Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Summer Backpacking Trip to the Asulkan Cabin, Rogers Pass

This post could easily be called "Introduction of Family Mountaineering" or "Mountaineering with Kids 101" because the Asulkan Cabin is a great base camp for exploring glaciers and for hiking to the nearby Asulkan Pass across a wild landscape of glacier moraines and permanent snow fields.

Wild Hiking in the Asulkan Valley, Rogers Pass

The Asulkan Cabin is maintained and operated by the Alpine Club of Canada (ACC.) The ACC  operates the largest collection of backcountry huts in North America with many huts offering easy access to families. The Asulkan Cabin is located in Glacier National Park, British Columbia, and is situated high up the Asulkan Valley at Rogers Pass.While you could easily day hike up the valley to the cabin, it's much more enjoyable to spend a night and to enjoy some off trail exploring above the cabin if you are able to spend a couple of nights here.

The Asulkan Cabin, Rogers Pass, British Columbia

Staying overnight at the Asulkan Cabin


The Asulkan Cabin only sleeps 10 people so it's very easy to reserve all of the beds and to have your own private alpine cabin. This is what we did with two other families and it was a very enjoyable way to stay overnight in the backcountry. We loved not having to worry about our kids being too noisy, waking up too early, or disturbing other guests. Booking an entire cabin for your family and friends is often the best way to approach these kinds of trips if you are able to find a couple of nights when an ACC cabin is free and you can find enough friends to go with you.

Our Crew at the Asulkan Cabin (I know, who brought the Unicorn, right?) - Photo: M. Dunn


We've stayed in many backcountry cabins and huts as a family but the Asulkan Cabin is one of our favourites for a few reasons.
  1. We love that the sleeping bunks and platforms are upstairs so that once the kids go to bed, you can still stay up to socialize and play cards. At some cabins, sleeping platforms are in the same room as everything else and you pretty much have to go to bed at the same time as the kids.

  2. The views!!! You'd be hard pressed to find another alpine hut or cabin with these kinds of views unless you were to actually start traversing glaciers to reach the true mountaineering huts

  3. Solitude. Once the day hikers leave, you are left alone in the middle of the backcountry, high up the Asulkan Valley, in your own patch of paradise. (In your own private cabin if you booked the whole thing!)

  4. This is a mountaineering base camp that children can hike to. Most of the other "climbers huts" require glacier traverses.

This is the view from the Asulkan Cabin

The only thing I have to say on the cautionary side about the Asulkan Cabin is that you might not want to bring small children here if you were thinking that you could carry them up to the cabin. The stairs up to the sleeping area are very steep (more like a ladder than stairs) and the sleeping platforms/bunks would not be entirely safe with small children. Kids could easily fall off the upper platforms down to the main floor and there was only one large bottom platform for a family to sleep on. Other than that, the sleeping area had single bunk beds which may not be ideal for young kids who could fall out of bed.

Paradise at the Asulkan Cabin


Hiking into the Asulkan Cabin


The hike up the Asulkan Valley begins at the Illecillewaet Campground at Rogers Pass. It is a 6.5 km hike and you'll gain 700 metres of height to reach the cabin. While this may not seem steep spread out over 6.5 km, know that most of the height is all gained at the very end as you climb glacier moraines up to the cabin. The valley is relatively flat with little height gain.

Hiking up the Asulkan Valley through Marmot Valley (we saw 20+ marmots)

The hike is grueling and I've always struggled on it while carrying a heavy overnight pack. Get an early start on hot days because there is no shade once you reach the moraines. You'll also want to check the weather forecast before going and aim to be at the cabin before afternoon storms roll in. There would be no protection should a thunder storm come in once you get to the moraines. We had one big rain storm pass by us on our way up to the cabin and hid under a tarp while it passed over us.

Bridge crossing before you start the big climb to the cabin

Finally, if you wish to spend the night somewhere close by before starting your long hike up to the cabin, you can either stay at the A.O. Wheeler Hut (located right beside the Illecillewaet Campground with drive-up access,) you can try to get into the campground (but it's very popular and is first come first serve,) or you can get a motel room in Golden. (Make a reservation though because there were no rooms to be found when I checked before our trip!)

Climbing the moraines to the cabin (photo: Megan Dunn)


Exploring Asulkan Pass from the Asulkan Cabin


You could hike to the cabin, spend a night, and then hike out again, but why would you want to do that when there is such an amazing world around you to explore, and you spent an entire day getting there! It's far better to actually enjoy your hard work of getting to the cabin, to spend two nights, and to explore the area so you can gain an appreciation for why this location is world famous for backcountry skiing and climbing.

