Carl’s Library: Mary Schäffer Warren

108 years ago…

A Merry Christmas

My darling brother: If you had only not been a boy I could have thought up O so many things to have sent you. But being a boy (however I am very glad you are) you will have to put up with a book. I do not know how good this book is for I have not read it. But the notice said many fine things about it.        ~ Sister Julia

In many of the vintage books I have acquired over the years, I’ve been pleasantly surprised to discover reminders of the people who owned those books long ago, such as Julia’s handwritten note found in my copy of Old Indian Trails of the Canadian Rockies by Mary T. S. Schäffer.

Mary Schäffer’s husband, Dr. Charles Schäffer, had a passion for botany. His playground was the Selkirk Mountains of British Columbia, and shortly after their marriage, Mary made her first trip to western Canada with Charles, acting as his scientific assistant. She was awestruck by the magnificent scenery all around her. With her husband’s guidance, Mary quickly became a talented amateur botanist and enjoyed the work they did together. She collected and identified specimens, captured photographs, and painted beautiful watercolor illustrations of the alpine flowers. For Mary, this was the genesis of many annual transcontinental journeys via the Canadian Pacific Railway, from her home in Pennsylvania to the wild country known as Banff & Jasper National Parks.

Charles died shortly after their 1903 visit to the mountains. By that time, Mary was thoroughly in love with the Canadian wilderness, and as a tribute to her dear husband, she wished to complete the botanical guide of mountain flora that they had dreamed of writing. Mary enlisted her husband’s colleague, botanist Stewardson Brown, to co-author the project, and they set out for Alberta in the summer of 1906; the book, Alpine Flora of the Canadian Rocky Mountains, was published the following year.

That great task now completed, Mary was eager to plan her next westward journey, with a desire to make it a grander adventure than any before…exploring new territory and spending more time in the wild. Over the winter months, Mary and her friend Mollie Adams began their preparations.

Old Indian Trails is the story of the 1907 and 1908 expeditions made by Mary and Mollie, along with guides Sid Unwin and Billy Warren.

To anyone who quizzed the group about the purpose of their travels during those two summers, they explained that they were looking for the sources of the Athabasca and Saskatchewan Rivers. In truth, they were happy just to be roaming through this beautiful wilderness, wherever the trails may lead.

But there was indeed one specific goal very much on their minds: to locate a mysterious lake which the Stoney Indians called Chaba Imne. Working from a sketch made by their local friend, a Stoney named Sampson Beaver, they finally found the lake in 1908. Its current name, Maligne Lake, was affixed by Mary, and she is credited with its “official” discovery.

From her earliest travels, Mary approached Indigenous Peoples with warmth and friendship, and showed an eagerness to understand their way of life. She had great affection for Sampson Beaver and his family; Mary looked forward to visiting them whenever she was in the area. The Stoney Indians referred to Mary as Yahe-Weha (“Mountain Woman”).

After so many years of enduring long train trips to see her beloved mountains, Mary realized there was no longer any point in maintaining the life she knew in Philadelphia. She finally made Banff her year-round home and married her long-time mountain guide, Billy Warren.

With her writing, her lectures and her lantern slide shows, Mary worked to publicize the beauty of this region. Even so, a part of her was saddened to see the peace and tranquility fade a little as more and more visitors arrived each year, and opportunities for trailblazing and discovery existed only in her memory.

Like many other titles in my library, I discovered this book due to its reference in another book (and once again, I can’t recall which one). That is one of the joys of nonfiction; I’ve enjoyed many books that I likely would never have found—and my library has grown—simply due to authors referencing earlier works on the subject at hand.

Of course, it’s hard for me to pass up any old book that happens to include a folding map…

Speaking of mountains: I know that a similar early edition of this book resides on the shelves of the Rocky Mountain Land Library, and I can’t think of a more appropriate home for it. I want to take this opportunity to mention that December is a great time to make a donation to the RMLL, as they are currently raising funds to support their 2020 workshops and restoration projects. Find out more about the Land Library and make a contribution by visiting landlibrary.wordpress.com.

Companion book: I recommend the biography No Ordinary Woman: The Story of Mary Schäffer Warren by Janice Sanford Beck, published in 2002. The book provides a great deal of illuminating information, from Mary’s Quaker upbringing in Pennsylvania to her final years with Billy Warren in their Banff home, and in between, we learn of her early travel experiences and her growing appreciation for wild beauty, her first trips to the Canadian Rockies with Charles, her fascination and fondness for the Indigenous Peoples she encountered, the botanical work with her husband and Stewardson Brown, her government-backed survey expedition of Maligne Lake in 1911, her journeys to other parts of the globe, and her environmental activism. Additionally, this book contains several of Mary’s previously unpublished articles and manuscripts, and many more photographs from her mountain adventures.

Photographs and text: Copyright 1911 by Mary T.S. Schäffer.

(Posts about my library are archived through this link: ridingwithcarl.wordpress.com/tag/library.)

