Over the years I’d hear rumours of a secretive “cold war shelter” hidden away somewhere up the Bow Valley near Cammore. I was told of a little known but massive bunker built into the side of a mountain that was to protect government officials from nuclear attack. Or that was it for the storage of valuable or irreplaceable official documents or objects of art. Or that it was to secret away gold in the event of a crisis. Every one I spoke to had highly romanticized idea as its purpose including some elaborate Area 51/X-Files type conspiracy theories.
However I am certain the reason of its existence is probably something a little more mundane. And for being secretive, it’s hardly so. It’s a short trip on an easily accessed trail near a popular hiking and rock climbing spot. And is it huge? Yes!
The trip begins at Lac des Arcs, at the parking site on the south side of the highway. Take the wide trail heading west paralleling the highway, following it for a few kilometres. There are no real challenges here, a small hill to summit, and some loose gravel when passing over dry creek beds. But that’s it.
At an obvious junction, take the trail heading up to the left. It switchbacks once, levels out, and shortly after you come to the tunnel. You can’t miss it.
Water drips from the entrance – this is the only wet area and otherwise inside it’s bone dry. Cool air blasts out and the darkness beckons. Looking up, the cliffs of Mount McGillivray tower above the opening.
Gather you gear together, your flashlights, extra batteries and head in. The roof is high enough and free of any loose bits so helmets are not really necessary. Although it’s never a bad idea.
The floor is flat and mostly level and easy going. The tunnel you entered heads straight in and then unceremoniously ends. It looks like they had plans to go in further.
About half way in a side tunnel goes off to your left leading away at roughly a 45 degree angle. Following it you’ll pass a total of four chambers, two on each side. They are are all roughly the same dimension, perhaps the size of a two or three car garage. The access tunnel you are in appears to head in further still, but after the last set of chambers it quickly dead ends. It almost looks like they had plans to go further here as well and for some reason just up and stopped one day.
In one chamber, a drill rod sticks from the ceiling, further hinting that work was stopped abruptly. In other areas some clips hang from the walls – perhaps they held cables for lighting? Garbage litters the floor in spots and clearly the place has been used to host parties. Occasionally, you can see signs of some rodents that live in the bunker. They are too fast to photograph, although you can hear them scurrying about in the darkness.
The rock wall beside the opening is often used by climbers, so keep a lookout when exiting.
On our visit, a church group was inside exploring. A scary Halloween mask was found hanging in the main passage.
So what’s the true story on this place?
Starting with when was it built? There is no real data and nothing at the site itself hints at this. Most information I’ve found speculates that it was excavated during the height of the cold war (so the late fifties and early sixties), hence the Cold War shelter moniker (10/10/2014 update – in fact it’s from the late 60s/early 70s)
It’s purpose? I’ve heard it it was a project of the Rocky Mountain Vault & Archive Company. This was private firm who’s plans were to sink a tunnel into the mountain, where you could rent space to safely store your valuable possessions or records or whatever. But something does not sit right. It certainly would be a safe storage place all right. But the location is very odd. It is close to the highway but is not accessible by any road, nor could one be built up to it very easily – meaning it would not be a quick and easy place to access in times of trouble. Or at any time for that matter. The location just seems wrong and nor is it near any real population base. This is all really strange.
Is it a mine? Some have suggested this, but that answer is absolutely no. Everything in the front ranges is almost 100% limestone and bulk material like this is always mined quarry or open pit style (witness the Exshaw pit across the Bow River). There are certainly no metallic minerals to be found in this region. You have to travel west almost into BC before you intercept any mineralized zones. This rules that argument out.
Conclusions? The place is well built and laid out in an orderly fashion, so it had a specific purpose. But at this point there is no real solid data to go on, and until I hear otherwise it’ll remain somewhat of a mystery. We’ll continue to research however and of course we always like to hear from our readers too. (10/10/2014 update – we know more about it now and have a near complete story – the subject begs to be revisited and a new article written.)
If you wish more information on this place, by all means contact us!
Date of adventure: May 2012
Location: Kananaskis, Bow valley area.
Distance: 4km round trip.
Height gain from start: negligible.
Height gain cumulative: 50m or so.
Technical bits: None
Notes: DANGER! Going inside a tunnel or mine is very unsafe.