Flash Back Fridays

ALICE CULBERT (NOW PURDEY) 1974/1975

Alice

Alice

Alice was an exceptional female outdoor leader. Female instructors were in hot demand by both the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) and with Outward Bound, so we were lucky to get her.  She was also a registered nurse (RN). My daughter, Elizabeth, who had taken an Outward Bound course the previous year was given the job of being Alice’s assistant. Liz still talks about how much she learned from Alice.

ALICE—BY ELIZABETH BOULDING

During the summer of 1974, I was a 16 year old assistant to Alice Purdey who was the first Strathcona Lodge Instructor to teach week long mountaineering courses. Alice had been on the 1967 expedition to Mount Logan and had twice instructed the girls’ course at the former Canadian Outward Bound School at Keremeos. Alice was married to the mountaineer Dick Culbert but he was away in South America so my mother provided a full-time babysitter in Cabin 9 for their children: Heather who was almost 4 and Vance who was 18 months. Strathcona Lodge was busy teaching mountain leadership and water-safety courses that summer and tuition was free for practicing B.C. school teachers.

The first course that I was on with Alice was Basic Mountain Leadership. We went up the Flower Ridge trail on a sunny day with a very large group including the Strathcona Instructors: Mike Rewald, Doug Dobyns, and Bob Sutherland. I was the “sweep” leader who encouraged the teachers at the end of the group. What I remember most about the hike up was that one of the female teachers with dark hair fainted at the first tarn (about 1200 metres) and was later diagnosed as having heat exhaustion.

There were some crumbling rock cliffs on the east side of Flower Ridge and it was here that Alice instructed us in rock climbing using traditional top-roping. First the rope was tied in a single coil around the waist of the climber using a bowline. As the climber climbed, the rope was kept taut by the belayer whom was tied to a tree at the top of the cliff. I remember that the pitches were short but that the foot holds were loose.

Alice was accustomed to Outward Bound Instructors and remarked that some of the Strathcona instructors, did not seem very comfortable climbing on rock. I explained that they usually taught Wilderness Survival or Natural History to groups of school children. Indeed on that same Flower Ridge trip I remember Bob and Mike identifying alpine flowers for an admiring group of school teachers.

Alice helped Elizabeth to become at ease in the mountains

Alice helped Elizabeth to become at ease in the mountains

My next trip with Alice was up the Marble Meadows trail in an attempt to climb McBride. I had been on the trail twice before: once in 1972 as a participant on a large Strathcona Summer camp led by John and Anne Gregg and once in 1973 on a traverse over Mount McBride with two Mount Douglas high school students, Jill Evans and Karen Morison. What I remember about the trip with Alice is walking up the trail on a sunny day near the front of a large group of teachers and feeling frustrated about how slowly the group was moving. It seemed to my callow 16 year old self that the teachers stopped at the top of every hill to take photographs of flowers just so that they could rest. They seemed to become even slower when the trail became steeper at 1400 metres especially where it was covered with a crust of snow. I remember being surprised to find that one of the older teachers, 50 year old Betty Baldry, was an experienced hiker and moved uphill far more quickly than two of the female teachers in their 20s. Despite my fears, we did eventually make it to Marble Meadows. Later that day Alice led a small group of us part way up Marble Peak where we got a good view of Strathcona Park. We continued across the Meadows towards Mount McBride the next day walking mostly on snow. It must have been sunny weather because several of the teachers became badly sunburned, including to my surprise, one of them with naturally dark skin. Unfortunately, the next day was so foggy and rainy the next day that Alice decided we should head home. She told me privately that she was anxious about turning back. The Director at Outward Bound had became annoyed when their instructors came back early because of bad weather. I remember reassuring her that my father was not a fan of the “man against nature” philosophy and would trust that she had made the safe decision.

My final and best trip with Alice was to Cream Lake. At that time there was no trail so my father drove us at the end of an old logging road on the east side of Thelwood Creek so that Alice could lead us up the ridge that divided Thelwood Creek from Price Creek. The day was hot and we had to gain about 1000 vertical metres along a ridge covered with logging slash. After an hour of bush-whacking, two of the school teachers decided they had had enough and headed back downhill towards the highway with one of the Instructors. Fortunately the moderately large group of teachers and instructors that remained was strong and motivated and included another Mount Doug student, Gordon Wood and two teachers, Barry and Carol, who ran the outdoors club at Kitsilano High School. Alice led us up the logging slash and then up the rhododendron bushes near the top of the ridge. Once we were up the ridge we had a wonderful trip. We stopped part way along the ridge and Alice had me pretend to be an injured climber who had fallen over a snow cliff so that she could show the teachers how to rescue me using lots of ice axes to form a pulley for the rope. The next day we arrived at Cream Lake and set up the Lodge’s brand new four-person McKinley tents on the bluffs overlooking the lake. That evening some of us took our ice axes and climbed up the steep snowfield that goes partway up Mount Septimus. The following day Alice led us directly up from Cream Lake in an attempt to climb Big Interior Mountain. We crossed several large snowfields on our way to the peak. Alice then rapidly headed up the steep back side of one of the peaks where we encountered lots of crumbly rock and poor footing. I did not like the climbing on the loose rock at all. Not only was our group climbing very slowly but some members were careless about knocking loose stones. Consequently Alice finally decided that we needed to turn back. We had a wonderful time bum- sliding and boot-glissading down all the snow fields back down to Cream Lake.

After that summer I realized that I wasn’t like Alice. Even though I loved being in the mountains I was not willing to take the risks inherent in climbing on crumbly rock that would be necessary if I were to become a professional mountaineer. I told Bob and Mike that I wanted to become a biologist like them. I remember the two of them taking me to the bog one day to learn to identify bird calls. I wasn’t good at it but even I realized that something was up when they asked me to identify a particularly loud call that turned out to be a squirrel. I did not realize at the time that there might be other sorts of biologists so I started to tell everyone that I was going to be a medical doctor. However, once I went to University I realized that there were many kinds of biologists and I am now an Associate Professor of Marine Biology at the University of Guelph. Toby and I have a daughter, Emma, who will soon graduate from University herself. We all still like being in the mountains.

Cream Lake with Mt. Septimus in back

Cream Lake with Mt. Septimus in back

I found out only recently that Alice continued to be a mountaineer, a dedicated mother and a registered nurse. In the summer of 1975 she reached the summit of Mount St. Elias. After separating from her husband Dick, she accepted a CUSO position in Columbia where she and the children stayed for the next two years. She then returned to Canada and took her Masters at the University of Calgary in Anthropology. Once the children were grown up Alice and her current husband, Fred Douglas, another mountaineer, spent five years doing health care training in the foothills of Nepal. Her children Heather and Vance have gone on to live lives of adventure and humanitarian service and Heather just gave her their first grand child last May. They are also both mountaineers.