The Pod – Crowsnest Pass – Hiking Alberta

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 calledThunder 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.

The Pod – Crowsnest Pass, Alberta, Canada

The Pod – Crowsnest Pass, Alberta, Canada

The Pod – Crowsnest Pass, Alberta, Canada

The Pod – Crowsnest Pass, Alberta, Canada

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 PassAs 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 miningOf 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 Pod – Crowsnest Pass, Alberta, Canada

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.

The Pod – Crowsnest Pass, Alberta, Canada

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.

The Pod – Crowsnest Pass, Alberta, Canada

The Pod – Crowsnest Pass, Alberta, Canada

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.

The Pod – Crowsnest Pass, Alberta, Canada

The Pod – Crowsnest Pass, Alberta, Canada

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.

The Pod – Crowsnest Pass, Alberta, Canada

The Pod – Crowsnest Pass, Alberta, Canada

The Pod – Crowsnest Pass, Alberta, Canada

The Pod – Crowsnest Pass, Alberta, Canada

The Pod – Crowsnest Pass, Alberta, Canada

I capture a self-portrait to give scale to the ‘Pod’.  It is an impressive geological feature (the Pod, not me).

The Pod – Crowsnest Pass, Alberta, Canada

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.

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5 Responses to The Pod – Crowsnest Pass – Hiking Alberta

  1. Pingback: Ten Sensational Hikes from hikingwithbarry - Volume 2

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  3. Norbert says:

    Hello Barry,

    At first many thanks for your very interesting web sites. I´ve found it, because I was looking for some informations about the former opencast at Grassy Mountain, Alberta.
    I was there two times with a group of german students (geology), because Grassy Mountain is a very good example for cretacious coal in the foreland of the Canadian Rockies, and especially its petrography, folding and faulting. During our visits in 2004 and 2008 the area was open – last August I went to the outcrop with some friends (all geologists) and we were very surprised, that there is a very stable fence around the location, the gate is locked, and there is a calling number to contact Shell Canada. I don´t know what’s happened there. In the middle of September 2011, I´d like to visit some coal mines in western Canada and Colorado. The reason is, that I have to manage the geological part of a large scientifical project with the target to produce chemical base products and liquid fuels from coal. Therefore we are travelling to different countries worldwide, such as India, South Africa, Australia and of cause the States and Canada, to take samples for our investigations.
    If you would like to know more about this project, please go to the DER button at the web site from our university.
    My question is, is it possible to open the gate for some hours and to take samples, or is it a protected area now? Whats the role of Shell?
    If there is no possibility for our activities, it would be very helpful, if you can give me an advice for an personal contact to a colliery at Crownest Pass, to take some samples from this location.

    • Thank you for your comment, Norbert. I wish you well in your project which I find very interesting. I also appreciate the information on access to the Pod and I will update the post to inform others. Unfortunately, I am not in a good position to help you. First, the number you have provided for Shell Canada is not in a format I recognize. Usually, when an oil company seals something off, it is because they are planning some future development. In my experience, it is unlikely access will be provided but I would recommend you get in touch with them. I also suggest you contact the University of Calgary for a potential resource to advise on geological formations. I do know that Moose Mountain is a place where geology is studied regularly but I do not know if the features you mention are prevalent. I suspect there are plenty of opportunities. Another source of information might be the Canmore Museum and Geoscience Centre in Canmore, Alberta, Canada. Even if they cannot help directly, I am certain they will be better postioned to provide better referrals than I can. Good luck.

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