Abbot Hut was built by hand in 1922 by Swiss mountain guides using locally quarried, hand-cut stone and supplies ferried by boat, carried on horseback and on foot to the 2925 metre (9598 feet) col (or pass). The stone hut blends with the background and has withstood a century of snowstorms and gale force winds. The sturdy design and connection to the golden age of Canadian mountaineering made it a national historic site.
Like a number of historic places, the Abbot Pass Refuge Cabin Historic Site (Abbot Pass Hut) has been negatively impacted by the effects of climate change. Slope erosion and glacial recession have caused structural damage to the hut despite extensive stabilization efforts and interventions made to preserve the refuge in its location. As a result, Parks Canada has made the difficult decision to dismantle and substantially remove the Abbot Pass Hut in spring 2022. This action is necessary to mitigate a significant visitor safety risk posed by the current condition of the site.
Following reports of rockfall and erosion in fall 2016, Parks Canada conducted geotechnical assessments and monitored the slope beneath the hut for stability. Significant slope stabilization work was completed in 2018, including the installation of rock anchors to better support the hut. Geotechnical assessments conducted in 2021 found higher levels of slope erosion and new evidence, including cracks in the masonry, that reveal the entire hut has been impacted.
Visitor safety is a top priority for Parks Canada and an area closure remains in place for Abbot Pass and the Abbot Pass Hut. Based on expert assessments, additional slope stabilization work is unlikely to be successful in preventing further erosion. Parks Canada has explored a number of conservation options, but it has become clear that the Abbot Pass Hut cannot be conserved in its current location and cannot be effectively moved.
Parks Canada recognizes the importance of Abbot Hut to many Canadians, particularly those in the climbing and alpine communities. We offer special thanks to them and to Alpine Club of Canada for operating the hut from 1985 until its closure in 2016.
Consultations with Indigenous groups, stakeholders and the public are planned for 2022 to help identify options for continuing to commemorate the story of the Abbot Pass Hut and its importance to the history of architecture and mountaineering in Canada.
Climate change and other environmental forces are challenging the integrity of ecosystems and the condition of the natural and cultural resources administered by Parks Canada. Parks Canada is continuing work to understand the impacts of climate change and to explore adaptation and mitigation strategies.
- 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: Additional slope stability work not completed due to unfavourable weather conditions causing safety concerns at the site.
- 2020: COVID-19 health measures prevent additional slope stability work from being completed.
- 2021: Further slope erosion occurs, impacting the base of the hut
- Area closure expanded to include Abbot Pass and its two approach routes.
- Second geotechnical assessment conducted.
- Heritage recording completed.
- 2022 (anticipated): Abbot Pass Hut removed
Frequently asked questions
What caused the deterioration of the slope?
Abbot Pass Hut is located at 2925 metres in elevation on a windswept mountain pass (a col) along the continental divide, meaning that the pass and the hut are subjected to extreme weather throughout the year. But since the hut was built in 1922, climate conditions have changed in this mountain range. In 2016, it was first noticed that the permanent snow and ice, which has covered the southeast slope below the hut since its construction, had receded. This exposed the underlying rock and soil to weather elements.
Mountains are often geologically active places. The steep, unconsolidated and frozen nature of the slope increased its susceptibility to thawing and surface water erosion which likely contributed to the erosion of a portion of the slope. It is believed that high temperatures experienced in summer 2021 contributed to further erosion of the slope below the hut itself, impacting an area that was previously rock and ice.
What work has Parks Canada been doing at Abbot Pass?
Following reports of rockfall and erosion in fall 2016, Parks Canada conducted geotechnical assessments and monitored the slope for stability. Significant slope stabilization work was completed in 2018 and, since then, Parks Canada has been investigating a variety of options for the future of Abbot Pass Hut.
In 2018, Parks Canada invested $600,000 on initial rock stabilization work, including the installation of rock anchors. In 2019, weather conditions at Abbot Pass did not allow for work to continue. In 2020 COVID-19 pandemic restrictions meant that work was not possible.
In 2021, additional geotechnical surveys were conducted to determine if further slope stabilization was possible. Based on the results of this survey, Parks Canada has concluded that no option exists to conserve Abbot Pass Hut in its current state. Additional stabilization efforts may have delayed this outcome but could not have prevented it.
The Agency considered a range of options including attempting to deconstruct it in a way that would allow for the hut to be rebuilt – either at Abbot Pass, or another location. This option is not feasible for reasons associated with health and safety of Parks Canada staff and contractors, as well as the challenging technical aspects of conservation work involved in the removal and reconstruction.
Plans are being made for the substantial removal of the hut in spring 2022. We are committed to saving some representative elements and to remembering its legacy.
In 2021, a thorough heritage recording took place. This record contributes to the existing knowledge of the site and documents its heritage value.
What were the findings of the 2018 geotechnical assessment?
The area on which the hut was built has three zones: soil and rock bound with ice; fractured bedrock and bedrock. The hut is sitting on an area of fractured bedrock and an area of soil and rock with ice, including surface ice. To ensure the area is safe for use and to mitigate the effects of slope erosion which could impact the hut, the report recommended the installation of rock anchors and netting to help secure the underlying bedrock and slope. The initial installation of rock anchors was completed in 2018.
What were the results of the 2021 geotechnical assessment? Why were they different than the 2018 assessment?
The 2021 assessment found a higher than anticipated rate of permafrost thaw and as a result, higher levels of slope erosion than were predicted in 2018. The 2018 report also likely overestimated the amount of bedrock under the foundation of the hut.
The 2021 assessment also found new evidence, including cracks in the masonry, that reveal the entire hut has been impacted by slope erosion.
Based on the assessment’s findings it is highly unlikely that additional slope stabilization efforts would provide a permanent solution for preserving the hut in its current place. Therefore, Parks Canada is planning for the hut’s substantial removal in Spring 2022.
What does “substantial removal” of the hut mean?
Substantial removal means that the majority, perhaps all, of the hut will be removed from the site. Once Parks Canada staff and geotechnical engineers can access and assess the site in 2022, we will determine if it is safe and feasible to leave any portion of the hut in it’s constructed state for commemorative purposes.
Can the hut be reconstructed somewhere else?
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.
Plans are being made to salvage some material from the hut for use in future commemoration of the site. Parks Canada will be working with stakeholders and interested parties to identify options for commemorating the enduring national significance of the site itself, the surrounding area, and to mountaineering in Canada. More details will be provided on these consultations as they become available.
What will happen once the hut is removed?
In 2021, a thorough heritage recording took place. This record contributes to the existing knowledge of the site and provides opportunities to continue presenting its heritage value. 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 stakeholders and interested parties to identify options for commemorating the enduring national significance of the site itself, and the surrounding area, to mountaineering in Canada.