Castleguard Cave, Banff, Canada
Martin Groves, accompanied by Al Braybrooke, Jules Carter, Gareth Davies , Rich Hudson and Phil Rowsell, and with additional support and guidance from local cavers of the Alberta Speleological Society, journeyed to Canada's longest cave system, Castleguard Cave in the Banff national park over the Easter break 2009. Words and pictures by Jules Carter.
The aim of the trip was to push a sump in the 'Boons Blunder' section of the cave which had previously been pushed for about a 100 m in the 1980's. The journey began with a 20 km long ski tour up the Saskatchewan Glacier, then over a steep moraine bank before a gradually descent through the Castleguard Meadows and the cave itself.
Basecamp was set up in the cave entrance. The kit then needed to be dragged to the sump. Martin used a rebreather that he had built and designed himself for the diving, but also need sufficient redundancy in case the rebreather failed, so he also had two 12L tanks of nitrox as backup. The trip to the sump involved the famous icecrawls, which due to warmer than expected weather in the first few days started to become slush crawls! After the ice crawls a further kilometre of crawls were negotiated before arriving at the sump.
This section of the cave proved pretty arduous on kit as the rock was rough and caught everything, destroying oversuits, knees and tacklebags! After the joys of the carry the sump pool proved surprising as for the first time in ages you could stand up properly whilst before you was this fabulous sump pool looking green and clear. Martin carried out two successful dives in the sump, laying out all the line he had available and pushing the sump for a total distance of about 500m. The passage was gradually rising from a maximum depth of -19m at the base of the sump pool, with Martin leaving the line in open passage and at a depth of only -6m.
The dekit then began adding additional carnage to our knees and tacklebags. Fortunately some Canadians appeared and helped with the final kit haul out of the cave, as well as the ski out back to the cars. Time was also found for some tourist trips into the main cave, with Phil and Gareth doing a trip to the end of the main cave to try and find one of the famous ice plugs while the rest of us got to the area around Camp 1. Myself, Al and Rich also attempt to tour up to the Columbia iceshelf but unfortunately the weather force us back off the flanks of Mt Castleguard. In all an excellent and successful week was spent in the wilds of the Rockies. Martins success in exploring a remote sump using technical kit was very impressive and a testament to his thorough preparation for this trip.
Thanks go to Fourth Element, Otter and Brsitol Channel Diving for sponsoring dive kit, and to the Ghar Parau Cave Foundation and the Sports Council of Wales for grant support. Additional thanks go to Parks Canada for permission and to the Alberta Speleological Society for valuable advice and support without which this trip would not have happened. ~ Jules Carter