6 December 2013
Friday fold: Turtle Mountain and the Frank Slide
Posted by Callan Bentley
Turtle Mountain is a mountain in the Canadian Rockies that had a terrible landslide occur, half-burying the coal-mining town of Frank.
The mountain’s structure is an eastward-verging anticline, floored by a fault, like just about everything in the Front Ranges of the Canadian Rockies. Here’s a model made of felt in the Frank Slide Visitor Center:
The black layer represents the coal that the town was founded to extract. Miners trapped underground by the slide miraculously survived and tunneled their way out again!
It’s an awesome place to contemplate the relationship between ancient tectonics and modern risks. I’ll be taking students back to Frank in July. I’m looking forward to it.
There’s a trail running up the western ridge (right side of your photos) to the summit of the mountain. As you can imagine, the views are amazing, especially of the slide fan, and when I hiked it about 3 decades ago there were some pretty sobering fissures with huge blocks teetering at the brink.
I saw in a recent issue of EOS the ad for your Frank Slide blog, and was very interested. Great photos and cross section! Turns out, my grandfather, Sid Choquette, a railroad man, was there when the slide occurred, on 29 April1903. His train, hauling coal from the mine, narrowly escaped the onset of the landslide, crossing the Old Man River seconds before the landslide destroyed the bridge. Sid was a hero of sorts. Immediately after the event, he took off on foot running 2 km across the massive landslide to warn a passenger train, “The Spokane Flyer”, speeding towards the town of Frank. He navigated among boulders, still unstable, some as large as a house and some still hot from the friction of the slide, amidst air choked with dust. Somehow, shaken and his shoes in shreds, he found his way to the other side of the buried tracks to flag down the train in time to save the passengers. I never did meet my grandfather, he died before I was born, unaware that one of his grandchildren would become a geologist and see photos of “his” landslide in geology textbooks (and on the web!). I would have loved to have heard him tell the details of the day when half of Turtle Mountain came tumbling down. Your blog reminds me that I must make time to visit the town of Frank and climb Turtle Mountain to look down upon the incredible slide that nearly took my grandfather’s life.
My first visit to Canada was in 1986 on my way to the Vancouver World’s Fair. I entered at Chief Mtn and after a brief visit at Waterton Lakes I decided I would spend the first night at Frank. After seeing the Frank Slide I never had a more fitful night’s sleep in my life.