Nakimu Caves – Rogers Pass – Hiking British Columbia

At the ruins of the old Glacier House Teahouse, there are lockable bins to store backpacks and other equipment being left behind.  For caving, sturdy leather hiking boots are mandatory.  We gear up in our coveralls, rock helmets, headlamps, gloves and knee pads to make a visit to the nearby smooth walls of ancient, near-surface, cave development where the cave ceiling collapsed thousands of years ago.

Nakimu Caves – Glacier National Park - Rogers Pass, British Columbia, Canada

Nakimu Caves – Glacier National Park - Rogers Pass, British Columbia, Canada

Approaching an entrance to Nakimu Caves near the Teahouse – The area of ceiling collapse where we will exit.

This is near the location where we will exit the Nakimu Caves four hours later.  The next step is another one kilometre (0.6 mile) hike with 200 metres (656 ft) of descent on primitive, rugged and sketchy trail through dense underbrush to the gated and locked main entrance.  We will work hard to regain this elevation inside Nakimu Caves.

Nakimu Caves – Glacier National Park - Rogers Pass, British Columbia, Canada

Dropping off Balu Pass for the descent into Cougar Brook Valley

Nakimu Caves – Glacier National Park - Rogers Pass, British Columbia, CanadaNakimu Caves – Glacier National Park - Rogers Pass, British Columbia, Canada

Nakimu Caves – Glacier National Park - Rogers Pass, British Columbia, Canada

A beautiful waterfall to our left on the descent from the Teahouse into Cougar Brook Canyon

Nakimu Caves – Glacier National Park - Rogers Pass, British Columbia, Canada

Our entrance to Nakimu Caves. It is one of several.

At the gated entrance there is a noticeable, cool breeze coming from inside Nakimu Caves.  The internal temperature of the cave is near 5 degrees C (41° F) year round.  As we enter single file, the first manoeuvre is a short drop over a ledge on wire caving ladder into a passage below.  Droplets of water on rock surfaces catch the light from our lamps and create the illusion of diamond encrusted walls and ceilings.  The trip includes a number of fascinating features through tunnels and chambers.  Many must be negotiated on hands and knees.  There are narrow openings requiring tight-fit contortion to get to the next section.  There are a few large galleries several metres high.  Walls give evidence of the powerful interaction with water over thousands of years.  Stone surfaces we are scrambling over are rippled like the bottom of a sandy beach.  A substantial amount of rock has fallen from the ceiling over thousands of years.

Nakimu Caves – Glacier National Park - Rogers Pass, British Columbia, Canada

Nakimu Caves – Glacier National Park - Rogers Pass, British Columbia, CanadaNakimu Caves – Glacier National Park - Rogers Pass, British Columbia, CanadaNakimu Caves – Glacier National Park - Rogers Pass, British Columbia, Canada

One of the predominant features of Nakimu Caves is prolific deposits of moonmilk ‘growing’ on the caves walls and ceilings.  Moonmilk is a creamy-white deposit resembling tiny cauliflowers.  It is thought moonmilk is formed in absolute darkness by a bacterium capable of producing crystals of calcium carbonate.  No-one seems to be sure.  The deposits are soft like cream cheese and there is a nearly overwhelming urge to touch the accessible deposits.  A small scar may take hundreds of years to ‘heal’.  We look but do not touch.  I take a photo of a huge moonmilk deposit several metres above me on the walls and ceiling.

Nakimu Caves – Glacier National Park - Rogers Pass, British Columbia, Canada

There are a couple of places where the river running through the cave can be seen from precarious viewpoints.  The water is fast, furious and loud as it roars too far below for a picture.  It would not be a good place to slip and fall.

Near the end of our four-hour tour inside Nakimu Caves, we are perhaps 60 metres below the surface.  The second to last scramble is up a waterfall.  It is a unique experience to me.  At the top of this scramble is a sensational underground grotto where Cougar Creek enters Nakimu Caves.  Reverberating sound from another powerful waterfall accompanies afternoon bright sun streaming through the mist.  It is a very challenging, photographic paradise.  There is a single, 30 metre, steep pitch, wet-rock scramble remaining.  I stand at the bottom but I have nothing left, absolutely nothing.

Nakimu Caves – Glacier National Park - Rogers Pass, British Columbia, Canada

And here I stand, willing to pay anyone good money to shoot me.  It is not in my nature to ask for help.

