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Glacier National Park

The Nakimu Caves

The Nakimu Caves
© Rob Buchanan 
Nakimu is a native Shuswap word meaning 'grumbling spirits,' a name inspired by the sound of the throbbing cascades of Cougar Brook as it disappears from a subalpine forest into a series of sink holes in Glacier National Park.

Water flowing through a soluble band of limestone sandwiched between harder rock types has carved an irregular system of caverns, narrow passages, drop-offs and other strange rock formations underground. Nakimu Caves, a six kilometre maze of interconnecting passageways, provides a rare opportunity for exploration into a dark underworld. Visiting Nakimu is an inner journey in more ways than one.

First explored by Charles Deutschmann in 1904, the caves were part of the Glacier House hotel era where early park visitors were escorted by Deutschmann, working as the first ever interpretive guide hired by a Canadian national park. A carriage road up Cougar Valley and a teahouse near the cave entrance were well used through the 1920's, but visitation declined with the closure of Glacier House.

The rotten, decrepit remains of staircases from Deutschmann's time were removed in recent years by work parties comprised of local cavers and park staff. Today Nakimu Caves are protected as a wilderness with the intention of keeping them as natural as possible.

Access to caves in national parks is restricted to preserve delicate cave features and to protect unprepared visitors from dangerous places. Cavers entering Nakimu must be able to navigate in a complex system, crawl through constricted places, and negotiate slippery surfaces above holes of unknown depths. A permit to enter the cave system is limited to knowledgeable cavers who must apply to the Park Superintendent.

In summer, passages near where the brook rumbles through reverberate with the sound of crashing water, reminding us that the caves are still in the process of formation. Blocks of rock still fall from the ceiling and lower passages can fill unpredictably with water.

In winter, stream flow is greatly reduced and most of the seeping water is frozen, often in bizarre arrangements. Cave temperature is only slightly cooler in winter than in summer, but in contrast to above ground winter conditions, a winter visitor finds the cave relatively warm.

Moonmilk, a bacteria-instigated precipitate of calcium carbonate, is one of Nakimu's remarkable features. It coats some of the cave walls with a pale ooze resembling soft cauliflower. It too easily bears the imprint of curious hands not intending to leave a permanent record. Marks in the moonmilk made by visitors from Deutschmann's time have yet to fully recover.

Getting to Nakimu Caves via Balu Pass Trail is a 7-kilometre journey though avalanche terrain in winter and grizzly bear habitat in summer. It requires above-average fitness level and a restricted activity permit. 

Please visit our Caving activity page for more information on visiting Nakimu Caves.