Last week we decided to put the climbing gear away for a few days and head on a little backpacking adventure. We happened to be camping near the Alberta visitor center in Crowsnest Pass, and stopped in most days to enjoy their running water and free wifi. While flipping through some of the brochures we came across some information for these epic cave systems high in the mountains, and after further investigation decided they were worth checking out.
On day 1 we hiked in about 11 km to where we set up camp. If you happen to own and ATV you can actually cut that down to only 2 km of steep hiking. Sadly we don't own and ATV, so yeah, we got an extra 9 km of hiking.
It's was a bit demoralizing when we were passed by multiple groups of people on ATVs. It was also pretty slow going, as the trail crossed Ptolemy creek 7 times. In good weather all of the crossing can be pretty easily done on logs, but due to a steady drizzle some of these crossings were too slick to be safely done. On several occasions we had to de-shoe, wade through the chilly waters, and re-shoe on the other side.
We set up camp on the cool alpine terrain of the Ptolemy plateau.
On Day 2 we made our day trip to the caves. Here is Kristal high on the scree on the way to the Cleft cave. The previous day's hike started all the way past the mouth of the valley in the distance.
Here is the view looking back out the entrance of Cleft cave, with Kristal silhouetted at the bottom.
It was a really cool cave, quite literally, with a lot of frost clinging to the walls. Also a lot of interesting cave features. Being relatively novice cavers we spent a lot of time exploring many of the nooks and crannies.
After a couple of hundred meters of weaving our way through the mountain, with a short committing squeeze section, the cave abruptly opened up high on the other side of the mountain.
Next up was a short hike over the col to the Andy Good plateau, where we were treated to this crazy landscape of limestone and snow.
We then went to check out Gargantua cave, which boasts 6 km of passages and the largest natural cavern in Canada (290 m long, 30 m wide and 25 m high). The thing is absolutely huge. But for all its size, we actually didn't find it as interesting as the Cleft cave. Of course we only explored the large upper section, unwilling to commit to the long trek through the entire cave system.
Here is Kristal on the phone. She managed to get some reception within a few meters of this one spot.
On the way back to camp we discovered our new favourite method of descent - the glissade! Basically skiing down a snow slope on your feet. Sadly it only works when there are snow slopes around.
That night we got to experience perhaps one of the of the scariest events of our lives. Let's just say it is not very comfortable being stuck in the middle of an exposed alpine meadow in a crappy little backpacking tent while a storm of epic proportions rages around you.
On the hike out the next day we encountered more than one tree like this lying across the approach trail that was not present on the hike in.