Big Wall Underground, Gargantua Cave

August 2008

Paul Cordy, Corey Dyke and myself headed off to Sparwood and the mountains surrounding the famous cave of Gargantua during the heat of summer. By the end of the trip we were freezing in the entrance of the cave with snow at our feet and clouds pouring in. Perched at the top of the mountain, the gaping door to Gargantua does not seem inviting at first but once underground time and space take on a whole new meaning.

Gargantua gets its name from the first major sequence of cave which is big enough to house several 747 jets. One of our first adventures brought us to a hole, high in the ceiling making for a 100 foot rappel back to the cave floor. Each day we would head off in a different direction and spend the entire day lost below ground looking for blank sections on the map. Before we rappelled through that hole we had gone straight up a tube. We gained about three pitches before the vertical passage squeezed off tight. We left behind a crazy 5.11 loose trad pitch that nearly killed me and put me straight for the adventures to come.

Our second adventure sent us dropping below the large room aptly named ‘Boggle Alley’ and after about 8 rappels and hundreds of corridors we reached the bottom of the mountain and one of the few escape routes, a squeeze from out under a waterfall. Corey’s brother Chris had found a team of climbers that had tried to get out through this exit and had been blocked by ice. They somehow managed to climb back up all the rappels but could not climb the last overhanging section. Luckily Chris had found them by fluke and after only a couple of days huddling in the cold , damp dark.

Looking for an unexplored vertical ‘aven’ we decided to ascend the first major shaft the starts the lower series of cave. Skipping the 50 foot rappel Corey traversed sideways to a small pocket cave in the vertical subway tunnels wall. He made a belay here and I cleaned the aid pitch (A3) while Paul came across by Tyrolean. Paul lead the second pitch, severely loose 5.10 with few fall catching placements and reached a perfect ledge 200 feet above the floor. In the dark behind us we could hear a small waterfall cascading down the glistening walls covered in water droplets that sparkled when our lights crossed them. We knew the water had to come from somewhere so we continued climbing. The last pitch overhung tremendously and the quality of rock deteriorated around me. Pulling the final moves I mantled into a long horizontal slot and bolted another station by hand. The boys jumared up and we all became super excited when we realized the climbing was over and we could just run up the next passage by foot. Where does it go?

Passage after passage swirled above us with short sections of vertical rock easily bypassed without a rope. We reached an 80 foot tall sheet of ice, cascading down from the ceiling in one solid blue monolith. Above seemed to go on so we ran back for the rope. We chimneyed the back of the ice and gained a ledge. I lead on from here tied to the rope and got several pieces of gear in when my headlamp shut off. Far out from the boys I tried to find my second lamp. One knee was wedged behind a flake which kept me on the overhanging wall. I had forgotten my second lamp in my pack at the top of the previous pitches. Now in darkness and gripping the wall in terror I called down to the guys to send up another lamp. All I could do was pull up my lead rope and send down a length so they could clip one in. Wet rock, darkness and far from help I was now severely run out to boot looking at a 50 footer onto a small ledge and lots of airtime after that.

Long story short, I got the lamp, couldn’t go much further and down climbed.

We rappelled and pulled our ropes. Due to the difficulty of the terrain our route may never be explored again. But there are possibilities up there and lots of amazing crystals and features I have not seen in other parts of Gargantua that I didn’t talk about here so the motivation may exist for future exploration!