The Gate to Hell

The Fraser River's famous passage is an Ashcroft landmark

The Fraser River has played host to voyageurs and contractors, fortune seekers and big time losers, bank robbers to soul stealers, prostitutes to big time dealers. This massive body of water flows today sensing victory over anyone who challenged its now global notoriety. There is however one particular section on the river where an on-going battle between man and nature intensifies. The planet Earth large enough to stage such a battle since the beginning of time, the size and magnitude cut by an early ice age leaving a 110 ft battle ground between two mountain ranges….. The early explorer Simon Fraser mapped this section of the Fraser River as his greatest challenge. “A place where no human being should venture, for surely we have entered the gates of hell” was terrifyingly scribed in his journal. A description so bone chilling, so dangerous, yet so precise. From Google Earth the thunderous passage looks like a merrily stream, the captain aboard a passenger airliner says “it’s worth a look”, and recently spirits from the underworld have come back to use it as their playground. A landmark that “every person on this planet should experience for themselves as it has been left for us to witness”, say travel writers. Hells Gate. The entire flow of water from over 84000 square miles (135,185 km) of British Columbia roars at 200,000,000 gallons (757,082,400 litres) per minute through this narrow gorge. At 25 miles an hour (40 km) twice the volume of water flows through here at flood level than Niagara Falls. Still, nature chooses this course for its salmon run. In 1913 the Canadian National Railway burrowed its way through to the Rockies. Workers triggered an accidental slide at Hells Gate that throttled the river and almost destroyed one the most magnificent sockeye salmon runs in the world. Thirty years of research and work by dedicated scientists and several years of construction were required to repair the damage caused at the hands of mankind – an engineering feat that would go on to help change the environmental world in which we live. Today the International Fishways stand as a symbol of two nations standing united for a common cause. Built by a joint Canadian – U.S. Commission, these fishways are unique and built to a design that requires no manual adjustment, ranking themselves among the largest in the world to a depth of 28 metres (82 feet). The water speed is slowed down significantly through a series of vertically opposed walls located inside a sequence of tunnels. Eight different levels of concrete allow for water depth fluctuation. With water speeds flowing at 40 kmh (25 mph) outside the fishways to 5 kmh (3 mph) inside, the salmon are naturally drawn to use this bypass by a means of Mother Nature intervention – a genetically imposed navigational beacon to seek out slow moving water. Since the dawn of the fishway project, over 80% of the salmon runs are able to navigate this unforgiving section of flowing water. The Trans Canada Highway passes 244 m (800 ft) above the river at this point. It is here that the Hells Gate Airtram takes you on a descent from the rugged Cascade mountain range to dock on the Pacific Coastal Mountain range, crossing the roaring torrents below. Two – 25 passenger gondolas glide high above the resting site where warriors once clashed and hopes were dashed. Upon docking at river level immediately following your tram ride there is something to tease every sense. From chills and goose bumps, smells and taste buds, to a historic déjà vu. You and your family (including the dog) will stand in the midst of it all. Now we know while you are on vacation, you love to shop and this is where things get spooky. The Gold Panner Gift Shop atmosphere makes you feel like you are stepping back in time – literally. The original hardwood floor is the only reminder left of the main kitchen that fed Chinese laborers during the construction of the CP railway in the early 1880’s. This location is where the legendary Ah Foo Yoo turned out many delicious meals. But was it the meals or the man himself that made him legendary? Neither – locals say it was his wood burning stove that still sits on the site today. One of the Fraser Canyon legends state that his stove is now haunted and on the anniversary of his demise, the stove feels faintly warm although no fire has ever been kindled in it since then. But the mystery does not stop there. Voices, products falling off shelves, strange noises, uncharacteristic pet behavior, and eerie whiffs of cigarette smoke are just some of testimonials that have been shared between guests and staff. If your nerves can handle it, our ghost tour adds more ghastly details as you are introduced to some of the now famous characters that have risen from beyond the grave to give you the creeps while you visit. “Edward”, “The Smoking Man”, “The girl behind the giftshop door” and more. As you continue your visit throughout our complex, energies surrounding the “Spirit of the woods” chainsaw carving draw you into Simon’s Café. Researchers tell us that the carving standing in the doorway of the cafe emits “positive energy” which is why we think you have come to the right place for lunch! May we suggest our famous home-made Salmon Chowder? Don’t forget to save room for dessert. The Fudge Factory awaits and takes no dietary prisoners. In 2006 over 231 different varieties of homemade fudge were on display at one time breaking a world record. And with a large selection of candy and ice cream including homemade waffle cones on hand, you’ll know why we say “calories are only a matter of the mind, if you don’t mind, it don’t matter”. While your waiting for all the above to digest you can check out the museum which depicts the Fraser Canyon – past and present. Three videos explain the Fraser River Gold Rush, the lifecycle of a spawning salmon, and a white water tribute to Simon Fraser. New for 2008 is Simon’s Wall – an interactive display celebrating the 200th anniversary of this explorer’s journey. And speaking of gold rushes you and your family can strike it rich as you pan for gold! While you’re gold panning, keep your ears open for the screaming and yelling of thrill seekers as they challenge the Hells Gate rapids aboard a river raft. If you want to get closer to the rapids, walk on water as you step out on to the suspension bridge that spans the Hells Gate gorge. Hells Gate Airtram is located in the Scenic Fraser Canyon on the #1 Trans Canada Highway. A historic 2 ½ hour drive east of Vancouver puts it easily within the realm of a day trip for adventurous Metro Vancouver families. Parking is free and pets are permitted. Open mid April through mid October. www.hellsgateairtram.com