Monday, 31 August 2015

The Palaeolithic artist: part 3

Map of the Kananaskis Park system

"On a hot dry day my back is soaked in sweat under my pack. I gingerly pick my way through the rock rubble in the inky black cavern. The seven-year-old voice attached to one of the dozen sparks of light, echoes the sentiment of most of the visitors to this dark and eerie place. I'm cold and I want to get out of here." Link
When Meg showed me her easy route to the cave entrance, it was the last time I visited the cave and we brought no lights. I knew that my back was in no condition to go too far into the cave. It was more of a symbolic exercise, and something I believed I could accomplish. What I did not know, at the time, was that the cave, not far behind the ice column, was now blocked by a massive ice flow. All of the visitors could get no further than what is called "the tourist area". It would have been such a disappointment had we actually planned to go deep into the cave. I got the win I was after, that was all that mattered to me.

There used to be a "slide" where the impenetrable ice plug now sits. To pass it, someone had cut foot-holes into it on the left side as you entered. You could hold on to the wall as you picked your way up the incline and this opened out into wider chamber, again, at its top. It was a little more precarious coming back out. I remember once, that a friend thought he might actually leave by going down the middle of the ice flow. I was not sure how he had planned to accomplish this feat, but the rest of us heard a scuffle in the darkness, and saw his flashlight as it slid, freely, down the slope bouncing off a few rocks on the way, presumably, with him following immediately behind as he fell on the ice after losing his grip on it. We did what any friends would do, we all laughed. I might have also yelled "Keep your head down". You always had to be aware of where the ceiling was at all times.

On another trip with the same friend the tables were turned. That was Cougar Canyon, and my first (and only) attempt at cross-country skiing. We were going along the snow-covered creek bed, when I noticed the most beautiful clean stretch of blue and green tinted ice just ahead of me. I was about to say something about how nice it looked when I fell over. As I had been moving fairly fast at the time, I continued onward on my back doing a fair impersonation of a steel ball in a pinball game as I bounced off various rocks. On another occasion, in the same canyon, but in the summertime, our jaws dropped when this same friend pulled half a stick of dynamite from his pack, set it in a slight crevice in a big rock, walked a distance from it and then shot it with his rifle. It did not do too much damage to the rock, but it was pretty hard on our eardrums. We had words, and spoke of rockfalls and stuff. Safety was never much of a concern back then, but that friend was crazier than the rest of us put together.

I know I shouldn't, but I can't help but smile when I see the videos of people going through "the tourist area" with lamps attached to their helmet. I had never even seen a helmet in the caves in all the years I had been going there. It used to get quite busy on the weekends.

Someone had died there. I think it was a child who had been hit in the head by a rock that someone above, who was coming down the scree below the cave entrance, had dislodged. No one, ever, used to go down that scree when anyone was below them. It resulted in the access road being closed several kilometers from the cave. There is a metal gate across the road, now, with linked padlocks that the oil company workers can unlock to get their trucks up there.

Residents of Bragg Creek, the only town in the area, are not happy with all that industry in such a popular recreation area, but the Alberta government listens more to the oil companies. I wonder if that will change, now that the conservatives were replaced by the socialists for that very reason. Drilling for gas, and there is lot of gas at Moose Mountain, can be a dangerous thing. Even a faint whiff of the sour gas, which is also present in the area is cause for concern. "When inhaled in doses of more than 100 parts-per-million hydrogen sulphide attacks the respiratory system, killing you in a matter of seconds." If you have a penchant for horror stories, read the linked article. Believe it, Canada has its dark side. Did you know that it can be illegal to attempt to rescue someone too close to a sour gas leak? All you can do is watch them die or leave quickly and let them get on with it, which is recommended.

There was that time with Michelle, just a few years ago. We had brought my dogs and  had decided to just go for a short hike past the padlocked gate, when some hikers coming from ahead of us warned of a black bear heading our way. Because we had the dogs, the hikers were concerned. Grateful, we turned back. At the parking lot, there was a sudden very loud noise coming from above. I have been near a tornado in Oklahoma, they really do sound like freight train. This noise was much louder. I looked up in horror expecting to see a big commercial four engine jet plane skimming across the top of the trees and about to crash into the mountain. Then I realized that the sound was not moving and it had come on too suddenly. It went on for what seemed far too long, but when it ended in a loud shhhhhhh... I realized what it was. This was the side of part of the mountain coming down seemingly on the other side of the forested ridge in front of us as we stood there. It could only mean that there had been some clear cutting. There was neither a preceding horn sounded nor the sound of an explosion. It was not a planned blast.

We got in Michelle's car and tried to drive up a small road leading in that direction. It was blocked by another padlocked gate. No ice caves in that direction. As we drove back toward Bragg Creek emergency vehicles with lights flashing were on the road heading in the same direction that we were heading. If it had been a response to what we had just witnessed, they were going in the opposite direction. It was puzzling. The answer came on the news that evening: a house just past Bragg Creek had blown up. It was said to be a faulty gas meter. No one was home at the time, thankfully. But there had been no fire. Where we were, gas lines supplied the houses around where the gas meter had blown out. I suspect that the weight of that massive slide had crushed one of them and the weakest meter on the line had blown out from the shock wave of the slide two kilometers or so away. There was no news of a slide in the area.

Being in a whimsical mood, today, I have left a clue or two about a palaeolithic attitude toward caves and how it differs from the modern, and if you have read all of this post and explored its links, you might be able to guess what I think it is. It would be nigh on impossible to tell, from all of that, how I could possibly come up with anything at all about such ancient attitudes, but that, too, will be revealed later. In the meantime, I will leave you with the following, very good, but short, YouTube video by Dan Janzen so you can see the places I mention, and where everything is. The route up to the caves is very different from my old route which consisted of climbing directly up the scree, and then screeing down afterward. Screeing is like skiing without skis and poles, and is straight down. It is difficult to get too much speed, though, because a little wave of scree will create a tiny hill in front of your feet that will act as a brake. I just jump over that, when it forms, to pick up speed again. Of course, never do that if anyone is below you, or even on the approach to the scree. One's own safety is one thing, but the safety of another is paramount, always. If there is the slightest risk to anyone do not do it. While slower than skiing, it really takes little time to go down a thousand feet, and if you see someone arriving as you are going down, you can stop really easily and wait for them to leave the risky area below you.

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