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Kananaskis Ice Cave or Canyon Creek Ice Cave

Kananaskis Ice Cave or Canyon Creek Ice Cave

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It’s a perfect day for a hike! Once we drive through the silly spring snow in Cochrane, AB and out to Kananaskis Country.  We have always wanted to do this hike, but have been calling it by an incorrect name.  May people confuse the Kananaskis Ice Cave or Canyon Creek Ice Cave hike with the Ing’s Mine hike.  While Ing’s Mine is in the same area, they are definitely two separate hikes.Shell/husky service road towards Canyon Creek ice cave

We learned this information from two very lovely girls walking the service road just a head of us.   The Kananaskis Ice Cave near Moose Mountain, was first discovered by Stan Fullerton in 1905; and due to its close proximity to Calgary, this cave has become very popular with the Bragg Creek locals and hikers from the city.

Our hike begins at a parking area just off Highway 66.  From here we follow a Shell/Husky service road for the first 7 Km. This part of the hike is uneventful, you might even call it boring. It has been suggested to bring a bike to help speed up this part of the hike.

Service Road you walk for 7 KM to Kananaskis Ice Cave or Canyon Creek Ice Cave

As you walk along the well-travelled service road, you will pass a number of compressor stations for Moose Mountain, a grouping of large boulders laced with fossils and someone’s idea of a lucrative tourist attraction; in the form of a mock mine shaft, tucked along the edge of the river.

Mock mine shaft on Canyon creek river

Gate on mock mine shaft with 2 models behind it

We finally came to a junction in the road.  Stay to the left here, and continue towards the compressor station at the end of this road.  We made the mistake of taking the road to the right and walking up hill for another 3 KM. Which means we had to walk 3 KM back to the junction, just to find the trailhead was only 300 feet away from us.  (Couch potato rant over!)

Trailhead marker

As you walk closer to the compressor station you should see the trailhead marker on the right hand side of the road and the dark opening of the ice cave looming above you on the mountain.  This is where things get interesting.

Cavern opening in a Limestone mountain

The trail meanders through a pleasant alpine forests, then begins to climb towards the mouth of the cave.  As you climb, you will start to notice the ground changing from a solid dirt path to disheveled rocky out-croppings.  It should take you about 30 minutes to reach the mouth of the cavern.

Steep slope up to the opening of the Ice Cave

The entrance of the cave is up a steep incline that crosses a couple of scree fields.  We brought out youngest daughter Becky with us on this hike, and because she has a small fear of heights, she found this portion of the hike a bit challenging.  But she was able to scramble on all fours over the jumbled piles of rocks to the cave opening.

Kananaski Ice Cave, the caves opening

According to Wikipedia, this cave was formed from water freezing within the cracks of the limestone, which over-time slowly wedged large sections apart.  This is evident in the main chamber, where there are a large amount of loose stones and boulders littering the cave floor.

The Main Chamber of Kananaski Ice Cave with model and dog

The farther you travel into the cave the darker it becomes.  A headlamp would be handy here.  Most times during the year you can see a beautiful pillar of ice cascading towards the cavern floor.  However, by the time we arrived, someone had already knocked it over.

Looking back towards the mouth of the cave

Ice inside the Main Chamber of Kananaski Ice Cave

We continued all the way to the back of the cave. We carefully picked our way through the inky darkness with our flashlights, climbing over the massive blocks of rock that have fallen from the cave ceiling until we reach the back of the cavern.  Here we discover a wall of ice, blocking the rest of the passages.  Thanks to the constant temperature in the cave this ice plug is here all year round. Ice plug of Kananaski Ice Cave

After everyone in our group had a chance to explore the cave, we descended along the path we came one.  At the trail head we decided instead of retracing our steps along the service road, to walk in the river bed and hunt for fossils.  We had heard there were numerous shell fossils in the shale layers of this area and set off to find a few.

Canyon Creek river bed

Shale layers with tiny sea shell fossils embedded in them

Small sea shell fossils in the shale layers

All in all this was a great hike.  The worst part was the boring 7 KM walk on a well maintained service road.  The people in our group struggled with not “wishing away” the experience and tried to enjoy the fact that we were out in nature.  The cave is a stunning piece of architecture created by Mother Nature and well worth the visit!

It took us 8 hours round trip, because we dawdle, and we didn’t want to rush the scramble over the scree fields for Becky’s sake.  But I have heard people do this hike in 4 hours round trip.

A few things to keep in mind:

  • Bring a flashlight or 2
  • Climbing helmet if you are worried about the falling rocks
  • Warm layer of clothes, for when you enter the cave
  • The last incline to the cave is a “scramble” watch for falling rocks. There have been some fatal accidents in the area.

 

If you are looking for Ing’s Mine it is located back at the parking area, on the North east side of the lot. Where you will need to cross Canyon Creek in order to find it.

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View of Moraine lakes deep blue colour from the rock pile

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