Looking Ahead to 2011: Significant Anniversaries in The Canadian Rockies

This week’s guest post is brought to you by Paul Zizka, a Banff-based photographer who takes us back through a detailed history of The Canadian Rockies to highlight significant anniversaries for 2011. His overview, which spans anniversaries from the past 200 years, is enhanced with his own photography, more of which can be found at www.zizka.ca.


200 years ago, in 1811:

An Iroquois guide Thomas takes explorer David Thompson to Athabasca Pass and then down the Columbia all the way to its mouth, where the Americans have already arrived; the latter get Oregon and the British, British Columbia. The trip around Mt Edith Cavell (back then known as “la montagne de la grande traverse”) is done in January with hand-made sleds and snowshoes. For the next 50 years, Athabasca Pass would be an important passage through the Rockies for fur traders, missionaries, military men, artists, explorers and scientists.

Looking towards the "montagne de la grande traverse" (top right) from the summit of Mount Fryatt, Jasper National Park.

Henry House is built close to present-day Jasper. It was the earliest permanent structure built by non-natives in the Canadian mountain national parks, and like other Rockies fur-trade posts, was used for brigade sheltering and pastures rather than trading.

150 years ago, in 1861:

The Palliser Expedition, led by James Hector, receives the Royal Geographical Society’s gold medal for geographical discoveries.

Mount Hector, named after the famous scientist/explorer.

125 years ago, in 1886:

George Stewart is the Banff Hot Springs reserve’s first superintendent. He is instructed to plot the locations of two townsites: one by Lake Minnewanka (which was expected to bloom into an important tourist destination but eventually became submerged) and one on the Bow River (Banff, where the streets name we have today were given by Stewart; he is also the one who oriented Banff Ave. in a way to get the best view possible of Cascade Mountain). The Town of Banff (from Lord Stephen’s Scottish county) is laid out. Around the town, wildlife numbers quickly dwindle due to dynamite/net hunting and to habitat loss through anthropogenic wildfires.

Banff townsite as seen from the top of Tunnel Mountain, Banff National Park.

Yoho National Park is established, with the purpose to attract big spenders. Railway grades are too steep for dining cars so Van Horne (head of the Canadian Pacific Railway) decides stops must be made, the first of which is Mt Stephen House in Field (first CPR hotel to open in the Rockies), and the second, Glacier House at Rogers Pass; both hotels were built more for dining purposes than tourism per se, but when Van Horne sees how popular the dining stops are, he adds overnight accommodation to pay back some of the huge CPR’s debt. The CPR is now in the hotel business!

Railway surveyor Otto Klotz discovers the Mt Stephen Fossil Beds.

High on Trolltinder Mountain, Yoho National Park.

Coal mining begins in Canmore and Anthracite.

Bathers pay ten cents for a swim in the newly-protected Banff Hot Springs.

Dr. Brett, medical supervisor for the CPR, starts working on his sanitarium on the site occupied today by the Parks Canada administration building. The sanitarium focuses on healing and it is a combination of hotel and hospital.

Surveyor JJ MacArthur renames Mt Green Mt Victoria.

The glacier-clad peak formerly know as Mount Green.

100 years ago, in 1911:

The settlement of Fitzhugh (later renamed Jasper) is established as a stop on the recently-built Grand Trunk Pacific Railway. It consists mostly of tents.

Mary Schaffer publishes an account of her journeys entitled Old Indian Trails.

Coal production peaks and more than 1000 people live in Bankhead. The town even becomes a popular tourist destination and has its own school. It rivals Banff in both size and activity.

Remains of the Bankhead church, Banff National Park.

Last trip to the Canadian Rockies for famous mountaineer Norman Collie.

The size of Banff National Park is too big to maintain and is reduced significantly.

During a scientific expedition to the Mt Robson area, guide Conrad Kain takes photograher Byron Harmon to the top of Mt Resplendent (first ascent) and solos his epic nighttime first ascent of Mount Whitehorn on his 28th birthday. The ascents make expedition leader A. O. Wheeler furious.

Canada has 5 national parks at that time and the national park system is put in place. Harkin is its first commissioner and is regarded today as the Father of the Canadian Parks.

50 years ago, in 1961:

The Kain Face of Mount Robson is successfully ascended for the first time in 48 years!

30 years ago, in 1981:

Ed Feuz Jr. dies in Golden at the age of 96. He is the last of the Swiss guides. He climbed Mt Victoria at 85.

Lake Agnes teahouse is reconstructed.

Lots to celebrate in the coming year!!



Banff and Lake Louise History Explorer

Moon Handbooks

Summit Tales, Graeme Pole

Handbook of the Canadian Rockies


This guest post was written by Paul Zizka, a Banff-based professional photographer:

Rockies local artist Paul Zizka can most often be found in the wilderness with a camera bag slung over his shoulder, a tripod in one hand, and an ice axe in the other. He is fully dedicated to his photography and it is not unlikely to see him poised precariously on a ledge or lying in the grass to get the shot he is envisioning.

In the Rockies, Paul has climbed dozens of peaks and explored hundreds of kilometers of trails to capture his unique images. His adventures have also taken him around the world in search of wild places. Paul is currently based in Banff, Alberta. Check out his work at www.zizka.ca.

Ski Touring Mount Field

If you are using this information for your own trip, please read this disclaimer and description of my abilities.

My latest adventures took me ski touring up Mount Field in Yoho National Park, BC. We got an early start, mostly because I had to work at 4pm, but also because we were expecting a very warm day and avalanche conditions weren’t ideal high up on the mountain.

