John Carter Death
It’s with sorrow that I write to you of the death of John Carter in a backcountry ski accident on February 26th. The clippings from The Express are quite accurate in describing what happened, at least as far as anyone can tell.
John was skiing alone across Smuggler’s Ridge on his way over to track a route up Outlook Mtn. for a commercial party of skiers when he apparently skied across a snow pillow that gave way, triggering an avalanche that carried him into the trees just N. of Kokanee Lake. This was about 10:00 am, and none of the other skiers noticed what happened or heard the avalanche.
Late in the afternoon, Knut Langballe and Carl Johnson, who were skiing in from Gibson Lake to meet John by prior arrangement at the warden’s cabin, skied through the avalanche debris. When they reached the Slocan Chief near dusk and questioned the commercial party (who apparently had skied down toward Joker Lakes and had a difficult and hazardous time getting back up to the cabin), Knut told me that he suspected the worst had happened to John. Knut went to the Ranger’s hut to make radio contact with rescue groups, and Carl took a group of the other skiers out to look for John. I did talk directly with Carl and he told me that they skied to the top of the avalanche path and then circumvented it, fearing yet another slide. The group approached laterally through the trees below and quickly found John by light of headlamps. His avalanche transceiver was turned on, so locating him was easy. Carl said his head was buried under only a foot of snow, even though his lower body was under about three feet. The autopsy said that he had suffered head injuries from hitting a tree, but that these were not the cause of death.
On Friday, March 8th, we remembered John with a memorial service at Mary Hall on the Canadian International College campus. Hundreds of people were on hand to hear speakers describe John’s life and his accomplishments, to watch a slide show, and to watch a video made to promote Kootenay tourism and recreation. John featured prominently in this video which showed interviews with him in the back country and much footage of the construction of the new Silver Spray Cabin. Afterwards, we talked with old friends and sampled the huge buffet of treats, coffee, and teas that was provided. We couldn’t help but think how JC would have been the first in line for those goodies.
I know that you, too, have lost your share of close friends to mountain accidents and that it’s not altogether surprising to see another added to that roll. It is difficult in the case of John, since perhaps no one else in the area was a more experienced winter backcountry traveler. JC did kind of give you that impression that he didn’t make mistakes.
John Duncan Carter (1945-1996)
by Kevin Giles
We got a call on the radio at about 7:30 PM on Feb. 26; “John hasn’t returned to the Ranger A Frame and the last time anyone had seen him was at 10:00 AM, skiing from Smugglers Ridge toward Kokanee Pass to meet two friends who were touring up from Gibson Lake.” John must have got caught out. Nothing too serious could have happened, after all John was the Kokanee Kingpin, the old man of the mountains, our undisputed leader. John’s intuition and knowledge when it came to snow stability, plus his familiarity of mountain terrain (especially at Kokanee) were legendary. He was our close friend. If it were one of us he would have immediately come looking, so we did exactly that for him.
As we travelled up the Kokanee drainage towards the Park, I thought of John’s participation with the local PEP rescue group. He had always thought it important to take the time to prepare for situations like this one, and he had always been the first when it came to getting someone else out of trouble. It mattered not that it was the middle of the night, that the temperature was -30 degrees C, or that it could turn out to be an epic test of endurance. John was always up to the task and if it had of been someone else tonight he would have been leading the way.
The radio crackled as we travelled onwards towards Kokanee Lake. The search party from the Slocan Chief had traced John’s route onto a 40-45 degree slope that had avalanched. He was found at the bottom. “There was no hope.” We were all in disbelief, each of us shocked at such tragic news. Continuing up to the site under the brilliant moon and stars, we individually dealt with our thoughts. Every foot of this route had the mark of John Carter, he had personally managed the entire renovation of this most popular route into the Park. There was the Gibson Lake Cabin that John rebuilt when it was in danger of falling over under heavy snow load, the bridge he rebuilt after being crushed by snow, and the Kaslo Lake Campsite he built for the benefit of weary hikers so they might enjoy the majesty of the surrounding peaks. There was the Woodbury Hut that John rebuilt after it had been smashed by an avalanche and the Silver Spray Cabin; that magnificent timber frame structure that he had successfully guided to completion. It was difficult to believe that this rugged craftsmen of the outdoors was gone.
