Monday, September 9, 2013

Crowsnest Pass

Trip Date: September 2013

Christine, Rome, and I used holiday Monday from the Labour Day long weekend to get out of town for the day.  Our destination was the Crowsnest Pass area in southern Alberta.  This part of the province has an incredibly rich history.  Up until now I'd never really stopped to explore it, I'd only just driven through, but I always wanted spend a little time there.  I knew we wouldn't be able to visit all the sites in one day, but at least this would give us a sample and leave more to be discovered at another time.  
The Crowsnest Pass is a high mountain pass across the Continental Divide in the Rocky Mountains situated on the border of Alberta and British Columbia.  It consists of several small communities including Bellevue, Hillcrest, Frank, Blairmore, Coleman, and Sentinel.  The Crownest Pass area is about 235km southwest of Calgary along Highway 3.  

Our first stop of the day was at Frank Slide, the site of Canada's deadliest rockslide.  On April 29, 1903 at 4:10AM, 30 million cubic metres of limestone crashed from the summit of Turtle Mountain and buried part of the sleeping town of Frank.  The rock mass that fell was 150m deep, 425m high, and one kilometre wide.  The bustling town was home to approximately 600 people in 1903. At least 90 people were killed in the slide, that lasted a mere 90 seconds.  Most of these individuals are still buried under the debris, which averages 14m deep, but in some areas it is more than 30m deep.  The primary cause of the slide was the mountain's unstable geological structure.  Other contributing factors include underground coal mining, water action in summit cracks, and unusual weather conditions.  

A panoramic shot of the Frank Slide area.  Turtle Mountain is on the right.  Sorry for the photo quality, but I had to stitch three separate pictures together to capture the entire area and this was how it turned out.
Turtle Mountain
The rocky debris
Our next stop was at a pictograph site just off the highway known as the McGillivray Shelter.  It's also been referred to as Michel/Natal site, which are the names of former coal-mining towns that were located close by.  This site has two separate human-like figures that are slowly fading away.  From what I've read these pictographs are typical of traditional Columbia Plateau Art and it is believed they represent dreams and the acquisition of spiritual power obtained during a Vision Quest.  

The McGillivray Shelter site
Chris doing a little off-trail exploration while looking for the pictographs
Found them!  This is the first of two.
A sketch of the above pictograph depicting a human-like figure
The second pictograph at this site
A sketch of the above pictograph depicts another human-like figure with unknown objects above
Our third stop of the day was a different pictograph location and one that holds great spiritual significance for First Nation people.  Crowsnest Cave, sometimes referred to as Basin Cave, is situated on the north shore of Crowsnest Lake.  The cave was known to the Blackfoot as, "where the Oldman comes out of the mountain", which is in reference to the Oldman River.  The cave, however, is not the source of the Oldman River, but its water does eventually flow into the Oldman via the Crowsnest River.  The entrance to the cave was once covered with pictographs, but sadly today they have been badly vandalized by common graffiti and are all but indecipherable.  

Christine spotted these Red Crossbills just as we were starting the hike.  A male (right) and a female (left).
There are a couple of ways to access the cave.  The safest would be via boat, kayak, or canoe, none of which we had, so we just walked instead.  We started from the eastern end of the lake in the small community of Sentinel and walked along the CPR rail line, a distance of about 5km round trip.  I say using the lake is safer because there's a couple of sections along the railway tracks that are pretty narrow and wouldn't be too fun in the event a train arrived.  We were very careful and made sure to keep an eye open for trains arriving from either direction.  Luckily we didn't run into any train traffic at all!  
Crowsnest Lake with Crowsnest Ridge in the background.  If you look closely you can see the Crowsnest Radio Tower on the left side of the ridge.
Beginning our trek along the railroad tracks
Looking across Crowsnest Lake towards Sentry Mountain
The mouth of Crowsnest Cave
Water flowing out of the cave.  Apparently the cave has been explored as far back into the mountain as 175m!
Looking out towards the lake
The basin inside the cave is crystal clear and eerily calm
The remains of a pictograph
This one looks like it could have been two figures
Old art competing with new graffiti
I don't know what this was supposed to be
The top figure looks like a person, but I'm unsure about the bottom one
You can read more about the pictograph sites I have visited by visiting my Western Canadian Rock Art section on the Bradshaw Foundation's webpage.

On our way back to the Jeep we passed the abandoned East Kootenay Power Plant and my inner child was begging to go explore it!  The power plant was in operation between the 1920's and the 1960's and finally closed permanently in 1969.  At its peak the power plant used 200 tonnes of coal daily as fuel and took 10,000 gallons of water daily from the lake to operate its steam turbines.  

Looking at the East Kootenay Power Plant from the railroad tracks
East Kootenay Power Plant
Vandals have basically smashed all of the windows in the old brick building
Inside on the main floor
Looking down from the main floor
Piles of bricks and garbage
Inside the bathroom, complete with showers
The upstairs floor
There was a great view from the upstairs windows
About to head back down
The door (bottom right) was wide open when we arrived
A photo from a 1937 edition of the Nelson, B.C. Daily News shows the Kootenay Power Plant, complete with smoke stack.  Although the power plant is still standing, the smoke stack has long been removed.
Our last stop of the day was supposed to be the site of the 1946 North York Creek Plane Crash.  I had read online that we could drive most of the way to the crash site with a 4x4 vehicle, but I wanted to make sure.  We stopped at the staging area and talked with a few quadders who happened to have just come from the plane.  They recommended against driving my Jeep up the quad trail as it was very muddy and there were a couple of extremely narrow switchbacks.  We could have hiked up to the site, but it's roughly 12km round trip and we were running out of time.  I guess we'll have to save this adventure for another time.  It's pretty safe to say that we'll be back to the Crowsnest Pass before long!

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