Canmore Cave Tours
The View From Down Here: Team Outpost digging deep into Rat's Nest Cave. 

Canmore Cave Tours: A Breath of Fresh Air

Dispatch by Lena Desmond

Photos by Sergio David Spadavecchia

We met our guide, Diana, at the Canmore Cave Tours office, where she quickly gave us the lowdown: We’re going somewhere called Rat’s Nest Cave. It’s under Grotto Mountain. Inside it’s four degrees year-round, even on the warmest days of summer and the coldest days of winter. We’ll move down over 300 metres.

I was happy to learn that, while there is a point in the cave matrix where it’s possible to go scuba diving, we would not be doing that today.

“Rat’s Nest Cave,” I thought. “Sounds real appealing.” Sewer rats immediately came to mind—I hail from Toronto, after all. But in reality, the cave is home to the comparatively adorable bushy-tailed woodrat, which looks more like a squirrel than the sewage-slicked, red-eyed rat from my home city.

In fact, as the day progressed, almost all my fears would eventually be allayed. My last caving expedition was a rough experience Guatemala, where concepts like “safety” and “hygiene” came with a chuckle. But my Canmore Kananaskis experience would turn out nothing like that.

Canmore Cave Tours
Inside Rat's Nest Cave, a labyrinth in Grotto Mountain.

During the orientation, I asked Diana if she had any strategies for nerves. “It’s good to remember that a six-year-old has done this and an 80-year-old has done this,” she said. “That, and we’ll tell lots of jokes, keep it light.”

Cool. I like jokes.

We left the office and began the hike in at the trailhead after a short drive down the road. When we got to the cave’s mouth, we suited up in our Canmore best: denim onesies, helmets, harnesses, gloves and headlamps. Headlamps! Already a far cry from the Guatemalan candles I was used to.

After a momentary scramble up some rock, we climbed in through gates that teethed the opening to the caverns and were immediately greeted by a long throat into darkness. While I thought we were set to rappel, Diana moved the opposite way, toward two rock walls that appeared to touch, and disappeared. There was a thin break in the walls; I could see the bottom of her hiking shoe shimming forward then out of sight. I had to follow her. For a few short moments, I checked in with myself.

A six-year-old has done this. An 80-year-old has done this. A six-year-old had done this. An 80-year-old has done this.

Canmore Cave Tours
Team Outpost anxiously descending Rat's Nest Cave.

I took a deep breath in, while thousands of small dust particles danced in front of my headlamp. I breathed out. The air was comfortable. The rocks weren’t sharp. My headlamp was on. There was plenty of space around me. I was okay. In fact, I was enjoying this.

I made it through the thin chute into an open room. We slid down semi-slick rock walls and up more scrambles, our headlamps shedding light on features you’d never see above ground. My fear melted away like drips off a stalactite. I even voluntarily followed Delano down a path called the “challenge squeeze”—for bit, anyway. Del went farther than I, but I did for a few minutes feel the press of rock on my back and front, wriggling like a worm through its home.

I won’t give away the entire experience—you’ll have to witness it for yourself if you’re ever in the neighbourhood. But I will say this: you’ve got to get to the area around the Grotto pool. Geological wonders, hundreds of years old, abound.

Besides, if I can do it, so can you. 

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