Also known as Canyon Creek Ice Cave, this cave formed by ice expanding in the limestone fissures of the mountain. It was a classic for Calgarians before having access limited in the early 2000s.
Our trip to the ice cave began on a mild day in October 2016. We made our way out to the trailhead near Bragg Creek after a day of hiking on the BC side. We parked at the new trailhead and unsuccessfully tried to convince a Shell employee to give us a ride 7km down the road. He smiled and told us his boss would give him hell if he found out. Bummed out but completely understanding we made our way down the road. The longer trip just made for more time to enjoy the views.
The road follows much of the Shell pipeline that passes through the area. Signs warning of Hydrogen Sulfide gas dot the area. I’m a fairly eco friendly guy but I have to admit the scale of the engineering required is nothing short of impressive. We eventually came across the old trailhead that leads to the cave. The trail through the woods eventually leads to a mixture of scree slope and boulder gardens that lead you up the mountain to the cave entrance.
The massive entrance to the ice cave can be seen in the distance on the ridge.
Upon reaching the entrance, I looked back down and couldn’t believe people came up here in flip flops and lugged three year olds with them. It was a wonder that more people didn’t leave injured. Shaking our heads, we strapped on our head lamps and headed into the cave.
It’s about 200m or so of scrambling over boulders to reach the back of the main cavern. Cavers have reported more chambers further into the cave that are now blocked by the massive ice wall at the back of the cavern.
The ice wall at the back of the cavern.
We knew there was no getting around the ice wall to explore further. Cavers have documented over 400m of passage in the cave so we knew there must be more around. We began looking in every nook and cranny on our way back out of the cave. We soon found our answer in what appeared to be a 50m long tunnel that squeezed deeper into the mountain. There was a faint odour coming out of the tunnel that reminded me of my childhood when my grandpa would bring the animals he trapped back to his basement to process.
Naturally I went feet first
I squeezed myself into the tunnel and began shuffling downwards. Not long into the tunnel, the smell of dead animal became overwhelming. I looked to my left and my headlamp illuminated what appeared to be a darkly stained rock in a small pocket with animal droppings further in. I had become the uninvited guest in somebody’s home. That was all the information I needed to promptly exit the tunnel. On the way out of the cave, we found what appeared to be tracks of a medium sized cat. We speculated it could be a lynx that made its home there but there was always the unsettling possibility of a cougar.
On the long haul back to the car, we discussed how the cave was definitely one of the hidden gems of the trip. It’s well worth the hike for those who are prepared. We didn’t find what we expected but we definitely left with more than what we bargained for.
Follow the unmarked access road from the parking lot to the base of the mountain. It can be seen in the satellite view of the map.