Stairs and Dark Places

I have been meaning to make a post of some recent explorations that had a distinct LOTR feel about them.  Mike’s wonderful stair posts reminded me to post these.  A place I had meaning to visit was Sundance Canyon but owing to its close proximity to the Banff townsite and easy trail, I had always avoided it in favour of more remote and less visited locations.  So I picked a gloomy day well out of season to visit and found a remarkable set of stairs at the top of the canyon that were very Tolkienesque.  In the Rockies, the works of man are rarely old so this ancient looking stairway seemed very unusual.


DSCN7293Above: After climbing up a waterfall, these hewn stone stairs lead you in a spiral through a crack in the rock.  To the left of the frame, the river cascades through the gorge.  I would guess that Lawrence Grassi made these but I’m anxious  to see if anyone knows their origin.DSCN7295Above:  Far more welcoming than Cirith Ungol!  I imagine most people come to the canyon for the waterfall and never even see these stairs, but I found them to be the main attraction.

A more recent discovery was the McGillivray Vault.  Back in the 1969 during the Cold War, a scheme was devised to make a bomb-proof vault underneath one of the mountains to store important documents and other valuables.  It was started but never finished and while it was never decommissioned or blocked off, there is very little in the way of advertising its location.

I only discovered it from a failed excursion to find the Hermit of Inglismaldie’s old cabin. In trying to get more exact information, I came across a blog posting about it and the next post was about this vault.  They didn’t give instructions how to get there but using GoogleEarth to reverse engineer the perspective from the vault entrance, it was pretty easy to figure it out.  I packed a headlamp and a helmet and set off.  The route followed a section of the Trans Canada Trail which was rather pleasant.  A few kilometers later the vault was found.

DSCN7616Above:  I checked the entrance for animal prints for quite some time as I didn’t want to surprise a sleeping bear or a cornered cougar.  This entrance brought to life so many moments from the stories.  It was a challenge to not imagine Elven tracings and artwork around the tunnel.  The snow drifts lent a Caradhras feel to the place!

DSCN7617Above: This view greets you upon entering.  The passage, which according to my compass runs exactly due South, is about 8 feet wide and same in height with a length of 61m.  Dripping water froze into stalagmites with a distinct “table leg” look.DSCN7622Above:  Part way in looking back out.  Near the back of the shaft, another tunnel intersects and runs east in an “L”  I shot a short video of the ever darkening journey down the tunnel:

I have to admit it was not pleasant down there by myself.  I wouldn’t call it scary just an uncomfortable feeling of unease.  I would have gladly traded my Petlz headlamp for something Elvish!  A great piece of mysterious and half-hidden history.




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1 Response to Stairs and Dark Places

  1. Mike Diakuw says:

    With the 2nd Hobbit movie only days away, this was a great post to get excited about exploration and hidden places. I didn’t know anything about Grassi before reading your post. I can see why he’s a legend in your parts.

    Those stairs are spectacular.

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