A Daunting Hike to Abbott Pass Hut on the Alberta-BC Border

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About a month ago I was invited by the media group representing Travel Alberta to join them on a two day combination hike and scree climb to the precariously situated Abbott Pass Hut on the Alberta – BC border. Their goal is to produce a three to four minute video of the journey for the Travel Alberta website for release later this fall.

Our group consisted of four hikers, three mountain guides and ten others – including crew, client and agency people.

In our hiking group – talent is what we were called – none of us had been in anything but a home video before. We had to agree before going that we would cooperate at all times with photos, videos and interviews. Sure – no problem I figured. And fortunately, the on camera sessions got easier over the course of the two days.

When you see a picture of Abbott’s Pass Hut you might ask yourself why in God’s name anyone would want to go there.

"Abbott Pass Hut - situated on the BC/Alberta border"

Abbott Pass Hut – situated on the Alberta – BC border

For me it was the challenge.

And I love the mountains. I revel in their beauty and delight in the solitude. That’s not to say that I’m not intimidated at times and in fact occasionally terrified on a talus slope when the boulders underneath you start to move. Trust me, I am.

But with the security of a mountain guide and their expertise with route finding, I had no problem agreeing to go.

Out of the four hikers, I was the oldest by far. In fact I could have been their mother. What I had going for me was experience and I figured I was in shape enough to make it up the close to 3000 feet of vertical with a pack on my back.

And as it turned out there were many in the group of ten who had never done anything like this before. In fact our guide Tamara said that she thinks it was probably the first time Abbott Pass Hut had anyone walk through the door in jeans. (Thank heavens the weather cooperated because not all were dressed appropriately!)

The hike to the hut starts off easily. Over the course of about an hour you make your way up on a wide trail from  the incredibly hued Lake O’Hara to the equally gorgeous Lake Oesa.

"The hike takes you past Lake O'Hara in Yoho National Park"

The hike takes you past Lake O’Hara in Yoho National Park

"Easy hiking above the shore of Lake O'Hara"

Easy hiking above the shore of Lake O’Hara

"Looking back to Lake O'Hara"

Looking back to Lake O’Hara

"Lake Oesa"

Lake Oesa – the start of the more serious hiking

"An aggressive, obese chipmunk at our lunch stop"

An aggressive, obese chipmunk at our lunch stop

Above Lake Oesa it’s time to don helmets and get serious.

Initially the scree slopes are easy to cross; it’s the final 2000 feet of climbing that gets gnarly.

"My climbing team"

My climbing team – all of whom are less than half my age

"The trail across the easy scree above Lake Oesa"

The trail across the easy scree above Lake Oesa

"Climbing the ledges"

Climbing the ledges

"Looking down at Lake Oesa and a few small tarns"

Looking down at Lake Oesa and a few small tarns

Once you get into the section shown in the photo below you have to focus on every footstep. You don’t want to get a leg or a hand caught under a boulder. And you certainly don’t want to dislodge one and send it bouncing down the mountain.

The only part of the climb I really disliked was the middle section. Through here the boulders were larger and more mobile. At times it felt like you were on a sliding mountain. Whenever a boulder started to go my adrenalin surged. One step at a time was my mantra.

"Looking up at our rocky route to Abbott Pass Hut"

Looking up at our rocky route to Abbott Pass Hut

"Our team just minutes from the top"

Our team just minutes from the top

As we got close to the top the grade seemed to steepen even more – but solid outcrop appeared so you felt a sense of safety grabbing onto it.

And once you got to the saddle the views were out of this world. – as was my sense of accomplishment.

The backside of the saddle that takes you down to Lake Louise is called The Death Trap. One of the guides said he’d done it once before and never again. Ice randomly breaks off from the glacier plus there are numerous crevasses to traverse.

"Jordan admiring the glacier views and the so called Death Trap from the pass"

Jordan admiring the glacier views and the so called Death Trap from the pass

"A closer view of The Death Trap"

A closer view of The Death Trap

"The trail falls off quickly"

The trail falls off quickly; Lake Oesa several thousand feet below

"Inside the hut"

"Alpenglow"

Alpenglow

"Plaque at Abbott Pass Hut"

Plaque at Abbott Pass Hut

"Logbook in Abbott Pass Hut"

Logbook in Abbott Pass Hut

"Early morning reflection in Lake Oesa"

Early morning reflection in Lake Oesa

"Back view of the hut and the precariously perched outhouse"

Back view of the hut and the outhouse with a view

"Me seated on a precarious piece of outcrop"

Me seated on a precarious piece of outcrop – dressed for the cold morning

"On the way down and through the worst of the scree and talus"

On the way down after the worst of the scree and talus

"The end of the hike is in sight"

The end of the hike is in sight

Would I do it again?? Maybe – but there are so many great hikes in the Rockies I’d like to do, that I think for now I’d rather explore new country.

Before You Go

The hike to Abbott Pass Hut is a serious one. Accidents happen regularly on the scree slopes and people have been killed.

Here are some pointers and facts to make your experience a safe and enjoyable one.

  • Wear a helmet at all times through the scree.
  • Use a pole. It helps tremendously for balance. Keep it in the uphill hand.
  • Stay to the middle of the scree slope. More accidents from rockfall occur close to the mountain.
  • Never pull on a rock. They are way too easy to dislodge.
  • Be very aware of who is climbing ahead of you and behind you. Yell ROCK if one starts bouncing down.
  • Bring the proper clothing and the 10 essentials. There’s a huge temperature change from bottom to top and it’s cold at night; it was below freezing in mid August.
  • Hire a guide if you’re route finding skills aren’t great. We used Yamnuska Guides out of Canmore. They do the cooking too.
  • Allow 3-6 hours to hike to the hut in the summer. The hut is rarely visited in the winter.
  • Book the hut ahead of time through the Alpine Club of Canada. It holds 24 people. Rates are $22 per night for members, $32 for non-members.
  • The hut is used by the real mountaineering crowd – those out to climb nearby Mount Victoria and Mount Lefroy.
  • The guitar in the hut needs a new set of strings – if you happen to be going.
  • Propane and firewood are provided. Toilet paper is not.
  • Bring a sleeping bag.
What’s been the scariest hike you’ve ever done?
Leigh McAdam

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