Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Canyon Creek Ice Caves & Elbow Falls

Trip Dates: July 2007 & September 2009

I've been out to the Canyon Creek Ice Caves twice now.  It is a great day-trip from Calgary with relatively easy access.  Although well known to the local First Nation population for generations, the cave wasn't officially “discovered” until 1905 by Stan Fullerton.  The area is often inaccurately referred to as Ing's Mine.  The caves are completely separate from the 1900's coal mining operation that was also in the area. 

The parking lot for the caves is approximately 65km southwest of Calgary along Highway 66 in Kananaskis Country.  To get to the cave trailhead you need to follow the Canyon Creek Road for about 6km.  It is a well-maintained gravel road, so we opted to use bikes to get to the trailhead as opposed to hiking in.  This gravel road used to be open to the public, but easy access to the caves caused an increase in visitors and eventually a careless incident involving falling rocks resulted in a fatality and thus the closure of the road in 2000.  The cave itself is located on the south flank of Moose Mountain and can easily be spotted from the Shell Canada natural gas well site that is situated at the base of the mountain.  This is where we stashed our bikes and continued on foot up the short, but steep, trail to the mouth of the cave.  Elevation gain is approximately 315m.  The pictures that follow are in order from my earliest trip to my most recent one.  

From the Shell Canada natural gas well site the cave appears as a large black scar on the mountain
The mouth of the cave
Mike, Kyle, and I before heading into the cave
The temperature inside the cave remains about 0°C year-round and there’s an ice wall near the back of the cave that blocks access to additional chambers.  There are a couple of smaller areas in the cave that can be squeezed into, but remember sometimes it’s easier to get in than it is to get back out!  There’s also a chimney near the mouth of the cave that can be climbed and explored.  At the top there’s a small passage that leads back outside above the mouth of the cave.  Although we pulled ourselves along on our bellies to the chimney vent we thought better of trying to squeeze through this small opening for fear of getting stuck! 

Silhouettes of Mike and Kyle
Kyle, myself, and Mike in the cave's entrance
An ice pillar.  This feature wasn't there on my second visit.
Kyle doing some cave exploration
Me sitting at the cave's entrance
Mike attempting to squeeze into a small chamber
Climbing up the chimney section
My silhouette during my second visit
Jaryd's silhouette
The ice wall near the back of the cave blocks further access
One of the smaller rooms off the main chamber
Jaryd squeezing through a tight fit
After thoroughly exploring the main cave on my second trip there, Jaryd and I walked west from the mouth of the cave a short distance and discovered a second, much smaller cave, known as Canyon Rill.  It was very narrow and had water flowing out of it.  Needless to say we explored this rift, but soon discovered that it was just too small to allow us to go in very far. 
Entrance to the second cave
Looking out of the much smaller and narrower second cave
Looking east across the south flank of Moose Mountain from the mouth of the second cave
Looking back up the Canyon Creek Road
Since this blog post I returned to the Ice Cave with Christine and a few friends. You can read about that adventure on this post titled, Ice Caves.

Since Elbow Falls was close by, we decided to stop and explore the falls before heading back to Calgary.  Elbow Falls is a small waterfall on the Elbow River about 5km west of the Canyon Creek Road parking area in the Elbow Falls Provincial Recreation Area.  During the dry season the falls can be 6m in height, but during the spring run-off, when the high water churns up the shoreline, they shrink to about 3m.

First view from above the falls
Elbow Falls
A cave directly beside the falls
Elbow River
Kyle standing beside the falls
Elbow Falls in Kananaskis Country

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