Within the area delimited roughly by Horsethief Creek on the N and Toby Creek on the S rise all but one (Howser Spire) of the nine summits of the Purcell Range which exceed 11, 000′ in elevation, as well as myriad peaks in the 10, 000′ class. Interestingly too, all eight Within the area delimited roughly by Horsethief Creek on the N and Toby Creek on the S rise all but one (Howser Spire) of the nine summits of the Purcell Range which exceed 11, 000′ in elevation, as well as myriad peaks in the 10, 000′ class. Interestingly too, all eight of the 11, 000′ giants of the main uplift lie E of the main Purcell watershed. In addition to its concentration of high peaks, this region also boasts numerous glacier/neve systems -among them, the Starbird, the Commander, the Truce, and the Toby/Hamill – rivalled in the Purcells only by the interconnected Conrad-Vowell-Bugaboo complex. In terms of number of major peaks and extent of glaciation, the region is the counterpart in the Interior Ranges of the Icefields area in the Rockies. There are other similarities too. The rock, despite an occasional outcropping of granite, is exceedingly variable in quality, and so snow/ice routes predominate. Moreover, after the early ascents there ensued a long period of comparative neglect in favour of the more glamorous Bugaboos, but in recent years, the area has witnessed an upsurge of climbing activity, fuelled in part by the two ACC general camps m 1971 and 1975. Although not literally part of the main uplift, the large area of nondescript mountainous country lying S of Toby Creek, between it and Dutch Creek, is also included, routes of mountaineering interest there being described where applicable.
The main Purcell divide diverges W from Starbird Ridge near Mt Griffith, crosses two low passes connecting unnamed tributaries of Stockdale Creek (N fork of Horse thief Creek) with like ones of Howser Creek, and then trends S along a ridge of unimpressive peaks which separates Stockdale and Howser Creeks. It passes within a mile of Eyebrow Peak (the only 11, 000′ peak at all close to the watershed) before rounding the head of Starbird Glacier to Starbird Pass (8000; Horsethief to N terminal fork of Glacier Creek). Then the divide swings SE along the S margin of the S branch of Starbird Glacier, after which it heads due S over the Egyptian Peaks to Jumbo Pass (7480; Jumbo to S terminal fork of Glacier Creek). The watershed continues S for some 3 mi to Blockhead Mt, turns abruptly E for another 3 mi to Redtop Mt, and then resumes its S trend to Earl Grey Pass (7475; Toby to Hamill Creek). After following the crest of the Toby massif: the divide swings E across the S margin of Toby snowfield, heading to ward Saffron Peak, which separates the heads of S Toby Creek, Dutch Creek, and Camey Creek.
As was the case in so many places elsewhere in the Purcells, the first men to enter this region were hunters, trappers, and pre-eminently, prospectors. In the 1860’s, the Indian guide Kinbasket took parties across the watershed from Duncan Lake to the Columbia valley by way of Jumbo Pass. And in the 1890’s, the prospector-explorer Fred Wells used Earl Grey Pass, on the direct line from Argenta on Kootenay Lake to Invermere on the Columbia. Thus when the first mountaineers arrived on the scene in the initial decade of the century, they found already in existence a reasonably well-developed trail network in the main valleys.
Among the earliest of the climbers was the indefatigable E. W. Harnden who, with various companions, made several excursions into the main uplift, in the process adding significantly to the theretofore sketchy geo graphical knowledge of the area. He also participated in the first ascents of, among others, Mt Nelson, Eyebrow Peak, and Mt Toby.
But the prize of the region, Mt Farnham, eluded him, falling ultimately in 1914 to that terrific team composed of A. H. and E. L. MacCarthy and Conrad Kain. During the next two years, the MacCarthys and Kain, usually accompanied by M. and W. E. Stone, bagged most of the remaining peaks of consequence – Commander, Jumbo, Karnak, Truce, Cauldron – to cite but a few.
Later, in the 1920‘s, further important explorations and ascents were carried out by parties organized by J. M. Thorington and by A. A. McCoubrey. The early period concluded with the 1928 ACC camp (“Thunder Camp”) located near the junction of the outlet stream from Lake of the Hanging Glaciers with Horsethief Creek. Thereafter followed the hiatus, already alluded to, of some 40 years, during which few parties visited the area. In recent years, the region has again become popular with mountaineers.
ACCESS to the peaks of the main uplift is gained initially by major gravel roads in the valleys of Horsethief and Toby Creeks. For the Horsethief road, proceed W from the junction at Radium, passing through a sawmill just W of town to a bridge over the Columbia (Mile 1 posted on a tree). Continue (mileages approximate): West Side Road at Mile 6; ?ridge, Mile 7· intersection of Forster Creek road and Horsethief road at Mile 8.5 (go left here); crossing to the S side, 16; McDonald Creek, 23; to the N side at 28; first bridge to Farnham Creek at 29; second Farnham bridge at 31. Shortly beyond this point a washout has closed the road to vehicle traffic.
Cars may be driven 24 mi up Toby Creek starting from Invermere on Lake Windermere. From Rte 93, cross first the Columbia and shortly thereafter the CPR rail line to a T-junction. Turn right toward Wilmer, crossing Toby Creek in about 1 mi; the Toby Creek road branches left just beyond the bridge. The road terminates just beyond the mouth of Jumbo Creek at a small village (Toby Creek P.O.) brought into being by the reopening (1954) of the Mineral King Mine near the Toby-Jumbo junction. A good logging road, which extends some 9 mi up Jumbo Creek, diverges right from the main road one mi before the village. Check with BC Forest Service at Invermere for the latest authoritative road and trail information.