In his drive to make the first ascents of high mountains, James Outram was probably the most ambitious of the early climbers to visit the Canadian Rockies. He was a British Clergyman who had been the vicar of St. Peter's Anglican Church at Ipswich and had had experience climbing in the Alps. Outram's focus on first ascents was made clear when he wrote that the mountaineer's soul, "will crave- and rightly so- the chief joy of the climber's ambition, a 'first ascent'." This unabashed competitive urge brought him into conflict with some of the other early mountaineers. Norman Collie referred to him as an "interloper" and wrote that some of the climbers who had done the early exploration of an area should, "get some of the scalps."
Outram first came to the Canadian Rockies in 1900 to recuperate following a breakdown from overwork. He made an ascent of Cascade Mountain and from the summit, "I obtained my first glimpse of Mount Assiniboine, at that time the most talked about peak in the Canadian Rockies, christened 'the Matterhorn of North America,' and deemed as inaccessible as its prototype was forty years before."
His twenty-eight first ascents were concentrated into the years 1901 and 1902. Two of the most notable were Mount Assiniboine in September, 1901 and Mount Columbia in July of the following year.
Many of the high mountains he climbed were in the headwaters of the North Saskatchewan River where Outram was able to take advantage of Norman Collie's preliminary explorations of 1898. During the summer of 1902, together with his guide Christian Kaufmann and outfitters Jimmy Simpson and Fred Ballard, he completed the first ascents of ten peaks exceeding 10 000 feet during the fifty-four day outing.
An incident during this trip resulted in Jimmy Simpson recalling that, "Outram wanted all the glory himself," and that he treated Kaufmann as, "just help." Simpson had accompanied Outram and Kaufman on a long, late day hike to reconnoiter Mount Columbia, which with an elevation of 3747 metres, is the highest peak in Alberta. When a promising route was discovered, Jimmy became quite excited about the climb which was planned for the next day and asked if he could accompany Outram to the summit but his request was refused.
Outram and Kaufman left camp at 1:00 a.m. the following morning and eleven hours later, "planted the Union Jack upon the broad white platform which crowns the summit of the highest point so far occupied in Canada." They returned to camp at 11:00 p.m., completing their twenty-two hour day.
The first ascent of Mount Wilson was the last climb in James Outram's very successful summer of 1902 during which he recorded first ascents of eight major peaks including Mount Columbia. Of the view from Mount Wilson he wrote that, "The view was one of the most delightful of the year. Besides the new country now displayed to the north and east, the panorama furnished a complete resume of our entire trip, and no other mountain could have offered so perfect an ideal for a consummation of the summer's mountaineering... The vast sea of mountains, in all their majesty of might, the attendant valleys, filled with treasures of most perfect beauty, glacier and forest depth, sparkling stream and flower-decked glade, have graven with imperishable strokes upon my memory a record that will be a never-ceasing joy throughout life."
Outram spent his remaining years in Canada, having found, "in the lonely woods or on the solitary mountain tops of Canada, the long-sought sanctuary of the storm-tossed soul. There, burdens that seemed too heavy to be borne are rolled away."
His book, "In the Heart of the Canadian Rockies," provides an excellent record and contains numerous wonderful quotations such as, "There is a wonderful fascination about mountains. Their massive grandeur, majesty of lofty height, splendour of striking outline -crag and pinnacle and precipice -seem to appeal both to he intellect and to the inmost soul of man, and to compel a mingled reverence and love. . .More especially is this the case where snow and glacier combine to add a hundred fold to all the other charms and glories of the peaks. Their inspiration almost overwhelms one. . ."