The Road to Mt. Eon
the Legacy of Margaret Stone
Public Opening November 14, 2009
Real events occasionally assume mythic proportions. The plight and rescue of Margaret Stone, trapped on Mt. Eon for eight days following the climbing death of her husband in 1921, is such a story. Her ordeal is one of the most dramatic events in Canadian Rockies history. Mt. Eon is the second highest peak, after Mt. Assiniboine, in the southern Canadian Rockies and the fourth highest in Canada. It’s location is remote and, at that time, inaccessible.
Margaret Stone has fascinated me since Jon Whyte first published his epic poem The Agony of Mrs. Stone in the 1970’s. When my son Sebastian made this story the subject of his chamber opera of the same name I jumped at the opportunity to do a companion exhibit about Mt. Eon itself.
In 2008 Sebastian told me about his trip to Mt. Eon from the south. He was shocked by the development he encountered in what he assumed was a remote wilderness area. We returned together in August 2009 to photograph Mt. Eon and its environs. The photographs in The Road to Mt. Eon contrast the eternal north face of Mt. Eon with the south face. The former faces protected wilderness areas, while the later looks on a modern landscape of roads, strip mines and clear cuts.
Sebastian’s libretto is adapted in part from Jon Whyte’s poems The Agony of Mrs. Stone and The Fells of Brightness. Jon and Sebastian’s sensibilities stand in counterpoint. On one hand, the poet’s sense of history, of the vastness and age of the mountains themselves, and on the other, the librettist’s sensitivity to the fleeting nature of time and the rapid, often tragic, changes made on the environment by man himself.
Dr. Winthrop Stone, President of Purdue University, and his young wife Margaret were avid mountain climbers, active in several mountaineering clubs in the USA and Canada. The Stones attended the Jubilee Camp of the Alpine Club of Canada in 1920 and climbed Mt. Assiniboine. The Alpine Club Journal for 1920 includes Dr. Stone’s article, Amateur Climbing, which extols the excitement and challenges of unguided climbing by experienced amateur climbers like himself. His account of their ascent of Mt. Assiniboine was published in the 1920 edition of Mazama the journal of an Oregon based mountaineering club. While on the slopes of Mt. Assiniboine the Stones planned the first ascent of Mt. Eon for the following summer.
In July 1921 Winthrop and Margaret Stone attempted an unguided first ascent of Mt. Eon, climbing to within feet of the summit. Dr. Stone unroped to investigate the summit further. He called back to Margaret, “I can see nothing higher”. Then a large chunk of rock broke away, hurling him past his wife to his death 800 feet below.
Margaret Stone, now alone and without food, water, or means of shelter descended nearly to treeline before reaching a ledge from which she could neither ascend nor descend further. She remained trapped there until her dramatic rescue eight days after the death of her husband.
When the Stones failed to return to the Walking Tour Camp at Mt. Assiniboine and a preliminary search was unfruitful, help was sent for from Banff. Guide Rudolph Aemmer and Bill Peyto made the trip to Assiniboine in one gruelling day and headed up a small search party. The Stones’ route was unexpected, they had circled to the southern slopes before ascending. The search party had almost given up hope when they heard Margaret calling for help. When they reached her, Rudolph hoisted her over his shoulder and carried her to treeline. A larger party later retrieved the body of Dr. Stone, completing a first ascent of Mt. Eon and including his name on the note in the Summit Cairn.
These are the bald facts of the mysterious and inspiring story of the enigmatic Margaret Stone, of whom little is known, but her courage, willpower, and fortitude reverberate through the years and continue to be an inspiration.
111 Banff Avenue in Harmony Lane
A part of the Banff Art Experience Since 1908
The Road to Mt. Eon 2009 | At the Edge of the Wild
In the eighty-eight years which have passed since the rescue of Margaret Stone we have lost our innocence.
In 1921 the Canadian Rockies were still wild. There was little apparent difference between land within and without the National Parks. The gestalt of uncharted and unclaimed wilderness has vanished in less than a century. With it has gone much of the sense of romance, wonder, exhilaration and higher purpose which permeated wilderness adventure up to the early Twentieth Century.
In 2009 every inch of Canada is known and most of it accounted for.
Mt. Eon is uniquely located. Its glacier-draped, north-facing slopes regard Mt. Assiniboine Provincial Park, a virgin expanse of mountain, lake and forest. Its south-facing slopes descend to an unprotected wilderness area which is home to mixed recreational and resource industry activities. This island of Crown Land is bordered to the west by Kootenay National Park, to the north by Mt. Assiniboine Provincial Park, and to the east by Banff National Park.
When the Stones made their summit attempt in 1921 via the south slopes, they would have looked out on a wilderness of forest, peaks, and wild mountain rivers. Today they would see a wilderness landscape disrupted by clear cut logging and a magnesite strip mine whose many undeveloped claims would extend to the slopes beneath them.
The tragic and triumphant events on Mt. Eon in 1921 occurred at a cusp and mark a turning point in the future of wilderness. The road from Calgary to Banff was completed in 1920, allowing cars into the National Parks for the first time. In 1923 the Windermere Highway was completed, the first highway to be built within the Parks. In 2009 the road to Mt. Eon travels along the Trans Canada Highway to Castle Junction, south on the Windermere Highway (now Highway 93), up Settler’s Road through Kootenay Park, (leaving the Park in the process) and up the Cross Mitchell Service Road (used by both Baymag Mine and local logging operations). The resource industry’s roads also allow climbers, fishermen, hikers easy access to many wilderness areas. A dirt road then follows Aurora Creek beneath the south slopes of Mt. Eon, and a hiking trail over Marvel Pass leads into Assiniboine Provincial Park.
The views along the way include piles of pine-beetle lumber, clear-cuts both old and new, the tightly-packed trees in re-forested areas. Hikers and climbers share the road with graders, trucks of magnesite ore, half- ton trucks, off-road vehicles, and mountain bikes.
The Road to Mt. Eon is part of a larger body of work, At the Edge of the Wild. In creating this work I witness the interface between true wilderness, unpopulated yet developed natural areas, and the landscape that comprises so much of Canada today, the one created by resource management , large scale agriculture, and industry.
A photograph is a mirror; it can also be a beacon, a light shining into areas remote and common. I intend not to judge but to look clearly at what is.