Canyon Creek Ice Cave
With windy and snowy conditions in the weather forecast, I organized a trip to visit the celebrated Canyon Creek ice cave in Alberta's Kananaskis Country Public Land Use Zone on 11 December 2021.  Joining me on this day were Asieh Ghodratabadi, Ali Shariat, Aga Sokolowska and Zosia Zgolak.  This would be the second visit to the ice cave for Ali and Zosia since 2011 but the first time for Asieh and Aga.  Although I had also previously visited the ice cave a couple of times, the last time was in 1994--virtually half a lifetime ago for me!  Back then, the access road was open to public motorized vehicles, and anyone could drive right to the base of the slope below the ice cave and climb up to the entrance within fifteen minutes.  Vandalism and public safety concerns eventually prompted authorities to restrict motorized access, and a visit to the ice cave now requires a much longer approach from Ing's Mine parking lot just off Highway 66 (16 kilometres west of junction with Highway 22).  On this day, Aga, Zosia and I would try to ski the approach along the access road while Asieh and Ali would keep things simple and just walk.

Starting from a locked gate near the parking lot, Asieh, Ali, Aga, Zosia and I followed the gently rolling access road up the valley.  While Asieh and Ali had no problems walking the road, Aga, Zosia and I found the snow coverage to be barely adequate for skiing.  Still, the three of us managed to scrape along the road for about 3.5 kilometres before finally giving up and ditching our skis.  With everyone now on foot, we walked another 900 metres before abandoning the road and dropping down an embankment to Canyon Creek.  In 2020, Bob Spirko reported finding some pools here fed by a nearby sulphur spring, and we were curious to see them for ourselves.  We found the pools after walking through a shallow canyon, and although they were largely frozen on this day, we were still able to see some of their unique aquamarine hue under the ice.  A return trip in the future to see the pools unfrozen is definitely warranted.
I guess that's why this road isn't that popular with skiers!

Aga, Zosia and Sonny find barely enough snow to ski on the access road while Asieh has no problem hiking.

Photo courtesy of Ali Shariat

Maybe we should ditch the skis?

Further along the road, Zosia and Aga carefully maneuver around some bare spots while Asieh and Ali walk without fear.

Zosia appears as if she stepped in some dog shit!

The group temporarily abandons the access road to walk along mostly frozen Canyon Creek.

There are even some frozen bubbles here!

Although the pools fed by a nearby sulphur spring are mostly frozen on this day, the unique blue hue of the pools can still be seen under the ice.

I wonder if his favourite wrestler is The Iron Sheik...

Ali is hoping to catch up on his television watching especially with respect to professional wrestling.

Photo courtesy of Zosia Zgolak

Instead of backtracking after visiting the frozen sulphur pools, Asieh, Ali, Aga, Zosia and I headed westward along the creek bed and easily regained the access road near its junction with another road running northward.  The trailhead for the ice cave is a mere 200 metres west of this junction, and we were soon hiking along a snow-covered trail which undulates a bit before rising steadily up through thinning forest.  From the trailhead to the cave entrance, we climbed about 180 metres over a distance of 1.2 kilometres, and while we did not encounter any serious difficulties, we still had to be cautious with our footing in a few places due to the snow.  A couple of women with their dogs were leaving just as we reached the cave entrance, but otherwise, we would see no one else up there on this day.  After dropping our packs, we ventured further with headlamps into the spacious main cavern.  Somewhat disappointingly, we did not see any ice pillars like I did the last time I was here, but there were a few cool icicles hanging from the cave ceiling.  While Aga, Zosia and I were content to stop beside a wall of ice at the back of the main cavern, Asieh and Ali proceeded into the next passage to explore a bit further.  They were not gone for long before returning to join the rest of us for a group photo in the dark.  We then returned to where we dropped our packs and had lunch before exiting the cave.  Despite losing the trail a couple of times on the way down, we still made it back to the trailhead none the worse for wear.  The subsequent return to Ing's Mine parking lot took us about 70 minutes.  While Asieh and Ali again had no issues walking, Aga, Zosia and I elected to carry our skis for a few hundred metres after we retrieved them in order to avoid some of the barest sections of the access road.  Once we strapped on the skis though, we enjoyed a much better ski than in the morning since fresh snowfall helped improve coverage on the road.
Also, look for an orange marker in the trees.

The trail to the ice cave starts near a couple of gas pipeline signs.

Did you remember to bring ice cleats?

Snow renders the trail to the ice cave more slippery than usual.

Watch out for killer rabbits!

The group approaches the entrance to the ice cave.

It was nice to have the cave all to ourselves on this day. The group enters the ice cave.
The classic shot that everyone takes at Canyon Creek ice cave. Canyon Creek is visible behind silhouetted Sonny at the cave entrance.

Photo courtesy of Ali Shariat

Journey to the centre of the earth?

The group ventures further into the cave.

Ice stalagmites!

These are presumably the remnants of ice pillars that are usually found inside the main cavern.

Ice lake?

The group spots some icicles hanging from the ceiling of the main cavern.  Frozen ice also covers parts of the cave floor.


Try not to stand underneath!

This icicle resembles a huge scimitar dangling like the Sword of Damocles.

Watch where you put your tongue!

Aga, Zosia, Ali, Asieh and Sonny sit in front of a wall of ice at the back of the main cavern.

Anyone need some ice for their drinks? Some more ice pillar remnants are found near the cave entrance.
It's a good thing we ditched our skis earlier! Sonny carefully exits the ice cave.

Photo courtesy of Zosia Zgolak

All present and accounted for! Everyone regroups at the access road after descending from the ice cave.
But skiing is so much more fun! Asieh does a pretty good job of keeping up with the skiers on their way out the access road.

Photo courtesy of Ali Shariat

An ideal trip especially when the weather isn't cooperating. Total Distance:  13.7 kilometres
Round-Trip Time:  5 hours 46 minutes
Net Elevation Gain:  279 metres

GPX Data