Trees & Leaves

That didn’t take long. Today’s post includes the last few photographs I have to share from my recent excursion through eastern Canada. This trip generated far fewer images than past adventures of similar distance or duration. There’s a reason for that…

On most road trips, I’m winding my way across the wide-open prairies, deserts, badlands and high country of the American West. Roaming under the Big Sky is, photographically, very stimulating; each turn of the road or the trail presents a new look at the marriage of land and sky. I return from every western journey with hundreds of photos.

Driving or hiking through heavily forested regions is different; though still quite satisfying, it’s more of a relaxing, contemplative experience rather than a photo opportunity. When I’m immersed in the forest, I don’t reach for the camera nearly as often.

Am I anti-tree? Certainly not. I greatly enjoy hiking in the woods during fall and winter, as well as taking long drives through Canada’s vast boreal forest. However, to me, nothing is more enjoyable than watching the sky. When I’m boxed in by a multitude of trees (or hills or mountains, for that matter), I’m missing out on sunrises, sunsets, moonrises, moonsets, interesting clouds, soaring birds, approaching storms, the beautiful colors of twilight. Having an unobstructed view of the horizon is something that I treasure. My preference is to appreciate trees in smaller doses—a stand of aspens marking the path of a stream that snakes across a broad Colorado valley, for example. A solitary tree standing guard on the prairie is one of my favorite sights; on many occasions, I have visited this lonely old cottonwood that lives on a South Dakota ranch…

I find that spending time with a single tree, or with a small grove, is more rewarding than a journey among countless thousands of trees. Even so, the larger forests do have their charms, and I’ll keep on driving through the wilds of Canada, hiking in silent woods carpeted with freshly fallen snow, and visiting all of my favorite trees. As for day-to-day living, I hope to be doing that on the Great Plains someday…preferably, on a piece of land that has one tree within hiking distance.

Freshwater Pools of the Canadian Shield

When I left my tent for a morning hike, little did I know that I would find myself in a wilderness rock garden, featuring colorful plants and beautiful pools of cool, clear water. Such was my luck when I chose to camp on the shore of James Bay at Longue Pointe, north of Chisasibi, Quebec.

Just before the hike, I listened to the birds and watched the sunrise from my seaside campsite

Hear the birds and the waves for yourself by watching this brief video, recorded at the above location:    YouTube     Vimeo

Leaving the shore and walking uphill through the trees and brush, I arrived on the high ground of Longue Pointe—the exposed gneissic granite of the Canadian Shield

The pools are perennial fixtures of the terrain, fed only by rain and snow…

Here’s another short video, which will give you a 360° tour of this area:    YouTube    Vimeo

Fascinating microecosystems…

Algae? Pollen? Ribbons of orange floating on the still water…

I never thought it was such a bad little tree: Below, a ragged little evergreen makes its home on the hard stone…

I left the trees behind as I walked westward toward the end of the point…

Above and below, dikes of pegmatite run for long distances across the great slabs of granite…

Terminus: The western tip of Longue Pointe, where the rock dives below the calm, blue waters of James Bay…

A short but extremely satisfying hike…one that I’d like to take morning after morning. Perhaps I’ll be able to stay for several nights on my next visit.

End of the Road

Stone of the Canadian Shield, visible above and below the cool, clear waters of James Bay. This is the view from the end of Longue Pointe Road, north of Chisasibi. Here, the Pontiac sits at 53.974089° N 79.078265° W—the northernmost drivable point* in Quebec—parked among the boats of local residents and outfitters…

Moment of Zen: Enjoy the softly-lapping waters of James Bay in a brief video recorded on the rocks of the nearby shore…      YouTube      Vimeo

Asterisk

Actually, it is possible to drive farther north in Quebec, but I wouldn’t recommend doing so in a vintage Pontiac.

As I’ve stated in prior posts about trips to the northern limit of a provincial road system, my use of the phrase “northernmost drivable point” pertains to roads that (1) are connected to the rest of the North American highway system, (2) are open to the public, (3) can be used in all seasons, and (4) are suitable for passenger cars with low ground clearance.

Less than an hour south of the town of Radisson, a gravel road leads northeasterly off of the James Bay Road and takes you 414 miles (666 km) deep into the heart of Quebec’s vast boreal wilderness. This is the Trans-Taiga Road, and at it’s terminus you would be 59 miles closer to the North Pole than the spot where I am parked in the photo above.

This extremely remote road is open to the public, but it was constructed to service the area’s massive hydroelectric industry. It is mainly used by trucks, usually moving at high speed. There are no towns along the Trans-Taiga; access to fuel and food is very limited. Also, this road has a reputation for eating tires and windshields. Learn more about the hazards of driving the Trans-Taiga Road through this link.

(Below, a look at the first kilometer of the Trans-Taiga Road. This is as far as went went…just wanted a taste. Farther on, the road becomes narrower and rougher.)

