(2:13:58) Kathy – But here (is a story) where there was a conflict (with Dale). I came back to work, early one spring and Gaby Fortin (Chief Warden of Banff) at that time always used to get “all the boys” together to go to the ranch to trail the horses back. It was a big party and every year, everybody wondered who was going to get invited, because you were special if you got invited kind of thing. Dale came home one day and he says, “Guess what? Gaby asked me to go on the horse trailing ride!” I said, “Okay that is interesting.” I was green with envy! I said, “But you are bringing Yoho horses back too right? Because you are going to bring all the horses back.” Kootenay, Yoho and they had to have somebody from their park. So I said, “Well who is going from Yoho?” It turned out that the guy that they had asked to go couldn’t go. That night I phoned up Rutherford (Chief Warden of Yoho) and I said, “Well, it looks like the only person around who can actually go on this trip is me.” So Gord said, “Sure, yeah. I will give you permission. You go with the guys.” I came back home because I had been at work and I said, “Dale, guess what? I am going too!” And the reaction was horror! He said, “No, you are not! You are my wife you cannot go on this trip.” He wouldn’t talk to me. He was furious! The next day I had gone down and got my saddle and he says, “Well you are not coming with me.” But Dale Loewen was going…

“So this was when you were working in Lake Louise and Gaby was the Chief Warden of Banff?”

(2:15:58) Dale – Yeah, Gaby was the chief. Kathy was working in Yoho.

(2:16:06) Kathy – So anyway, I said “Okay I will ask Dale Loewen if I can go with him. Early the next morning dark as hell, Dale Loewen says “Sure.” He thought it was funnier then hell. “Dale won’t let me go with him. He won’t even talk to me.”

“But you were determined to go?”

Oh yeah. So Dale (Loewen) said, “Sure come on with me.” I remember driving down the highway and Dale is ahead of us…I got down there and we got all the gear together at the barn and Gaby kind of looked at me and smiled. He didn’t say anything. I said, “I am here because I am supposed to bring the Yoho horses back.” He didn’t say anything. Dale is still fuming, like why the hell am I not kicked off this trip yet? We got to the ranch and they brought in all the horses. I had a really good horse that I had ridden a lot called Charcoal, but they were just fresh off the range. They had been out all winter. I actually had a young colt too. I had been selected to bring up a colt, which was a real honor…They said, “What horse do you want?” I said, “I am going to ride Charcoal. Charcoal was just going nuts, he was all over the place. They had to rope him and they said, “You really want to ride this horse?”

(2:17:34) Dale – Well, they are all waiting for me to top him off.

(2:17:36) Kathy – No, no that was the colt. You didn’t say anything. You weren’t talking to me at that point…The only thing he said, I finally got the saddle on and all these guys were lined up on the bank. Dale pops up and he says, “You remember Charcoal? He threw you off one time when you tried to get on.” That was the only thing he said. So I said, “Okay, you know what I’ll do. I am just going to walk him around to calm him down a bit.” I went away and got on him, away from everybody watching me and off we went. There was this huge stampede of horses! How many horses?

(2:18:17) Dale – About 70 or 80 head.

(2:18:18) Kathy – Everybody just took off out of there like a shot. Full gallop and I was riding along and you had to keep the horses headed in the right direction because they all wanted to come back. They didn’t want to be trailed. They were always trying to cut out and get back to the ranch. Most of your energy was spent trying to make sure these horses (were headed the right way). You couldn’t watch your horse. I didn’t know where I was going. But I remember just looking at these horses and riding. Gaby was grinning at me and we were just jumping over ditches and going through the bush and around the rocks, down these slopes at a full gallop! I said to myself “Well, if they fire me, this was worth it.” It was the best thing that I have ever done in my life! It was just absolutely thrilling! I didn’t care if Dale ever talked to me again I was so happy. Finally that night we got to Scotch Camp and he kind of relented and realized that I was being accepted. The next day we were riding down the road and Gaby did come over and he says, “You know it is sure good that you know how to ride. There would have been a problem if you couldn’t ride.” Then we got into the (Banff) airport with all these horses. (The old horse barn was west of the Banff airport.) Then the next day I decided to ride the colt. That was when Loewen said to you, “Are you going to top off the horse.” And he says, “No she can do it.” So I said, “Sure, it is my horse.” So I rode her…Everybody was out taking pictures for the paper and you could just see this line of horses and all these wardens.

