LUSS in Canada: Canadian Rockies 1994 Expedition

Yorkshire Pot, Crowsnest Pass


  1. Overview
  2. Rockies Geology for Cavers
  3. No-Bar to Shorty's Cave Connection
  4. Job Lake
  5. Expedition Diary
  6. Tips for Expeditions to Canada
  7. Acknowledgements
  8. Contacts
  9. Pictures

  1. Overview
  2. In the summer of 1994, nine Lancaster University Speleological Society (LUSS) members met up with some Canadians, members of the Alberta Speleological Society (ASS), to explore caves in the Canadian Rockies. We made our base camp at Ptolemy Mountain in Crowsnest Pass (southern Rockies, near the American border), with the intention of exploring caves in the area while smaller groups attempted to find a feasible route into the Job Lake area, further north.

    The idea of a Canadian expedition was originally suggested by Shelley Willson, a Canadian student from Calgary who spent a year studying at Lancaster University 1992-93, where she began caving. After her return to Canada she joined her local caving group, the ASS, who later helped when she was making the initial investigations into suitable areas.

    The full expedition lasted five weeks, from 28th June to 1st August. The first two weeks were spent in Crowsnest Pass, then, when the rest of the members arrived, two separate teams of three relocated (at different times) to the Job Lake area. Due to difficult access to Job Lake it was decided that only small teams should be sent to investigate both routes to the area and its potential for caves. The rest of the members remained pushing leads in Crowsnest where it was felt there was plenty of work to be done.

    During our stay at Crowsnest we concentrated on one lead which Ian McKenzie (an ASS member) had given us. This was a passage called No-Bar which had been discovered and pushed to an undescended pitch by the ASS two years before. This we descended and its continuation eventually led into a part of Shorty's Cave which had only been visited once before. This achieved an interesting connection and provided a sizable loop for aligning the survey over the eastern part of the Yorkshire Pot system.

    The two teams sent to Job Lake were unsuccessful in reaching their objective. Serious prospecting in the Rockies requires a helicopter and therefore money, which we didn't have. An open route via Coral Creek was found to be the easiest for walking and it is felt that the Job Lake area still has potential for a future visit.

    We would like to thank Jim and Donna Willson whose hospitality knows no bounds. They provided a base at which we could stay whilst in Calgary, fed us well, lent us cars to get around ... the list goes on. Their generosity and support made the expedition both successful and enjoyable - thanks! Finally we must mention the ASS who provided us with far too much help and hospitality. They transported us and our gear in their 4x4s and pointed us towards good leads in Yorkshire Pot saving us a great deal of time. The differences in the caving styles became apparent, for example we had far too much gear because we are not used to having to walk for over a day before starting caving. The Canadian caving technique is a lot more minimal and appears to rely on not having an accident, which means that only good cavers cave in The Canadian Rockies. The ASS are not only good but were great fun to cave with, and chat with around the fire. We strongly urge anyone who is planning to cave in the Canadian Rockies to get in touch with the ASS.

  3. Rockies Geology for Cavers
  4. The total area of karst outcrops in Canada comes to over a million square kilometres, similar to that in China, Figure 1 shows the extent of the larger outcrops. Carbonate rocks can be found of geological age from the Archaen to the Jurassic. Crowsnest caves and the Yorkshire Pot system have been formed in the early carboniferous Banff and Livingstone formations, part of the "middle carbonate unit" which holds most of Canada's explored caves. The age of this unit ranges from 540 to 258Ma (million years) before present and totals up to 6.5 kilometres in thickness. In it's earlier sediments is Canada's longest cave, Castleguard, well known as the only cave with passages terminating in glacial ice plugs.

    Figure 1: Major Karst Outcrops of Canada

    The formation of the Rockies themselves begins around 170 Ma as the Atlantic opened and North America drifted west, the compression with the Pacific plate producing the faulting, thrust planes and steep bedding angles seen in Rockies carbonates today. The Pacific / North American plate movement is now sideways and the slip has guided the Rocky Mountain trench fault, this together with vertical block faulting and stretching of the crust has opened up the Elk and Flathead valleys nearer Crowsnest. Focusing of surface streams by impermeable strata and glacial debris helps promote initial cave formation.

    The Quaternary period (the last five and a half million years) is understood in more detail. Several glaciations have been and gone and many areas of the Rockies remain covered with ice sheets today. Glaciers deepen valleys in areas of high relief thus allowing cave formation on progressively lower levels as the water table falls. This is clearly seen at Crowsnest, as Cleft Cave passes right through the mountain hundreds of metres above the relatively horizontal passages of Yorkshire Pot, themselves above the present water table. More unhelpfully glaciers and glacial meltwater can bulldoze and wash material into existing entrances, so surface digging possibilities are everywhere, even well known areas like the Andy Good plateau still offer strong possibilities for surface work.

