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Canadian Rockies (Les Rocheuses, Rocky Mountains)
Parent Area: Rocky Mountains
 

Area: 187644 sq km. Location: The boundaries of the Canadian Rockies are the "Interior Plains" on the east, the Rocky Mountain Trench on the west, the Liard River on the north and Marias Pass on the south. Note that Marias Pass is actually a bit south of the US border, but still geologically the Canadian Rockies. The main mass of the Rocky Mountains in the United States are a completely different geological formation, and are not considered part of the Canadian Rockies. Terrain: The southern Rockies form the continental divide between Atlantic and Pacific oceans, and the border between Alberta and British Columbia. North of the Columbia Icefields, they form the divide between the Arctic and Pacific oceans. The "triple point" is the summit of Snow Dome (11340 ft) on the Columbia Icefields. That point is drained by three great river systems: North of there, everything flows into the the Athabasca river to the Arctic Ocean, to the southwest is the Columbia River to the Pacific Ocean, and southeast is the North Saskatchewan River to Hudson's Bay, which is considered to be the Atlantic Ocean.

West of the continental divide there is generally thick bush and steep slopes. The eastern side is considerably drier, and there are large meadows leading up to the peaks. From a climber's viewpoint, in comparing the Rockies with the limestone of the Alps, one would notice that the rock in the Rockies is not as worn and weathered as in the European Alps. In the Alps, it is common to encounter polished and slippery knobs of rock on popular trails, whereas in the Rockies, the rock remains rough to both the touch and to boots. The soles of climbing boots wear quite quickly in the Rockies as compared with the Alps. Also one would notice that the limestone of the Alps is much more eaten away by acid rains than in Canada.

To geologists, the Canadian Rockies are the easternmost chain of mountains of the Canadian Cordillera, which is the physiograpic name covering all the mountains of western Canada. The main part of the American Rockies are distinctly different than the Canadian Rockies - they are blocks of granite, as opposed to folded sedimentary mountains. The Canadian Rockies are primarily marine sedimentary rock (limestone, shale, etc.) which has been folded and thrust faulted. This is more obvious in the front ranges, such as the Kananaskis than it is in the heavily glaciated areas along the continental divide. Within the Rockies, they are geologically subdivided from north to south and also transected from east to west. From north to south the mountains south of Crowsnest Pass are referred to as the southern Canadian Rockies, then from Crowsnest to the Peace River area, the central Canadian Rockies, and then north of that is called the northern Rockies. Don't confuse these geological terms with the traditional guidebook subdivision into Canadian Rockies - North and Canadian Rockies -South, in which the dividing line is Saskatchewan River - Howse Pass. We're just talking about rocks here.

