High on the Mountain Top
Join Date: Oct 2005
Location: Qualicum Beach, BC, Canada.
Interest: general mountaineering/ hiking/ backpacking/ skiing/ kayaking
If you look through any of Philip Stones guide books for Vancouver Island climbing, you'll find of the 300 or so mountains & peaks represented, very few with native names and those that do, are usually within eye sight of the sea.
This brings up the assumption that First Nations People rarely ventured away from the coast and likely never climbed the mountains. I don't think we are giving indigenous people their credit due and I believe many Island peaks were likely climbed long before the European "first ascents".
There have been several caves discovered on Vancouver Island containing marmot bones. Most of these caves are in karst areas, but marmots were widely distributed, so areas lacking caves likely just don't have remains, due to weathering. Of these caves, almost all of the remains are marmot bones, so this points to natives specifically heading into the mountains with the main purpose of hunting marmots. The Vancouver Island marmot is a subspecies unto itself and is red listed. It's coat is chocolate brown and would have been a rare and valuable trade item. When the cave bones were dated, they went back several thousand years, yet there may have been decades between harvests. This shows that the natives knew where to go and could even direct others from different generations, so I assume they were quite familiar with the mountains. One cave was found on the flanks of the Golden Hinde, which is the Islands highest peak and located almost in the middle of the Island and shows how far natives went into the interior of VI. In addition, there are several cross-island native trade routes, such as Nanaimo to Nitnat, Qualicum to Port Alberni, Campbell River to Bedwell Sound and others.
One possible first ascent of Mt Arrowsmith was in 1887 by famed botanist, John Macoun and his son James. They were guided by a native man, Qualicum Tom and his son Jim. If Tom guided John, I guess that likely means that he had been there before. The summit of Arrowsmith is considered a high point of land borders of several First Nations groups from the East and West sides. Human nature being what it is, why not climb to the high point of your territory and view your neighbours area?
I believe that native peoples were far more knowledgeable of their surrounding terrain than is presently given.