Gould Dome, Tornado and
Thunder Mountain Connections
I’d like to revisit my last column where I talked about Thomas Blakiston and his near miss of the Crowsnest Pass. Specifically I thought it would be interesting to go back to one of his first observations at the Gap and round out the stories of the mountains in that area.
I wrote that in 1858 Blakiston was very impressed by a peak he saw to the west as he passed near what is now the Oldman River bridge near Maycroft. His journal records:”I am now looking through the gap in the near range through which the river issues, I saw a very decidedly dome-shaped mountain. It afterwards proved to be, when seen from the plains, and also from the top of a mountain in the Kootanie Pass, the highest and almost the only peak rising above the others in this part of the mountains. After the distinguished British naturalist, I named it Gould’s Dome.”
Naturalist John Gould was a much respected ornithologist whose large lavishly illustrated books included “Birds of Europe”, a five volume set. His artwork is spectacular and through his lifetime he generated over 3,100 lithographs of birds. It is probably safe to assume that Blakiston, who was interested in natural history, had seen and was impressed by Gould’s’ work.
The mountain kept this name for 57 years until a man by the name of Morrison Bridgeland with the Boundary Commission renamed it Tornado Mountain. Bridgeland was a Dominion Land Surveyor and a man renowned for his photo topographical surveying process that involved using panoramic photographs and triangulation to make detailed maps of complex mountain landscapes. In 1915 he and associate Arthur Wheeler were most impressed with the mountain and he wrote that: “the precipices of Tornado Mountain rise fully 2500 feet and the gigantic rock buttresses that stand out, separated by huge, cavernous chimneys, are awe inspiring.” Bridgeland and Wheeler made two ascents of this mountain and their description explains why it is aptly named. “Tornado Mountain is a storm center of the locality and, on the occasion of two ascents, the party had narrow escapes; first, through a cloud-burst accompanied by sheets of hail, which caused the mountain to run wild, torrents of water cascading down its slopes in every direction, and rockfalls, loosened by the water, crashing on all sides..” He goes on to say that:” on the second occasion, a fierce electrical storm encircled the summit and severe shocks were felt by members of the party. For days at a time dark thunder clouds, rent by vivid flashes of lightning, were seen to gather around the summit...” Wheeler wrote: “I never saw a mountain break loose like that before...” I cannot believe they actually went up a second time after the first message Tornado gave them!
They were thusly inspired to rename the Gould Dome to Tornado (10,167 ft.) The Gould Dome (9495 ft.) name was given to a peak immediately to the south. It is not dome shaped and about 672 feet lower that Tornado.
While Bridgeland and Wheeler played a lead role in the Alberta/BC Interprovincial boundary survey, were respected mountaineers and founding members of the Alpine Club of Canada I have to wonder what Blakiston would have thought of the switching of his named mountain.
Also mentioned in my last column was Blakiston’s noticing south of the Gap an amazing 25 mile long dam of limestone.
This eastern fortress he named the Livingstone Range after Dr. David Livingstone of Africa fame.
Blakiston’s journal says:” ...The crest of the range was of so regular a form that no point could be selected as a peak, I therefore gave the whole the name of Livingston’s Range, it is a very marked feature when seen from the plains outside.” While Blakiston spelled the good doctor’s name with no “e” it does have one on Palliser’s 1865 map.
Photo Courtesy Jason Halko
View from Gould Dome looking south towards Crowsnest Mountain
Despite Blakiston’s observation of having no prominent point Morrison Bridgeland in 1915 gave the highest point on the Livingstone Range the name of Thunder Mountain (7661 feet). It became the first mountain ever climbed by a non-native in the Canadian Rockies. Its climber was Peter Fidler who, on New Year’s Eve in 1792 ascended Thunder and remarked: “There are only a few places within the eyes extent that is higher that the place I stood on.”
Earlier that day Fidler, a Hudson’s Bay explorer, had come through the northern limit of the Livingstone (known as “The Gap”) with a group of Piikani. It is a beautiful spot where the Oldman River finally wears its way through the range and forms a dramatic and enchanting canyon in the process. It was there that Fidler stopped to look at an unusual arrangement of stones laid out on a meadow beside the river. He sketched it and described it in his journal as follows: “It is a place where Indians formerly assembled here to play a particular game by rolling a small hoop of four inches diameter and darting an arrow out of the hand after it and those that put the arrow through the hoop while rolling along is reckoned to have gamed.” The Oldman River has since scoured away the intriguing alignment of stones that Fidler documented back then. The site is now referred to in prehistoric references as Old Man’s Bowling Green.
The ascent by Fidler would have been from his Gap camp south along the climbing ridgeline to the highpoint. I can’t imagine anyone wanting to make this climb, on New Year’s Eve no less, in winter conditions. The Piikani who Fidler was camped with apparently became quite concerned during his absence and, “sought me everywhere… never thinking I would undertake the great trouble and fatigue of ascending to the summit of the mountain.” Exactly my dear Watson!
To the Blackfoot Nation the Livingstone marked the west limit of their trading territory and is referred to by them as the “Tipi Liners”. That is because they look like the strip of hide or canvas that was hung around the inside of their tipis for extra warmth.