.

Descriptions of the trip written by both Longstaff and Conrad Kain, the party’s alpine guide, provide the beginnings of a portrait of Harmon as a trail companion. Longstaff recalls him as ‘a very good goer’ and states that ‘a hardier companion none could wish for’. Harmon was, as usual, ‘inseparable from his beloved camera’, and was indefatigable in his efforts to catch the images he wanted. A man of nearly boundless energy, he was more than willing to help the packers cut trail or to help rope up the horses ‘as if they were tourists’ and yard them up a particularly steep section of trail. On one occasion he hiked a continuous thirty-six mountain miles with full pack and camera gear, a feat few men would attempt, let alone complete!

He also possessed a keen, interested mind and a quirky sense of humour, traits that endeared him to those with whom he travelled. Though he is remembered as a quiet, private person, genial but slightly aloof, he was never above participating in the fireside activities so important to trail life. Both Harmon and Kain were mirthful souls at the fireside, and the two of them together had a special ability to keep a camp in high spirits. Kain, in Where the Clouds Can Go (published posthumously), remembered

A Life In The Wilderness

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