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Jean Habel (Courtesy Whyte Museum, NA 35-3)

Jean Habel

(c.1845-1902) "The professor was no meek follower in other men’s footsteps. Not on your life! He believed in striking out for himself and, regardless of the opinion of others, following out his theories to their culmination in either victory or defeat." Jean Habel’s guide and outfitter in the Yoho Valley. Inspired by his views of what he named Hidden Mountain (now known as Mount Des Poilus from the Big Hill in 1896, Jean Habel returned the following year to, "explore the regions to a point as high as possible upon this peak." A tall, dignified mathematics professor from Berlin, Habel was highly regarded in mountaineering circles. As well as his trips in the Canadian Rockies, he climbed and explored in the Alps and Andes which were not extensively known at that time. However, like some of the other European visitors he had difficulty relating to the packers and outfitters who he was forced to work with and depend upon. Probably at the suggestion of Tom Wilson, he travelled to Emerald Lake and reached the Yoho Valley by way of Yoho Pass. The descent into the valley and indeed his entire seventeen day exploration of it was limited by bad weather and difficult travelling conditions in the more lush growth found on the western side of the Continental Divide. Although in later years Tom Wilson vehemently insisted that he had reached the Yoho Valley on a prospecting trip in 1884, Habel is generally given credit for being the first to see Takkakaw Falls and certainly was the first to reach the head of the river and the Yoho Glacier. The party’s first venture onto the glacier was interrupted when Fred Stephens, one of the outfitters, fell into a crevasse and had to be rescued. Two days later the group ascended the glacier again and succeeded in reaching an outlying rampart of Mount Balfour. Although Habel’s party was close enough for a good view of his "Hidden Peak," they did not attempt to climb it as Mount Balfour apparently became the professor’s mountaineering focus. Short of provisions, the party abandoned their climbing plans and followed the Yoho River to its confluence with the Kicking Horse near the present day Trans-Canada Highway. In 1901 Habel returned to the Canadian Rockies and journeyed as far north as present day Jasper National Park, becoming the first to reach the headwaters of the Athabasca River and see the north face of Mount Columbia. Unfortunately this trip, like his explorations in the Yoho Valley in 1897, was plagued by poor weather and he was unable to attempt to climb the mountain. He also explored what is now known as Habel Creek in Jasper National Park. Like many others, he became fascinated with Mount Columbia and during the following winter contracted with Tom Wilson to take him on an extended expedition to the peak via the Columbia River. Unfortunately, Jean Habel died suddenly before he could return to the Canadian Rockies and attempt to climb its second highest peak. [See Mount Habel]