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

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:

Rio Blanco

Though I’ve logged many miles across Colorado over the years, this spring’s road trip gave me my first look at the northwestern part of the state. I knew nothing about the area…never heard any stories from those who have been there, so I really had no expectations going in. But if I had, those expectations would have been blown away. Nothing against the other amazing places in this wonderland of a state, but…wow. Garfield County and Rio Blanco County had me enjoying every moment behind the wheel. Sparsely populated, painfully scenic, a driver’s paradise; a beautiful combination of mountains and buttes and valleys and idyllic ranches.

Speaking of, if you happen to know any ranchers in this area who might have a room or apartment for rent—say, for the next 20 or 30 years—I can pack up and move in anytime. References available.

First photo: Atop Douglas Pass in Garfield County, Colorado
Other photos: Rio Blanco County, Colorado
May 2019

East of Eden

My hike from Buffalo Peaks Ranch to the top of South Park’s Bald Hill

It’s not just me; any visitor to the Buffalo Peaks Ranch will tell you how Reinecker Ridge draws your gaze in its direction. The ridge is an important component of so many of the ranch’s scenic views, and it finds its way into nearly every photograph taken at the BPR. From my very first visit to South Park, I was fascinated with Reinecker Ridge and the thought of hiking to the top. Even more so, I was dying to see the mysterious land on the other side of the ridge.

Two years ago, my friend Jay and I unlocked that mystery with a successful hike to Reinecker’s summit. Looking eastward over this ridge for the very first time, we beheld scenery as grand as anything we could have hoped for: A large valley, devoid of human habitation, ringed by hills and distant mountains, looking as though very little had changed over the last few million years. In the center of the valley stood a large, lonely hill, known to geographers as Bald Hill. We were blown away by this sprawling vista of incredible natural beauty, and expletives were flowing freely as we voiced our excitement. Turning to make our way back down to the ranch, I already knew that my next trip to South Park would include a hike across this beautiful valley and the opportunity to stand on top of that hill.

Follow this link to read the report of our 2017 adventure, complete with photos and video.

After our visit to the top of the ridge, I learned that Bald Hill and the surrounding landscape fall within the James Mark Jones SWA. I spoke with a friendly agent at Colorado Parks and Wildlife Headquarters who confirmed that hiking from Reinecker to Bald Hill is allowed, once the public access season begins each year on the first of May.

I had hoped to summit Bald Hill during last autumn’s road trip, but the season was unusually cold and wet, and snow kept the Pontiac out of the mountains in 2018.

So, during the first week of May, I arrived in South Park on the day before my hike to set up camp and explore the ranch. This was my first springtime visit to the BPR. The cactus blossoms were out, and mountain bluebirds were plentiful…always within sight as I roamed the grounds. They certainly seemed to enjoy chasing each other around the ranch. But it was too early in the season for the other high-country flowers to bloom, or for the majority of the grasses to appear green.

The following day, I was up before dawn, and the clear morning promised excellent hiking weather. Below, the sun prepares to clear the crest of Reinecker Ridge…

This was also my first overnight stay at the Buffalo Peaks Ranch, and it was an unforgettable experience. There was no one else at the ranch…just me in my tent and the serenading coyotes roaming the valley. The stars that night were as brilliant as I had hoped they would be. Not surprisingly for early May in South Park, it was a cool night—about 30 °F (-1 °C) when I awoke.

Mount Silverheels catches the first rays of the rising sun…

While the ranch began its morning thaw, I shouldered my pack and started off across the valley (to paraphrase Everett Ruess)…

The easiest part of the journey: Following our 2017 route out from the ranch and over Trout Creek, I was soon across the long fence that runs along the base of Reinecker Ridge…

One more glance toward Mount Silverheels, and then I began the switchback march up the steep slope of the ridge…

My return to the top of Reinecker Ridge, and a beautiful view of the Buffalo Peaks Ranch…

The day’s first look at Bald Hill, sitting right where Jay and I left it two years ago…

So, for the second time in my life—but the first time toward the east—I descended Reinecker Ridge. I was excited to be entering unexplored territory…

Down on the valley floor, I came to the fence separating the BLM land from the State Wildlife Area. After passing through and closing the gate, I followed the fence line eastward. Note the cluster of animals in the distance on the left side of the frame…

(Click on any of the photos to view the full-size version in a new tab.)

When I first spotted them, at a pretty fair distance, I wasn’t sure what I was seeing. I knew they weren’t cows. By their movements, I considered that they might be horses. Finally, I was close enough to know that I was looking at an elk herd—my first such sighting. This made sense, as there were ample piles of “evidence” scattered across the ranch indicating that the elk had been around in force during the winter and spring…

Of course, they had their eyes on me as soon as I had cleared the ridge, and they were making plans to leave the area. As I moved their way up the fence line, they finally had had enough and made their escape down the valley. I captured a brief video of the elk running along the base of the hill, which you can view through these links:

Watch on Vimeo. Watch on YouTube. (Full-screen mode will give you a better look at the herd, and a better appreciation for the shape and scale of Bald Hill than any of the still photos I captured during this hike. Links open in a new tab. Video duration: 22 seconds.) Making a rough count while watching the video, I’d say this herd (or “gang,” if you prefer) numbered well over 100 head.

