Banff, 9 September 1893

No longer anything like an African landscape — we are just below the region of eternal snow and disembarked for breakfast at Glacier Hotel station where a wonderful mighty glacier is laying in front of us, so close that we could almost touch it with our hands — the surprise was not small. This is the so called Great Glacier of the Selkirk mountains, towered over by Sir Donald at a height of 3600 m, which is part of the Selkirk mountain range opposite of which extends the snow covered Gold Range. All around we saw splendid views of scenery, snow mountains, deeply cut valleys and gorges, splashing streams and gushing springs as well as gorgeous Alpine vegetation.

Unfortunately there was again heavy fog mixed with cold rain so that the peak of Sir Donald and the other high mountains were not visible to us. We however did not care as we were again close to the mountains, the highest regions and glaciers, are feeling good and light, while we could see great views pass in front of our eyes that however were, like the day before, insulted by the sight of the destruction of forests as the journey went often through woods that had become the victim of fire. Above the forest line rise mighty rocks. primary formations with rare imposing forms where peaks are close to other peaks and everywhere the firn and glaciers are glittering, illuminating the crevices and small valleys. The cold weather during the last days  has produced fresh snow and the mountains look as if they had been frosted, after the fog had finally lifted a bit.

During the winter countless avalanches must thunderously make their way down to the valley as the numerous avalanche paths demonstrate by the snapped trunks of the strongest trees and the huge rock boulders that are widely scattered. The railway tracks are everywhere protected against avalanches and rock slides by wooden galleries so that one is driving for many kilometers through tunnel-like wood constructions whose defensive quality is reinforced by wedge-like avalanche breaker made out of wooden blocks and tree trunks.

The train rushes past dizzying slopes and many a steeply falling gorge in whose depths glacier waters rampage. It then continues over bridges that consist only of wood despite the abyss they pass over. The railway administration however intends to replace these sometimes too delicate constructions with iron frames and we already saw a few of them in the state of construction. The higher we came the more I found reasons to admire the rare audacity of the great construction of the Canadian Pacific railway line. If an entrepreneur in our country tried to build curves, surpass height differences and build bridges etc. in a similar manner like here, these audacious ideas would be squelched by the administration already during the project phase.

Towards noon we arrived at a quiet narrow valley where fire had not yet raged and the dark green spruces and pines cover the area like a carpet. In the valley basin peat bogs have formed being irrigated by the arms of a small river and are covered with a similar yellowish sour grass as in our moors. Ardent fishermen catch especially many salmons and trouts in this region. In Field situated at 1231 m above sea level where the whole valley is filled with a rubble moraine and where Mount Stephen at 3200 m with its ragged rocks towers over the station we rested at noon. During all my voyages I have never seen a mountain of this height that rises almost vertically as a giant block completely abruptly and without escarpment or base mountains.

In the middle of the mountain’s height sticks out a silver mine that looks almost like it is glued to the steep walls. The mine was just getting developed. One wanted to extract the ore with a small rail track line but even the American enterprising spirit and their modern technology failed to overcome the difficulties caused by the rocks of the old mountain giant. Thus the structure remained incomplete.

Higher and higher the railway tracks led upwards, pulled and pushed by three machines puffing and huffing until we finally drive through a ravine where a waterfall is crashing down and arrive at Stephen Station at the highest point above seal level of all tracks of the Pacific railway line, namely at 1610 m. The sun has mercy with us, splits the fog and clouds and permits to see the huge panorama of the wide ranges with their glaciers and firns at just the right moment.

