My caving adventure

Exploring caves is a passion for our son, Nathan. Knowing this, I decided that I ought to share the experience with him. Nathan wisely chose Canyon Creek Ice Cave near Bragg Creek, one of the easier caves in the area, for our outing yesterday. I’ve been into tourist caves in eastern Canada, the US and Vietnam before; guided tours along lighted pathways, but this was entirely different.

Our adventure began with a 7 km walk along a gravel service road that is closed to the public. It would have been much easier if we could have driven to the bottom of the path that leads up Moose Mountain to the mouth of the cave but the road was closed several years ago in an attempt to discourage inexperienced and poorly prepared hikers and cavers from exploring the area and thus reduce accidents.

The vertical black slash toward the top left of the photo is the mouth of Canyon Creek Ice Cave.

The trail begins as an easy uphill path through the forest but eventually opens onto a somewhat precarious scree slope of broken jagged rock. Nathan, as sure-footed as a mountain goat, negotiated this with ease but I found scrambling across it a bit scary!

When we reached the mouth of the cave, we rested on a large rock platform before going inside. There we donned coveralls, knee pads, gloves, headlamps and helmets. Though I’ve spent most of my life battling a fear of heights, I’ve never experienced claustrophobia. Once inside the cave, closed in by walls of rock, I felt entirely secure.

Rather than entering the main chamber through the wide cave entrance, we chose a narrow side passage. I quickly discovered that this isn’t an activity for people of wider girth! There were spots that I was barely able to squeeze through!

The temperature inside the cave remains steady at slightly above zero. Unlike many caves, there are no stalagmites or stalactites but there are tiny fossils embedded in the rock and the back wall of the main chamber is solid ice. Sliding ourselves over the rock slabs of a low passage to the left of this wall brought us into a smaller chamber and from there, we lay on our backs and maneuvered our bodies through a crack that was only about a foot high! Though this required some interesting contortions, it was such fun that I found myself laughing in delight!

Of course, when you go in, you must also go out and when you go up, you must also go down! Making our way back out of the cave was fine but climbing back down the mountain was a challenge for me. Nathan was a patient guide, however, helping me find secure hand and footholds as we made our way back across the rocky slope.

After walking another 7 km, and returning to Calgary, a hot bath was most welcome! Though I’m a little more aware of some of my muscles and joints than usual today, I’m happy that this old body is still up to this kind of thing and I’m delighted to have had the opportunity to share a great day with Nathan in his milieu.

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