With the elk dashing safely to the south, I made for the saddle near the north end of the hill, as the north slope looked to be the best approach to the summit…

At the top: I walked a bit past the summit and then turned around for the shot below, to use the snow-capped peaks to the north as a backdrop. Topo maps show Bald Hill’s maximum elevation as 9,556′ (2,913 m). There, I recorded a video that gives you a 360° tour of the surrounding scenery. Here are the links:

Watch on Vimeo. Watch on YouTube. (Links open in a new tab. Video duration: 50 seconds.)

The view to the east. Plenty of room to explore further on future visits…

Looking southward. Note the patches of pine forest on the nearby hills; my next destination after descending Bald Hill. Probably where the elk went, as well…

View to the west, showing the ground I had covered to get here. Reinecker Ridge, in front of the distant Buffalo Peaks…

Making a direct line for the forest, I descended Bald Hill via the steeper south slope, seen head-on in the photo below. My knees were not happy.

Those who roam the West know how scale gets distorted out here; distances are greater than they appear, and objects are larger than they appear. This hike was no exception; whether moving toward or away from the hill, it always took longer than expected to reach the next landmark. I felt very tiny during my time on the valley floor…

One final look back at Bald Hill before entering the forest. Would have snacked on a mouthful of snow, but the ever-present wind had deposited quite a lot of sand and debris on top of this patch…

Now, I was roaming over gentle hills covered with pines. Plants grow much slower in the thin air of Park County. These old trees were tall enough to provide shade, but they’ll never be as tall as their cousins who live at lower elevations. (Sorry, I didn’t take any photos while wandering through the forest.)

This part of the day’s adventure was an unexpected pleasure. Reminded me of my hikes long ago in parts of California…not just the view, but the smell of the sun-baked pines, the smell of the dry grass, the smell of the dead wood. It also brought to mind old western movies and television shows I watched long ago. Cue Lucas McCain…

In addition to the beautiful scenery, this hike was punctuated by blissful silence and solitude. I never encountered another human during my six-hour circuit. However, once I reached the location of the photo above, I was able to peer over the western slope of the ridge. Far below, I could see a few scattered anglers, silently fly fishing on the South Platte River.

Finally, walking northward along the crest of the ridge, I left the trees behind and found myself back home above the BPR…

I’m looking forward to the day when the Land Library will be fully stocked with books. And I’m hoping that they’ll let me take one up to read while sitting on top of Reinecker Ridge.


White Knight

The scenery has changed. Above is the view from early this morning in northwestern Nebraska. Happily, the roads were clear by late morning as I made my way toward the Black Hills of South Dakota. But it will be a few days before the backroads in the area are dry enough to explore.

The Hall of the Mountain King

As high as the Pontiac has ever been, or ever will be: 14,130 feet (4307 m) above sea level. The Mount Evans Scenic Byway is the highest paved road on the North American continent. Due to the likelihood of heavy snow at that elevation, the road is open only from Memorial Day through Labor Day. Since I’ve never been a fan of summer travel, I pushed it as late as possible and made my ascent on Labor Day, September 7, 1998.

I rose early and left the town of Idaho Springs well before sunrise. There was some delay getting on the road because the Pontiac did not want to start in that cold, thin air. I was able to get it going by removing the air filter and wedging open the choke plate with a screwdriver. If Idaho Springs (elevation 7526 feet) was a problem, then starting the car at the top of mountain would be even more challenging. So I left the engine running during the entire trip up and down Mount Evans.

Winding my way up the mountain in the cold and the dark, I was watching closely for deer and other beasts, and hoping that the Pontiac could handle the climb. Traffic was limited to just two or three other vehicles. I arrived at the entrance gate a few minutes before they opened for business that day, and made it to the parking area as the sun was coming up. Standing in the cool, clear, still air, I marveled at the view of the sun rising over the rugged terrain far below, and at the mountain’s long shadow extending for many miles to the west.

The wide-angle lens used here was junked right after this roll was developed, as it had quit working properly and was seriously over-exposing each frame (these black & white photos required heavy digital manipulation). Happily, the cheap disposable camera I had purchased at a gas station was there to save the day…

It would have been a shame to get this close to the summit and not finish the journey. As one who lives near sea level, I’m glad I had asked my doctor for an oxygen prescription so I could buy a tank for trips like this. On went the mask and I set out for the top of Mount Evans. This was my very first attempt at physical activity above 10,000 feet. Though only a 135-foot climb from the parking lot to the summit, it didn’t take long to learn that I needed to move slowly at this elevation.

I did stand—briefly—on that highest rock, but even with the O2, I had trouble balancing there. To date, this remains the highest point I have ever visited: 14,265 feet (4348 m).

Wish I had put the top down before taking these photos of the Pontiac; at least it was lowered for the sunny ride back down the mountain.

Ilford FP4 film
Kodak Gold 400 film

Rock Garden

High up on the side of a mountain, I found this yucca growing from the remnants of its former, larger self. Almost looks like an attempt at landscaping, as if someone put the yucca in a pot and placed it on this natural shelf. But I’m confident that the plant found this great spot to live and grow without any assistance from us.

Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Texas

Agfapan APX 25 film