Once at the A-Frame, a flood of memories came to mind. It was always a treat to spend a day anywhere with John, but to enjoy his hospitality at the A-Frame was special because of his good cooking, baking and conversation. There was the time John hosted his Venture Scouts here for a winter ski week. While day-dreaming about great powder snow, he mistakenly added salt instead of sugar to the rhubarb crisp. Not being wasteful, he then encouraged the boys to try to eat it for the rest of the week. By Friday he gave in and pitched it. There across the meadow was the Slocan Chief Cabin that John had continued to protect. He had so successfully organized its ninetieth birthday celebration in 1986. Only last summer, he replaced some of its structural members.
John Carter was born and grew up in the Kootenays, roaming the mountains he loved from an early age. You could sit on a peak with him and he could identify all the surrounding mountains, many of which he had climbed. If he wasn’t spending time exploring or working in the outdoors he was probably reading or writing, both of which he did with passion. He displayed a wealth of knowledge for the flora and fauna that made the mountains their home.
His knowledge was encapsulated in a variety of guide books he wrote: A Guide To Kokanee Glacier Park 1st and 2nd editions in 1973 and 1974, Exploring The Southern Selkirks in 1980 and Hiking The West Kootenays in 1993, the second edition of which is to be published this spring.
John was a visionary, an advocate and a watchdog of Kootenay Parks. As president of The Friends of West Kootenay Parks, he promoted an awareness of the unique sanctuaries that these preserves represent. As a founding member of the Nelson Karabiner ’95 39 naturalists he promoted an awareness of wildlife found everywhere.
John was a mover and a shaker who made things happen, being very persistent about the up-keep of trails and huts for the enjoyment of all visitors to the backcountry. Each year he would begin work before the snow had fully melted. He would continue working until the Larch turned gold, thus bringing on some sense of urgency to work longer and harder, until finally the snow of the new winter would force a retreat to the valley bottom.
A man of strong ethics and principles that he never compromised, he always performed his artistry on these enhancements in a way that resulted in the least environmental impact, no matter how much more difficult it made the task. Always leading by example, he worked the hardest while making any project enjoyable for all of us working alongside him.
After spending his week working in the mountains, the weekends were reserved for roaming and hiking, canoeing or skiing with his sons Robin and Jordan. To John, the skills of rope work, route finding and snow stability were second nature. Setting an up-track was an art and he would always consider those behind that may not be as strong. Woe be to the person who set a too steep a skin track because they would certainly suffer John’s wrath. Once the ridge top was attained and the skins were off, his skiing would become poetry in motion.
Kokanee Glacier Park and indeed the mountains of the Kootenays were blessed by John Carter’s presence. Perhaps we’ll name a trail to honour him – a mountain and a cabin too – but most of all we’ll miss this old man of the mountains very, very much.
Mount John Carter Becomes an Official Name
On Dec. 18, 2001 the BC Committee on Geographical Names approved Mount John Carter as an officially-listed place name. To find it on the map, turn to “Kokanee Peak” 82F/11 1:50 000 scale. It is the highest point on the ridge of Outlook Mtn., located about 1 km. north of Outlook at GR 878-095, and surveyed at 2610 m. The Committee show the peak to be at lat. 49° 44’ 25” and long. 117° 11’ 25”, but I believe they are slightly off. Check for yourself. You can find this entry and a short biography of John on the web. Go to www.gdbc.gov.bc.ca/bcnames. Click on “What’s New.” Go to “Recent Naming Decisions.” Select “Previous Calendar Year” and “terrain features.” Click “Find” to bring up a list with Mount John Carter on it.