Whistler Museum and Archives Society Mountain Culture,Museum Musings From Recruitment to Expertise: Neal Carter and Tom Fyles

From Recruitment to Expertise: Neal Carter and Tom Fyles


Neal Carter started climbing mountains at 15 years old, after a trip up Grouse Mountain with his uncle. Over the next few years, he continued exploring the Grouse area on his own. When he met Tom Fyles, a Vancouver postman and member of the British Columbia Mountaineering Club (BCMC), in 1920, he was introduced to a world of mountaineering possibilities. Fyles, along with fellow mountaineer Mickey Dodds, took Carter on a trip up Goat Mountain. There they showed Carter the mountains the club was exploring, as well as other areas of interest. Carter joined the BCMC that week and became one of the regulars.

By joining the club and climbing with experienced mountaineers, Carter learned quickly about solid techniques and the risks of the activity. On a trip he took with Fyles up Cathedral Mountain, he slipped as he was summiting the mountain. This near-accident taught Carter about caution, but it did not deter him from building his mountaineering careers and becoming a leader within the community.

Table Mountain, a rare climb. Cliff Fenner Collection

Fyles had a similar introduction to the BCMC as Carter. Fyles moved to Vancouver from England in 1910. He was immediately awestruck by the mountains, but did not know how to “get there.” Two year later, after a failed attempt to find a way to the trails, he met a member of the BCMC at the post office where he worked. He took Fyles up to the Grouse Mountain cabin, and that was it; Fyles joined the BCMC. Though it was an adjustment at first – he had never camped before and didn’t know what equipment to bring – he was a naturally talented climber and quickly became an experienced leader.

A few years after Fyles joined the BCMC, he served as a committee member, then became their climbing director for nine years, until he left the club in 1926. He became synonymous with the BCMC, leading several expeditions and successful ascents. Fyles also solo-ascended some difficult climbs, including The Table. Though not a recommended route today, to an early 20th century mountaineer it was a welcome challenge.

After the BCMC encountered The Table in 1914, it was closely studied and had particular interest to Fyles. A few years later, Fyles and two other members made a trip out to attempt the summit. When they reached the loose and rotten rocks, the other two men stayed behind, while Fyles continued on and successfully made it up. He led more trips to The Table in the following years, including one with Carter in 1922 that was the second known ascent of the BCMC.

Right: View from the summit of Wedge Mountain; left: Back of photograph. Carter took his photographs from the 1923 expedition and wrote backwards mountains known and explored by the BCMC. When backlit, you can see these markings through the photograph. This helped him map Garibaldi Park and was likely used for presentations to others. Neal Carter Collection

Carter is reported to have said, “That’s one mountain that I never want to climb again! The only consolation was that it was in the fog, so we couldn’t see how far the drop below us was as we three clung to the loose chunks of rock that kept threatening to pull out of the sheer wall.”

Though Fyles left the BCMC, he continued his mountaineering careers through the Alpine Club of Canada. He and Carter were on many expeditions together, including the attempt on Mt Waddington in 1934, where they lost their friend Alex Dalgleish.

Many years later, Carter successfully advocated for a mountain in Bella Coola to be named in honour of Tom Fyles.

Today is the last day to check out Mapping the Mountains, the Whistler Museum’s latest temporary exhibit that tells the story of the 1923 Carter/Townsend expedition of our local mountains, so be sure to drop by!

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