NOW FEATURING: The Mystery Mountain Project
Make sure you catch this exciting film in our online cinema! In 1926, a young couple set off into the British Columbia wilderness in search of an undiscovered mountain. A century later a group of would-be adventurers tries to retrace their steps. But they soon find they’ve bitten off more than they can chew and it will take everything they’ve got to avoid disaster...
Don’t miss out – this film is only featured until 28th February 2021.
The Mystery Mountain Project plunges us into the history of Canadian mountain adventure. In 1926, Don and Phyllis Munday, renowned mountaineering pioneers, set off to explore the British Columbia wilderness in search of a mysterious mountain that was simply shown as a blank space in their maps. This film joins a group of adventurers retracing these incredible yet challenging steps almost a century later.
We spoke to Director Greg Gransden about the 20th century adventure that inspired this film and how modern expeditions compare...
Did you know very much about the Mundays before taking on this film, and what appealed to you about their story?
Before I took on the film, I had read Don Munday’s book about their exploration of the Waddington Range. What appealed to me about them was that they made these incredibly arduous mountaineering expeditions look like fun. They didn’t seem to be motivated by ambition or ego, but by a love of the mountains and pleasure in the company of their friends.
They also possessed an extraordinary toughness and grit. Don was a World War I veteran. He didn’t have full use of his left arm because of shrapnel wounds, and his lungs were permanently damaged by gas. Mountaineering is hard enough when your body is intact and undamaged. There’s a picture of Don in the film where he’s climbing an almost vertical ice wall with a bundle on his back. That bundle was their 6 month old daughter, Edith. Nothing could stop them!
Having been on the trail, what most surprised you about the Mundays' original expedition and lifestyle?
I knew the Mundays had gone into largely unexplored territory, but I don’t think I quite realized how hazardous it would be. The whole area is teeming with bears, both black and grizzlies. We had several bear encounters, including with a grizzly, which I personally found terrifying. I had a can of bear spray with me, but it’s not very reliable against grizzlies.
The rivers in the Homathko Valley are all torrents. At one point, we found a very old tree with a boulder embedded in it – that’s how violent the rivers are. There are also long stretches of swamp and marsh. These areas have no good water sources, which makes them tricky to cross if you don’t have a water filter or water purification tablets – and the expedition members didn’t, because they weren’t part of the vintage equipment.
There was a heat wave during much of our journey, and in fact one of our team members collapsed from heat exhaustion in one of these swampy areas. We were lucky he recovered, because it would have been impossible to get him timely medical help. We didn’t realize until afterwards what a close call it had been.
Do you think modern equipment and technology have diminished us as explorers or emboldened us?
Rob Wood, a retired British mountaineer I interviewed for the film, told me something that stayed with me. He said that to experience a deeper, transcendent connection with nature, you have to leave behind modern communications technology when you go into the mountains. Your group must form an autonomous unit, and deal with whatever hardships or challenges nature throws your way without outside assistance, just as the Mundays did.
The Mundays knew that if they got into trouble, they could expect no help. We carried a satellite texting device that could be used to call for helicopter medevac at any hour of the day. It would take a lot of courage to give that up in a place like the Waddington Range.
Why do you think it’s important for modern-day explorers to delve into these past lives and experiences?
Staging a historical re-enactment makes you think about the details of past lives in a way that no history lesson can. There’s nothing like carrying a homemade wooden-frame pack to put you in the skin of someone who lived and trekked a hundred years ago.
Has their story led you on to further research or future projects in British Columbia?
I’m thinking of doing a film about Miles and Beryl Smeeton, a couple who were very much like the Mundays. They were explorers, adventurers, mountaineers, sailors and wildlife conservationists in early 20th-century British Columbia.
What do you think the Mundays would have thought of this re-enacted expedition and your film?
I think the Mundays would have found the whole enterprise rather strange. They were very modest about their accomplishments and probably wouldn't understand why anyone would want to replicate them. Don, in particular, had a real disdain for people who put themselves through unnecessary hardship. “Needless roughing it in the wilderness is less a proof of hardiness than a display of indolence, lack of ingenuity in getting all possible comfort under existing conditions, or plain disregard for such a fine bit of mechanism as the human body,” he wrote in his book The Unknown Mountain.
About Greg Gransden
Greg Gransden is a television writer, director and producer based in Montreal. His work has been featured on the National Geographic Channel, the CBC, History Television, Discovery and others.
Through the Alpine Club of Canada, he became involved in rock climbing and mountaineering. This led to his first independent film, Hobnails and Hemp Rope, which was completed with the support of the Whyte Museum and the Royal Canadian Geographical Society.
Greg is also a canoe trip leader and board member of Camp Outlook, an Ontario charity whose mission is to make the wilderness accessible to at-risk youth through backcountry canoe tripping.