(2:20:00) Dale – They came out on the airport there in Banff and spread out, it was pretty cool.

(2:20:05) Kathy – It was just a huge run to the barns. Again, I was just going “This is fantastic.”…So that was sort of a marriage situation I guess. He finally relented and started talking to me. You didn’t mind in the long run, I don’t think.

(2:20:33) Dale – No, at the end of it all it was good. I was just into this thing that I am going to take off and do something on my own with the guys and everything else. The last thing you want is for your wife to come along!

(2:20:49) Kathy – But it was worth it!

(2:20:51) Dale – For you it was definitely.

(2:20:52) Kathy – Oh, you had a good time.

(2:20:54) Dale – Oh, I had a good time, yeah.

(2:21:04) Kathy – So we had quite a few things like that. Then I got on some good rescues that I got to run. Dale was in Lake Louise, so I was running the public safety in Yoho. You are getting into the upper ends of what wardens do.

(2:21:51) Kathy – Willi’s (Pfisterer) big goal was to get the wardens up Mount Robson. He had been trying and trying and they never succeeded because they always had bad weather. Finally, he got together this elite team, everybody from each park. I trained for that, like really trained to get fit. We had to climb right from the bottom. I remember standing right at the bottom, I had already gone on the Mount Logan expedition with all the women and when I was standing at the bottom of Robson I said, “This is just as big of a climb as it is on Mount Logan.” It is the same distance that you had to go. Off we went. We climbed right from the bottom all the way up to Robson hut. We got into the hut and there is a ledger there that says, “Turn back you fools! Ledges of death.” All these comments about how horrible these ledges were. I thought “Oh, shit.” Then Clair came in at the last minute, but he got flown up. We radioed down and said, “You can’t come up and join us unless you bring some beer!” He flew up with a couple of cases of beer. There were nine of us. Three on each rope. The first part of it, we climbed right to the ledges unroped. I was going, “Shit this is serious stuff.” At one point I was getting kind of nervous and Stinson was behind me, just singing away. I thought if he is singing that is great, so I just relaxed. Then we got up to these ledges and Rudi Kranebitter was there with a couple of clients. He was going to go up to, but he looked at (the weather) and said, “This is ridiculous.” Because all these storms were coming in. You could just see them all the way up from the bottom. So we got out our bivouac sacks and Rudi said, “I am not going across there. I am taking my clients down.” The wind was just something else. We thought, “Okay we will sit out the storm before we can go back down.” But no, not Willi. After two hours and you are just frozen, he says, “Okay now we go on…But now we take off the rope.” Because you had to cross this gully that went right underneath the ice fall. If anybody got hit there, you didn’t figure they would be able to save anyone else, so you had to take the rope off. He (Willi) got out his watch and he says, “Okay you have three minutes.” He went across and he stood there with his watch and he had each of us come across and he timed us. Then another load would come down, but we got across. I remember standing on the ledges and I said, “Christ, I don’t know if I can do this.” It was 7000 feet and you are basically looking down at the lake. Gerry Israelson says, “What are you going to do, stay here?” I was on the rope with Gerry and Cliffy (White). We always seemed to be roped together. He says, “Kathy you are a very good climber. You won’t have a problem. Just concentrate on what you are doing.” I said, “Okay, fine.” And I did. You paid real good attention to what you were doing! So we went across these ledges and then we hit the main spur to go up underneath these big seracs. We were going through snow, fresh snow that was over our knees. It was about three feet deep. We got underneath these big seracs, just before you hit the main summit ridge and stuff is starting to come down, it was starting to avalanche. I think it was about two in the afternoon, about the worst time to be there. Finally, Willi takes a poll. “Do you think we should go on, or what do you think?” Well, everybody said “It is really dangerous. We are going to be lucky if we get down.” So we turned down. Gerry, I remember him walking all over trying to kick this snow off. We got back down to these ledges and we are all strung out across. Nine people strung out across and everything started to come down. Ice was crashing all around you. You were always putting your pack over your head, trying to find some shelter. I was close to Cliffy and Gerry is behind me. I saw this huge piece come down and I thought, “Well, we are going to die now.” I really did think that because I figured Gerry was going to get hit. I remember saying to myself, “Well, that is too bad, but it is probably going to be pretty hard on Gerry’s family.” That was my thought. “Poor Leslie and his kids.” Anyway he didn’t get hit, he managed to hang on. We got back to the ledges and sure enough, there is Willi with his stopwatch. “Take off the rope, away you go.” The last person over had been Stinson and he put in a piton on a sling. Just for some reason, he thought “I am going to put in a piton and hang a sling off it.” He was the last one across and sure enough the whole thing came down and he leapt and he grabbed onto the sling. Then we sat there again in the bivouac tents because the storm was so bad. You know what? About ten minutes later the whole thing avalanched. I looked out and I thought, I had never been so close to certain death. It seemed like it just didn’t go away. We got back down to the hut and came down the next day. Even Dianne Volkers, she went the next year and she had a similar sort of experience. I said, “Boy, was I glad to get off that mountain.” She said the same thing with them. They actually went and climbed it and they had to repel down the ice fall. It was just as bad. She says, “I have never been so glad in my life to get off and be on flat ground.” But we got to the bar that night and Dale showed up. We were just chattering like jaybirds! I mean this was a real intense experience with these people. Nobody even said hello to him. We just ignored him and he finally left. We were so busy talking. We were going, “What the hell were we doing there?”

