Great Canadian Parks / British Columbia

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The Parks / British Columbia / Glacier National Park


C. H. Deutschmann, prospector and hunter is credited with having discovered the Nakimu Caves in 1904. As he explored the Cougar Brook Valley, he noticed the brook ‘disappeared’ into the ground at the bottom of a falls. Exploring the caves with only a tallow candle to light his way, Deutschmann knew this was an attraction sure to please the adventurous tourists at Glacier House, and immediately registered his find as a mineral claim in Revelstoke.

 

A shrewd businessman, he sold his claim to the Federal government for $5,000, and was appointed guide and custodian of the caves. He constructed wooden walkways and staircases, even a floating bridge, to facilitate the tourist traffic. In the cavern known as the ‘Subway Passage’, he blasted a trench of 110 metres in length to enable his guests to walk rather than crawl its length. In 1909, more than 1,000 people visited the caves, but with the closing of Glacier House those numbers declined. Only a few people were interested in cave exploration when the park closed Nakimu to the public in 1935.

 

One of the largest cave systems in Canada, 5.9 kilometres of passages have been explored and mapped to date - far more than Deutschmann knew - and the caves are still growing. The Nakimu caves have formed in a limestone mountain that is almost 95% calcium carbonate (the ‘lime’ in limestone), and consequently the rock is far more subject to the erosional properties of rain and snow meltwater. The sound of thundering water is never far away. Deutschmann named the caves Nakimu - a Shuswap word meaning ‘grumbling spirits’. The rushing water also makes the caves exceptionally dangerous, flooding previously dry chambers and dislodging large chunks of rock.

 

One of the most fascinating features of Nakimu is something called ‘moonmilk’ which has the appearance of cauliflower heads and the consistency of cottage cheese. Thought to be caused by calcium carbonate crystals growing on bacteria on the cave walls, it is extremely fragile. Unfortunately, visitors failing to resist the temptation to touch this rare display have left scars dating back to the early 1900's.

 

It is a three-hour hike with an elevation gain of 800 metres to reach the cave entrance, and public access is limited. The Cougar Brook valley is Grizzly bear country. The trail here may be closed at any time if bear activity is threatened.

 

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