Philip Abbot (courtesy Whyte Archives)
Philip S. Abbot
When Philip Abbot came to the Canadian Rockies as part of the Appalachian Mountain Club's expedition of 1895 he was regarded as one of the most capable mountaineers in the United States. A Harvard educated attorney he was an employee of the Wisconsin Central Railway. Together with Charles Thompson and Charles Fay he completed the first ascent of Mount Hector and climbed Mount Stephen before travelling to climb in the Selkirk Range.
During the summer they made two unsuccessful attempts to climb Mount Lefroy. Charles Fay later wrote that, "Evidently the Fates werre against us, and we withdrew, with a feeling that Lefroy was our debtor."
The challenge of completing the climb of the unclimbed Mount Lefroy was on the minds of the trio through the following winter of 1895-96. They returned to the Canadian Rockies the following summer and early in the morning of August 3, 1896 Fay, Thompson, Abbot, and George Little paddled across Lake Louise towards Mount Lefroy. After reaching what is now known as Abbot Pass. Charles Fay later wrote that, "Abbot had scanned the western side of Lefroy, now for the first time clearly revealed to us, and joyfully exclaimed:'The peak is ours!'" Fay wrote that at this point, ". . .his enthusiasm found ample expression in that ever happy smile, his beaming eyes, and his quiet remark."
However there was much serious climbing involved in the 600 metres that remained. Lacking crampons and other equipment taken for granted today, the party spent hours cutting steps and on loose ribs of rocks. Approaching the summit at 5:30 pm, Abbot, who was leading the climb, unroped to climb ahead on his own. Charles Fay described what happened next, "A moment later Little, whose attention was for the moment diverted to another portion of the crag, was conscious that something had fallen swiftly past him, and i knew only too well what it must be. Thompson and I, standing at the base of the cliff, saw our dar friend falling backward and head-foremost, sqw him strike the upper margin of the ice slope within fifteeen feetof us, turn completely over an instatly begin rolling down its steep incline." Shortly after the rest of the party reached him Philip Abbot died.
This was the first climbing fatality in North America and resulted in much attention in the press. Charles Fay and others were forced to defend mountaineering, Fay writing of the sport that, "the gain therefrom for the general and the individual life in an age of growing carefulness for ease and luxury must be held to outweigh the deporaable losses..."
At the request of Philip Abbot's family, an expedition guided by the first of the Swiss guides to work in the Canadian Rockies, Peter Sarbach, reached the summit of Mount Lefroy exactly one year following the accident.