Castleguard 12

Castleguard "Character Building" 2012

- from Martin Groves

Well we've all made it back from Canada in one piece and the news that things did not go to plan seem to have spread like wildfire, but read on to see how near disaster turned into a major success.

The first team of Canadian cavers who had cut the trail to Castleguard reported via a satellite phone that the ice crawl was blocked within a couple of inches of the roof. They valiantly dug for another day but reported that things did not look hopeful. Much discussion was held back in Canmore for a plan of action, however there was no way that we could risk people dragging the couple of hundred or so kilograms of dive kit to the cave when diving looked unlikely, hence the unfortunate decision was made to knock the diving on the head. Pretty gutting considering all of the build up work, but it just demonstrates how we are at the mercy of nature sometimes.

The SWCC team split into two group. Jules, Phil and I together with a number of Canadian headed to Castleguard to visit the ice blockage first hand. I must admit that I felt very disappointed trogging in with a bag of feathers instead of a mass of dive kit, however the icefield is such a unique place that you cannot fail to enjoy the Castleguard experience, a skidoo ride up the glacier added some cold enjoyment too.

Our aim was to learn more about tackling the ice blockage and some fun was had watching Greg Horne cutting into the icecrawl using a chainsaw (full story to follow later!). Despite several hours of work it became clear that several days would be required to get through the first blockage, and this was well before the normal constriction in the crawl. The decision was made to abandon the dig. Much discussion led to the consensus that the mild winter meant that there was more moisture in the air and that some inlets had actually run during the warm spells after which the water refroze raising the base level of the ice and hence blocking the crawl :-(.

Ice Chainsaw Massacre by Greg Horne

Digging Ice Jules looking cool!

Meanwhile Gareth and Tony joined local caver Nick Vieira to attempt to tackle Canada's most recent major caving discovery Raspberry Rising; where Nick and his team had found over 1km of huge passage after climbing a waterfall beyond a short sump. The cave is situated in the Glacier National Park. Extreme avalanche risks meant that the access route was closed and they were not allowed in. Undeterred the boys did some excellent background work and tracked down some local divers who gave us their blessing to investigate an interesting resurgence called Watridge Spring.

The spring is an intriguing site which I had been shown on my recce trip in 2008. It is anticipated that the water comes from a glacier which is around 15km away, so it has huge potential. So, far removed from Castleguard we spent the next few days setting up winch systems and hauling several tons of boulders out of the spring, including one boulder which weighted more than a ton. Glad Tony was there! I'm sure Phil was not missing Belize! A big joint UK / Canadian effort.

Once the entrance pool was opened I was lucky enough to have first crack at diving the opened site. With a single cylinder and without fins a rather intimidating boulder squeeze was passed to emerge in a large underwater room at 9m depth. A steep drop off loomed ahead and there was no chance I was going down there without fins. Returning in zero viz proved to be an interesting experience. Gareth did a stirling job of enlarging the squeeze and on the next push dive extended the line to a depth of 17.5m some 40m in. His progress was limited by the high oxygen gas mixtures we had in preparation for Castleguard.

Raspberry Rising was open for just a day and proved to be an excellent experience, shame we could not get back in there on the trip as there were plenty of leads to go for (again more later!)

Gareth preparing to dive Martin surfacing
Hauling boulders out of Watridge Spring
Some of the team


With the last day of the exploration it was back to Watridge Spring and with streamlined kit and most importantly air in the cylinders I was delighted to be at the pointy end, but must admit to being a little apprehensive as the pressure was on to get a result. I quickly arrived at Gareth's limit where a huge rib of rock divided the passage. Both options were weighted up and turning on my side I wriggled through a constriction after which the passages soon rejoined and enlarged. Two drop offs soon followed and a downward trending tunnel was followed to a depth of 38m, just over 100m from base. In the distance the passage could be seen to dip below 40m depth, but more significantly the passage had a solid roof and we seem to have passed the shattered fault driven entrance passage. With the water a toasty 2oC nitrogen narcosis was very noticeable and it would have been foolhardy to push on so the line was secured and an exit made, collecting some survey data collected. The team was elated with the result having tapped into a whole new cave system even if it was left to the 12th hour! A fair few beers where sank with our Canadian hosts in Calagary that evening. Needless to say a return is being planned with trimix!

Again our Canadian friends went beyond the call of duty in supporting all aspects of the project despite the change in direction and without their help throughout all phases the trip would not have been possible.

I always say to people that Casteguard is a character building experience, I did not anticipate it happening in this way, but we all got a good dose of it on this trip! Nice one boys. Despite the challenges we've come back with a quality result....phew!

A full report will appear later.... Martin

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