    More detail of caves and their geological context in the Rockies can be found in 'Cave Directory' (Rollins, 1992), and 'Handbook of the Canadian Rockies', (Gadd, 19??). Also, 'Effects of glaciations and permafrost upon the development of karst in Canada' (Ford, 1987) describes formation and classification of Karst features in Canada under various climatic conditions.


    1. Rollins, John (1992) Management considerations for caves and related karst features in the southern Canadian Rockies. MSc Thesis, University of Calgary.
    2. Gadd, Ben (19??) Handbook of the Canadian Rockies. pp15-52. Pub. Corax
    3. Ford, Derek (1987) Effects of glaciations and permafrost upon the development of karst in Canada. Earth Surface Processes and Landforms. Vol 12, pp 507-521.

  5. No-Bar to Shorty's Cave Connection
  6. Yorkshire Pot - a summary

    With a combined length of over 12km and 384m depth Yorkshire pot is Canada's second longest and fourth deepest cave. The entrance is at 2412m elevation, draining north to resurgences in scree on the west side of Ptolemy creek. A map and elevation of the system area are reproduced in Figures. 2 and 3.

    Description of No-Bar and the connection to Shorty's Cave

    Following main route down Yorkshire Pot a cross roads is reached just after the 40 ft climb down the rift. Left goes down the normal route into Yorkshire Pot, straight on is blind and to the right is No- Bar. A short passage leads to a step over a trench in the floor, to the head of the first pitch (6m). The way on at the bottom of the pitch is to the right, under a loose roof and then right again into a crawling passage to the head of the 2nd pitch (6m). This was rigged from a natural in the floor and dropped into a sizable passage, which gained the top of an unstable boulder pile. A 10m traverse around the left wall leads to a hole which is the beginning of the No-Bar crawl. Dropping the pitch (8m) below the traverse line enters a chamber containing several parallel shafts (15m), which lead to a chamber containing a complete bear skeleton.

    Figure 2: Area around Yorkshire Pot at Crowsnest Pass

    Figure 3: Vertical Elevation through Yorkshire Pot System (No-Bar crawl is into the page)

    In No-Bar crawl there is one junction, at which you must turn left. The crawl then proceeds for 100m of pure unadulterated joy, to the head of a series of very large shafts. The first is rigged from a ledge on the left at the bottom of a potentially dangerous climb. The passage at the bottom of the climb is Lonsdale Annex, 100m of rift. Do not expect to have to queue to get down this part of the cave!!!! A 20m pitch (see ASS survey), is rigged from a large boulder on the ledge, this drop at the head of the next pitch 30m, which is rigged using a boulder jammed in a rift and then a deviation to gain horizontal distance out over the pitch, providing a fine descent into a large chamber. A 10m pitch drops from there into a further chamber, off which is a passage containing three holes in the floor. The first hole was originally dropped by the ASS and drops into a large chamber after a 30m free- hanging pitch. The second hole drops into the same chamber, but dropping the third hole a pendulum gains a passage.

    This passage leads into a fine 8m diameter chamber with another pitch (6m) in the lower corner. This pitch gains another chamber with an obvious series of climbs in the floor. These are however a dead end and the way on is to traverse over the obvious hole and through into a continuation. This leads to the head of an 8m pitch which drops into Shorty's Cave (and ASS 'F' survey). To the right are the two pitches (10m, 30m) into Yorkshire Pot, but to the left leads to an extremely dodgy blank traverse towards the entrance of Shorty's Cave (there was a rope in place but it was very old and we could not see what the other end was or wasn't tied to). The pitches below this traverse are the Brain Drain.

    A 10m pitch drops into the start of a deep rift series which is slightly hair-raising in nature. Boulders in this area have a mind of their own and wait until you are sitting down eating your kippers in dill sauce before they start to whistle downwards. A 12m descent gains another ledge over looking a wider section of rift which (using a bolt on the opposite wall) provides a free hang of 22m to the floor. Water can be heard running under the boulders, upstream leads to a waterfall which has an aven at the top, and down stream originally was destined to go nowhere. However a short dig provided a short 5m pitch down to the next level of jammed boulders, which contained yet another hole which drops back into the water. Just down stream of this point the water goes down an impenetrable rift.

