1. Rock Climbing on Mount Smuts

Climbing mountains has become a popular sport despite its potential dangers. Avalanches, slips and falls, altitude sickness, and adverse weather have never given pause to long-time CORE member Harvey Kwan who scrambles up mountains to see the earth from a God’s eye view.

Not to be confused with hiking, alpine scrambling is referenced as one of the most dangerous and aggressive forms of outdoor recreation. Every year injuries or deaths due to scrambling accidents occur in the Canadian Rocky Mountains. Alpine scrambling is done mostly off-trail, using the least technical route, and often climbing small rock faces to ascend the mountain. It is generally done without climbing equipment such as a body harness, ropes, and protection hardware. “Scrambling is somewhere between steep hiking and rock climbing. It takes time and a certain amount of skill to figure out the correct route, and be as safe as possible,” explains Harvey.

Harvey was attracted to this sport 22 years ago by a guide book a friend gave him called, “Scrambles in the Canadian Rockies” by Alan Kane. Since then, he has ascended some of the most spectacular mountains in the Rockies, many of which top out at heights over 10,000 feet (3,000 metres).

“Personally, it has taken me many years to learn the craft of climbing mountains. By taking courses, learning from others, and learning from my mistakes, I have gone from doing easy hikes up mountains to intermediate scrambles, then on to difficult scrambles. This process laid a great foundation for me to do mountaineering climbs such as Mount Kilimanjaro (Africa) and Mount Elbrus (Russia).”

Sun and Snow on Mount Kerr

Sun and Snow on Mount Kerr

Harvey also ascended Mount Kenya (the second-highest mountain in Africa 4,985 metres), on a five day guided trip. “This was my first taste of high altitude, big mountain climbing done expedition style (as part of a large group led by experienced guides and support staff),” he says. “On Mount Kilimanjaro, summit day was the hardest day of the trip. We ascended at midnight in the dark by headlamp. It was surreal looking back down the hill and seeing all the headlamps heading up hill from other teams trying to get to the top of Kili. It took over 6 hours to get to there (the approximate elevation gain for that day was 1,300 metres on a fairly steep slope); we arrived there at about 7:00 a.m. My favourite memory was when we got back down to base camp from the summit. The support staff (e.g., cooks, porters, guides) celebrated our achievement by singing, and giving us orange juice.”

Like many people after an expedition, Harvey asked himself, what’s next? After a little motivation from friends and some self-reflection, he decided upon Mount Elbrus, the highest mountain in Europe. In 2012, he climbed Mount Elbrus on a two week guided trip. Coming home he discovered that scrambling the Rocky Mountains in Canada was very different from climbing the high altitude peaks. “Scrambling back home, I can move a lot faster because the mountains are much lower. In the thin air, you have to work harder to get enough oxygen into your lungs as you move even higher up the mountain. So on summit day on Kilimanjaro we moved at a snail’s pace to prevent the effects of high altitude sickness and to conserve energy.”

At the Top of Mount Baldy

At the Top of Mount Baldy

For Harvey, the least pleasurable aspect of his mountaineering experiences is altitude sickness. On Kili, he witnessed many people becoming ill and struggling with the altitude. When this happens, the only way to get better is to get down as fast as possible to a lower elevation. “The fittest person can succumb to the effects of altitude sickness and develop symptoms of edema,” he says. “Once you ascend 3,000 metres above sea level, altitude sickness is just one of the difficulties that can come. You can be the fittest person in the world and it would still affect you.”

In his hometown of Calgary, Canada, Harvey has been busy climbing mountains in the Canadian Rockies. “I have climbed, scrambled and hiked many mountains here. My goal is to scramble 156 mountains from the very book that roused my excitement so many years ago. I have stood atop many mountains, but I am very proud of completing over 130 mountains from the Kane list. What used to be just a pastime for me has turned into an active passion,” says Harvey.

Of the Seven Summits (the highest mountains on each of the seven continents), Harvey has made it to the top of two. “My friends and I are thinking about climbing Mount Aconcagua, highest mountain in South America (6,961 metres). It would be a dream to finish the rest of the summits, but it may remain only a dream,” says Harvey.

Mount Everest isn’t at the top of the list for him. Rather, scrambling the remaining 17-odd mountains from his guided book is. Very few people have completed all of the mountains from the Kane book. The first mountain Harvey ascended was Ha Ling Peak (formerly known as Chinaman’s Peak), located south of a mountain town called Canmore. “I remember feeling extremely scared when I reached the top. I may have even experienced a bit of vertigo; but looking back, everything about that moment—including the location— is significant to me. Ha Ling Peak has special meaning for me because I am of Chinese ancestry. I now use Ha Ling Peak as my training ground to build up my fitness for my difficult climbs.”

