Hector's Journal

For Background Information of James Hector

Other explorations by the Palliser Expedition

Thomas Blakiston Exploring the Rockies in 1858

John Palliser Exploring the Rockies in 1858

Please Note: Today's photographs were taken at the locations described in Dr. James Hector's Journal in the Banff, Kootenay and Yoho National Park areas of Western Canada.

Modern day explorers will find more information
along with trail mileages in the book Following Historic Trails: James Hector - Explorer

(Editor: Selecting an illustration will show you the location today)

August 7, 1858

In the afternoon the road was very bad at some places, but with the help of the Indians, who were very well disposed, we reached the site of the Old Bow Fort at sunset... As we were to be here for some days and to make our arrangements for travelling in the mountains without the carts, we induced our Stoney Indian friends to camp beside us in order to get them to trade leather and pack saddles with us for tobacco and ammunition.

August 11, 1858

I started ... with M. Bourgeau, up the valley of Bow River.

My party consisted of Peter Erasmus, Sutherland, and Brown, all Red River men, and also my Stone Indian friend, who had promised the previous winter to serve as my guide in the mountains, and who had just turned up in time to keep his word. As he is known to be one of the best hunters in the tribe, and his Indian name, which signifies " the one with the thumb like a blunt arrow," is so unpronounceable, I called Nimrod, which name has stuck to him ever since.

I had with me eight horses, three of which served to carry all the little baggage I cared to take, consisting principally of instruments, bedding, ammunition, and tobacco; for as I was assured that in the part of the mountains I intended to explore, there was abundance of game, I did not take any provisions excepting a little tea and a few pounds of grease.

Crossing the deep ravine, beside which the expedition had been encamped for the last five days, we skirted the left bank of Bow River, and soon the valley became hemmed in by the precipitous cliffs of limestone that form the mountains of the outer range

It was quite dark before we descended into the valley by a faint trail leading through burnt woods to an open rocky spot beside one of the lakes, where we encamped. Bourgeau has named the lakes Lacs des Arcs, and the peak opposite Pigeon Mount, the one behind our camp, Grotto Mountain, and a high peak to the west, on which the clouds were gathering and curling about Windy Mountain.

August 12, 1858

At dawn started with Bourgeau to ascend Grotto Mountain... we found a large cave, with a high arched roof and narrow mouth, and like Robinson Crusoe's one, with its old goat for a tenant, but in this case he had long been dead. The floor was quite battered hard by the tracks of sheep and goats.

Turning from this point, which was 1,000 feet above our camp, we descended by another spur of the mountain to breakfast. I did not start till noon... and having taken leave of Bourgeau, who did not intend to proceed much further up the valley but to cross to Windy Mountain, I continued on with my own party. Our track led over the spur of Grotto Mountain, from the limestone of which I procured some fossil-shells. We then entered the great valley, which runs N.W. and is several miles in width.

At dark we camped by some old Indian wigwams where the valley is wide and flat, and with fine patches of level prairie along the river for our horses. Just opposite to our camp there is a mountain with three peaks which form a striking group.

Started early this morning...travelling on the terraces we kept well from the river till we reached a beautiful little prairie at the base of the " Mountain where the water falls," as the Indian name has it, or the Cascade Mountain.

An old Stoney, from the Indian camp we had left at the old Bow Fort, joined us this evening, having come through the first range by a pass to the south of the " Devil's Head," in which he says there is a lake the length of half a day's march, where they catch the finest trout and white fish in the country.

This old " Stoney " told me that he once guided Mr. Rundel, the missionary, to this place, and that he lived here for many days camped in the little prairie.

August 16, 1858

At 8, I started up the mountain. For the first 300 feet I climbed up through dense woods and then came to an escarpment ... While resting here a humming bird, blown by a strong west gale, flew against my face, but I did not succeed in capturing it. This is the first I have seen since leaving Red River settlement, and it certainly seemed quite out of place among the alpine vegetation.

Following the base of the precipice soon led me to a point beyond which I could not pass without descending into an immense corrie, from which I started a large band of sheep. These animals are singularly matched by nature with the colour of the grey limestone rocks, so long as they are looking towards the observer, when it requires a very skilful eye to detect them; but the moment they turn to flee they become very conspicuous, as every part of their body as seen from behind is pure white. It is often quite startling in ascending a mountain and gazing as you suppose at nothing but the grey rocks, when suddenly a flock of white objects appear fleeing away from you, and as suddenly they seem to vanish when their inquisitive habits make them wheel in a mass to have another look.

August 17, 1858

We started early this morning... The men with the pack-horses followed the track which they had cleared the previous day, while with Nimrod I set off to see a fine fall on the river, which lay about three miles out of the direct course.

A high hill stands out in the centre of the valley, and it is in breaking past this that the river is compressed into a very narrow spout-like channel, and then leaps over a ledge of rocks about 40 feet in height. As we returned from the visit to the falls we saw a band of ewes, and succeeded in killing two of them.

Above the rocky contraction of the channel the river is dilated and sluggish, and the valley is filled up with large swampy lakes, just like those in the canyon through the first range. This obliged us to keep along the side of the hills, where the fallen timber forms a much greater impediment than on flat ground.

Looking up the valley to the W.S.W. we had before us a truncated mountain, evidently composed of massive horizontal strata, and which I named Mount Bourgeau.

The pass that Sir George Simpson crossed the Rocky Mountains by in his journey round the world lies to the south of this mountain, and I half thought of crossing the river and following it, but we found so much " white water " in the streams from the south, showing that they were in flood, that the old Indian who still travelled with us said we would fail in getting through that way, as the valley is so bad at one place as to require travelling actually in the stream, between perpendicular walls of rock, for half a day, and if it is flooded this becomes impossible.

I, therefore, determined to continue up the same side of Bow River, until opposite an old neglected pass that used to be used by Cree war parties, and known as the Vermilion Pass. Shortly after noon we came up with the packhorses just at the turn of the river, where it enters the second range. Here we halted and cooked some of the mountain sheep.

The meat was in fine order, and had no particular flavour, yet it made not only myself but also other two of the party very sick. This, however, was the only time I ever saw this kind of meat disagree with the stomach, so it may have been due to some ailment in that particular animal, as we all soon came to consider the wild mutton of the grey sheep as the finest food we could get.

After a halt for two hours during the most intense heat, we again started and crossed over a low point of rocks, close to the river, where we entered the second great valley, which is of magnificent proportions. Along the eastern side runs a wall of vertical beds, of light grey limestone, the serrated edges of which at once suggested the name of Sawback Range for them.

Seeming to stand out in the centre of the valley is a very remarkable mountain, still at the distance of 12 miles, which looks exactly like a gigantic castle.

More from Hector's Journal

How do I participate in the student Sketchbook Project?

Background Information on James Hector

Other Historic Journals by Explorers of the West

Back to Our Heritage Home Page