Victor’s Insider Scoop on My Return to Lake Louise
July 18th, 2012 | top of page
My First Trip to Abbot Pass Hut @1971
I spent my summers in early 1970s living and working at Chateau Lake Louise and climbing in the surrounding mountains. Lake Louise was and remains a magical place for me and many of the persons I shared those times with. I’ve been back a few times over the years and have found the saying “You can’t go home again” to be sadly true. The Chateau is now a year-round, world-class destination resort run by the giant Fairmont corporation and is staffed by professionals vs. university students and transients like it was in the ’70s and earlier.
My friend and former Victoria Dining Room waiter Andrew Caddell had been itching to revisit Abbot Pass Hut which was a favorite haunt of the more adventurous Chateau staff. Over the course a several weeks and many emails, the trip was arranged culminating in a firm commitment when airline tickets were purchased.
The Bergschrund When It Was Easy to Cross
Abbot Pass Hut is, at 2925 metres in elevation, the second highest habitable building in Canada and (more or less) sits astride The Great Divide. Built in 1922 by Swiss mountain guides, it has a storied history.
My first trip to the hut was in the summer of 1971. I’ve probably been there 8 or more times since it’s the launching point for ascents of Mt. Lefroy and Mt. Victoria both of which I’ve climbed several times. The hut used to be readily accessible from Lake Louise via a glaciated col between Mounts Victoria and Lefroy affectionately known as “The Death Trap”. Over the ensuing years the route up the col has become impassible due to a wide bergschrund (crevasse) that extends between the walls of Mt. Victoria and Mt. Lefroy. So, for the first time in my life, the 810 metre ascent would take me to the hut from the Lake O’Hara side.
Unlike Lake Louise which gets inundated by tourists during the summer months, Parks Canada restricts the number of visitors to Lake O’Hara to just those with reservations for a 10 km ride to the lake in an old school bus.
Our trek began by shouldering our 15 kg packs and circumventing the northern shore of Lake O’Hara before beginning the ascent to Lake Oesa. Although there’s a moderate elevation gain from Lake O’Hara to Lake Oesa its rigors are mollified by the unparalleled trail building skills of Lawrence Grassi whose trails are truly a work of art that need to be experienced to be appreciated.
At Lake Oesa the bulk of the ascent begins with the bane of the mountaineer: the interminable scree slope where (it seems that) two steps up are countered with one step sliding back on the ever-moving loose gravel underfoot. I previously only ascended to the hut from the Lake Louise side despite the objective dangers of rockfall or icefalls as I preferred the surety of kicked steps or crampons on firn and ice to the unrelenting scree slope.
Our party arrived at the hut in the late afternoon just as the on and off again drizzle that kept us cool during the climb turned to a cold, driving rain. The hut was occupied by a few climbers who had arrived the day before so the stove was lit and had warmed up the hut which helped to dry us and warm our spirits almost as much as the final removal of our packs.
Since we had no intention of climbing any higher, our packs, which would have otherwise contained rope, carabiners, a climbing harness and other hardware, etc., were laden with food and wine which we consumed with a well earned gusto.
In addition to our party of 6 the hut was occupied that night by three other parties: a young couple from Revelstoke, two Oriental women with a lot of camera equipment, three dudes who had carried skis up with the intention to ski the slopes of Mt. Lefroy above the hut the next day, and three special forces officers from the Canadian military who were planning to ascend Mt. Lefroy.
The night brought more rain and relatively warm temperatures which killed the plans of the skiers and climbers as the slopes above the hut were too unstable to risk climbing the next day. All of the parties, including ours, began the descent back down to Lake Oesa in the morning.
By 4 p.m. we had checked into the Chateau and were enjoying its hospitality and luxuries. Andy and I agreed that our next trip to Abbot Hut would be with our sons and include plans to climb Mt. Victoria.
Torrent Cascading from Lake Oesa
Start of Scree Ascent
Enjoying Libations in the Hut
Ready for the Descent
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