Kain, Conrad
Conrad Kain (Courtesy Whyte Museum, V14 AC192 P/4)
(1883-1934)

Conrad Kain was born in Nasswald, Austria (see Nasswald Peak).

Of all the mountain guides who came to Canada in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, Conrad Kain is probably the one who is most respected. His autobiography entitled, "Where the Clouds can Go" is a classic of Canadian mountain literature and tells the story of his early, difficult life in Austria which was transformed when he came to Canada in 1909 to lead climbs at the Alpine Club of Canada's Lake O'Hara camp. Although credited with fifty first ascents, including Mount Louis, his most significant was Mount Robson, the highest peak in the Canadian Rockies (please see Mount Robson) and one of the most spectacular mountains in the world, which he climbed in 1913 with Albert MacCarthy and William Foster.

Although renowned as a leader, climber, and storyteller, Conrad Kain's personal attributes were the qualities for which he is most respected. A measure of the character of the man is the fact that he consistently attempted to give credit to Curly Phillips and George Kinney who had come so close to the summit of Robson in 1909. Although Kinney was an experienced mountaineer, Curly Phillips was a novice, using a stick rather than an ice axe during the attempt. According to Phillips they reached, "(in mist and storm), an ice-dome fifty or sixty feet high, which we took for the peak. The danger was too great to ascend the dome."

Conrad Kain wrote of their efforts on the mountain, "They deserve more credit than we, even though they did not reach the highest point, for in 1909 they had many more obstacles to overcome than we; for at that time the railway, which brought us almost to the foot of the mountain, was then no less than 200 miles from their goal, and their way had to be make over rocks and brush, and we must not forget the dangerous river crossings."

As a professional mountain guide Conrad Kain laid out the methods by which a guide should gain and maintain the confidence of his party: "First, he should never show fear. Second, he should be courteous to all, and always give special attention to the weakest member in the party. Third, he should be witty, and able to make up a white lie on short notice, and tell it in a convincing manner. Fourth, he should know when and how to show authority; and, when the situation demands it, should be able to give a good scolding to whomsoever deserves it."

Sadly, Conrad Kain died at a young age, just six months after his fiftieth birthday. On that day he had completed his last difficult climb, another ascent of Mount Louis. In a letter to Charles Thompson, the respected outfitter Jimmy Simpson wrote: "Conrad gave every ounce of his best at all times. He would die for you, if need be, quicker than most men think of living. No matter what his creed, his colour, or his nationality, he was measured by a man's yardstick, no other. We shall all miss him."

Conrad Kain's gravestone carries the inscription, "A mountain guide of rare spirit."

[Additional Information: Kain, Conrad. "Where the Clouds can Go". New York: American Alpine Club, 1935]

[See Mount Kain; Wonder Peak]

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