From east to west, geologists have subdivided the rockies into the foothills, the front Ranges, the "main ranges", and the western ranges. The main ranges itself is subdivided into eastern main ranges and western main ranges. Basically, the surface sedimentary layer perhaps 10 km thick has been compressed which leads to folds and faults. In the foothills, the folds are not as high. The front ranges are the beginning of the mountain front. From east to west, one of the first peaks of the front is Yamnuska Mountain. Continuing west, Castle Mountain, about 20 km west of Banff is the first of the peaks in the main range. (Castle mountain went through a period of being called Mount Eisenhower, before its original name was restored.) In comparing Castle Mountain with Mount Rundle, the rock of the central ranges is generally more colorful than the front range peaks such as Mount Rundle, or the Kananaskis area. The rock is also older. Once you get to Field, you leave behind the tough limestone, quartzite and dolomite, and get into shale. Shale is more easily eroded. Because the rock is different, geologists refer to this as the "western main ranges". History: In 1754, Anthony Henday, of the Hudson's Bay company saw the Canadian Rockies for the first time. In 1793 Alexander Mackenzie was the first European to reach the Pacific Coast going overland around the north end of the Rockies. By 1800 the Northwest company had established Rocky Mountain House, near Red Deer, Alberta, and from here David Thompson first found Howse Pass, through to the Columbia River. However, this pass was later blocked by hostile Peigan Indians, and so in 1810 Thompson, after an epic journey, discovered Athabasca Pass, which divides the Athabasca River from the Columbia River. Athabasca Pass is between the Arctic Ocean drainages and the Pacific, whereas Howse Pass is between the Atlantic and the Pacific. Once established, Athabasca Pass was used by numerous fur trade parties to reach the Columbia River. In 1827 David Douglas made an ascent of Mount Brown overlooking the pass, and mistakenly calculated its height to be 17,000 feet, which later caused numerous expeditions to search for these mythical giants. In 1857 the Royal Geographical Society sent the Palliser Expedition west to look for a possible railroad route. About the same time James Hector explored up the Bow Valley, over Bow Pass, and to the Lyell Icefield. There were several other significant explorations of this type. The real change in accessability of the Rockies occurred when the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) was completed in 1885. This lead to the establishment of Glacier House at Rogers Pass, which became a climbing center attracting climbers and professional guides from around the world. About the same time Lake Louise and Banff became climbing destinations. This era is characterized by an all out rush to make first ascents on all the nearby big mountains, and numerous pack train expeditions north to explore and map any other possible large mountains. The earlier mistake by Douglas in recording the height of Mount Brown as 17000 feet led to numerous expeditions to find these peaks. In the process, the Columbia Icefield peaks were discovered. The first peaks ascended tended to be either close to the railway, or more moderate scrambles. A significant milestone was the climbing of Mount Robson in 1913, which is a serious mountaineering objective to this day. The last, and perhaps the most difficult large peak in the Rockies, Mount Alberta, was finally climbed in 1925.

Top Trips
1976 Traverse of Mount Robson Bob Hughes
Endless Meadows near McBride - Chalco Creek Rambles Robin Tivy
Overland to the Fraser Headwaters Robin Tivy
Maligne Range Ski Traverse - Trip Report Robin Tivy
2008 KMC Climbing Camp : Among the Adamants: Sandra McGuinness
Old Goats Summer Camp 2005 : Six Peaks at End of Maligne Lake Rick Collier
Whitegoat Wilderness Traverse - Owen Creek to Beauty Creek Robin Tivy
Success on Mount Columbia Eric Coulthard
Lyell-Forbes Ski Traverse Robin Tivy
Mount Ball's Sunny Ice Tongue Tom Wolfe
More Trips

Top Photos
Topping out on the Kain Face, Mount Robson Bob Hughes
East Face of Columbia from East of the Trench Steph Durocher
Mount Ulysses From The Southeast John Scurlock
Mount Edith Cavell in April from Skyline Trail Robin Tivy
Mount Assiniboine South Ridge and East Face Reid Holmes
Mount Brazeau From Valad Peak Robin Tivy
Sir Alexander North/ Northwest Face John Scurlock
Shadow Lake and Mount Ball David Wasserman
Mount Robson from Resplendent Mountain Lyle Knight
Watchtower from Above the Notch Robin Tivy
More Photos

Alpine Journal Articles
New Light On Mounts Brown And Hooker E. W. D. Holway
1907 Three Attempts on Pinnacle P. D. McTavish
1908 How to Reach Mount Sir Sandford P. A. Carson
1915 First Ascent Of Mt. Edith Cavell... E. W. D. Holway
1918 Around Lake Louise In 1918 Val. A. Fynn
1924 Journey Through Jasper - Part 1: Athabasca Pass area J. Munroe Thorington
1924 First Ascents of Mount Barbican and Mount Geikie Val A. Fynn
1924 Journey Through Jasper - Part 2: Ascents in the Rampart Group J Munroe Thorington
1924 Journey Through Jasper - Part 3: Ascents in the Robson Group J Munroe Thorington
1926 Attempt on Mt. Redoubt - 1926 T.B. Moffat More Journal Articles