One of Climbing’s Most Epic Survival Stories
Margaret Stone survived on a small alpine ledge for one week in 1921 after her husband fell to his death
In 1921, Margaret Stone and her husband, Winthrop, were making the first ascent of Mount Eon near Mount Assiniboine in the Canadian Rockies. Winthrop climbed the final chimney and unroped on the summit. He then slipped and fell to his death. Margaret then descended a short ways from the base of the chimney where she was left stranded for seven days on a ledge with only some melt-water to keep her alive. Swiss guide Rudolph Aemmer was called in to rescue Margaret and famous climber Conrad Kain retrieved Winthrop’s body with a team of climbers.
Top Canadian climber, Pat Morrow, who climbed Eon’s Southwest Face in 2019, a route first climbed by legends Glen Boles and Don Forest, reminisced about the tragic first ascent. “Simultaneously one of the great tragedies,” said Morrow, “and Canadian mountaineering survival stories.” He continued: “An opera libretto, adapted from the epic poem The Agony of Mrs. Stone by Banff poet Jon Whyte, was composed by Sebastian Hutchings and directed by his sis Julia Hutchings as a memorial to this milestone.”
From the libretto: “The year is 1921 and two Stones — Winthrop and Margaret — have left their home in Indian for the wilds of the Rocky Mountains. In search of mystery and its rewards, they join the climbing camp at Mt. Assiniboine, some fifty miles from civilization. Anxious to ‘crown a big one’, they set out alone. They make their way over Wonder Pass, past Marvel Lake, beneath Gloria’s decaying face, to the base of Eon. They set camp atop the pass and at first light begin the climb, up scree slope to the middle ledges, scaling the steeper cliffs, lifting themselves towards the summit, to the height of Eon, and their unravelling.”
The opera was written as one-act that is broken up into seven “days,” each a snapshot of Margaret’s endurance. An epilogue details Margaret’s rescue and slow recovery at the base of the mountain. In the early 20th Century, fatalities were rare in the Canadian Rockies, as were feats of survival, which makes Margaret’s story all the more impressive. Winthrop was president of Perdue University at the time of his death and the story went “viral” across North America. He is remembered at the University and his name carried by a university building and a college. During the writing of his poem, Jon Whyte tried to contact Margaret, but she disappeared from public life after her recovery.