GLACIER NATIONAL PARK protects a representative example of the Selkirk Mountains in the Columbia Mountain Range adjacent to the Rockies. Canada’s second oldest national park, its mountains are older than those to the east, with harder rock and sharper peaks; these glacier-clad mountains are credited with being the birthplace of sport mountaineering in Canada. Here weather systems from the Pacific meet the mountains making for highly variable conditions – you can set off in blazing sunshine and meet a blizzard by lunchtime – but despite this, the soaring alpine scenery and vast wilderness attracts climbers, backcountry skiers and hikers from across the world. There are 147 glacier masses in the park with 8.3 percent of the park permanently blanketed with ice. The most famous of these glaciers, the Illecillewaet Glacier, is easily seen from the Trans-Canada Highway and is the birthplace of glaciology in North America. It was first photographed in 1887 and is still monitored today.
The park’s highest point, Mount Hasler, in the Dawson Range, is 3399m tall – and historically it and its neighbours have presented as much of a barrier as their Rocky Mountain cousins. The “impenetrable peaks” of the Selkirk Mountains were the last great obstacle to the completion of the great transcontinental railway. In 1881, Major A.B. Rogers, an American railway surveyor, made his place in history when he discovered Rogers Pass (1321m) for the Canadian Pacific Railway, the final link that brought Canada together as a nation.
Despite the railway’s best efforts, its pounding by repeated avalanches eventually forced the company to bore a tunnel through the mountain, but the 1962 completion of the Trans-Canada Highway along the pass once again made the area accessible. This time huge snowsheds were built, backed by the world’s largest mobile avalanche-control system.