In the 1900s, the topography of Western Canada was wilderness — the kind that was left to the imagination. It was largely unmapped. Yet, taking in the view from the other side of Queen Charlotte Strait, the conventional wisdom said that the Coast Range Mountains that skirted mainland British Columbia were no higher than 8,000 to 10,000 feet, and there was no room for surprises.
One day, in 1925, across the Strait, Don and Phylis Munday were on the shore looking through binoculars at the Coast Mountains. Their attempt to climb a peak on Vancouver Island had just been thwarted by poor conditions. But the skies now provided wide visibility. Beyond the sea and over the Coast Range peaks something glimmered. Something obscured the skyline.
The giant would be named Mount Waddington (13,186 ft./4,019 m.) but for years the Mundays called it Mystery Mountain. When they first took in the peak in that day in 1925, the mountain was in alignment with other summits based on their compass bearings but it was clearly farther away where the map was blank. The Mundays were great explorers and they had to go to the mountain themselves.
In multiple attempts over several years, they pushed their way through the dense vegetation of the Pacific rim, around the Coast Mountains and began exploring the blank on the map inching closer to their Mystery Mountain, making the map as they went.
Pioneering adventures like the Mundays’ are charming. But for you and me, the blanks on the map are long gone. We’re not going to go to uncharted territory; we’re going to specific, known contour lines on a finished map. But this is no reason to get stuck reminiscing about the past.
Exploration has evolved. Today your Mystery Mountain may have been climbed, photographed, catalogued, uploaded, downloaded, and shared. But what makes it yours is how it strikes you and how passionate you last over it. Let me explain…
Your quest starts in innocence and naivety. When we get a climbing magazine in the mail or an issue of National Geographic, or read a post on social media and find someplace alluring, we might have an image of a mountain or a dramatic, lush valley or a forbidding frozen landscape etched or even seared into our minds. Sometimes, we don’t even know where it is or what it’s called.
You start learning more about the destination. Turns out it’s in Ecuador. You have never even thought of Ecuador, but now you’re pinning it on Pinterest and checking out library books, and talking to your friends about it in hopes of finding new photos and maps that lead you to your fabled peak. If you give in to the dream, you go, sometimes at great financial or personal expense.
In some ways, it’s best if the destination is obscure. It makes it more interesting; the less information there is, the more pioneering you become. The sincerity of the effort is what makes it pure and life giving. You go because you want to experience something nobody else has, and by virtue of the process you will. The search for your Mystery Mountain takes on a dimension larger than the peak itself.
Still, success will be in the journey rather than the final destination. The Mundays were fortunate to pursue an untrampled mountain as well as uncharted territory. But even they did not achieve the pinnacle; the main summit was far more technically demanding than their climbing skills could provide. The first ascent was later, included an all-star cast, and was for another quest.
Wherever your Mystery Mountain may be, I hope the journey gives you a pioneering adventure.