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Parks Canada to demolish historic Abbot Pass Hut

The end has come for one of Western Canada’s most beloved alpine heritage refuges.

Parks Canada announced on Thursday that the Abbot Pass Hut would be demolished due to worsening structural damage caused by slope erosion and glacial recession.

“As a result, Parks Canada has made the difficult decision to dismantle and substantially remove the Abbot Pass Hut in spring 2022,” wrote Parks Canada.

“This action is necessary to mitigate a significant visitor safety risk posed by the current condition of the site.”

Parks Canada has been monitoring the site since 2016, after reports were made of rockfall and erosion along the slope adjacent to the hut. An additional 114 cubic metres of material beneath the hut fell from the slope in 2021 due to record high temperatures causing further erosion.

The federal agency began to engage in slope stabilization work in 2018. At that time, $600,000 was spent to install rock anchors on the slope beneath the hut. No further work was able to be performed in 2019 due to the weather.

The site is roughly 150 km west of Calgary.

Repairs a challenge

Parks Canada said that because of the elevation, transporting repair materials by helicopter is difficult and is only possible the few weeks of suitable weather each year.

Geotechnical assessments performed last year found that the entire structure of the hut had been affected by increasing slope erosion. Additional work to stabilize the slope was hindered in 2020 by Covid-19 health measures.

Expert assessments of the slope indicated that further erosion mitigation work would not be successful, nor would any work done to try and preserve the historical masonry due to the fragile limestone construction.

“Parks Canada has explored a number of conservation options, but it has become clear that the Abbot Pass Hut cannot be conserved in its current location and cannot be effectively moved,” they wrote.

End of 100-year alpine legacy

Abbot Pass Hut was built in 1922 by Swiss mountain guides out of a combination of local stones for the walls, and materials packed in by horses to Victoria Glacier. They were then taken by foot to the pass between Mount Victoria and Mount Lefroy.

Its location on the continental divide at 2,926 metres made it the second-highest structure in Canada, following the Neil Colgan Hut located at 2,957 metres in Kootenay National Park.

The Alpine Club of Canada has been operating the hut since 1985, and it was designated a national historic site in 1992.

The hut was closed to the public in 2018, and the area was closed to the public in 2021.

Parks Canada thanked the ACC for their role in welcoming guests to the hut for over 35 years, and said that they would be looking to explore ways of further commemorating the legacy of the national historic site. They said they would begin consultations with Indigenous groups, the ACC, regional stakeholders and the public starting this year.

"Parks Canada recognizes the importance of the Abbot Pass Hut to many Canadians, particularly those in the climbing and alpine community, and is saddened by the loss of this treasured alpine refuge due to the effects of climate change."