Castleguard Cave - Discovery and Exploration

Discovery and Exploration

Undoubtedly the cave was known to natives throughout prehistory, but the first recorded visit was by Cecil Smith, an outfitter rounding up stray horses during a guided trip to Castleguard Meadows in 1921. Smith's client happened to be the head of the U.S. Geological Survey, and three years later the cave entrance was revisited and photographed as part of an article on the Columbia Icefield for National Geographic magazine.

Sporadic local visitations likely continued for many years, but the first formal investigations were in the summer of 1967 by members of the Karst Research Group (from McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario) led by Dr. Derek Ford, following up on a tip from a local outdoorsman. KRG teams penetrated past the cave's first obstacle, an 8m drop, and explored the main trunk passage. After Peter Thompson and Mike Boon were trapped in the cave by sudden flooding near the entrance, explorations were limited to mid or late winter, with attendant difficulties. The Ice Plug, the 'end' of the cave, was discovered by Mike Boon during a controversial solo trip in the winter of 1970. Soon thereafter cavers helped produce The Longest Cave, a National Film Board production, during which some side passages were explored.

Explorations slowed somewhat following national park access restrictions, but picked up again in the 1980s when most of the major side passages (including Boulevard du Quebec and extensions to Thompson's Terror) were explored by Canadian and international teams, bringing Castleguard Cave to a length exceeding 20 kilometres. Such explorations continue today, but with diminishing returns as the major leads have all been checked.

In 2005, a Norwegian group spent three days bolt-climbing the '200-foot aven', a vertical shaft going straight up from the cave level about halfway in, slightly inside of the site known as 'Camp One'. The measured height was 68 metres to the floor of the top chamber. Somewhat to the disappointment of the explorers the chamber narrows to an impassable crack; however, in caving first impressions are not always authoritative and there is still some hope of further penetration in that area.

A Canadian-supported team from the UK dived the sump at Boon's Blunder in 2009 and 2010, reaching substantial dry phreatic passage, after a dive of 845m. Exploration of these passages is expected early 2012.

Concurrent with exploration was the survey, or mapping, of the cave. Data was held at a number of sources, and doubts about completeness or consistency of standards led to a remapping project coordinated by Steve Worthington and supported by cave radio location work by Ian Drummond. But the prospects of hand-drafting a map seven metres long were daunting, and production was delayed until the arrival of computer technology. After further work on verification, addition of passage detail and survey of various unchecked leads, a final map in digital format was produced late in 2005 and is updated whenever new mapping occurs.

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