Hells Gate Airtram & Fish Ladders

Hells Gate upper station and tram enrouteYes, this post will focus on the amazing Hells Gate Airtram and fish ladder, but first a little background on the preparation and start of our 2016 adventures. The planning and organising is complete, summer is upon us and after an 18-month hiatus, Judi and I are back enjoying the RV lifestyle.

On completion of the dealer service, we towed the coach out to Camp Bridal near Chilliwack, where my dad joined us for 5 days of cleaning and testing all the systems that hadn’t been used in 18 months. Fortunately, everything is in good working condition. After 5 days, we returned home, taking my dad to the airport the following day, for his return flight to UK. The next morning, June 15th, we packed up the truck again, taking the 3rd full load of “stuff” out to the coach. An hour after arriving at the campground, everything was stowed, the coach was hitched to the truck and we were off to enjoy our 2016 RV’ing adventure.

The first day was an easy 70 miles to Canyon Alpine RV Park in Boston Bar, which with lunch and driving at a sedate 50 mph, took almost 3 hours. This is a small, well treed park with exceptional owners.

Canyon Alpine Campground

Canyon Alpine Campground Big Rig Sites ( courtesy of CG website)

We only planned an overnight stop, but since the place in Clinton had never responded to my multiple reservation requests, we elected to stay 3 nights in Boston Bar and then head directly to Williams Lake. Still on day 1 and we have already changed the schedule.

When we purchased the coach, a number of friends recommended avoiding Hwy # 1 through the Fraser Canyon, due to the number of sharp turns, etc. Until now, we had heeded that advice and always used the newer Coquihalla Hwy. While the Fraser Canyon is narrow and much slower, the scenery is magnificent.

Fraser Canyon fron Hells Gate

Fraser Canyon 

We only experienced one rather challenging section with a series of tight turns on a 7% down grade. The new dually is a huge improvement, facilitating easy negotiation of all hills and bends, with virtually no use of the brakes. Manually shifting down gears and the new exhaust brake are superb in slowing us down, even on a 7% down grade.

Hells Gate

Hells Gate base station panorama

Hells Gate Base Station on West side of Fraser River

This is a fabulous attraction, with airtram, suspension bridge, extreme rapids, fish ladders, museum and the obligatory gift shop. Parking is located on both sides of the highway, with the northbound lot having a pedestrian bridge over the highway, providing safe access to the entrance. Hells Gate is located about 10 miles south of Boston Bar, or 30 miles north of Hope, BC.

The highway is about 600 to 700 feet above the river level, with access provided by a mile long, very steep trail, or the Airtram. Needless to say we happily paid the $20 fee for the Airtram. As can be seen in the photographs, the Airtram is consistent with gondolas at ski hills.

Hells Gate upper station and tram enroute

Hells Gate Airtram looking up to the top station


Hells Gate tram arriving at base station

Airtram arriving at the lower station

Hells Gate is the narrowest section of the Fraser River canyon, only a meagre 110′ wide. At 855 miles in length, the Fraser River drains an area of about 85,000 square miles. This massive volume of water passes through Hells Gate at over 16 knots or 18.5 mph, which is somewhat challenging for the annual return of salmon to their spawning grounds.

Hells Gate narrowest part of Fraser River at 110'

Arial shot showing the fast flowing and turbulent waters at Hells Gate

In 1914, during construction of the Canadian National Railroad, a large rock slide at Hells Gate further reduced the channel width to only 70′. This increased the water flows, and almost eliminated the returning salmon from reaching their spawning grounds.

Hells Gate diagram

Diagram depicting Hells Gate in Fraser River Canyon

In addition to being narrow and fast flowing, the river at Hells Gate is very deep, with a posted depth of 156′ the day we visited. The highest recorder depth was during the severe floods of May 1948, when the depth was well over 200′

Hells Gate plaque showing highest water level Plaque showing highest river level

The above photograph shows the plaque on the suspension bridge support displaying the highest recorder level during the May 1948 floods. The original bridge was constructed at that height and was washed away by the floods.

A joint Canada/U.S. commission began studying the problem in 1937 and elected to build fish ladders to assist the returning salmon negotiate the fast flowing waters at Hells Gate. Construction started in 1944, with additional ladders constructed over the years to accommodate the varying river levels.

Hells Gate multiple levels of fish ladder on East shore

Fish Ladders at varying heights on the East Bank of Fraser River

Hells Gate river boiling along one of the East bank fish ladders

Main fish ladder on East Bank with current piling up on the bank

Hells Gate narrowest part of Fraser River at 110'

Fish Ladders on both sides of the river

Hells gate fish ladders on both sides of river from suspensions bridge

Looking up river with fish ladders on both sides

The fish ladders are constructed with internal baffles and a series of low steps, which perform 3 functions – short easy jumps, reduced current and back eddies that create resting pools.

Hells Gate diagram of how fish ladders work

 Diagram showing the internal construction of a fish ladder

Hells Gate how the fish ladders work

Diagram showing location of fish ladders and how they work

The base station located on the west bank is converted from an old camp constructed during the railway construction period. On departing the airtram we headed for the new suspension bridge that crosses the Fraser River.

Hells Gate looking down river from base station

Suspension bridge across the Fraser River

The bridge affords exceptional views of the river thundering downstream only about 70′ below the bridge. In addition to the bridge, the base station has a museum, gold panning, gift shop, cafe and huge patio areas to enjoy the sights. We found the museum very interesting and must have spent about 2+ hours enjoying reading the many articles and looking at numerous photographs outlining the history and construction of Hells Gate. They also have a small film theatre, with 3 films available. Their is no schudule, as you select a film and press a button for it to play.

Hells Gate Judi at base station with river in background

Judi leaning on the patio rail

Hells Gate Andy at base station with Fraser River in background

Andy on the patio with bridge and airtram in background

After a thoroughly enjoyable almost 4 hours, we boarded the airtram back to the top and headed to a restaurant in Boston Bar that was recommended by the campground owner.

Hells Gate fish ladders when descending the tram

Our final view of Hells Gate from the airtram

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