Length of stay: 1 day
Visited: August 2016
We spent the last four days in Glacier National Park in Montana. We woke up bright and early this morning as we booked an Adventure Cave Tour with Canmore Cave Tours for 11:45a.m. From Glacier it’s about a 400km drive to Canmore, Alberta.
The day started off great. Sure, we had to wake up super early, but, as we were leaving the park, we spotted a grizzly bear. It was our ideal grizzler encounter – the bear near the side of the road; us in the safety of a vehicle.
We arrived at Canmore Cave Tours 10 minutes before the start of our tour. The caving tour company operates two types of cave tours year round: the explorer cave tour (4 hours in length) and the adventure cave tour (6 hours). The adventure cave tour encompasses all the elements from the explorer cave tour but includes an 18m rappel, additional slithering and squeezing through more tight spaces, and therefore more all around time spent underground. We opted for the adventure cave tour.
Here’s a map that shows the routes of both types of cave tours. The explore cave tour follows along the red line and the adventure cave tour encompasses the additional segments along the green line.
We were joined by an older couple and their thirteen-year old daughter for our cave tour. The five of us signed (our life away through) a waiver and got all our gear in order. All the gear, minus our hiking boots and a warmer layer of clothing to be worn inside the cave, were provided by Canmore Cave Tours. This includes overalls, gloves, kneepads, a harness and a helmet with a flashlight. They also provided a 500ml water bottle and your choice of a Clif energy bar.
We then piled back into our car and followed our guide, Brent (who is quite possibly one of the coolest dude’s we’ve ever met – he’s just really into caving and climbing) to a parking lot closer to the one and only entrance to the cave. We then hiked mostly uphill for about 30 minutes until we arrived at Rat’s Nest Cave.
You might be thinking that the name of the cave sounds terrifying. Rat’s Nest Cave is obviously named that way for a reason. As the name suggests, a bunch of rats nested near the cave entrance for years. It wasn’t until someone saw a rat disappear behind some nest that they decided to investigate further by removing those nests. And lo and behold: 4km of passageways were discovered! Or something like that.
When we made it to the entrance of the cave we took a moment to get all geared up and spray our boots to prevent the spread of white nose syndrome. This was also the last spot to go to the bathroom for four hours because there are no washrooms inside the cave. We then had a scramble up some rock face to get into the actual cave.
Once we made it to the mouth of the cave we lowered ourselves down to get to the base of the Bone Room. It involved a lot of slippin’ and a slidin’. We attached our carabiners to guidance ropes on the side for additional support. And if you’re wondering how/why all those bones are there. It’s from the rats. And some of those bones look pretty big. Which means those rats must have been pretty big.
Once we piled down into the Bone Room our guide went through more of the history about the cave and how the cave was discovered. We then prepped for an 18m rappel into complete darkness. We had two ropes attached to our harness – one that we used to control our descent and a backup rope that was attached to our guide in case we spun out of control. The first person down (which was K) had the responsibility of removing their rope and belay device so our guide could pull it back up to use for the next person.
After we all rappelled down to the base we continued onward with our adventure. We crawled and slithered through a number of tight spaces (referred to as “squeezes”). We first crawled through a practice squeeze. It was relatively easy and the tunnel was large enough to crawl on your hands and knees. This was just a warm up for two tighter squeezes – a 6 foot squeeze and a 20 foot squeeze. Anyone who struggled with the practice squeeze or felt uncomfortable being in a tight enclosed space had the option of staying behind at this point as the path eventually loops back here. Everyone continued.
The 6 foot squeeze was exhilarating. You are literally slithering around on your belly. The space was wider than it was in height. But you did have to position yourself a certain way to ensure that your shoulders could make it through.
The 20 foot squeeze was probably the most challenging section. This squeeze is named the Laundry Chute because it is L-shaped. The best way to approach it is to go down vertically feet first. There is some ledge at the bottom where you need to sit on to to position your body sideways to get through the horizontal part of the L-shape. This was the tightest space we had to navigate. Your back is pressed against the wall. Your face is nearly pressed up against a wall. Mind over matter.
We emerged into the Grand Gallery. From here it is a short distance to the Grotto. There were some pretty impressive speleothems (it’s just a fancy word we picked up from our guide that means cave formations. No big deal.). The cave continues onward. But the passageway is underwater for experienced cave divers only.
We turned around at the Grotto. Fortunately we didn’t need to slither back through the Laundry Chute. Instead we went up some “escape hatch” called The Box (which is also another tight space) that bypasses the squeezes and the section that we rappelled down. We then had to scramble back up into the Bone Room and then a final upward stretch to get back to the entrance of the cave.
Once we emerged from the darkness we took off our caving gear, drank some water and ate our energy bars. We then hiked back down to our car. By the time we returned to the shop to unload our gear it was 6:45p.m. Even though the tour is scheduled to take 6 hours we were gone for 7. That’s how awesome our guide Brent is. We were exhausted, but still buzzing from how amaaaazing that cave tour was.
From there we drove to a nearby grocery store to buy more supplies before heading over to Johnston Canyon Campground in Banff National Park.