Mount Robson Ranch, not a “Dude Ranch” eh

Leonard Lea Frazer

Introduction: When I first approached Isabel Cochrane of Mount Robson Ranch about including a story about the ranch in the 1978 Summer Edition of the Yellowhead Magazine, without hesitation, she invited me out.

On a huge dining room table she showed me old photos of her family and promotional artefacts about the ranch and guiding trips that had been offered in the past dating back to when she was a young girl growing up in the shadows of the highest peak in the Canadian Rockies.

Mount Robson, the Tumbling Glacier and Berg Lake.
Mount Robson, the Tumbling Glacier and Berg Lake.
Roy Hargreaves.
Roy Hargreaves.

From that one visit to Isabel’s dining room I was able to gather loads of material including a description (below) of the ranch’s history and activities. At the 1987 Hargreaves and Pearce Family Reunion, where I was hired to photograph the many family groups, I had the privilege of interviewing Isabel’s uncle, Dick Hargreaves, the youngest and only remaining original Hargreaves brother. The early years of the ranch and excursions into the hills came alive at that simple yet historic ranch meeting.  Today, Mount Robson Ranch operates as a guest ranch and continues with many of the traditions of the original owners.

“Though it is so classified, Mount Robson Ranch is not a “dude ranch.” It was conceived over 50 years ago before the term was a familiar part of the English language. Its founders, the Hargreaves brothers, called themselves guides and outfitters. The ranch was a jumping off place for tourists being guided to Berg Lake or outfitted for hunting trips into the hills.

Hunting was the chief interest of Roy Hargreaves, who was responsible for the existence of the ranch. But we have given up hunting now, without reluctance. We would rather have the game, which remains left to increase and multiply after its kind. Most people enjoy seeing a moose alive and well than a glass-eyed head on a wall.

Directional sign for Mt. Robson Ranch.
Directional sign for Mt. Robson Ranch.
One of the original buildings at the ranch.
One of the original buildings at the ranch.

We are still engaged in guiding and outfitting though. Half our guests come to make the trip to Berg Lake or to go camping back in the hills. The rest are content to see Mount Robson from the ranch, and ride or hike the Valley trails at least on their first trip.

For people from overcrowded cities and suburbs the ranch itself gives an experience of unshackling freedom. There are over 600 acres to explore, with mazes of horse trails and with luck, always a chance of seeing wildlife along the way. For those who will remain quiet for a while in the evening by the beaver pond a beaver or two can almost be guaranteed. Wild flowers are plentiful and at the right season one may gather wild raspberries, blueberries, cranberries or mushrooms. And there are rainbows in the Fraser.

Berg Lake is special. It may be reached only by traveling a trail of constant change and some difficulty either on foot or on horseback. The trail goes through an untouched cedar forest, crosses and re-crosses the Robson River; skirts still Kenny Lake, and traverses an avalanche which dramatizes the power of nature when in a destructive mood. Out on Kenny Lake Flats one has a wide view of the Valley of a Thousand Falls. Beyond the flat starts a gradual climb, and crossing Whitehorn Creek brings one to the steeper pitch of Emperor Falls Hill which, with its three waterfalls on arrival, one is confronted by the North Face of Mount Robson, whose Tumbling Glacier sweeps from the summit into Berg Lake like a ski-run from the gods.

Here you may climb or hike in any direction. You could surely plant your feet where no other human foot has trod. Or, if you rode up, you may take day trips with your horse to Coleman Glacier, where the view from the ridge gives horsemen an idea of why people climb mountains, or to Moose Pass, famous for alpine flowers, or ride partway up to Mumm Basin where a bit of climbing will bring you to a point, or as one guest looked around in wonder, said, “If heaven be any different I’ll be disappointed in it.”

Main house at the ranch.
Main house at the ranch.

There is so much to explore that even avid fishermen, who have brought up their tackle to fish in Adolphus or Beatrix Lake, more often than not fail to wet a line. Fish may be caught elsewhere, but where else can one find such wildflowers, tramp on the glacier or see where prehistoric trilobites have been pushed up thousands of feet from the bottom of a pre-Cambrian sea? And where else can one lasso an iceberg to make ice cream?

As for the scenery, pictures can give only a little idea of the reality. You have to be physically there to know what it is like. Berg Lake is two miles long and a mile across, but it is dwarfed to pond size by the gigantic form of Mount Robson, rising sheer nearly 7475 feet above it.

A guest, spending the night there last summer on the first day out on a camping trip, wrote in our register, “Now I know where God goes on Sundays.”

The present owner of the ranch and operator of the chalet, Alice Wright, came to mount Robson briefly, as a guest, nearly 40 years ago, and returned whenever possible thereafter.

The manager, Mrs. Murray Cochrane, is the eldest daughter of Roy Hargreaves, so she has been associated with the ranch all her life, while her husband, Foreman and chief guide Murray Cochrane, worked on the ranch as a lad. He has an intimate knowledge of the wild country beyond Berg Lake, having been compelled in early use to exploration by the urge to see the other side of the mountain, and the other side of the next mountain, and the next.

Murray Cochrane on a trail ride.
Murray Cochrane on a trail ride.

40 years ago Mount Robson could be reached only by rail. It was still frontier country, largely independent of the outside world.

The original buildings have been constructed by hand from logs cut on their own property by the Hargreaves Brothers. Most of these buildings are still in use, changed as little as possible to lend their special character to the ranch.

Though we are only two miles from Highway 16, they are dirt roads miles, with intervening hills, so, while you drive into the ranch, you find a different world on arrival.

Berg Lake Chalet was likewise the handiwork of Roy Hargreaves. It is a unique example of the indigenous log work of our ancestors. To spend a vacation there is to be carried back in time from the machine dominated era of the 20th century to the days when hunters and trappers were opening the West.”