THE FARNHAM TOWER QUIZ
It is easier, not to say more pleasurable, to climb than to describe the process.” Owen Jones, 1910.
1. Farnham Tower is: a) An apartment building in Cranbrook. b) A 3,353 m peak near Radium. c) A gothic novel. d) A federal penitentiary.
2. Farnham Tower is climbed: a) Frequently. b) Rarely. c) In your worst nightmare. d) Only by mistake.
3. Farnham Tower is made of: a) Teetering piles of black crud. b) The superb honey-coloured quartzite. c) Horrendous layers of red shale. d) Blue cheese.
4. The best approach is: a) Coming in from the south by MacDonald Creek (and the notorious red shale ledges). b) North by Farnham Creek (and the golden quartzite ledges). c) By helicopter. d) Not at all.
5. An ascent of the Tower is: a) Just another nothing Purcell scramble. b) A good value, two star outing. c) Get a life. d) Certain death.
If you answered (b) to all of the above then read no further—you already know more than enough about this maligned, neglected, and underrated mountain. Otherwise….
During the fine spell of weather in late August (the last of the year) I drove to Radium and hiked up the old Farnham Creek road through knee-high daisies. I bushwhacked up the side valley east of Mt. Hammond and bivouacked on the steep hillside a short distance above the tree line. Water is scarce here and so are campsites.
Next morning I continued up to the bleak and frigid basin formed by the surrounding cliffs of Farnham Tower—Mt. Farnham and Mt. Hammond. Not a good place to camp. I crossed a steep snow slope and began climbing a long series of ribs and slabs, eventually reaching the east ridge of Mt. Farnham several hundred metres above the col, which joins it to the Tower. From here the view of the Tower was impressive—it looked steep and exposed. After a short rest, encouraged by the warm sun and excellent rock, I put on my rock shoes and crossed over to the main tower. I climbed a steep groove system rather than the chimneys described in the guidebook. Two-thirds of the way up I was relieved to climb past a substantial (three-pin) rappel station. Terra cognita after all!
The summit was a surprise. I had always assumed that it was large and flat, as this is how it looks from most directions. In reality the highest point is at the end of a long, curving, almost level ridge which creates the illusion of a square summit block. You have to traverse about 122 metres to gain the last where the quartzite finally yields to the infamous shale. The two-metre cairn built by Kain has long since been reduced to barely knee height by decades of lighting strikes. I found no summit record, but left a quick note in a plastic bag. My stay was short as I was concerned about the descent and was anxious to get started.
I had brought a short rope and made several rappels before reaching easier ground. On the last rappel onto the snow sloped the rope hung up. My trusty Swiss army knife came to the rescue and I continued with an even shorter rope. Later at the bivouac site, I noticed that my ice-hammer had somehow fallen off my pack. It began to feel like a re-run of “Kim Kratky Visits Rogers Pass.”
The next day I slept late, drank coffee in my sleeping bag, and watched the sun creep down the side of Mt. Maye. There was no need to rush—the only things to be done were to walk out, and hit the beach at Invermere.