The Ice Caves are a perennial attraction along Canyon Creek in Kananaskis Elbow, Alberta.
The decision to revisit the Ice Caves in the Canyon Creek area west of Bragg Creek in Kananaskis Country is always a good adventure.
The cave, suspended high on the rocky, west side of Moose Ridge, has a huge entrance and about 500 meters (1,640 ft) of reasonably navigable depth.
The bicycles are loaded on the back of the car to prepare for the drive west on Highway 22x and 66 to the Canyon Creek parking area a short distance past the road for Moose Mountain.
The gated, one-way, seven kilometer (4⅜ mile) access road, over mildly rolling terrain to the Ice Caves trail-head is on decent gravel. The hike, up to the entrance of the cave, is alternatively on good trail and talus with a final bit of occasional, easy scrambling.
The weather is gorgeous, sunny and comfortable for hiking the steep, rocky trail to the massive entrance of the Ice Caves. Lunch is consumed in the sun on the ledges just outside the entrance while overlooking the spectacular Canyon Creek Valley below and Prairie Mountain across the valley.
The next hour is enjoyed in rock helmets and warm clothing exploring the cave's ice formations using headlamps, flashlights, two-way radios and powerful mega-candlepower lamps. The correct gear is very important. Traction devices on boot soles would not be overkill, or just pack them in the event they become important.
Conditions in the cave are good with a few slippery areas and the occasional bit of groundwater. There are many side passages and squeezes to explore. Efforts by ASS (Alberta Speleological Society) to clear an ice plug blocking several caverns since 1984 have been unsuccessful so far.
The hike back to the base of Moose Ridge is via the same route used for access.
The bicycle ride back to the car includes stops along Canyon Creek to enjoy the chilly water and the fabulous scenery.
Back at the car the bicycles are racked for the drive to Bragg Creek for refreshment and a game of pool at the Powderhorn Saloon before returning to Calgary, Alberta.
Note: Shortly after passing through the cave's entrance, cavers are consumed by total darkness. All navigation is done with portable lamps. Photographs are flash. Giant icicles within the cave are back-lit with powerful lamps. Turning off all the lights creates total darkness where a hand is not visible 2 inches in front of the face. The cave is cool. It is very important to be very well equipped to handle conditions in the cave. In winter, cleats may be mandatory to avoid serious injury and difficult recovery.
People have contacted me to complain about the cave being dark inside. Rock helmets are important and headlamps are a good directional supplement to powerful lamps. Warm clothing, sturdy boots and warm gloves are important for protection and to make this adventure more comfortable and enjoyable. An emergency and first aid kit is a fundamental requirement.
Returning to Canyon Creek by dropping straight down the steep rock slope at the entrance to the cave has resulting in several broken legs and the destruction of many pairs of pants. Just saying.