    Figure 4: No-Bar Connection Area of the Yorkshire Pot Survey

    Above the last pitch a traverse over jammed boulders leads to a small chamber and a pitch. This pitch (15m) rejoins the same water down stream of the constriction, just before it goes down a very wet crawl, which is too tight. Figure 4 shows a plan of the area in which we connected with the Yorkshire Gripper, and Figure 5 is an elevation of our survey, showing the Brain Drain down to the end.

    Figure 5: Elevation of the Connection Area of Yorkshire Pot

  7. Job Lake
  8. Two reconnaissance teams left the Crowsnest Pass campsite to investigate the potential of the Job Lake area for caves.

    The first team drove to Panther Falls and started walking up Nigel Creek. After two days of hard walking they were halted in the valley next to Job Creek by an impassable cliff. Limited by time and, more importantly, food supplies they had no option but to return. They reported that the geology of the areas through which they had walked showed little potential for caves.

    The second team had no access to a car so had to rely on public transport. This took them only as far Saskatchewan River Crossing so they began walking by road to the start of Coral Creek which leads to Job Creek. Reaching Thompson Creek they turned into the mountains as a short cut hoping to miss out the first half of Coral Creek. Unfortunately, like the first team, their options were restricted by large natural features not obvious from the maps. However, nearing Coral Creek they found limestone, particularly classic limestone gorges and cliffs.

    Both teams attempted to reach Job Lake but by different routes. The first team went around the north west of the White Goat Wilderness, the other round the south east. The latter proved more promising in limestone terms, and indeed this is borne out by geological surveys of the areas. The second team also made contact with locals who knew the Job Lake area and reported signs of caves. The route up Coral Creek is an outfitters trail, who supply fishermen at Job Lake.

  9. Expedition Diary
  10. June 1994

    28th (Tuesday) Ali, Sean, Derek fly in to Calgary to be met by Shelley, Helen flies into Edmonton, and takes Greyhound to Calgary.

    29th Shopping and organization. Derek's Birthday, given some replacement undies. Examined some aerial photos in the University of Calgary library.

    30th More shopping, and in the evening traveling down to Crowsnest with Randy and IanM. Camped at the bottom of the 4x4 track.

    July 1994

    1st Canada Day, yahoo! We hiked up the mountain, set up camp, and wandered up to Yorkshire Pot to have a look around. Started to dig out Yorkshire Pot. After hitting rock we moved our dig a few yards.

    2nd Ian M, Ali, and Helen went to do Gargantua, continued to dig Yorkshire Pot. Derek broke through. Depth of digging was about 4 metres, horizontal about 3 metres.

    3rd All of the expedition gear was carried up from Camp Caves to Yorkshire Pot. We headed off into No-Bar where we put a bolt in order to get across a loose traverse.

    4th (Monday) We returned to No-Bar and had a look at the pitches underneath the traverse line (found a skeleton, probably of a bear). Went further in but Sean's light having packed up, the trip was cut a little short. Helen left with Randy to go beck to Calgary.

    5th We relaxed, then at about one o'clock hiked down hill to meet Shelley, Helen, and Cindy. Everyone stayed there until about

    9 p.m., then went back up. The women arrived at sometime past midnight, after some worry over wild animals and being lost.

    6th Another trip into No-Bar, to carry tackle in.

    7th Everyone took the day off.

    8th First big pushing trip into No-Bar, reached the limit of exploration by the ASS. Four pitches rigged, into the big chamber at the bottom. Sadly Sean discovered Lonsdale Annex. Shelley tried to go caving with Cindy and Ali, but didn't make it up the hill. Roasting weather , up in the 30's.

    9th Shelley and Randy went to the bottom of No-Bar. Everybody else had a day off.

    10th Everyone, except Derek, had gone to Calgary, to split into two groups. Ali, Helen, and Sean went on an excursion to Job Lake. The others picked up Andy and Jeremy from the airport and went back to Crowsnest the following morning.

    11th (Monday) A, H, and S took Jim's car and began hiking into Job Creek. Derek walked down the road, and waited for Shelley, Cindy, Andy, and Jeremy. They took Derek for a Chinese. Jeremy and Andy struggled up the hill, arriving about one in the morning.

    12th A, H, and S crossed rivers, and made camp three or four miles from Job Creek. The people at Crowsnest looked around No-Bar.

    13th A, H, and S discovered they were in the wrong valley. Bugger, especially as food was running out and return was necessary to pick others up from Calgary. Walked most of the way out, about 30 km, to about 10 km from the road. Derek and Shelley drive back to Calgary for Shelley's graduation photos. On the way they stop at a greasy spoon, unfortunately Shelley locks the keys in the car. A man suggests that he'll show his son how to open the car with a coat hanger. After ten minutes of trying Shelley has to show them how to break into a car!

