Wednesday, 7 April 2021

CASTLE PEAK: JET RANGER

If you look closely, you can see a wee jet ranger helicopter hovering over a very chilly Castle Peak in the southern Chilcotin Range, British Columbia, Canada. 

Castle Peak was our glorious landmark and loadstone of basalt that marked the spot on our Jurassic/Triassic palaeo adventures collecting about 7000 ft. The peak itself reaches higher still to around 8,176 ft.

The late Hettangian ammonite fauna from Taseko Lakes is diverse and relatively well‐preserved. Over three field seasons from 2001-2003, thirty-five taxa from the Mineralense and Rursicostatum zones were studied and three new species discovered and named: Fergusonites hendersonae, Eolytoceras constrictum and Pseudaetomoceras victoriense. This material is very important as it greatly expands our understanding of the fauna and ranges of ammonites currently included in the North American regional ammonite zonation. 

I had the very great honour of having the newly named, Fergusonites hendersonae, a new species of nektonic carnivorous ammonite, named after me by palaeontologist Louse Longridge from the University of British Columbia. 

I had met Louise as an undergrad and was pleased as punch to hear that she would be continuing the research by Dr. Howard Tipper, the authority on this area of the Chilcotins and on the Queen Charlotte Islands or Haida Gwaii — which he dearly loved. 

"Tip" was a renowned Jurassic ammonite palaeontologist and an excellent regional mapper who mapped large areas of the Cordillera. He made significant contributions to Jurassic paleobiogeography and taxonomy in collaboration with Dr. Paul Smith, Head of Earth and Ocean Science at the University of British Columbia. 

Tip’s regional mapping within BC has withstood the test of time and for many areas became the regions' base maps for future studies. The scope of Tip’s understanding of Cordilleran geology and Jurassic palaeontology will likely never be matched. He passed away on April 21, 2005. His humour, knowledge and leadership will be sorely missed. 

Before he left us, he shared that knowledge with many of whom would help to secure his legacy for future generations. We did several trips over the years up to the Taseko Lake area of the Rockies joined by many wonderful researchers from Vancouver Island Palaeontological Society and Vancouver Paleontological Society, as well as the University of British Columbia. Both Dan Bowen and John Fam were instrumental in planning those expeditions and each of them benefited greatly from the knowledge of Dr. Howard Tipper. 

If not for Tipper's early work in the region, our shared understanding and much of what was accomplished in his last years and after his passing would not have been possible. 

Over the course of three field seasons, we endured elevation sickness, rain, snow, grizzly bears and very chilly nights  — we were sleeping right next to a glacier at one point — but were rewarded by the enthusiastic crew, helicopter rides — which really cut down the hiking time — excellent specimens including three new species of ammonites, along with a high-spired gastropod and lobster claw that have yet to be written up. This area of the world is wonderful to hike and explore — a stunningly beautiful country. We were also blessed with access as the area is closed to all fossil collecting except with a permit.