The CPR completed the Transcontinental Railway in 1885. Looking to promote the railroad and draw travellers West, they began to promote tourism in the Rockies. Seeing the popularity of mountain climbing in Europe, they recognized a lucrative new attraction.
In 1899, the CPR imported certified Swiss mountain guides and paid them to lead amateur climbers safely up the mountains. One of the first to arrive in the Rocky Mountains was Edouard Feuz Sr., who along with Rudolph Aemmer, sketched the initial plans for Abbot Pass Hut.
Built largely by Swiss Guides such as Feuz and Aemmer, construction of the high altitude hut was a major undertaking. Materials were hauled by horse across the Victoria Glacier and then carried on the guide’s backs the remainder of the way. Cement, lime, windows, timbers, tools, beds, bedding and a stove were carried in this manner from Lake Louise via the route known as “the Deathtrap.”
While over two tons of building material was brought in, the hut utilized locally quarried, hand cut stone. Based on local building methods and Swiss design, the hut was built in harmony with its natural surroundings. The motivation to design buildings that fit into their environment is an example of the Rustic Design Tradition, popular in the early 1900s.
In 1922, the hut was complete and at an altitude of 2925 metres (9,598 feet), served as a base for mountaineers attempting to climb Mt. Lefroy and Mt. Victoria.
In the race to summit new peaks, climbers travelled to the hut to ascend the two nearby mountains, both over 3,400 metres (11,000 feet). The hut made reaching the summit of two peaks an attainable weekend venture and provided a comfortable alternative to high altitude camping. Nestled between Yoho and Banff National Parks, Abbot Pass is accessible from Lake Louise as well as the Lake O’Hara area.
Operated by the CPR for nearly 40 years, possession of the hut was turned over to Parks Canada in 1960. In 1985 the ACC took over operation of the hut and they still operate it today.
The Abbot Pass Hut is still operational and is one of 24 high alpine huts managed by the ACC. Climbers continue to travel to the hut as a base for ascents up the nearby ranges or as a destination in itself. The ascent, while accessible, should only be attempted by skilled alpine hikers.
Abbot Pass Hut National Historic Site of Canada plaque states:
Built in 1922, this sturdy shelter is a unique and enduring monument to the Swiss guides, who first came to the Rocky Mountains in 1899 under the auspices of the Canadian Pacific Railway. It was patterned on examples in the Swiss Alps. All materials, apart from the stone, were carried by pack horses past the Lower Victoria Glacier, then by the guides to the pass summit. Never again was such an arduous feat undertaken in the national parks. The shelter has served as a high-altitude base for generations of climbers, here in the cradle of Canadian mountaineering.
Both Abbot Pass and the Abbot Pass Hut were named after Phillip Stanley Abbot, the first mountaineering fatality in North America. Abbot fell to his death in an attempt to make the first ascent of Mount Lefroy in 1896.
The "Death Trap" was named after an incident involving Swiss guide, Edward Feuz Jr. While passing over the Victoria Glacier, Feuz and some others were swept down the glacier by an avalanche. Porters carrying loads for the hut found him with only his hand sticking out of the snow and dug him out. It is said that after he regained his composure somewhat his first concern was that he had lost his pipe in the "darned avalanche."
“Abbot Pass Refuge Cabin National Historic Site of Canada Commemorative Integrity Statement,” Parks Canada, 2002