Climbing enthusiasts are planning to replace the Abbot Pass Hut, a former historic hut on the Alberta, BC border

A photo of the hut from September 2021. Erosion accelerated by climate change had left the back corner hanging in the air.  (Parks Canada - photo credit)

A photo of the hut from September 2021. Erosion accelerated by climate change had left the back corner hanging in the air. (Parks Canada – photo credit)

Hope is restored for the historic Abbot Pass Hut.

The iconic, centuries-old stone cabin that sits atop the Alberta-BC border was demolished by Parks Canada last year after slope erosion beneath the foundation rendered it unsafe.

Now the Alpine Club of Canada, the Association of Canadian Mountain Guides and Lake Louise Ski Resort want to replace it with a brand new cabin.

“[It’s] a National Historic Site and very important to the Canadian Rocky Mountain climbing community,” said Charlie Locke, owner of Lake Louise Ski Resort, in an interview with the Calgary Eyeopener on Friday.

“I used to be a mountain guide in the area and made my living guiding guests up the peaks and in particular the Abbot Pass.”

The Abbot Pass Refuge Cabin was hand built in 1922 by Swiss mountain guides hired by the Canadian Pacific Railway. They carried hand-hewn stones on horseback and on foot to the pass, which is 2,925 meters above sea level.

It provided shelter for mountaineers attempting to reach the peaks of nearby Mount Victoria and Mount Lefroy. The cabin was declared a National Historic Site in 1992.

Robson Fletcher/CBC

Robson Fletcher/CBC

In 2018, the hut had to be closed to overnight guests due to erosion of the slope below.

Parks Canada later decided that after several attempts to save the shack, it had to be removed. A construction crew dismantled the hut in June.

Carine Salvy, executive director of the Alpine Club of Canada, which operated the hut for 31 years, said talks about a replacement hut began immediately thereafter among climbers and with community partners.

“We asked some guides who are very knowledgeable about the area if there were other locations we could consider. Obviously the pass itself is not an option for new construction, so several areas have been identified as potential sites,” she said.

Tangier Mountain Construction

Tangier Mountain Construction

Since the planning process is still in the early stages, Salvy declined to say which locations are involved.

The potential design and cost would also depend on the site chosen, but Salvy said it would need to have a similar footprint to the previous cabin.

“The idea is to have a small facility that provides shelter for climbers and mountaineers who want access to the nearby peaks,” she said.

“It’s unlikely it will be a hiker’s hut. I suspect the approach will be more technical than the previous one.”

HEAR | Charlie Locke explains why he wants to replace the historic Abbot Pass Hut:

Locke said he, his family, and the Lake Louise Ski Resort are interested in contributing most or all of the funds needed to rebuild the cabin.

“It’s our opportunity to give back to the community that has taken such good care of her,” he said. “We have to choose a location that will last another 100 years.”

replacement hut

CBC Calgary reached out to Parks Canada Friday afternoon to ask if they were interested in a proposal to replace the shack, and the agency was unable to respond immediately.

However, both Locke and Salvy said they received an affirmative response from Parks Canada.

Work on a feasibility study must be completed before a proposal is sent to the agency, Salvy said, including geotechnical assessments, environmental impact reports and avalanche assessments.

But everything starts with location, she said.

“Is there any soil up there good enough to have a new facility? And then all these assessments will have their own outcomes.”

Peter Hoang Photography

Peter Hoang Photography

Locke leads the effort, led by his passion for the site.

He said he can still remember the first visit to the cabin in 1964, when he was crossing all the mountains between Moraine Lake and Lake Louise.

“Getting up at the cabin in the morning, just looking at the spectacular scenery and then we were young and eager at the time and we climbed Mount Lefroy from the cabin before breakfast,” he said. “It was just spectacular.”

If all goes well, Locke hopes to start construction on the new site next spring.


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