Sep 5 2009 Saturday
Our first visit to Canada’s beautiful Glacier National Park was thwarted by Mother Nature’s tempestuous (90km/hr!) blasts two days ago. We evacuated to a private campground, Canyon Springs approximately 30km (19 mi) to the east when Parks Canada closed all three National Park campgrounds in Glacier. So we took another visit to the beleagured area, both to view the damage and to enjoy some of the fine attractions.
Yesterday we walked Giant Cedars Boardwalk, a short tour through an old growth rain forest. Tried to walk Hemlocks Boardwalk and Skunk Cabbage Trail. Both closed by windblown trees yesterday, but we heard they opened again this morning. This is a beautiful area with a lot to do.
Today we returned to Illecillewaet Campground to find the windblown trees still strewn about the entire campground and all loops still closed. Most of the trails are open, attesting to a great amount of effective work by Parks Canada crews. The crews started during the storm Thursday, as soon as the worst gusts passed but while the rain was still pouring down. Their emphasis apparently was to reopen the trails, and they largely succeeded. We parked and hiked above the campground.
The trails all start near the Glacier Hotel ruins. This hotel, according to the plaque descriptions, was one of the grandest in “the West” at the turn of the century. But CPR vastly underestimated the dangerous challenges of maintaining the 1885 rail line. The rail line was too exposed to avalanches, rockslides, and treefalls, and 62 company men lost their lives trying to reopen the blocked rail lines the first 25 winters.
A terrible tragedy occurred in 1910 as CPR’s workers were trying to clear the tracks from an avalanche. A second avalanche covered them, killing almost all the workers and crew members. CPR almost immediately started creating a new tunnel and rail line route to avoid the most dangerous sections of this passage through the Selkirk Mtns. And in 1916 CPR abandoned the 1885 rail lines, effectively isolating their own great Glacier House hotel.
The hotel struggled on for ten years without convenience of direct rail service before CPR finally closed it in 1925 and eventually, in 1929, demolished the hotel. It appears people have scavenged everything portable from the burnt ruins in the past 80 years, except the concrete piers, a couple of bathtubs and two boiler firetube sections. But it is easy to imagine this hotel in 1900 offering unequaled comfort amidst great natural beauty. And the guests had many activities to choose from.
CPR retained Swiss hiking and climbing guides to accompany and assist guests on the many trails and mountain climbing opportunities. Glacier House became “the” North American mountaineering destination with its many unexplored peaks and new trails. CPR capitalized on the attraction with aggressive marketing campaigns to attract guests interested in tea and croquet on the lawn or arduous peak-bagging and glacier expeditions.
We walked past the hotel ruins along the former rail bed of the 1885 line. This is a nicely maintained 4 km (2.5 mi) trail to the Loop Brook trestles, a set of tall and stark stone trestles with 26.5 meter (86 ft) spans between them to bridge the small gorge. Now the trestles are a reminder of the bold work CPR completed for the cross-Canada rail contract.
After our hike we drove a short distance east on #1 to the Rogers Pass Discovery Centre. Parks Canada provides a nice museum, two small theatres, a gift shop, and a backwoods trail registration desk. We gained the most information we’ve found yet on grizzlies and black bears avoidance and response manuevers for hikers and campers. And we found a very nice book on CPR’s railway development west from Winnipeg to Vancouver. We’ll talk about the book again later.
A good day of touring in Glacier NP (Canada), and now home for the night. Tomorrow we take off for Kamloops, to Paul Lake Prov Park. See you there!