I couldn’t justify the risk of damage to the Pontiac simply to get that extra 59 miles of latitude, so I passed on the Trans-Taiga. Additionally, I suspected that using the end of that road as a northern benchmark would have been anticlimactic; the thought of making that very long and difficult drive, only to arrive at a gated industrial complex in the middle of the forest, just didn’t thrill me. But conquering the full length of the James Bay Road and reaching the boat landing on Longue Pointe, overlooking the crystal-blue waters of James Bay…that felt right. To me, that spot does a great job of capturing that “end of the road” flavor.

I may drive the Trans-Taiga Road someday, but only in a 4WD vehicle that is outfitted for camping. Driving up Route de la Baie-James in the Pontiac was a great experience; I enjoyed the scenery and the friendly people I met along the way. If you’re interested in traveling either of these roads, I encourage you to make it happen. But take the time to research the trip before leaving home, and make sure your vehicle is thoroughly ready for the journey.

Northern Life

Greetings from the Cree Nation of Chisasibi, on the southern bank of the La Grande River in northern Quebec. Was it worth the 1500-mile drive…?

Excerpt from our group conversation:

“Hurry! The orange moon is rising above the river.”
“Ooooh! The northern lights are starting!”
“Ack! Which should we shoot first?”
“Can I squeeze them both into one frame…maybe…?”

I’ve been lucky enough to see and shoot the northern lights in 2013, 2016 and 2019. Guess I know when to schedule my next northern adventure.

Below, Mireille watches the lights. I was especially happy to have enjoyed this event with a group of people who, despite living in northern Quebec, have not become jaded by these displays and were just as fascinated with the show as I was.

Looking up at the stars through the mikiwahp poles. The shot below was Isabelle’s idea. (Thank you!) The poles in the upper part of the frame are illuminated by moonlight, the others by house lights. A shooting star can be seen in the upper right.

All 25 photos from this night can be viewed in this gallery, where you can also purchase prints.

Restless Kid

Gotta breathe some air again
That ain’t been breathed before

Driving season has arrived. After a wonderful May excursion through the Great Plains, the southern Rocky Mountains and the desert, it’s now time to roll in a different direction and return to the land of the lynx, the wolf, the bear and the aurora.

During that May trip, I experimented with limiting the time I spent online and the time I spent editing photos. It was a great success and I enjoyed the trip much more as a result. The laptop is staying at home from now on, and this blog will be dark while I’m traveling; I’ll post the accumulated photos and stories upon my return. The easiest, quickest way to share images from the road is to post them to Instagram straight from my phone. So, for those who want to follow this upcoming adventure in real time (or as close to real time as wilderness cellular connectivity allows), visit my Instagram account here: instagram.com/ridingwithcarl.

Thanks! Enjoy your September.

Restless Kid” by Johnny Cash

(This print and many others may be purchased at gallery.ridingwithcarl.com.)

The Prize

Four Pontiac latitude records are in the books—two here, one here and the most recent, from 2016, here. The fifth latitude record will be the last. I’ve long dreamed of driving to the shore of the Arctic Ocean; as of last Wednesday, that dream can become reality.

The coastal village of Tuktoyaktuk was previously accessible to drivers only from late November through April via an ice road which begins in the town of Inuvik. You don’t have to be a mechanic to know that this LeMans was not built for driving in the Arctic winter, and there is no way I would ever attempt such travel with this car. Now, with the opening of the all-season gravel road from Inuvik to Tuk, many motorists, myself included, are looking forward to making that long drive to the top of North America. (Here’s an excellent CBC article about the new highway.)

Tuk sits just short of 70° north latitude—over 200 miles north of the Arctic Circle. Yes, I could take the Dalton Highway to Deadhorse, Alaska to crack the 70° mark and get about 52 miles farther north, but I’m not interested in making that drive. Why? Because the Dalton ends at Deadhorse, about seven miles short of the Arctic coast. This is where the Prudhoe Bay oil field begins, and private vehicles are not permitted in that area. The only way to see the shore at Prudhoe Bay is to go on a tour bus. Carl doesn’t do tour buses.

Driving to Tuk is not a journey to be taken lightly; it will require a lot of planning and preparation. The round-trip distance from my home will exceed 8000 miles, and more than 1100 of those miles will be logged on gravel roads, beginning at the Dempster Highway near Dawson City in the Yukon Territory. The Pontiac will need a lot of maintenance before the trip in order to get through successfully. Still, I expect at least one flat tire on the Dempster, and likely some more windshield damage. I rarely use the back seat on my excursions, so I plan to remove it for this adventure and use that space for the recommended gear—two full-size spare tires, ten gallons of gasoline and other additions beyond my usual assortment of tools, fluids and spare parts. And you can bet I’ll be buying a satellite phone before I head out.

Aside from the latitude record and a view of the North Coast, I’m looking forward to my first visit north of the tree line and seeing actual tundra. I’m expecting an overdose of visual splendor on this journey; can’t yet imagine how many rolls of film I’ll burn through. As for the departure date, I’ve been following the weather up there and early September looks promising. 2018, 2019, 2020? One of those, hopefully. A little early to make that call, but I will let you know once I know.