Mount Field (8672 feet) is south facing, meaning it fries in the sun all day. It was about 10 degrees C out when we skied up. This resulted in two things for our ski up: evidence of various (and recent) point release and slab avalanches high up towards the summit and hard, crusty snow lower down just below treeline, making skiing more like an exercise of carving through concrete.

The turns off a high bench on the peak made the climb well worth it, though. The sun had softened the snow just enough that we had spring skiing conditions at their best with soft, buttery turns through melting snow. Unreal. The last half of the ski down takes you through sparsely treed areas and alder trees (not my favourite!) and the hard snow made this all the more of an exciting descent.

Taking some turns off a high bench. Awesome.

To access Mount Field, park at the Little Yoho Valley Road (to Takakkaw Falls) just east of Field, BC. Take the road about 5 km until you reach just under half a kilometre past the end of the switchbacks (you’ll know these when you see them). Veer left off the trail and make your way to more open terrain. From here, we decided to traverse all the way left to the trees on the other side of the open slopes of Mount Field (the ones filled with alders). Hug the trees to the left, switchbacking your way through the open slopes as is necessary. Once you gain the treeline, traverse back to the right to gain the top of the outcropping of trees on the other side, across the open slopes below the summit (see photo below). Here you are on some nice low-grade slopes not as prone to avalanche. The higher up you climb, however, the steeper the slope, so be extra cautious. We skied down from one of the highest benches beneath the summit.

Traversing the open slopes once treeline has been gained. Traverse to the trees on the right and gain the bench on which they stand.

If you choose to go to the summit, you will need to find other posts about that!  Both times I’ve been on this mountain, I haven’t gone all the way up. Ski down pretty much the way you went up, though veer left (looking down) of the outcropping of trees you gained on your traverse earlier, instead of going down the way you came up. You’ll eventually meet up with your uptrack on the other side of this outcropping.

Mount Field is a great day trip – you could be up to the summit and down in about 7-8 hours (or less, if you’re super fast). Have fun, but be safe up there – this is avalanche terrain, but it does offer some great open, low grade slopes to practise your turns.

Looking up at the summit of Mount Field. Slopes to the right just out of the photo had avalanched recently, but in good conditions would make for a quick ascent.

© Meghan J. Ward, 2010.

Hiking Clearwater Pass and Lake O’Hara

Valley in Remote Banff N.P.
Valley in Remote Banff N.P.

If you are using this information for your own trip, please read this disclaimer and description of my abilities.

The last two weekends of hiking have brought me to some very special and diverse places.

Two weeks ago, I hiked into a remote area of Banff National Park with two friends of mine, and had the use of an old warden’s cabin in the backcountry. The 30 km hike took us up the Mosquito Creek Trail, over Quartize Col, up Clearwater Pass, around Devon Lakes and down into the next valley. It was a fairly epic journey, and a bit of a struggle to get there, with 90 km/h winds, rain and hail blowing us off the trail. Once at the cabin, though, we settled right in and enjoyed the journey into the past of this log cabin. The nights were cold, and the wood fire was warm and inviting. The second day there, I stayed back and did some reading, writing, and brainstorming for new article ideas. I didn’t mind the peace, quiet and remoteness of the area I was visiting. It was a strange feeling to be so far into the backcountry of this national park. I felt so far away and yet totally at home at the log cabin. I chopped some wood to replace the kindling we had used, stoked the fire, drank tea, took photos and otherwise just enjoyed the quiet. The hike out the following day, I was feeling much more energetic and we had beautiful sunshine the whole way.

Enjoying the Peace and Quiet.

Last weekend, my outdoor adventures took me to Lake O’Hara with some friends, where we made good use of the campground and enjoyed the premiere hiking in Yoho National Park. Day 1 brought us up to Lake McArthur, whose stunning blue colour I had never seen before because it was frozen over the last two times I was there. The adventures continued when I stumbled across an Italian couple who looked fairly distressed. Turns out this woman had injured her ankle. After trying to get her down the trail, not even making it 1 km down in an hour, we sent someone for help and eventually settled on having a helicopter rescue because we were still about 3 km from the road.

September 2009 018-1

Lake McArthur

Helicopter Saves the Day
Helicopter Saves the Day

It was a great display of the human community – here we were, unable to speak Italian, helping a pair of Italians who didn’t speak English. We both spoke French, however, which made the whole day much easier. The whole ordeal took about 7 hours, and ended with a rescuer being dropped by a helicopter, who stabilized her leg before they air-lifted her. It was pretty cool, I must say, and I am proud of our parks system that provides this kind of service.

Day 2 didn’t involve any rescues, and brought us to Grandview, an open plateau on Mount Odaray. This short hike is by far one of the most scenic half day hikes I think you can do in the Rockies. In such a small hike, you can see both The Goodsirs on one side and Mount Hector on the other, all at once. The view from the plateau shows you both Lake McArthur and Lake O’Hara in the same panorama. Simply stunning.

On Day 3  we did the whole 14 kilometre Alpine Circuit around O’Hara, starting up the Wiwaxy Gap trail, around the Huber Ledges to Lake Oesa, across Yukness Ledges to the Opabin Plateau and finishing off with the All Souls trail, which leads back down to Schaffer Lake. By far, this is the most impressive day hike in the Canadian Rockies, out of all the places I have been. It is one ‘wow’ moment after another, with lakes of every shade of blue, high elevation hiking, great views, and a fabulous trail system, thanks to Mr. Lawrence Grassi and the Lake O’Hara Trails Club.

Lake Oesa

Lake Oesa

This area has been well-preserved, and I have confidence that through the hard work of those who have protected it, it will remain a pristine area for years to come.

© Meghan J. Ward, 2009.