Old-School Fissile Mountain Trek

by Sarah Drewery, Whistler Museum.

Fissile Mountain is one of the best-known peaks visible from the Whistler valley.

Visible when you look straight between Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains, it is a popular destination for backcountry skiers. It is made of a distinctive type of rock, with a reddish appearance; its steep slopes of rotten shale and sandstone are a persistent exposure of ancient sedimentary rock.

Fissile Mountain. BOB BRETT PHOTO.

Fissile was officially named in 1965, based on a suggestion from the Fitzsimmons Names Committee, whose members included local mountain-lover Karl Ricker, and mountaineer and early explorer of the region, Neal Carter. “Fissile” is an adjective used by geologists for rocks that split easily, which will make sense to anyone who has ever slipped and skidded up (or down) the loose, sharp rocks that cover Fissile’s flanks.

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However, before 1965, Fissile was known locally by a different name: Red Mountain.

Although in normal circumstances the locally-known name is usually accepted as the official one, in the case of Red Mountain there were already seven other Red Mountains in British Columbia and too much repetition was frowned upon for obvious reasons. The committee therefore chose the more original name “Fissile.”

In the Museum’s collections we have some charming pictures of a hike up to Fissile, in the days when it was still known as Red Mountain, in approximately 1928.

The hike was led by local resident and all-round mountain man William “Mac” MacDermott.  He made a living in many different ways, but one of them was leading guided tours into the mountains. On this hike Mac was leading a group of women – Myrtle Philip, Mollie Stephenson and Lena Hanson – on a two-day trip to  to “Red Mountain.”

Courtesy Whistler Museum.
Courtesy Whistler Museum.
Courtesy Whistler Museum.
Courtesy Whistler Museum.
Courtesy Whistler Museum.
Courtesy Whistler Museum.
Courtesy Whistler Museum.
Courtesy Whistler Museum.