By: Joe Harder
George Kinney, namesake of Kinney Lake on the Berg Lake Trail, was a Methodist preacher who first saw, in awe and wonderment, the peak of Mt. Robson in 1907. To scale this mountain became a bit of an obsession with Kinney and in 1909 he headed out on his own to claim the peak before a rumoured group of foreigners could reach it. Along the way he met Donald “Curly” Phillips, a young outfitter with no mountaineering experience – or an ice axe, and decided he would be his climbing companion.
Eventually the two men, on what would be Kinney’s 12th attempt at the apex, climbed for the top. Amidst a snow storm the two reached what Kinney thought to be the peak and, baring his head, claimed it in the name of “Almighty God…my own country and for the Alpine Club of Canada.” The controversy as to whether they had indeed reached the peak simmers to this day although the consensus seems to be that they mistakenly stopped just 60 vertical feet short of it. Much of this controversy is owing to Curly Philips himself who is said to have confessed it after Conrad Kain’s ascent. Some say he was pressured to say it though. At any rate George Kinney was sincere in his belief that he had reached the summit and the two men had accomplished a truly amazing feat:
“No ascent in the history of the Canadian Rockies demanded more sheer guts and determination in the face of hair-raising brushes with death by avalanche, exposure and starvation.” ( Hart 1979)
This was a statement that Conrad Kain, who had great respect for Kinney and Philips, echoed himself. Curly Philips went on to become a renowned outfitter and trail builder in the area and George Kinney continued his ministry, often going to the most remote places where others did not want to go to care for the people there. At one point he even donated a skin graft to a young girl in Keremeos who had suffered severe burns. He sat next to the girl and comforted her while the doctor removed 24 square inches of skin from his leg with no anaesthetic.
“He was a man of God who never pushed religion down anyone’s throat but gently slipped it into conversations. His love of the outdoors, which he referred to as God’s Cathedral, lent itself well to the role of backwoods preacher…he never forgot his Mt. Robson days and always kept an ice axe and climbing boots hanging in his house.” ( Emerson Sanford).