Exploring the Salmon Glacier Road at Stewart, BC

Wednesday, October 7th, day 29 of the trip, began early at our site at the Bear River RV Park in Stewart. I wanted to have a quick look at the Salmon Glacier, then be on the road for home. An excellent 22-page booklet, “Glacier Highway and Salmon Glacier Self Guided Auto Tour” is available online or at the Stewart visitor centre. It points out 14 major sites of interest, several of which were new to me and will require a couple of days to explore on a future visit.

By 08:00, a few minutes before sunrise, the dogs and I had crossed the unguarded border into Alaska, gone through the village of Hyder, and were well up the road along the Salmon River.

The road along the Salmon River north of Hyder, Alaska
A pullout at Km 27.7 (Mile 17.2) beckons travellers to stop to enjoy the views.

Looking down the Salmon River. The brochure says: “Notice the small ponds located below the toe. These depressions, known as Kettles, are formed by the melting of buried ice blocks, which are stranded on the outwash plain after the glacier recedes. The colour is caused by the fine materials suspended in the water.”

The toe of the Salmon Glacier. When I lived in Stewart in 1975 and worked underground at the Granduc copper mine, I rode a bus along this road to the mine and back to Stewart 5 days a week.

The toe of the Salmon Glacier at Stewart, BC
With nothing nearby to judge scale by, it’s hard to tell how big the ice cave is that the Salmon River is born from, but I’d guess at over 100 feet.

From this ice cave in the Salmon Glacier, the Salmon River is born
Nearing the summit, the original Granduc mine road can be seen far below. In the late 1970s, a new road was built along cliffs less prone to rockslides and avalanches. I don’t know what the collapsed building was, though that appears to be a mining cut beside it.

The original Granduc road far below
The summit viewpoint over the Salmon Glacier, which is the fifth largest glacier in Canada. “Stunning” barely begins to describe the scene. I’ve posted photos of the glacier in 1975 and 2015 to show you how dramatic its retreat is.

Salmon Glacier at Stewart, BC
A young couple had spent the night in their pickup at the summit, and when I arrived, the guy was heading over the side to try to reach the glacier. I’ve heard many times that there’s no way down to it, but have never tried myself.

Salmon Glacier at Stewart, BC

The auto tour booklet ends at the summit viewpoint, but I decided to continue along the road to see if the Granduc mine site can still be reached as it could when I visited in 2002. I’d heard that the Granduc property is being re-opened and is blocked by the new operator, but wanted to confirm that.

The first site of note is this tunnel, which wasn’t a mine as most people would logically think. The road used to go through that tunnel, which is almost a kilometer long. It was covered at both ends by doors which the bus and truck drivers opened by pulling a cord that hung from a “T” post outside. At the far end of the tunnel, a generator station was blasted into the cliff – it provided fresh air in the tunnel as well as power for lights and the doors.

Old road tunnel along the Granduc road
Looking through the tunnel – the pinprick of light in the centre is the far end of the tunnel.

Old road tunnel along the Granduc road
There used to be a lake here called Tide Lake – so called because every few years the water would melt its way under the Salmon Glacier and the lake would drain (the tide would go out). On the far side are some of the original Granduc mine workings from the 1950s.

Former site of Tide Lake at the Salmon Glacier near Stewart, BC
Sure enough, at what was the head of Tide Lake, “No Trespassing” signs halted further progress – smoke in the distance showed that work of some sort was being done on the property. It was now 09:40 and I needed to get going back, so I wasn’t hugely disappointed.

No Trespassing signs on the Granduc road near Stewart, BC
Going by Tide Lake again.

The former site of Tide Lake on the Granduc road near Stewart, BC
On the flat area to the right in this photo, many scenes in the 1982 movie “The Thing” were shot. In 2002, I had fun helping a group of hardcore fans of the movie find the site, and they took away some artifacts that hugely impressed them. Their Web site describing the adventure is still up.

Salmon Glacier at Stewart, BC
Beside the road ahead is one of the avalanche cannon stands from the Granduc days.

Avalanche cannon stands along the Granduc mine road
As much as I was in a hurry, I made a few photo stops. I sure wish that I had taken many more photos in 1975!

The view from the Salmon Glacier road near Stewart, BC
This was the camp for the Boliden Premier Gold Mine, which closed in about 2000, then was the base for their mine reclamation work until 2012.

Boliden Premier Gold Mine near Stewart, BC
At this easy-to-miss spot with its small border monument, downhill travellers go back into Alaska for a few miles. From the 1920s into the 1950s, there was a Canada Customs post about 500 meters back up the hill, at a spot known as Silver Heights.

Canada/USA border on the Salmon Glacier road
It was very quiet at the Fish Creek Wildlife Observation Site – no bears to see, and no people looking for bears. This million-dollar facility was opened in 2001.

Fish Creek Wildlife Observation Site at Hyder, Alaska
I hadn’t brought my passport with me on the trip, forgetting about wanting to go through this little tit of Alaska, and at the Canadian border, I got hassled about that as expected. I’m an easy guy to check on, though, and a few minutes later, I was on my way again. This has to be the silliest place for a border inspection anywhere in Canada.

Canada/USA border at Hyder, Alaska
I had one more stop to make before going back to the RV park to pack – I needed to update my photo of the memorial for the victims of the Granduc Mine disaster of February 18, 1965. After the memorial was erected, a spelling mistake in one of the names was discovered and it’s now been corrected.

Granduc Mine disaster memorial at Stewart, BC

From Stewart, there would just be one more overnight out in the middle of nowhere south of Dease Lake, but the adventures were not over yet.


Exploring the Salmon Glacier Road at Stewart, BC — 1 Comment