    14th Reached the road and drove back to Springbank. Met up with Shelley and Derek in Jim's office in Calgary, who were working on Shelley's geology report. Others did some surface digging back at Crowsnest, without much luck.

    15th Helen Sean and Ian traveled back to Crowsnest with Randy's assistance.

    16th Shelley, Ali and Derek took part in the Calgary Festival, then went back to Crowsnest after much problems getting the car to start. When they arrived at camp in the evening, everyone was involved in a rescue to extract a large caver (Canadian 100% effort checked shirted sort of guy) out of the bottom of Gargantua). This went on until past midnight when he emerged, largely under his own steam, after some hours stuck the wrong side of the squeeze to the valley exit.

    17th Ian, Shelley & Ali did Cleft Cave as a day off, there is a dig at the bottom of the only pitch which might be worth a return visit. Derek, Jeremy, and Andy walk down to the road, to go the Job Lake. They camp at near the road.

    18th (Monday) Ian and Ali surveyed chamber at bottom of first hole in No-Bar, started off down the third hole and had great fun and progress, cannibalizing pitches for rope as we went, until were ached what later turned out to be Shorty's Cave, and "the Yorkshire Gripper". Immediately ahead was a large drop with the sound of a stream somewhere below. Upon finding out that only one trip had been in that part of Shorty's before, and without pushing the bottom of the shaft, this became the target for the rest of the expedition. D, J, and A try to hitch to Crowsnest, but end up walking all the way. They take the Greyhound to Calgary.

    19th We had a day off, getting some practice in at drawing up survey data in the field. D, J and A take Brewsters Coach to Banff, where they camp in the official campsite, which is about 4 miles from the town.

    20th Cindy, Ian and Ali surveyed new stuff down into Shorty's and had a look around to identify where in Shorty's we were. The others did a photo trip. D, J, and A took coach to Saskatchewan River Crossing, and from there walk outside the national park to the campsite.

    21st Sean's birthday, swim, champagne, Chinese meal, sleeping in the park. D, J, and A start to walk up into the mountains.

    22nd Half spent recovering after Sean's birthday, half getting back to camp. D, J, and A find a nice scree slope to traverse, and the walk down into Shoe Leather Creek. Andy's rucksack gets fed up with the slow pace, and start to roll down the last bit.

    23rd Ian, Ali, and Shelley found 100 m of new stuff, dropping the shaft in Shorty's. We needed to put in two bolts to avoid belaying too close, and otherwise had lots of entertainment with marginal rigging on naturals . Big excitement. Looked promising with another 6m drop to the stream and a bit of a decent chamber. We needed another trip in for more rope. D, J, and A walk along She Leather Creek, and camp on the wrong side of the river to Coral Creek.

    24th Had a day off after a freezing 16 hour trip. D, J, and A make contact with some of the locals, and find that they have heard of a small cave near Job Lake. Also that Coral Creek is an outfitters trail, who support fishermen at Job Lake. Decide that there isn't enough time to walk up Coral Creek, so start to walk home.

    25th (Monday) Ian, Ali, and Shelley pushed to the bitter end of the shaft below the connection with Shorty's, later named the Brain Drain. Surveying out to the last station reached a few days earlier we were disappointed it had only yielded another dozen meters or so. The lesson being not to rely on following the sound of water in this kind of terrain. Time was against us now as we had to be in Calgary on

    29th, and detackling loomed large.

    26th Stripping camp of anything we didn't immediately need, we carried it down the hill. Burned anything combustible. Went to the greasy spoon and got high on real food. D, J, and A get a hitch (there's a first for everything) to Saskatchewan River Crossing, and travel to Lake Louise for the night.

    27th Ian, Sean and Ali steadily hauled the "fellas' bags" out from the bottom (Shorty's out), eventually meeting Helen, Shelley and Cindy at the traverse, who were doing a photo trip. Sean later returned to help the others. Remarkably little gear in was lost in the cave, the evening was spent cleaning gear in a pool on the far side of col. D, J, and A returned to Calgary.

    28th We lazed around in the morning and divided communal gear to pack out. Went at a leisurely pace down mountain due to slight overburdening (read ruined knees). We found the mountain meadow a blackened ruin with car missing. Happily the Indian firefighters gave us a lift into town to meet with the police and retrieve car which had been towed away

    29th Friday. We woke up after a night in the park in Blairmore, and struggled to wrest Shelley's estate wagon from the clutches of the local police. Went back up to Calgary, did shopping, had big BBQ. picked up half a case of champagne for Shelley's parents.

