Descending to Hell’s Gate

Hell’s Gate is located in the Fraser River Canyon in British Columbia. The  Fraser river  (longest in British Columbia, flowing from Mount Robson in the Canadian Rockies to Vancouver) narrows greatly here, which turns the calm river into swirling rapids. This is called “Hell’s Gate”.

One of the earliest explorers to navigate this area was Simon Fraser (20 May 1776 – 18 August 1862).  He was a fur trader, who charted much of what is now British Columbia. He was employed by the Montreal-based North West Company and was also responsible for building the first trading posts in the area. In 1808 he came up the Fraser river and described this narrow passage as “a place where no human should venture, for surely these are the gates of Hell”.  This is the origin of the name “Hell’s Gate” . Today, it’s a tourist attraction in its own right. It is also a popular stretch of water for white water rafting (although it was quite early in the season, so we didn’t see any rafts.)

We stopped at Hell’s Gate during Day 1 of our Canadian Road Trip, travelling from Vancouver to Kamloops.

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Our first view of Hell’s Gate

The main attraction here is an air tram, that takes you from one side of the canyon to the other, over the rapids. It is one of the steepest fully suspended trams in North America. It is also special because it is one of the few trams in the world that starts its journey at the top and goes down.

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Information board at Hell’s Gate

Tram tickets usually costs 22 CAD per adult, however, today is Canyon Appreciation day (29th May 2016), so entry was free! Instead of the ticket price, we were invited to make a donation which we were very happy to do.

After a brief wait for the next tram, it was our turn to go down. As you descend in the tram you get great views on both sides, the swirling rapids at the bottom and the suspension bridge spanning the canyon.

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Upriver view as you descend
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Downriver view as you descend, with the suspension bridge

At the bottom, on the other side, there is a complex of observation decks, cafe, gifts shops and a small museum.

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Observation Decks, Gift Shops and Johnnie’s Stove

The Canadian Pacific Railway (built in 1880) also runs parallel to the river here.

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The Canadian Pacific Railway running parallel to the Fraser River

Once you get to the other side and get out of the tram, there are a few things to look at. One of these is Johnnie’s stove. “What’s that?” I hear you say. Story is that Johnnie was a Chinese origin cook who provided hearty meals to the Canadian Pacific Railway line workers. One night Johnnie disappeared in mysterious circumstances. They found a replacement cook, but no matter how hard they tried they couldn’t light up the stove. Johnnie re-appeared and went on cooking until he died on July 10, 1890. And, on the anniversary of his death every year, apparently the stove gets slightly warm, even though its not been lit since Johnnie’s death. Spooky! (Well, the cynic in me says that, the replacement cook was incompetent and the stove gets warm because everyone rubs it trying to see if its warm. But its a nice story, so what’s the harm?)

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Johnnie’s Stove (It’s Haunted!)

Hell’s gate is also home to the “International FishWays”. Pacific salmon migrate upriver here into their spawning grounds.  In 1911, the construction of a second rail track was started here. In 1914 a large rock slide (triggered by the railroad construction) fell into the river here, obstructing the passage of the salmon, resulting in the decline of the Salmon population. To improve the situation, the “Fishways” were built. These are concrete structures built on each side of the river bank – essentially, safe  pathways for the salmon to migrate up the river.

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Concrete structure in the middle is a “Fishway”
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Another view of the Fishways

There is also a small museum here that tells you the history of Hell’s gate, salmon migration and the Fishways.

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Photo of Hell’s Gate, before the tram and the bridge
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Museum also explains about the many different types of Salmon

There are a number of activities aimed at kids too – Gold Panning, handmade fudge and ice cream,

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and this massive bear:

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We crossed the suspension bridge over to the other side. Walking on the bridge is an interesting experience, as you can see right through the grill into the rapids below. Hold onto your phones and cameras, because if you drop them, you’ll never see them again!

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Eventually, we decided that it was time to push on with out journey to Kamloops. There was time to take one last shot of the tram coming to pick us up.

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The airtram on its way down

Things to know:

How to get there: Hell’s Gate is located on Highway 1  between the towns of Hope and Lytton.  Best (and as far as I could work out only) way to get there is by car. It’s about 45 minutes by car from Hope.

How much time should you spend there: Plan to spend a minimum of 1 hour here, longer if you are having food, and also if you have kids as there are activities for them.

Things to know: Hell’s gate is only open late April to early October. Therefore, please do check their website  for opening hours before you travel to make sure you are not disappointed. 

Cost: 22 CAD (plus tax) per adult (at the time of writing). Please check their website for latest prices.

I’m linking this to #wanderfulwednesday with Lauren of Lauren on Location, Van of Snow in Tromso, Isabel of The Sunny Side of This and Marcella of What a Wonderful World

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