In late July we went on a 6 hour caving expedition in Canmore with Brandi’s dad. Unfortunately Pam wasn’t able to join us due to knee and shoulder injuries. We got up early and drove out to Canmore so we could have breakfast at Chez Francois (Eggs Bennies all around – very tasty) before meeting our tour guide and the rest of the group at the Sobeys. All together there were 5 of us on the tour.
There was about a 30 minute hike up to the cave. When we got up there, we donned harnesses, coveralls, leashes, hardhats, and gloves. The cave is gated and locked, for good reason – without a guide you’d be lucky not to fall in a pit and die. We each climbed up to the mouth of the cave, one by one, using a rope – and as we entered the cave, the guide had us each clip (using the aforementioned harnesses & leashes) onto a cable and sit in a row. Once we were all in, our guide (Nick) went over some information with us, and concluded by instructing us to look over our shoulders. Behind us was a seemingly bottomless pit. Just a huge hole that went so deep, it just faded into darkness. Apparently the bottom few metres of this pit is just animal bones, from animals that had fallen in and died over the years.
We then proceeded to look around and wonder where we would go, if not down this hole. There didn’t seem to be anymore openings. Then Nick climbed up to this little crack and disappeared… We followed close behind. We spent approximately 5 hours in this cave, climbing up, over, through, under, and around. At some points we were clipped onto cables, at other times we were not. The only light, of course, came from the headlamps on our hardhats. Dark, damp, and more than a little foreboding. Our tour guide was absolutely fantastic. This guy knows his stuff like you wouldn’t believe. What’s his stuff? Caves. Before he was into caves, he was into rescuing people in tough situations. He has some amazing stories of caves he’s been in all over the world. Sometimes you have to wonder how sane he really is, but over it all, he gives a very strong sense that you could very safely follow him into pretty-much any situation.
Our tour included an 18 metre rappel into darkness. I (Brandi) was surprised at how nervous I was doing this. I had expected to be nervous about the tight spaces, and to feel fine about the rappel. It turned out, when faced with it, the tight spaces were not so scary – but the rappel was! After getting to the bottom, I was happy to have survived, and look forward to trying it again sometime – but maybe with some ambient light next time, or on a smoother surface than the jagged and unfamiliar cliff walls.
It was a fantastic day, and we would really love to do it again sometime. It was a day of conquering fears, and realizing how curious human beings are (some more than others, of course). This cave system is incredibly intricate and goes for kilometres, and is constantly being further explored and discovered. It was a surprise to learn just how many cave systems there are out there, and how relatively unexplored they are. At the same time, interesting to know they ARE being explored and mapped and discovered almost constantly.
About Rat’s Nest Cave (from the website above):
Rat’s Nest Cave is a constant 5°C (41°F) all year. Why is that? Because caves reflect the mean annual temperature so no matter what the outside weather it’s always pleasant inside the cave. Like most alpine caves, it is cool in summer, mild in winter. In 1987, the cave was designated a Provincial Historic Site. Access to the cave is restricted to protect the delicate environment within. The cave has over 4 km of explored passage and lies under Grotto Mountain near Canmore, Alberta.