Rat's Nest Cave is a protected cave and amazing adventure near Canmore, Alberta.
Canmore, Alberta, Canada is a rapidly growing mountain town located within spectacular mountain scenery on the TransCanada Highway, 106 KM (66 miles) west of Calgary and 22 KM (12 miles) east of the Town of Banff in Banff National Park in Alberta. Caving participants meet early in the morning at a designated location in Canmore. The guide for the day's adventure leads a short drive, east of Canmore, to a nondescript parking area on the north side of Highway 1A, at the SW base of formidable Grotto Mountain.
The Rat's Nest Cave tour guide is Jane, a personable, young Australian woman with extensive caving experience. Other participants are a young lady from Edmonton, Alberta, an attorney from Las Vegas, Nevada, friend and hiking partner, Mélanie, and yours truly.
At the parking area the supplied caving gear is allocated from the Canmore Caverns van. This consists of coveralls, climbing harness, knee pads, rubber-palmed wool gloves, rock helmets and powerful head lamps.
The gated and locked Rat's Nest Cave entrance is accessible only with a guide or by permission. The wilderness cave and a square mile surrounding the entrance were designated as a Provincial Historic Site in 1987. The short, 25 minute, moderate-grade hike up into the huge canyon bowl is punctuated with fabulous mountain vistas and Jane's brief and interesting descriptions of surrounding geological features.
On the hike from the parking area to the cave entrance It is important to appear fit and hike smartly, to earn the reward. The cave's temperature is consistent year round near 5 degrees C (41 deg F). Layering up excessively for the cooler temperature is unnecessary because the cave tour is a reasonably intense physical exercise.
After donning caving gear over clothing, the group enters the cave through the gate. The actual four+ hour tour begins following an orientation at the brink above Bone Bed Pit, and an explanation of the fascinating history of the wilderness cave's origin. Within a few meters the only light is provided by our headlamps.
Soon the tour arrives at the reward earned when good physical conditioning is demonstrated on the hike to the cave entrance from the parking area at the base of Grotto Mountain. The reward is the privilege to perform a 60 foot underground rappel in total darkness. There is an alternate easy scramble route descent for those so inclined. The rappel is more adventurous and recommended. The rope used would hold a Buick and Jane provides a top belay in addition to a group member providing a belay from the base for the rappel.
Risk is negligible and the rappel will be an exciting growth experience if this rappel happens to be a first rappel. It is wise to avoid the dance of joy at the bottom because there is another significant drop nearby.
For the next four hours, our loop circuit takes us through tunnels and caverns with fascinating and colorful rock formations created by thousands of years of water leaching through limestone formations.
One of many highlights is the squeeze through the Laundry Chute. At the bottom of the Laundry Chute is a 90 degree turn which leads to a 45 degree slide down a rock slab into a horizontal shaft. There may be an opportunity to experience a brief detour into the long narrow tube called Hose-Pipe Passage. There are a variety of optional tight squeezes. Some lead to new caverns.
Many sections are through huge caverns where it is possible to walk upright. The route contains several easy scrambles. Occasionally it is necessary to crawl on hands and knees in damp, muddy terrain. Getting dirty is part of the fun in this large complex with many alternatives for exploration.
The turning point is at the spectacular and lofty Grand Staircase. Crystal clear pools of water at the bottom lead to other channels and caverns underwater which can be explored only by well-equipped and experienced cave divers.
Perhaps the most compromising portion of the day is the trek back down to the car on very tired legs. Careful footsteps prevent a turned ankle or a fall.
The cave tour is a grand, adventuresome day of learning and discovery. Spelunkers may wish to gather additional information from the excellent reference book, 'Caves of the Canadian Rockies and Columbia Mountains' by Jon Rollins, Rocky Mountain Books.
Canmore Cave Tours offers an excellent, safe experience. To participate in this tour, you need to be in reasonably decent shape for the very physical day. Highly recommended. This fascinating wilderness cave tour is an adventure which will remain indelibly memorable.
Photo copyright and credits are shared with Mélanie.
The summit of Grotto Mountain, at 2,706 meters (8,878 ft), is accessible by good trail from the Alpine Club of Canada clubhouse. The final approach to the summit is a fascinating and easy ridge scramble with an awesome and very unique view to the north. The hike/scramble to the summit is a full day endeavor completed in August of 2000 with Ken in final training preparation for the Grand Canyon crossing with son, Bill, in September of 2000.