September 13, 2002 Features & Images » Feature Story

Feature - Mountain perspectives from Rogers Pass 

Celebrating the 2002 International Year of Mountains at the birthplace of North American mountaineering

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In front of me is the Matterhorn-shaped Mount Sir Donald and the crevasse-riddled Illecillewaet Glacier. To my right, I can see the Dawson Range - home to the highest peaks in the park, some of them more than 3,300 metres tall. Glinting in the sun behind me is Mount Bonney, its tumbling glacier losing its ongoing battle with gravity. To my left is the fortress-like wall of Mount Tupper and the serrated peaks of the Hermit Range.

After spending some time alone with my mountaintop thoughts, I start my descent down the rocky ridge, through a boulder-strewn meadow, past a Parks Canada snow research station and into the thick forest. In the valley bottom, I pop out at a clearing where the Canadian Pacific Railway's Glacier House hotel once stood.

The hotel - sister of the Banff Springs Hotel and Chateau Lake Louise - was built soon after Glacier National Park was established in 1886 and the railway was pushed through the pass. Glacier House served as a hub for early mountain tourism and exploration and Rogers Pass became so popular that the CPR hired Swiss mountain guides in 1899 to lead visitors around crevasses and up the peaks.

But Glacier House's halcyon days were short-lived. The hotel was torn down in 1926 after the CPR decided to re-route the rail line under Rogers Pass through a tunnel. More than 200 lives were lost trying to keep the line open through Canada's most notorious avalanche alley. There is nothing left here now except for the hotel's crumbling foundations and an abandoned rail grade.

On the way back to my car at the Illecillewaet campground, I stop in at the Alpine Club of Canada's Wheeler Hut, where I meet another mountain legend.

Sitting at one of the tables is Bob Sandford, a well-respected mountain writer and chair of Canada's International Year of Mountains efforts. Beer in hand, he is scribbling down some notes.

Sandford is also the driving force behind Parks Canada's heritage tourism strategy, and was the co-ordinator for the 1999 Swiss Guides Festival and last year's Year of the Great Bear celebrations.

The Wheeler Hut - which is named after the ACC's founding member A.O. Wheeler - was built in the mid-1940s to replace Glacier House. I take a quick look around and find a copy of The New York Times Magazine lying open in the kitchen. If this small rustic cabin attracts the sort of people who read such a high-brow publication, I can only imagine what sort of visitor holidayed at the swanky CPR hotel.

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