Climbing snow fields beside the Asulkan Glacier to reach Asulkan Pass

We had it in the back of our minds that we'd "attempt" to hike up to Asulkan Pass from the cabin. We knew it would be about 300 metres of height gain to get there and maybe only 6 km round trip at the very most. That was all doable. What we weren't sure about was if we could get there without getting on the Asulkan Glacier. We brought a small amount of glacier gear with us (just in case) but we knew we would be trying to avoid glacier travel with the kids.

Standing on the edge of the Asulkan Glacier

Fortunately, there was no glacier travel required to reach Asulkan Pass. We skirted around the edge of the glacier and hiked across snow fields that were just permanent snow patches that don't melt. We had brought Kahtoola Micro Spikes with us and they were invaluable for hiking across the snow. Our friends didn't have spikes and did fine, but a fall could have been dangerous if you slid down onto the actual glacier.

The final climb up to Asulkan Pass

It was a wild and beautiful hike across glacier moraines into a world that only mountaineers and climbers normally get to experience. We were so happy that we were able to give our children this intro mountaineering experience and we took many shots of our son holding the token ice axe we'd brought (why not, right?) Our son got to step onto the Asulkan glacier, got to look into a cave at the bottom of it, and found out (the hard way) what happens when you step in glacial silt and melt water at the edge of a glacier. Oops. (Note to everybody following us, bring at least one spare pair of socks with you on your hike and perhaps consider bringing waterproof boots for this hike.) - winter boots would not be out of line.

Looking into a cave at the edge of the Asulkan Glacier
Rock outcropping above Asulkan Pass

Asulkan Pass was one of the most beautiful places we've hiked this summer and I never really expected we'd make it here as a family. Again, it was in the back of my mind as a day trip option but we'd done the hike a few years ago (on an adult climbing trip) and I remembered it being harder than it was to reach the Pass. (Probably because we were traversing in from an attempt on Young's Peak.)

My boys at Asulkan Pass
Views from Asulkan Pass

And to be clear, the actual "pass" is on the Asulkan Glacier below us in the photos shown here. We took the kids to a rock outcropping just above the pass. It's far more scenic from this vantage point above the pass and is safer. We saw no need to tag the actual pass since we were higher than it and had better views from above.

Family photo at Asulkan Pass, Rogers Pass, BC

Bring a pair of spikes or ice cleats for each member of your family (or for the adults to support the kids at the very least) and this hike will be very doable by any family who visits the Asulkan Cabin. Just stay off of the glacier and make sure you know the difference between the glacier and the snow patches. If you don't, consider going with more experienced friends so that you stay safe.

Hiking down snow slopes above the Asulkan Glacier
Many of the snow patches were small enough to cross without spikes or ice cleats


What Next?


We recently backpacked into the Bugaboos and stayed at the Conrad Kain Hut. Here we got the opportunity to traverse an actual glacier (free of any crevasses and totally safe.) That story will be published soon.

Other than that, we're plotting out our first real family mountaineering trip and hope to traverse the Wapta Icefield from the Bow Hut to the Peyto Hut in the next year or two. We just have to decide if 8 is too crazy or if we should wait a year until our son is 9 years old. Ideally, we'll climb Mt. Thompson while doing the traverse so that will be a deciding factor for sure!!

Finally, we are planning a trip into the Stanley Mitchell Hut for Summer 2017 which is much easier to reach than the Asulkan Cabin. Guess we'll have to find something fun to climb while there to turn it into an epic adventure!

The Asulkan Cabin at Sunset
Solitude in the land of glaciers at the Asulkan Cabin

Resources and Additional Reading


Check out these other cabins and huts we've stayed at in the Alpine Club of Canada collection.

Backcountry Cabin Camping with Kids (Elk Lakes Cabin, BC)

Easter at the Elizabeth Parker Hut, Lake O'Hara 

Winter at the Cameron Lake Cabin, Waterton Lakes National Park

Launching a Winter of Adventure at Rogers Pass, Glacier National Park (A.O. Wheeler Hut)

Raising Tough Kids - Our Annual Winter Backpacking Trip (Elk Lakes Cabin)


Running down the glacier moraines on our day out
Rad Kids Doing Rad Adventures!


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