Mountaineer shares historic peaks, valleys

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, September 27, 2006

Glen sits atop Mt. Waffl, a satellite peak of Mount Robson. Mount Waffl is the second peak to the left of the main peak in the drawing below. “I followed wolverine tracks all the way to the summit of Mt. Waffl,” he recalls.

He has inhaled deeply the alpine splendour of western Canada, awed and humbled by glacier-hung peaks, timeless buttresses, and tantalizing towers and spires. He has accepted the dare of sheer rock faces and challenging chimneys; triumphed across treacherous cornices. And as summits have shed their cloudy stoles, he has traced layers of snow that, like tree rings, tell their story of years gone by.

Now Glen Boles, Cochrane mountaineer, photographer and artist, tells his own story, page by breathtaking black-and-white page, in his just-published coffee-table volume, My Mountain Album: Art & Photography of the Canadian Rockies & Columbia Mountains, published by Rocky Mountain Books.

Glen, 72, was born and raised in New Brunswick but moved to Alberta in 1953. Here he discovered his passion for climbing.

In the 1970s he also discovered a collegiality with three other climbers of note, Don Forest, Mike Simpson and Gordon Scruggs. Together the four became known as the “Grizzly Group.” Some thought the name came from their grizzly appearance after long trips through the mountains. Glen says the name actually came from an encounter they once had with a grizzly bear near Glacier Lake.

Glen’s half-century of mountaineering has taken him to the summit of 525 peaks in the Canadian Rockies, 37 of those being first ascents. Most are too far from the beaten path for many of us ever to experience. But he also celebrates peaks familiar to us in the Bow River valley, too: the Devil’s Head, Yamnuska, and the Three Sisters.

His climbs have earned him many honours, including last year’s Bill March Summit of Excellence Award.

Over mid-morning mugs at Coffee Traders the other day, I asked Glen what, of all his mountain experiences, was his most memorable.

“Definitely, Mount Robson,” he replied. “It’s a big mountain; beautiful.”

“How did you feel when you reached the summit?” I asked, thinking he’d respond with a visual description of the panorama. But no. He said simply:

“When I got to the top the first time, I cried.”

“Mt. Robson & Berg Lake,” pen and pencil drawing by Glen Boles. His limited-edition prints are popular items at fellow mountaineer Bruno Struck’s High Country Framing & Art Gallery in Cochrane.

At 3954 metres (12,972 feet), Mount Robson is the highest peak in the Canadian Rockies. It was one of his earliest climbs and still fills him with emotion. Pausing to wipe away a tear, he continued: “I never thought I’d have the opportunity to climb it. We took the Hourglass route, not used any more because of the shrinking glacier on the south face.”

He reflected for a moment, conscious of the fact that, because of global warming, his generation of climbers had seen things never to be seen again.

Bruno points to the route he and Glen took near Abbot Pass, captured in “Abbot Pass & Victoria Glacier,” one of Glen’s drawings featured in My Mountain Album.

Glen Boles is ready to sign copies of his book My Mountain Album: Art & Photography of the Canadian Rockies & Columbia Mountains at Cochrane’s Westlands Bookstore Oct. 6.

“The glaciers are really taking a beating,” he said. “Most are retreating very fast.”

He opened his book and pointed to image after image where glaciers now are only a fraction of what they were when he took the photos.

“When you think of all the vehicles and industry putting out pollutants, it’s got to have an effect.”

The passing years have had an effect on Glen, too. A year and a half ago while skiing at Lake Louise, he suffered a heart attack. Although he and his wife Liz continue to hike the back country, he’s had to put away his pitons, picks and ropes.

This has been a mixed blessing, of course. On the plus side, he’s finally had the time to put much of his black-and-white photography and artwork into book form, so the rest of us can enter into his alpine experiences.

Cochrane’s Westlands Bookstore will be hosting a book signing with Glen from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m., Oct. 6. Joining him for the event will be fellow mountaineer Chic Scott, author of Pushing the Limits. Glen’s Grizzly Group companion Michael Simpson will also be present, along with Kathy Calvert, author of Quest for the Summit, the Alpine Club biography of her father, Grizzly Group member Don Forest, who passed away in 2003.

This will be a golden opportunity to meet Glen personally and hear this man who has communed with the mountains and returned to the valley to share with us their stories.

© 2006 Warren Harbeck

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