Travelling the gold rush trail included a stop at Hell’s Gate, one of British Columbia’s prime tourist spots. Here, at the narrowest and deepest spot on the Fraser River, towering rock walls plunge toward each other forcing the water through a gorge that’s only 35 metres (110 feet wide).
“We had to travel where no human being should venture for surely we have encountered the gates of hell.”
Today, the river is even narrower at Hell’s Gate than it was in 1808 when the explorer, Simon Fraser, penned those words. During the construction of the Canadian National Railway through the canyon in 1913, blasting triggered a rock slide that partially blocked the river’s path.
We enjoyed breathtaking views as we descended 153 metres (502 feet) into the canyon on the 25-passenger airtram that crosses the river at its narrowest point. Had I not overcome my fear of heights in recent years, I don’t know if I could have done it.
Though it’s very stable and the side rails are high, I certainly couldn’t have walked across the suspension bridge with it’s open grate floor in my younger days but that’s my shoe, proof that I really did it!
Hell’s Gate is more than just a tourist attraction. The 1913 rock slide resulted in a dramatic drop in the salmon run up the river at spawning time. It took 30 years of work by dedicated scientists and several years of construction to repair the damage. Now, Hell’s Gate fishways, built by a joint Canadian – United States Commission stands as monument to man’s dedication and ingenuity and once again allows the salmon to migrate upstream to their spawning grounds.
Just upriver from Hell’s Gate, we stopped at the small community of Boston Bar to photograph a different sort of aerial tram. Dangling high above the mighty Fraser River on cables that were 366 metres (1200 feet) long, the North Bend Aerial Ferry transported passengers and vehicles across the river for 45 years. I remember watching my family cross on this contraption in the mid 1960s. I thought they were crazy and refused to go with them. I still remember standing on solid ground convinced that I was about to become an orphan! Fortunately, my family lived to tell the tale and the aerial ferry continued to operate without incident until a bridge was built in 1985.