Scaling Mount Caravan

Scaling Mount Carnarvon

For everything else mountains may be, they are inevitably dangerous. The majority of Harvey’s scrambles are taken with a group of people, with him often leading the endeavor. “I’m incredibly cautious when I go out scrambling. Beforehand, I do a lot of research. I prep for every climb (regardless of its grade of simplicity or difficulty), bring the proper equipment, and follow the weather closely. There were many times when I have had to turn around because of sudden changes in the weather; it all depends on my level of comfort in that moment. I don’t consider myself a professional climber—in fact I’m far from it,” states Harvey. “I consider myself a very ordinary guy who is motivated and goal-orientated.”

For Harvey, mountain scrambling has been a relatively safe activity. His most serious injury has been a sprained ankle. “Although I’ve never been hit with lightning I felt its charge travel up my arm one day when I lifted my hiking pole in the air. As we ascended we could see thunderstorms all around us. Normally when that happens you’re supposed to try to get off the mountain as fast as you can, or quickly get to a side of the mountain where the lightning isn’t striking. But that day I kept on scrambling Mount Bogart (second attempt to get to the top). The desire to reach the top of the mountain was just too great to stop and turn around; luckily I wasn’t struck by lightning.”

CORE members ascending Mt Nigel near the Columbia Icefields

CORE members ascending Nigel Peak

Of all the mountains he has summited, the most memorable one was Mount Temple (3,544 metres) in Alberta, Canada. “I really had to fight and work hard to scramble to the top of that one; however Mount Elbrus was the most difficult mountain I have ever climbed because I experienced acute altitude sickness when we went above 5,000 metres on summit day. I even got a little emotional when I reached the top.”

To Harvey, all the mountains he’s climbed have meaning to him and all are unique in their own way. “Climbing mountains is a bit of metaphor in life for me; there are many obstacles to overcome in order to get to the top of the mountain and back down safely. You never know what your day is going to be like in the mountains. Sometimes things just go wrong the whole day and sometimes it seems easy, but I keep going back for more.”

Harvey considers himself to be very adventurous. He and his wife have hiked/backpacked the trail that goes to Machu Picchu (ancient city of the Inca’s in Peru), travelled to the Galapagos Islands in Ecuador, taken a jungle trek in Ecuador, completed the famous backpack trip on the Chilkoot Trail (Klondike gold rush trail) in Alaska, backpacked the West Coast Trail on Vancouver Island, B.C., and experienced a safari in Africa. A friend of Harvey’s family described him as having wanderlust. “I love the views from the top of the mountains; the scenery is spectacular and the experiences are second to no picture.” On his journeys he has run into many different animals (deer, sheep, goats, elks, and a grizzly bear).

Mount Crandel

Harvey at Mount Crandel

“What I really enjoy about this sport are the people I ascend mountains with. I have developed some really great friendships with the people I have gone up and down the mountains with (there is a fair amount of teamwork involved in mountain climbing). I have lead many mountain trips but it is the trust and faith my friends have in me and I in them that we will succeed and get to the top and back down safely. We do not always get to the top, but many times we do,” says Harvey. “The sense of accomplishment, when you drive up to a trailhead (parking lot), you look at what you are going to climb, it looks daunting but if you are persistent you will get to the top and back down safely. It is a real high and kind of spiritual in some ways. A side effect it is also great exercise. Pushing your limits and there is a certain amount of ego to mountain climbing.”

Besides mountain scrambling, Harvey also enjoys skiing, snowshoeing, biking, hiking, backpacking, sport climbing, and occasionally canoe trips and outdoor sports in general. “The motto I like to live by is Work Hard. Play Hard. I joined Sensor Geophysical in 1995 and have really enjoyed working here. I’m very grateful to my wife Carol, my family, and to Sensor for allowing me to be able to follow my passion,” he says. “I could not have done many of my outdoor adventures without the help and support of my friends, family, and especially my wife Carol and for Sensor Geophysical for allowing the time to pursue my love of climbing mountains.”

Credits: This article first appeared in Global Geophysical Services (Sensor Geophysical) Newsletter in April, 2013, where Harvey was employed at the time.

CORE is the Calgary Outdoor Recreation Enthusiasts (Society), with a web presence at https://corehike.org/