The group is home to Mount Farnham which is the highest summit in the Purcell Range, and most of the peaks are near or above 10,000' feet in elevation. It is part of the Main Uplift of the Purcell Range, and the tectonic movements created intense heat and pressure. The heat made the rock more elastic, and the pressure caused the rocks to be folded, faulted, and squeezed upward, forming the high peaks and structures seen today. Because the rock was mainly quartzite and was more elastic from the heat, it had the strength to prevent it from collapsing as it was pushed upwards. This led to the high rugged peaks in the area today, in which vertical relief of over 2000m is not uncommon, and helped to form the steep valleys lush with forest cover typical of the group. The largest glacier in the group is the Delphine Glacier, but smaller glaciers and snowfields are quite common. The rock quality in the group itself is variable and consists mainly of friable sediments. There are however more firm rock outcrops such as Mount Nelson's limestone cap, but for the most part rock can range from reasonably firm to horribly loose. History: The Ktunaxa (pronounced "Too nah hah", and who were originally called the Kootenai First Nations) were the first human beings to see the high peaks of the Farnham Group as they were the first to establish a permanent settlement in the Northern Purcells, and explore the rugged backcountry up the major drainages. Their first settlement was at the Columbia River in shallow wetlands where the Lake Windermere empties into the River, and just south of the confluence of Toby Creek and the Columbia River. This site was called "Koalanuk" (The Salmon Beds)as salmon spawned in the shallow waters and the catches were plentiful. This area was directly east of the southern border of the Farnham Group, and no doubt the peaks were awe inspiring for them.
The first white person to see the peaks of the Farnham Group was the great explorer David Thompson, who after gaining the Columbia Valley in 1807 paddled upstream and established Kootenae House, the first white trading post and home in the valley. He named Mount Nelson after Nelson of the Battle of Trafalgar. The story goes that he first heard about the naval victory at Trafalgar 3 years after it happened, and upon hearing of Nelson's victory, he named this distinctive peak after the great naval hero.
Around the 1860's the Shushwap First Nations chief Kinbasket led a group of his people over the now Earl Grey Pass into the Toby Creek drainage and saw the peaks of the group visible from along Toby Creek. They then followed Toby Creek to the Columbia Valley and established small fishing settlements.
As time went on more trails and access into the group was established, and most of the prominent mountains were ascended between 1910 and 1915, with later ascents of some less prominent peaks and second routes on the prominent ones in the 1970's. One of the first climbers to enter the area was C.D. Ellis, who climbed Mount Nelson from Paradise Mine and the SE ridge solo in 1910. E.W. Harnden came along in 1911 and participated in the first ascent of the SW ridge of Mount Nelson, and the first ascent of Mount Catherine. After that a party which included the McCarthy's and the legendary Conrad Kain claimed the biggest prizes of the group in 1914, Mount Farnham and the Farnham Tower. That group went on to be the first ascenders of many of the other peaks in the group. The legendary Purcell Pioneer A. A. McCoubrey also ventured into the area at times, and along with E. Feuz Jr. were the first ascenders of Delphine Mountain, itself a good prize. Although he was not the first ascender (The McCarthy party and Conrad Kain were), Mount McCoubrey is named in his honour.
Before some of the renewed interest in the 1970's, in which different parties that contained A. Larson and C. Wagner (and some other random parties) ascended several of the less prominent peaks, the group was mostly ignored in favour of the glamour of the hard granite and new found routes in the Bugaboos. Today the group offers fine ascents (although rock quality can be variable) in an area which provides a remote feel and rugged nature similar to when it was discovered.
Alpine Journal Articles
1914 First Ascents Of Mt. Farnham And Mt. Farnham Tower (1914) A. H. MacCarthy
1915 Climbs and Explorations in the Purcell Range in 1915 - Delphine W. E. Stone
1928 Trails of the Athabaska and Columbia, 1928 - Part 2 J Munroe Thorington