Back in 1997 I was doing some delivery work for coal mines in the Sparwood BC area, bringing various mine truck spares in from suppliers in Calgary. On one trip I took time out to explore the Crowsnest Lake Cave. You may have seen this interesting geographical feature from the highway, but you have to look hard for it. Across the lake, about mid point, just above the water you can see an opening with a stream flowing out of it, beside the train tracks at the base of a ridge.
I’ve often seen it and wondered what it would look like up close and with a bit of time to burn, I headed out. One has to follow the rail line, which in places is a narrow ledge between the ridge and lake, with little room for escape should a train arrive. You’d have to take refuge on the side of the roadbed between the tracks and the water, the deep cold water; or you’d have lay flat against rock cuts on the opposite side. Either way you’ll only have a few metres of space between you and a train. It’ll freak you out, not to mention the train crew.
With that in mind, I would not suggest anyone do as I did. It’s just too dangerous! It would be safer to boat, canoe or kayak to the site, which I believe most people do.
Know variously as Basin Cave, Crowsnest Lake Cave or Crowsnest Spring, it has been visited since ancient times. Inside the cave, which I could not reach due to high waters, are old pictographs, along with graffiti from more recent visitors. Water flows from several cracks, collecting in a pool, before passing under the train tracks and emptying into the lake.
The water emerging from the cave is mineral rich according to various sources and maintains a somewhat stable temperature year round. The flow volume however can be quite variable, running full out as it did on my visit, or it can be a trickle at times.
As hard as it is to believe, various crazies have cave dived here, some following the passage for quite a distance (175m in). What a dangerous sport! This author has seen the cave map and from the looks it, there is much more yet unexplored. The cave, as caves are apt to do, meanders a lot, dipping down as at fairly steady angle most of the time. There are lots of narrow side passages.
At the furthest distance explored, it’s some 60m deeper (below) the starting point, and well under the lake level. I guess the currents can be quite strong. Animal bones have been found inside.
On the far side of the ridge, to the north, is a small body of water (Phillipps Lake) with no visible outlet, which some believe is the main source of the cave’s water. I am not completely convinced however as more water flows from the cave than what the lake could supply (IMHO).
In the past, this cave was believed (by some I guess) to be the water source for the mighty Oldman River. That’s so odd, bizarre in fact, since that river’s headwaters are a fair distance away to the north, well to the north. In fact the cave’s outflow empties into the Crowsnest Lake, which then feeds the Crowsnest River. Eventually that water course does empty into the Oldman, but much further east. This author has seen a photo dated 1949, showing a large sign, proudly proclaiming “The Cave, Main Source Old Man River”. What were they smoking?
The front ranges here are composed mainly of limestone, which can be very porous. There are numerous other caves in the area, some of them I am told, quite extensive. Connie and I have found others with small streams flowing from them, one almost directly across the valley.
One the ridge above is the Crowsnest Radio Tower, a place we’ve been up to. You may have seen the massive structure from the highway, standing guard over the lake at the pass.
Walking the rail line – which as I said is not a good idea, even though I did it – one passes the abandoned Crowsnest Power Plant. A large brick structure, it operated from the 1920s into the late 1960s. It has sat empty ever since and we’ve visited it a couple times – getting to it too requires walking beside the rail line – watch for and listen for trains! It’s not sure what the future holds for this structure, but it has lost of historical value and hopefully will be spared.
I’d like to revisit the cave, perhaps in the fall when the water flow is less. I’d love to see those old pictographs.
If you’d like to know more about this place, by all means contact us!
Location: Crowsnest Pass, AB.