(2:28:49) Kathy – There was another thing on Mount Clemenceau when I was climbing with Dale. We were going up and we were the last ones along the ridge. Not the best way to go with Willi. It was late in the afternoon and all these cornices were falling apart. I was with Tim Laboucane and Dale, all these other guys had gone ahead. We were going slower because it was getting harder for us to be up there. I said to myself, “Something is going to happen here because there is this face here and this slope here.” I said, “I think it is going to go.” Sure enough, I was on this cornice and it broke. I just yelled, “Hold me!” And I leapt off the cornice as it was going down and managed to land on the less steep side. I remember leaping and these two guys going, “What is she doing?” That was another close call. It was interesting you are doing this stuff with your husband. You are fighting fires together, you are chasing bears, you are doing these big ski trips and horse trips. One of the things that occurred to me was that there was an awful lot of women (who were married to wardens) who weren’t going out in the backcountry. At that point the guys were just going by themselves. The women’s roles changed (from being silent partners in the district system to now when) basically they were just people in town. They didn’t even have a background really. I thought, “They probably, don’t have a clue what these guys are doing.” When we got down off Mount Robson, I was talking to Leslie and Gerry said, “I don’t want you to tell her anything.” He got mad at me. He said, “Don’t tell her. Don’t talk to her.” I thought, “Okay that is their relationship I guess. But he didn’t want her worrying or understanding what he was doing. I thought, there are a lot of people, a lot of women who just don’t know what is involved (with public safety). That was a big insight for me.

(2:31:29) Kathy – One of the other things I did at that time when we moved to Jasper, is I had a dog. I was on this ski trip and I had a dog. It was up Mosquito Creek and we got into a whiteout. We knew that there were cliff bands to the right and we had to stay to the left. We were following these ski tracks. All I could see was ski tracks when I was out in front. Then I stopped because the ski tracks stopped. I thought, “Hmm, where did they go? Oh they are way down there.” And the cornice broke and off I went. I hit the slope, kind of trying to drag my ski polls down. As I was going down in this avalanche I thought, “I wonder if the dog would look for me?” I had been trying to train him, but he wasn’t the right type of dog. I thought, “If I ever get another dog, I am going to train it to look for me.” I survived that, so I actually trained my next dog for search and rescue with CARDA. I didn’t ever get called out to a rescue or anything. But I did go on some pretty serious training exercises. It was simulated to be as real as anything could be. I thought, “God, if my dog doesn’t find something…This is really stressful.” So it gave me huge insight into what Dale had to deal with. Did he tell you about Mount Bryce?

(2:33:01) Dale – The Bryce story? That was an interesting one…

(2:33:13) Kathy – That is how I could really understand what these guys were dealing with.

