On this adventure we combine two favourite activities, hiking and history exploring. There’s nothing better! We’ll follow an old access road to the abandoned Tent Mountain open pit coal mine. This site can be found in the Crowsnest Pass just east of the Alberta/BC border and is a few kilometres up a forest service road south off the main highway (turn just west of the quarry workings).
The road past the gate is our trail and it’s wide, never terribly steep and is in good condition. It zig-zags its way up the mountain and along the way, we pass through prime grizzly habit, a bear superhighway judging from the prints and poo. Huge prints and huge poo! So far though and keeping our fingers crossed, we’ve only ever seen evidence of them. Keep your bear spray and bear bangers handy!
ATVs use the trail, but there is no real conflict here. Given how wide the road is, you can see them coming and they you. Maybe the noise helps keep the bears away too!
After a few switchbacks we come to the workings. There are numerous deep pits on the mountain, with only the lower one being seen here. The others reside over the ridge partially into BC, but lingering snow pack prevented us from exploring them. We’ll return (link below). Looking at Google Earth, there is much more to see once on the other side – many pits and terraces – and from there one should have a clear view of the Coal Mountain operation in Corbin BC. That pit mine still operates and is not terribly far away as the crow flies.
Coal was extracted from Tent Mountain until the early 1980s, making it the very last mine operating in The Pass. In fact, it was the only mine in production in the immediate area for the last couple decades of its existence – most other Crowsnest Pass mines shut down in the 1950s.
Judging by the size of the operation they moved a huge amount of material – according to government records, 1.4 million tonnes of coal were stripped and shipped between 1975-1980 alone. It has operated since the 1940s however, sometimes intermittently or on a small scale, but most of the scars we see are from the last years of production, the mine’s busiest period.
Once mined, the coal was loaded onto heavy duty highway trucks and taken to the processing plant in Coleman Alberta about 20km away. The mine road down is a steep winding affair, a real brake cooker. Travelling it with a full load must have been a hair raising experience!
Coleman Collieries operated the mine and plant and shipped much of its output to Japan via CPR trains. I am not sure if the mine closed because the coal ran out, or if the contract ended, or if the mine became uneconomical., In any case, by this time, all mining in the region was on the BC side, not far away in the Sparwood and Elkford areas. Those mines make this one look small scale.
It will be interesting to see if mining ever returns to the pass – I understand there is a lot of coal left in the area and in fact in the pit there are still visible seams. Many are tens of metres thick, but they dip steeply probably making mining difficult.
The name Tent refers to the look of the mountain before the mine. Of course it looks nothing like that now.
The pit area is barren and scarred and ugly, but I still find that fascinating and great fun to explore. All that history. And nature will take over again. The lake at the fist pit appears quite deep and I would suggest caution when peering over the edge. It’s a long way down.
Looking directly east from the pit is a place called the “Promised Land”, a high mountain cirque across the valley, so named for its lovely setting. It’s a challenging hiking destination and is home to many caves, which are popular with serious spelunkers (they are not for amateurs).
To see our 2012 report on Tent Mountain. click the link below…
Tent Mountain was torn a new one.
If you wish more information on this place, by all means contact us!
Date of adventure: May, 2007.
Location: Crowsnest Pass, AB.
Distance: 14km return. More if you wish to visit further up the mine.
Height gain from start: 510m. More if you wish to explore further.
Height gain cumulative: 510m
Technical bits: None.
Notes: Prime grizzly habitat. We’ve seen so many signs – huge footprints, fresh giant piles of poo, etc. The mine pit is dangerous so stay back from the edge.
Reference: Hiking the Historic Crowsnest Pass, by Jane Ross and William Tracy.