    30th Jeremy and Ian departed for England, Shelley and Ali fetched a window for the car as the others did chores such as door painting, weeding an hay baling.

    31st Cindy, Shelley and Ali went to church and then to the wreckers, Cheap Charlie's to get a second window for the car.

    August 1994 1st (Monday) Last Day (tears). Ali, Derek, and Sean leave in the evening. Cindy leaves the following day. Shelley stays around for a couple of weeks for a gathering of her relatives, and then moves to England to look for work.

  11. Tips for Expeditions to Canada
    1. Hazards
    2. The sun: Wear a hat and take plenty of sunscreen, '94 was unusually hot but we had no real problems.

      Fires: make sure they are out before leaving, some areas can be very arid in the summer and the fire risks are broadcast on radio stations.

      Bears: Not a great hazard, but they get a few people every year and there are strategies to follow to maximise your chance of survival, read the advice in the Ben Gadd book

      Snow: You might need winter mountaineering gear, depending on the month and area. Some entrances remain plugged with snow most years, e.g. Shorty's cave.

      Gophers: Things that gophers can digest: boots, tents, polythene, food, rope... Throwing stones at them turns out to be pointless! Keeping things they like up in the trees is fairly effective.

      Whisky: Moderation is important.

      John Rollin's 9mm Beal Speleorope: Check for 8mm sections halfway down.

      Driving: Get a Canadian to do it.

      Rivers: Expect (at best) greasy logs for bridges on walks to remote areas. Read Mr. Gadd's advice on fording them.

      Lardy Bloaters: Don't take one down a pull-through with a tight exit.

    3. Climate
    4. There are only three months of suitable weather and snow conditions for cavers in the Rockies: July, August and September. The variation year to year is quite large, but generally speaking snow is the problem earlier, and storms the problem later. It is generally hot during the day, but some of us were cold at night early on. Expect some rain. As we found at Crowsnest, getting water at altitude can be a problem mid-summer as snow melt diminishes.

    5. Transport within Canada
    6. Public transport: O.K. for major cities, otherwise poor as everyone has a car. The Greyhound Coaches visit major towns. Brewsters Coaches also operate within the National Parks.

      Cars: We were very lucky to be able to borrow a car from Shelley's parents and scrounge lifts with ASS members to Crowsnest. For an unsupported group this could be a problem. Car hire is cheaper than in the UK Petrol is about 60% of the UK cost. Hitching is not reliable either, unless you are prepared to travel alone, as drivers tend to feel threatened by groups.

      Helicopters: Often used to fly in gear for expeditions, especially setting up large base camps. Excellent, but as one pilot said "every time that blade turns say dollar dollar dollar dollar dollar....."

      Other possibilities include float planes, open canoes, or packhorses, and might be memorable ways to access remote areas.

    7. General
    8. Maps: The surveys and mapping branch of the Department of energy, mines and resources publishes 1:50000 topographical and 1:200000 geological maps, the most detailed available. Sadly the RGS map room does not hold them for the area we went to. The Crowsnest pass area is covered by sheet 82G/10. (Sheet 82G alone for the Geological map).

      Internet: Extremely useful for international coordination efforts.

      Camping: Water may be a problem at higher altitudes, with only snow melt available and then only in the afternoon. Designated campsites have hard gravel floors to pitch tents on, and are generally set up for houses on wheels.

      Beer: is served conveniently in large jugs with any number of glasses.

    9. Acknowledgements
    10. As said in our introduction we would like to thank Donna and Jim Willson for their hospitality and encouragement, various members of the ASS, notably Ian McKenzie, Randy Sphal, and Taco Van Leperan. We would also like to thank our sponsers, Loansdale, and Fylde Colleges of Lancaster University, Lancaster, LA1 4YB, U.K. and also Highline, box 388, Alliston, Ontario, L9R 1E7, for supplying us PMI rope at a much reduced rate.

    11. Contacts
    12. Lancaster University Speleogical Society
      SRC Pigeon Holes
      Lancaster University
      LA1 4YU

      Alberta Speleogical Society
      c/o Ian McKenzie
      511 9th St NE
      T2E 4K4

    13. Pictures
    14. Coming Soon...

      Picture 1: Cleft Cave, with ice crystal covered walls

      Coming Soon...

      Picture 2: The friendly wildlife

      Picture 3: Group Photo, Top left, Ian Benson, Derek Cousins, Shelley Willson, Andy Brooks, Bottom left, Cobe the dog, Helen Hamilton, Sean Collins, Alistair Garman, Cindy Giblett. Jeremy Storrey not present.

    Lancaster, January 1995