The Abbot Pass Refuge Cabin National Historic Site (Abbot Pass Hut) is a high altitude alpine shelter built in 1922 by Swiss guides at Abbot Pass, located 2,926 metres above sea level on the continental divide between Lake O’Hara in Yoho National Park and Lake Louise in Banff National Park.
Abbot Pass Refuge Cabin was declared a national historic site in 1992 for its construction in the rustic design tradition and its association with outdoor recreation in the national parks. The hut is operated by the Alpine Club of Canada (ACC) and is a popular summer destination for strong hikers and a base for mountaineers planning to summit Mount Lefroy or Mount Victoria.
When constructed in 1922, the southeast slope below the hut was covered by permanent snow and ice, protecting the underlying rock and soil from erosion. Since then, the snow and ice have receded exposing the steep, unconsolidated slope below the hut to thawing and surface water erosion. Erosion was first noted in 2016. Abbot Pass Hut was closed to visitors when erosion continued in 2018. A portion of the slope below the base of the hut fell away in 2021, directly impacting the foundation of the hut.
· 1922: Abbot Pass Refuge Cabin (Abbot Pass Hut) constructed
· 1968: Dominion Parks Branch (known today as Parks Canada) acquires the hut
· 1973: Abbot Pass Refuge Cabin is restored
· 1985: Alpine Club of Canada assumes operation of the hut
· 1992: Abbot Pass Refuge Cabin is designated as a national historic site
· 2012: Parks Canada completes roof and drainage upgrades
· 2014: Parks Canada completes stone masonry restoration
· 2016: Initial slope instability reported to Parks Canada
· 2017: Slope stability geotechnical assessment begins
· 2018: Hut closed and initial slope stability work conducted to install rock anchors below the hut
· 2019: Unfavourable weather conditions cause safety concerns at the site, preventing additional slope stability work
· 2020: COVID-19 health measures prevent additional slope stability work from being completed
· 2021: Further slope erosion occurs, impacting the base of the hut
o Area closure expanded to include Abbot Pass and its two approach routes
o Second geotechnical assessment conducted
o Heritage recording completed
· 2022 (anticipated): Abbot Pass Hut removed
2018 Slope Stabilization Work
Parks Canada conducted significant slope stabilization work in 2018. More than $600,000 was spent to install rock anchors on the slope beneath the hut. The remote location made this work extremely challenging. The elevation of Abbot Pass reduces the amount of weight that helicopters can carry when bringing material and equipment to the site, and suitable weather and ground conditions exist for only a few weeks each year.
The weather was unfavourable in 2019 and safe work was not possible that year. The COVID-19 pandemic-related restrictions prevented work in 2020.
In summer 2021, record high temperatures at the pass contributed to further erosion of the slope and began impacting the hut itself. Approximately 114 cubic metres of material fell from the slopes under the hut. Parks Canada was alerted to the additional erosion and immediately conducted a second geotechnical assessment.
2021 Geotechnical Assessment Findings
The 2021 geotechnical assessment found a higher than anticipated rate of permafrost thaw and as a result, higher levels of slope erosion than previously predicted. It also found new evidence, including cracks in the masonry, that revealed the entire hut has been impacted by slope erosion. The 2018 assessment likely overestimated the amount of bedrock under the foundation of the hut. Based on these findings it is highly unlikely that additional slope stabilization efforts would preserve the hut in its current location.
Abbot Pass Hut remains closed to all visitors and an area closure is in place for Abbot Pass. For safety, Parks Canada is planning to dismantle and substantially remove the hut in spring 2022.
Parks Canada takes the protection of national historic sites like the Abbot Pass Refuge Cabin very seriously. When planning for the substantial removal of the hut, the Agency considered attempting to deconstruct it in a way that would allow for the hut to be rebuilt, either at Abbot Pass or at another location. This option is not feasible for two reasons:
· The unstable condition of the hut and the slopes at Abbot Pass mean that the delicate work required for this type of removal would pose too great a risk to the health and safety of Parks Canada staff and contractors.
· Based on consultations with experts in historical masonry, the type of material used to construct the hut (primarily limestone) is likely to fracture if moved and is not conducive to removal and reconstruction.
A thorough heritage recording took place to contribute to the existing knowledge of the site and provide opportunities to continue presenting the heritage value of Abbot hut. Efforts will also be made to save some of the material from the hut for use in future commemoration work.
Parks Canada will be working with Indigenous groups, stakeholders and interested parties to identify options for commemorating the story of the hut and its importance to mountaineering in Canada. More details will be provided on these consultations as they become available.