Glacier National Park protects 333,345 acres in the Columbia Mountains in British Columbia. (Note that this park is not to be confused with Glacier National Park in Montana, USA.) Glacier National Park in Canada contains three distinct life zones created by elevation: the “rainforest, snow forest, and no forest.” Fifty percent of Glacier National Park is in the “no forest” zone where the growing season is so short that no trees can grow. Twelve percent of the park is covered by glaciers or permanent ice.
Our planned route had us spending a week total in Glacier and nearby Mount Revelstoke National Park. But when we checked the trail conditions report, we discovered that both parks were still heavily snowed in, and only a few short low-elevation trails were open in each park. So we revised our schedule to take just a day trip to both parks. Not only did these parks experience heavy snow this year (Glacier National Park received 42 feet of snow!) but Glacier has a very short summer, typically mid-July to mid-August. When we arrived at the Glacier Visitor’s Center and asked for a trail map, a somewhat rude ranger replied, “Everything’s closed, come back in August.” As we drove through the park, we saw lots of signs like the one above with “Closed Ferme” labels plastered across them.
But we were still glad we visited these parks, as they were both very beautiful. The heavy snow seemed to add to the majesty of the mountains.
Rogers Pass travels north-to-west through the heart of Glacier National Park. It’s a major transportation path for both the Trans-Canada Highway and Canadian Pacific Railway, which each day carry 4,000 cars and 40 trains respectively during the deepest of winter. Major A.B. Rogers, an American railway surveyor, received a check for $5,000 and a gold watch for discovering this route through the impenetrable Selkirk Mountains. The pathway through Glacier was the scene for many horrific avalanches that killed 250 people between 1885 and 1911. The worst was in 1910 when a crew of 58 men were clearing a previous avalanche off the railroad track when another avalanche buried and killed all but one man, as depicted in a model in the Visitor’s Center.
Since there is so much snow in Glacier and so many sheer cliffs, avalanches simply cannot be avoided. Yet this important route must remain open year-round, so the Canadian government built a series of avalanche tunnels to divert the snow over the road. Most of these tunnels are covered each winter by avalanches while the traffic safely passes through them. The Trans-Canada Highway stretches 4,850 miles from British Columbia to Newfoundland and crosses six time zones.
Another method of avalanche control is manually triggering smaller avalanches using Howitzer cannons before the snow can build up into a large avalanche that’s destructive.
Unlike the colder and somewhat drier Canadian Rockies to the east, the Columbia Mountains that pass through Glacier receive heavy rain in the summer, heavy snow in the winter, and more moderate temperatures year-round. At the lowest elevations, most of the precipitation falls as rain, resulting in the world’s only inland temperate rainforest. In the photo above, Theresa and Darby are walking through the Hemlock Grove, an old-growth forest with towering cedars and hemlocks.
This Canadian Ground Squirrel unfortunately had been domesticated by the crowds of tourists at the Visitors Center. These cute squirrels reminded us of prairie dogs in how they would poke out of their burrows and stand straight up.
Glacier was Canada’s second national park and was established in 1886 simultaneously with Yoho National Park to the east. The Canadian Pacific Railway had just completed its transcontinental line and wanted to use these magnificent parks as a tourist draw. Glacier is also known a the birthplace of Canadian Mountaineering, as the first technical mountain climb purely for sport occurred here in the summer of 1888 by two reverend cousins.