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A Hut in the Clouds

This story was initially published in 1999

On August 3, 1897, the American mountaineer Philip Abbot fell to his death on Mount Lefroy in the Canadian Rockies. Abbot had been drawn to this remote region by Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) advertising promoting unclimbed, unnamed peaks that adventurers could easily reach from the CPR's main line.

Construction of the Abbot Pass Hut
Construction of the Abbot Pass Hut
© Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies / V200 / NAGG-1954
Immediately a cry went up to ban this foolish activity before more lives were lost. The CPR replied by importing professional guides from Switzerland in 1899. They proved that these mountains could be climbed safely, even by novice climbers. By the 1920s, ascents of Lefroy and other peaks around Lake Louise were popular guided day trips.

The Swiss guides raised the standards of Canadian mountaineering abilities. However, climbing in Canada involved long approaches, which increased the risk of accidents, unlike in Switzerland, where shelters dotted the high valleys. In 1921, the guide, Edward Feuz, suggested a stone hut in the 2926-metre high pass between Mounts Lefroy and Victoria. The CPR and Banff National Park initially disagreed, but Feuz persisted and in the summer of 1922 the guides hauled two tons of supplies up to the pass, where they built what was then the highest stone building in Canada. The 12 x 6 x 6 metre structure could comfortably shelter over twenty climbers, no matter what the weather outside. At the official opening, Feuz said simply, "down in the valley, a house, a big house, is just a house. But up here, in the ice and snow, with all those beautiful peaks everywhere, this simple hut is home." 

Original Plans for the Abbot Pass Hut
Original Plans for the Abbot Pass Hut
© Courtesy of Canadian Pacific Archives

The Abbot Pass Hut is the only stone alpine shelter ever built in Canada's mountain national parks. For nearly eight decades, it has been a high altitude base for generations of climbers and a unique and enduring monument to the Swiss guides. It was declared of national historic significance in 1992.

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