Canada: Coast to Coast – Horne Lake Caves

“Can we watch something else?” – David, 5,
during the informational video at Horne Lake Caves

Clearly David wasn’t interested in caving.  At that point, I wasn’t too sure about it myself.

Some elements of my former life as a safety officer have become ingrained in my psyche.  By definition, a confined space is enclosed or partially enclosed, has limited entry and egress that could restrict access to first aid, and is not designed for continuous human occupation.  That would pretty much define the caves I entered at Horne Lake Provincial Park, just north of Qualicum Beach.  Then, of course, there are the slip, trip, fall and overhead hazards.  Good thing they rent hardhats!

Vancouver Island is home to more than 1000 identified caves and karst formations, landscapes created by the dissolution of soluble rock like limestone, creating underground rivers and sinkholes.  The geology also lends to chrystalline formations like stalactites, stalagmites, flowstones, and soda straws (hollow tubular stalactites).

Shawl Formation in Lower Cave

The proximity to town made the Horne Lake caves a popular site over the years, leading to damage to the fragile formations from breakage and memento seekers.  In 1971, the government created a provincial park at Horne Lake for the purpose of protecting the caves from further damage.  While some of the park’s caves are open to the public, portions of the Main cave and the entire Riverbend cave have been restricted to guided tours only, from a 1 hour Main cave tour to a 5 hour cave rappel.

Early in the season, I’m told the next tour wouldn’t be until 3 hours after my arrival.  With a ferry to catch and unsure how comfortable I would be in a confined space (sorry . . . cave), I decide to test myself on a self-guided tour of the Lower and accessible portion of the Main cave.

The Main cave requires a slim figure to slide through the entrance to a small open room and I clutch my camera ahead of me as I suck in my winter weight.  While there is little calcium formation to see in the self-guided space, there are fossils embedded in the rock if you know what to look for.  The Lower cave has more space and some interesting formations, but requires some climbing and scrambling through tight spaces.  I can hear my mother’s voice as I pick my way up the slick rock.  “If you fall and break your leg, don’t come running to me!”

Fossil in Main Cave

Yes, some things stick.

I exit a half hour later, confident, bones intact and curiosity piqued enough to consider missing the ferry and sticking around for the guided tour.  I pass that day.  There will be more caves along my route east.  And if I don’t make those, I can always go back to Horne Lake the next time I’m on the Island.  Maybe I’ll even try the 5 hour rappel!


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