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ABOuT THREE HOuRs’ drive south of twists and turns we paused in a large us was just a drizzle this late in the season.
Calgary and a fairly arduous day-long hike chamber. High above was a small triangle- This was the exit!
away are Mount Ptolemy and its aptly shaped window, with natural light pouring What a great relief, after six hours
named Gargantua Cave. With a length of in. Following a spectacular chamber where underground, to lie under the open sky.
6,001 metres and a depth of 286 metres, our lights could barely reach the ceiling, we We thought about what lay ahead of us: an
Gargantua is Canada’s 13th deepest cave. clambered down into a small “room.” Here endless hike around the side of the mountain,
Though only two of us had ever caved was our first descent. across terrain that seemed to belong in
once before, in the summer of 2006 four One by one we took our turns on the Mordor. Past exhaustion, almost numb, as
of us — Rosemarie, Lynda, steve and I — rope. Most of us had never rappelled before, we sprawled on the ground catching our
thought it would be a good idea to give so Troy carefully explained every step: clip breath Lynda and I contemplated calling
Gargantua a try. in, then crawl over to the hole and work it a night right there and sleeping under
The nearby Cleft Cave would be a bonus. yourself out over it butt-first on your knees. the stars. But with the tiny remnant of
To guide us we hired Canmore Caverns, “Let go with that left hand! Lean back!” Troy energy we somehow had left, we got up a
who have more than 10 years of experience barked as we slowly made our way down talus slope to the col and staggered down
leading caving expeditions in the Rockies. the 19-metre drop. With that first descent through the darkness on the scree.
Our guide, Troy, brought along two other we were committed. There’d be no going We reached camp just before 3 a.m. and
cavers, Dave and Laurel. back now! collapsed into our tents.
so one sunny saturday morning in August We found ourselves in a massive room sunday started slowly, with many groans
we found ourselves crashing through brush whose walls shimmered with water. several and grumbles. Eventually we got organized
and bouncing around in a Land Rover as “chimneys” could be seen reaching far up and off we went, back up the slope, this
we four-wheeled it several kilometres up into the darkness. time towards Cleft cave.
a rugged valley west of Coleman in the There are only a few small stalactite Our first stop was a little oasis on a ledge
Crowsnest Pass. This was followed by a formations in Gargantua - primarily “bacon a hundred metres above camp. It took us
hike along a narrow trail to ascend to our strips” and “soda straws.” The cave is so old, more than an hour to fill the bottles, some
base camp. We’d periodically make our and water flow so rare now, that many of the of them more than once as we drank our
presence known to any bears within calling early formations have broken away naturally fill. Troy and Dave regaled us with their tales
distance. (On the way down the next day, and are buried in the rubble below. of the outdoors while we enjoyed the view.
Troy spotted some fresh, berry-filled Grizzly From this point memories of the Once back on the trail Cleft could be clearly
scat but luckily there were no bears to be passages and descents seem to blur seen, a large vertical slot above the scree.
seen this day). together, with many twists and turns, many We scrambled over a short rock band,
up the side of Mount Ptolemy we went, scrambles down or up loose rock slopes, then moved north along a ledge towards
laden with packs bulging with camping and and a seemingly infinite series of diverging the cave mouth. Once at the entrance we
caving gear and food for two days. passageways. How Troy was able to find his scrambled up an awkward, steep bit to get
A few hours later we set up camp, ate, way at all is amazing. shortly after our fifth into the cave mouth, its walls green with
and cached our food. Our promised water rappel we reached a large passageway and algae. We geared up, feeling a little like old
source turned out to be a trickle about a stopped. A small hole lay before us, just pros, and entered our second cave.
15-minute hike from camp, barely visible in above floor level. Troy began psyching us up
the rocks. Eventually we filled our bottles for this final push. “This is no point to back
and bellies, then headed for the col high out; it’ll be a long wait for rescue!”
above the scree slope. Troy raced ahead to steve followed Troy into the hole,
check Gargantua’s exit. Previous cavers have grimacing, then Rosemarie. shouts rang
descended through the cave’s five rappels out back and forth. This was a nasty little
only to find its outlet blocked by a frozen wormhole! suddenly we heard a yell from
waterfall, he explained. All those poor souls Rosemarie. Her headlamp had fallen off and
could do was wait to be rescued, he said, dropped into a crevice far below, leaving her
but today there was no such blockage. in pitch blackness. Luckily Troy had an extra
Tired and dusty, we finally reached the col one. No wonder one of us lost a headlamp;
at 5 p.m. Gargantua’s 900-metre elevation it was tough going, with helmets on, to look
gain is similar to Mount Yamnuska’s, but forward, and difficult to move ahead as a
seems far more of a workout. After a break crevice below made it impossible to find
to marvel at the nuclear holocaust-like sure footing. Finally we popped out into a
landscape of the Andy Good Plateau we larger water-worn passageway, heaving
trudged up to the cave mouth, near the sighs of relief.
base of a cliff at about 2,500 metres. We We headed up the passage, bending over,
geared up, received some final instructions sometimes turning sideways. suddenly Troy
and encouragement, then marched into the yelled, “Go, go, go!” some of had already
darkness. started, one at a time and on our backs,
First was a wide passage where we sliding through a narrow horizontal slot,
stumbled over shattered rocks. After some right through the waterfall that, lucky for CALGARY  SUMMER 2008 9
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