The greatness of this moment is unforgettably imprinted into my memory. The sublimity of the quiet image praising the forces of nature in such a powerful language creates a deep impression. Nevertheless I believe that the mountain landscape of the Rocky Mountains, despite its imposing mass and its unique forms, can not stand its ground in comparison to our Alps. It indeed may in some parts seem more attractive thanks to the originality of its beauty and more interesting thanks to the bizarre forms and greater thanks to the development of its masses and the huge dimensions than the Alps. But the incomparable attraction and splendor of the fresh and heart-warming flora of our mountains, the enchanting contrast between the earnestness of the high rising primitive rocks and the youth of the vegetation cover of mountains and valleys is missing in America’s mountain back bone. Everywhere the sad remnants of the former forest destroyed by the flames are disturbing me as does its earnest almost evil character caused by the dark color of the forest remains. So the mountain range in the New World that we are crossing and climbing over seems old and ageing in contrast to the youthful Alps of the Old World.

Above the forest line where at home dense nutritious grass is growing that forms excellent strong fodder for the cattle and game and forms like shining green bands between the rocks, one can see here only bare rocks or tufts of yellow dry grass that looks not very picturesque. I don’t want to talk about the Alpine huts with its singing inhabitants and the farms surrounded by blooming meadows, the yardlands and huts of the woodcutters that provide the Austrian Alps with such a delightful vivid character as here there is nothing but complete wilderness and except from a few railway officials and workers at the stations there is no human soul living in these quiet heights and deeply cut valleys. It is no wonder to us that we had seen no animals from the railway. Not even a predator was circling above us and not one sound is interrupting the festive even eerie silence. I am otherwise in fact a great friend of virgin nature where civilization has not yet entered but the Rocky Mountains go too far in their lack of civilization and thus create an impression of desertion and deadness.

At Kicking Horse Pass we saw multiple small mountain lakes and crossed the provincial border between British Columbia and Alberta as well as the great watershed between the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. A rapidly flowing murmuring little stream that sent its water eastward recalled a happy thought in me that I was getting more and more closer to my beloved home.

During the journey we also passed the camp of the Stoney Indians that lay close to the railway tracks with their characteristic tents that are kept upright by numerous poles arranged in a cone. In front of the camp stand and linger redskins of both sexes, the first we saw face to face. Their hairstyle is still traditional but unfortunately these children of the wilderness wear in part European clothes, an aspect in which they are not unlike our gypsies.

Finally the mountains retreated a bit, the valley grew wider and we reached Banff, a sulphur bath and summer resort in the middle of a Canadian national park. The settlement located at the railway station consists of about fifty wooden buildings that have been built only for the foreigners. Everywhere there are Curio Shops and other shops in which the curiosities of the country are offered for sale. A short coach drive took us to the hotel also owned by the Canadian Pacific Railway Company. It was in fact located on the most beautiful spot of the whole region but built in a quite tasteless style. During the summer months many foreigners make a pilgrimage to this place for a cure or recreation. Banff is in fact a very young creation but enjoys great popularity as the panoramic view from the hotel and especially from the large wooden terrace is truly delightful revealing the mighty mountains and glaciers that sometimes rise in quite adventurous forms.

The season was already over — the temperature was only at 6° Celsius — so that only a few late guests were staying at the hotel that was built completely out of wood and in such a light way that every step within the building was reverberating in all floors and in all rooms. An American woman advanced in years is selling to the foreigners the strangest curiosities made by the Indians. These all seemed to be of recent vintage and looked like forgeries.

Just after the arrival we drove in a big coach to a valley basin surrounded by big rocks whose colossal walls astonished us and then on to warm sulphurous springs of which there were seven within a radius of 3 km. One of these thermal springs was gushing out of a natural basin while another is to be found in a crater of a formerly active but now quiet geyser. To this second spring led a subterranean narrow path to a grotto in which only a tiny opening supplies daylight out of which once the jet of the geyser rose.

In the mean time it was evening and a quite fresh air was blowing towards us when we returned to the hotel to rest after the day’s labors.

Links

  • Location: Banff, Canada
  • ANNO – on 09.09.1893 in Austria’s newspapers.
  • The k.u.k. Hof-Burgtheater is closed for summer until 15 September. The k.u.k. Hof-Operntheater is performing the opera „Des Teufels Anteil“.

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