Extreme Landscape: the tragedy and the triumph
Of the many tales of the Canadian Rockies, none is more poignant than the story of Dr. and Mrs. Winthrop Stone.
Winthrop Ellsworth Stone, a prominent American chemist, university president and mountaineer, climbed extensively in the Canadian Rockies and Selkirks, often in the company of his wife Margaret.
In 1921 the Stones attended the annual Alpine Club of Canada camp at Mount Assiniboine and, from there, set out on July 15th to execute a first ascent of Mount Eon. Upon reaching a chimney just below the summit on the evening of Sunday, July 17th, Dr. Stone proceeded alone. The moments following are documented in the Canadian Alpine Journal:
Dr. Stone then climbed out of the chimney and disappeared for a minute or so and shortly afterwards, without any warning, a large slab of rock tumbled off
from above, passing over Mrs. Stone, and was closely followed by Dr. Stone,
who spoke no word but held his ice axe firmly in his right hand. Horror
stricken at the sight, Mrs. Stone braced herself to take the jerk of the rope, not
realizing that the Doctor had taken it off in order to explore beyond its length.
(CAJ xii, p.16, 1922)
For the next seven days, Margaret Stone was stranded on Mount Eon. She attempted to climb down, hoping to find her husband alive, but soon found herself trapped. Alone and cold she waited, catching water droplets in a scarf, until a rescue party reached her late on Sunday, July 24th.
Archival records in the Alpine Club of Canada fonds document Dr. and Mrs. Stone's mountaineering activities and tragic accident. Included are Winthrop Stone=s photographs and writings, as well as administrative and anecdotal records pertaining to the accident and the rescue of Margaret Stone.
Archival holdings preserve the story in modern forms as well. In 1975, Banff writer Jon Whyte set out to capture the intensity of Mrs. Stone's experience. The Jon Whyte literary papers (Jon Whyte fonds) contain research notes and annotated drafts for Whyte's three-part poem "The Agony of Mrs. Stone."
A mountain is too huge
She hears the cries of birds
The forest is not so far below that birds are alien
Puffed eyes, burnt arms, stiff and thickening fingers
No longer thinks about thinking
Thinks about the water bottle in his pack
Things become more important than thoughts
(excerpt from The Agony of Mrs. Stone / by Jon Whyte, published in Matrix: new Canadian writing, summer 1977)