I must have looked as pathetic as I felt.  Stefan swings around in front of me and scrambles ahead.  From the top he yells commands at me.  Go rightGo leftGo underGo over.  There is neither room nor need for discussion.  I do as I am told while he analyses, identifies and communicates the easiest and most efficient route.  My rubber palmed gloves are sticking well even though they are virtually destroyed and will never cave again.  Behind me, a young couple are grabbing my ankles and boots to stabilize my feet on the wet, slippery rock.  At the time, I am just the weakest part of a newly formed team.  In retrospect, my appreciation for their assistance is substantial.  I was in trouble.  What I have given was being returned.  It is Kharma.  I do not know the names of the young man and woman helping my feet stick but I will always be profoundly thankful for their unsolicited assistance with minimum impact to my stubborn independence.

Nakimu Caves – Glacier National Park - Rogers Pass, British Columbia, Canada

Nakimu Caves – Glacier National Park - Rogers Pass, British Columbia, Canada

Nakimu Caves – Glacier National Park - Rogers Pass, British Columbia, Canada

I do not mention it in my previous Balu Pass post but I am fairly certain I set the Guinness record for the world’s slowest ascent out of Cougar Brook Valley to the summit of Balu Pass.  Our guide, Eric Dafoe, stuck with me to the bitter-sweet end, after 13 hours of intense, physical endeavour.  I extend my humble thanks to him.  He shares my passion for the mountains and compassion for the welfare of those who are willing to accept the challenge and go where they have never gone before at new levels of personal achievement.

In the latter years of my life, I have introduced many people to their first wilderness experience.  It is very important to me to find the perfect experience for each individual, based on conditioning and ability.  I know my passion for the mountains is not for everyone.  I talk to people about the comparison of climbing mountains with life in general.  There are peaks and valleys, good days and bad, pain and euphoria.  It has been my observation, over many years, that to conquer one is helpful in the other.  The process assists in staying young and fit.  More importantly, it helps to sustain that wide-eyed inner child which I believe is so important to the overall enjoyment of life.  The alternative is to grow old.  There are stories to tell.  The most important ability is to maintain a sense of humour at all times.  Forgive me, I wax philosophical.

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8 Responses to Nakimu Caves – Rogers Pass – Hiking British Columbia

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  5. Deloris says:

    Wow. Beautifuly written, gorgeous photos. If I had even a remotely good physical condition I would love to go there based on what you’ve posted. Thank you.

    • Thank you for your comment, Deloris. Nakimu Caves is a fairly aggressive day. Good physical conditioning and a perpetually positive attitude are important attributes. Rat’s Nest Cave, near the base of Grotto Mountain at Canmore, is a guided, more accessible cave tour which might be a better first caving choice. Or the Ice Caves in Canyon Creek below Moose Mountain is a popular and less technical option.

  6. Anthony says:

    First, I would like to thank you for all the useful information I have acquired from your blog. I am also an avid hiker from originally from B.C. (now in Ottawa); it has been a pleasure reading your blog and seeing your photos. I have some questions regarding the Nakimu Caves. I may have a chance to visit the Glacier National Park this summer and I did some research regarding this cave. I have never caved myself but I have some experiences with rock climbing and I think physical condition is adequate for this adventure. However, the official website says that access permit for this area is lottery based and may take up to 2 weeks to clear. What is the most efficient way to arrange this trip? You seem to have suggested a “guide” in your post. Do you still have information about this guided tour? Hope all is well with you. Keep exploring and writing, you are doing an amazing job :)

    • Thank you for your kind words, Anthony. I suggest you contact Parks Canada Revelstoke and have them send you an application form. There will only be a few organized dates although the website now mentions commercial tours which was not an option during my visit. As I recall the cost was $60.00 and our outstanding and knowledgeable guide was a volunteer effort by a Parks Canada employee. My trip was several years ago so the cost may have changed substantially. You will need to set your date. Be sure to take caving gear including coveralls, rock helmet, quality head lamp and possibly backup lamp, gloves, preferably wool with sticky rubber inner palms and fingers for good grip on wet rock, as well as knee and elbow guards. Nakimu is a live cave: Water still runs through it. Camera gear should be small and well protected from water and contact with rock. There is a staging area near the gated, locked entrance to have lunch and change gear. Recommend waterproofed leather boots. Ankle gaiters would be a good idea. The day is physical and long. The hike from the Parks Canada Centre near Rogers Pass over Balu Pass and into Cougar Creek Canyon is 7 KM one way. If you apply soon, you should find a space. There was not a high demand because of the physical nature of the hike. Accommodation is at the Illecillewaet Campground or at Golden or Revelstoke. Wishing you well on your initiative. It is a forever memorable experience. Good cave. Moonmilk.

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