(2:33:19) Dale – Mount Bryce involved the British army…Well the story starts out there is a climber who is walking out on a logging road in B.C. north of Donald, up there on the back side of Columbia and Mount Bryce and all of (those mountains). He is the only survivor of a climbing party. He is a corporal and the other three have been caught in an avalanche. He comes out and he flags down a vehicle that has a radio. The logging truck calls out and so they get this guy to Golden. He says, “I was with a climbing team, three captains and myself. I am the one with the least experience. I was kind of an add on at the last minute because one of the other climbers couldn’t make it. I am here to report the accident. We started climbing and we were climbing Mount Columbia.” The word then gets through to Jasper to Gerry Israelson. Gerry drives up, him and Rick Ralph, drive up to meet the survivor. The survivor tells them that they were on their way to climb Mount Columbia. He describes where they were and how an avalanche happened. He was up at the top belaying and the rope broke and all three of them were swept down the mountain and he survived. He had to climb up and then he came down the back side of the mountain. Gerry is going, the back side of Columbia? It is impossible. How the hell did this guy manage to do this? Gerry said, “Well, you are going to have to show me. We are going to get in the helicopter and you show me where you went.” So they get in the helicopter and are flying towards Mount Columbia and the guys says, “No, that is not right. We were there but…” Gerry goes, “Well are those your tracks over there?” He says, “Well maybe they are. But I thought we were going to Mount Columbia. Is that Mount Columbia? Because we didn’t go near that.” Gerry says, “That is Mount Columbia, you must have been somewhere else.” They follow these ski tracks that lead across the Castleguard glacier and then back up on to the eastern slopes of Mount Bryce. Then they see this avalanche debris. What Gerry figures out is this guy was lost. He didn’t know anything about climbing. He was just going on the word of his three climbing partners who were British military captains and they never told him that they decided they weren’t going to climb Mount Columbia that they were going to climb Mount Bryce. He didn’t know about that decision. He’s the lowly corporal, so he is not informed about anything. The story then unfolds about what happened. That they went over and started climbing Mount Bryce. They had to go up a short rock pitch into this basin. They climbed this basin and near the top of it that was when the avalanche happened. It just swept out like a toilet bowl flushing and the rope between him and his climbing partner broke. So all three of them went down to the glacier, out through this funnel and get spewed onto the bottom slope of Mount Bryce fanned out. He can see that there is one person on the surface that is alive moving around, but no sign of the other two. He decides that he can’t descend down because it is too dangerous so he climbs farther up and gets on to the ridge, the main ridge. Then he has to make a decision because the light is failing so he decides to drop right off of where he is as opposed to going down on the left hand side. He would have been caught in real cliff bands (if he had gone the other way) and probably would have been dead. But he went down into the main part of Bryce Creek, it was descending and he took his time and he finally got all the way down. He could see some braided streams down there. He got down there and then early in the morning he started walking down Bryce Creek and he hit a logging road. He started following the logging road, he heard some chainsaws. He walked up and told the story and they took him out. Now we are set up to go and fly in and look for these bodies. I am going in with Sam, (Dale’s search dog) as the first person in there. I get there and the guy on the surface is dead. So I let the dog go up to the body and kind of straighten out his curiosity and then I put him to searching…We asked the survivor, “What color was the climbing rope he was on.” He says, “It was a blue climbing rope.” Obviously then the other two are on the red climbing rope and they are buried. We can’t see them. I am searching around in that area thinking that is where it has to be and the dog isn’t really coming up with much. We probably search for about half an hour and get nothing. Then Gordie Peyto comes in with his dog and lands. He is kind of approaching it and I said, “I will go over and move to the far side of the deposit.” The deposit is probably about half a kilometer across. “I will go over and start working on the far side”… So we are thinking the body has to be somewhere next to where his climbing partner is who is on the surface. Gord starts re-searching the area that I was doing and I move over and bang! The dog hits this guy. We dig him up and he is on a blue rope. That was the rope that he was on that snapped. Then I start working down and way at the other end of the glacier I hit the guy that has been buried and his climbing partner that is dead on the surface. What happened was that rope had to snap in between the two of them and carried them to both extreme ends of the avalanche deposit. We were trying to sort this all out in our heads. It was going against all common sense. But Sam found both of them that day.

(2:41:07) Kathy – But you were stressed thinking that you weren’t going to find them.

(2:41:09) Dale – Oh yeah, I was pretty stressed that I wasn’t going to find them because I searched that whole area where logic said that they should have been and the dog hadn’t come up with anything. I am going, “Uh-oh, what is going on here? Is he just having a bad day, or what is it?” It was a relief to find both those bodies on the far side. The dog was working hard and he wasn’t making any mistakes. But, it certainly crowds your confidence when you are going, “This doesn’t make any sense. It should be this way.” But I got to believe the dog. That is the biggest thing they teach you working with a dog is believe the dog.

Dog Masters Scott Ward, Dale Portman and Gordie Peyto. Scott Ward photo collection.