Please reference comments. Apparently, access to the Pod has been sealed off by Shell Canada. Please exercise due diligence before beginning this hike.
Every year during the Rum Runner’s weekend in Blairmore, Alberta, there is a fireworks display called ‘Thunder in the Valley’. On a July Saturday night, the show begins at 11 PM with 60,000 people in attendance. You have not heard fireworks until you hear them in a valley surrounded by tall mountains with accompanying rock music.
In 1947, West Canadian Collieries undertook open-pit mining on Grassy Mountain to supplement and offset more costly production at the ageing Greenhill and Bellevue Mines in the Crowsnest Pass. As mountains are created, layers of rock, including coal seams, are buckled and contorted. Normally underground mining is required to remove the coal. When the coal seams are close to the surface, drag-lines, graders, shovels and trucks are engaged to first remove surface soil and rock, and then to work the coal seams for transportation by truck to the tipple at Greenhill in Blairmore. There were four major coal seams on Grassy Mountain, accessible by open-pit mining. Of the four, the # 2 seam was the most spectacular where ancient geological forces, through repeated faulting and folding, had developed seams, normally 6 metres thick, into deposits 25 metres deep. West Canadian Collieries closed all of their mines in 1957 when markets for coal collapsed.
The objective on this very windy and sunny day is to visit the ‘Pod’ (aka the ‘Big Show’) near the top, elevation 2,065 m (6,775 ft), of Grassy Mountain in the Crowsnest Pass. Along the way is a short hike to a site overlooking a beautiful, very deep lake at the bottom of a long canyon created by open-pit mining more than a half century ago.
Manoeuvring the car cautiously up the mountain on tenuous, washed-out, four-wheel drive road, and gaining elevation rapidly, the ‘Pod’ is visible, high on Grassy Mountain. Less than a kilometre into the hike, the remnants of the open-pit mine leads to the top of the mountain on dusty, black scree. Hiking up the steep, V-shaped canyon, created by the extraction of coal, deposits of carbonized forests are still evident in the colourful walls of the open-pit. Tons of the high quality, pure black coal is scattered everywhere.
At the top of the seam, open grassland with sparse groves of stunted poplar and thousands of struggling raspberry bushes dot the landscape. Access to ‘the Pod’ is easy from here across a kilometre of level, terraced and grassy hillside. On my way, a herd of seven adult deer with fresh, gleaming, rich brown, summer coats, watch me carefully for a bit, then scurry from my path to a more private location. Wind is strong and gusting, normal for the Crowsnest Pass.
I arrive at the ‘Pod’ and the views of surrounding mountains are spectacular, from Waterton National Park in the south to Kananaskis Country in the north, and British Columbia to the west. The Livingston Range is blocking my view to the prairies. The number 2 seam is huge. Scattered mining debris is still in evidence, however it has been largely vandalized over the years and reduced to piles of shattered lumber. The rock face and remaining coal deposits provide clear proof of the powerful forces of nature. Rock and coal layers are bent at extreme angles and layers of coal are folded over one another. I am within easy reach of the summit but I am satisfied and happy to discover and explore this old mining site.
I capture a self-portrait to give scale to the ‘Pod’. It is an impressive geological feature (the Pod, not me).
I struggle to take photos in the gusting wind. Occasionally, I need to brace myself to remain standing. I return to the car hiking on off-trail ridge alternatives. It has been a relatively low effort, high reward day to observe unique geological features and phenomenal scenery combined with a 10 year supply of fresh air.