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Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Phyllis Munday: The First Woman To Summit Mt. Robson

Phyllis Munday ( nee James) was the daughter of a Lipton’s Tea manager and was born in Sri Lanka in 1894. She was also the first woman to reach the peak of Mt. Robson. Her family moved to B.C. in 1901 and she eventually met and married Don Munday in 1920. Together they formed perhaps the most renowned  “power couple” of the mountaineering world.

Phyllis, Edith & Don Munday: Royal B.C. Musuem
Phyllis Munday National Stamp

If Don wasn’t smitten with her already, then it surely happened when she rescued him from nearly falling into a glacial crevasse while on a climb. While saving him, she lost her own balance and he in turn held on to her. As Don says “it lent itself readily to being given a romantic aspect”. Then there was the incident in which Phyllis chased a grizzly bear who was chasing Don.  A swiss mountain guide once said of Phyllis that she was “…a strong woman; as strong as any man”. Perhaps even stronger. 

In 1924, on only the third expedition of its kind, Conrad Kain led a group with two women in it to the peak of Mt. Robson. Phyllis was deservedly the first to stand on the peak and in the dialogue of Kathryn Bridge’s book about Phyllis, Conrad clasped her hand in his and said “There, Lady! Here is the top of Mount Robson! You are the first woman on this peak – the highest of the (Canadian) Rocky Mountains.”

Phyllis and her husband are also credited with discovering Mt. Waddington of the Coastal Mountains (The highest peak in British Columbia). In their second year of marriage Phyllis gave birth to their daughter, Edith, and at 11 months carried her to the top of Crown Mountain. In 1972 she received The Order of Canada for her pioneering work in the girl guides, St. John’s ambulance and mountaineering in general. She passed away in 1990, a female legend. 

Phyllis Munday, Blaeberry Alpine Camp 1957

“A lovely woodsy trail, a beautiful lake, an alpine meadow, a ridge and a peak, for all this had been heaven to me while on earth. They are all God’s great gifts to man.” Phyllis Munday


"Phyllis Munday" Dundern 2002 by Kathryn Bridge


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