It seemed reasonable to assume that if Pink Mountain has such an abundance of unusual plants then other mountains in the area would be similar. However a 2003 exploration of three similar elevation peaks to the immediate west of Pink Mountain revealed only a thick turf of grass covering their summits and virtually no flowering plants. This was a clear indication that there is something different about Pink Mountain. Further, the plants of interest are confined to the southern one third of the Pink Mountain summit. The question of why remained unanswered until 2010 when a possible answer was supplied by a geologist.
Other peaks in the vicinity superficially resemble Pink Mountain (background) but have almost none of the rare plants that are so abundant on Pink Mountain.
Throughout northern BC the foothills and mountains are covered by Cretaceous rocks, which mainly consist of sandstone and shale. Soils derived from such rocks are low in nutrients beneficial to plants. At the south end of the Pink Mountain summit erosion has removed the overlying sandstone and shale and exposed a layer of limestone. Soil derived from limestone has a considerable amount of Mg, Ca, P and salts, which other mountains don’t have and which are highly beneficial to plants
The Muskwa-Kechika protected area to the immediate west of Pink Mountain is entirely overlain by Sandstone and shale. Thus there is no likelihood that there is a Pink Mountain equivalent within the M-K protected area.
Pink mountain’s far northern location along with its particular elevation combined with its limestone exposure creates an environment that aperantly does not exist anywhere else in British Columbia.
A letter from Geologist Kees Viser:
Pink Mountain is formed as being one of the asymmetrical folds paralleling the Rocky Mountain thrust belt. All along the east side of Rocky Mountains from South Alberta into the Yukon you have an area between 10 to 150km wide with a number of folds or anticlines, paralelling the mountain range, commonly called the foothills.
Without going into detail about the formation of the Rockies and the foothills, it will suffice here, and I simplify enormously, to say that the Rockies are a thrust from west to east, forming a major mountain range. As a result of this thrusting some “rippling” occurred at its front forming the foothills. This thrusting is called the Laramide Orogeny and happened in late Cretaceous time (about 60 to 70 million years ago).
Often you have a large number of ripples or folds in this 10 to 150 km belt, but the largest ones happen, as you might expect, close to the Rockies and the smallest ripples the farthest away from the Rockies.
At the time of the rippling, the Upper Cretaceous rocks were the last ones to be deposited, so you see these rocks at the surface, and older ones, obviously below them, and these are often exposed where rivers or creeks cut through the upper-most rocks.
In many instances the youngest Cretaceous rocks will have eroded completely away, but there is still sufficient Middle and Lower Cretaceous present, so that almost all of the foothills are covered by Cretaceous rocks, which mainly consists of sandstone and shale.
In a few instances, where the ripple or fold is large and high enough, the erosion can take away all of the Cretaceous and even some of the underlying Jurassic and Triassic rocks. This is the case at Pink Mountain. Geologists call this a fenster or window (because you look through surrounding younger rocks into an older rock). In Pink Mountain, erosion cut through to the Lower Triassic Montney Formation, which is exposed at the top. The area surrounding Pink Mountain consists of Jurassic Fernie and Montieth shales and sandstones.
The interesting thing about all of the Triassic rocks that they were deposited during arid and warm times, so many have considerable amounts of dolomite ( a Ca-Mg carbonate), limestone, phosphate (base of the Halfway ), halite (salts) and even shell beds (Coquina) in them . The Baldonnel is even pure dolomite and limestone. This means that the soil derived from these rocks on Pink Mountain will have a considerable amount of Mg ,Ca , P and salts ,which the other foothills don’t have. The nearby Rocky Mountain front usually has sandsone and shale on the lower outcrops, and also Devonian carbonates(dolomite), but only at the very high tops, where no soil is formed.
I am not a flower expert, but it is quite possible that the soil on Pink Mountain, which is so different from the other mountains, plus its unique location (high and close to the Rockies), microclimate? is the main reason for its unique flora. Having said this, there is no similar situation close by. The north part of Pink Mountain is only Jurassic, which could explain that there are no flowers there.
Unfortunately these ripples are major targets for the oil industry, because deeper down in Devonian and Carbonaceous rocks, gas is often trapped in anticlinal folds, such as the Elbow Creek field. Most of the wells are dry or almost dry now, so the major companies are not interested in them anymore, but some of the very small 10- people companies may buy 1 or 2 wells and will try to produce again. As you know oil companies buy subsurface rights and the surface owners who usually are not the oil companies, has the obligation to give them access.
I worked in the past for Petro-Canada, and for a short time in 1986-7 I worked on the geology of NE BC (from Calgary though), but I visited Fort St John and the Charlie Lake core facility a few times, and I drove once to Pink Mountain and Wonowon; beautiful country...
Kees Visser, P/Geol