Lower Kicking Horse River Canyon.

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A steep section of the tote road in  the lower Kicking Horse River Canyon became known as the “Golden Stairs”. It has been said that some who traversed the Golden Stairs held on to their horse’s tails and shut their eyes until they got past the dangerous places.


In 1883 Sir Sandford Fleming traversed the Golden Stairs. Fleming was Chief Engineer of the railway from the commencement of the exploratory surveys in 1871 until 1880. He had originally proposed that the line run through the Yellowhead Pass but when this was rejected in 1882, he agreed to give an opinion of the newly proposed route.



He wrote the following description of the lower Kicking Horse River:

Glenogle was the only stop in the lower canyon. It provided a place for meets, and on my 1887 route for wood, coal and/or water.  

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On its decent of the Kicking Horse River the rail line crossed the river eight times and passed through seven tunnels. Five of these crossings and five of these tunnels were in the lower canyon. The last of the tunnels was Holt Tunnel, built by Herbert Samuel Holt, a construction contractor on the mountain section of the line. While traversing the Golden Stair in 1883 he slipped and fell from his horse. He escaped death when he landed belly down on a tree that overhung the canyon.



was the only stop in the lower canyon. It provided a place for meets, and on my 1887 route for wood, coal and/or water.

Holt Tunnel, the last of the 7 original tunnels between the Kicking Horse Pass and the Columbia River.

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The Kicking Horse River flows through a box canyon before merging with the Columbia River at Golden. Today the box canyon is a favourite spot for white water rafting.

Box canyon on the lower portion of the Kicking Horse River.

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Gravity, Steam and Steel: An Illustrated Railway History of Rogers Pass. 2009. Graeme Pole, Fitzhenry and Whiteside.


The Selkirk Range. 1905. A. O. Wheeler, Ottawa Printing Bureau.


The Spiral Tunnels and the Big Hill: On the Canadian Pacific Railway.  2009. Graeme Pole, Mountain Vision Press.


West of the Great Divide. 1987. Robert D. Turner, SONO NIS PRESS.



September 13, 2016

September 13, 2016

Lower Kicking Horse River Canyon

The party now arrived at the canyon of the Kicking-Horse river and ‘moved forward down and up gorges, hundreds of feet deep, amongst rocky masses, where the poor horses had to clamber as best they could amid sharp points and deep crevices, running the constant risk of a broken leg. The trail now takes another character, a series of precipices run sheer up from the boiling current to form a contracted canyon. A path has therefore been traced along the hillside, ascending to the elevation of some seven or eight hundred feet. For a long distance not a vestige of vegetation is to be seen. On the steep acclivity our line of advance is narrow, so narrow that there is scarcely a foothold; nevertheless, we have to follow for some miles this thread of a trail, which seemed to us by no means in excess of the requirements of the chamois and mountain goat. We cross clay, rock and gravel slides at a giddy height. To look down gives one an uncomfortable dizziness, to make the head swim and the view unsteady, even with men of tried nerve. I do not think that I can ever forget this terrible walk; it was the greatest trial I ever experienced. We are from five to eight hundred feet high on a path of from ten to fifteen inches wide and at some parts almost obliterated, with slopes above and below us so steep that a stone would roll into the torrent in the abyss below. There are no trees or branches or twigs which we can grip to aid us in our advance on the narrow and precarious footing.'


    The Selkirk Range. 1905. A. O. Wheeler, Ottawa Printing Bureau.