Party: Craig (Quagger) Wagnel, Jim Steinman, Felix Ossig-Bonanno (R)
Photos: Felix (+Jim?)

The first time I’d heard about the Marmot Cave was last season working at Horne Lake Caves. Although most people seemed not to have been there, it seemed almost common knowledge that it was up in the limestone nestled between the peaks. At the time I wouldn’t have know what a ‘marmot cave’ was, but soon discovered it was a place where the First Nations (aboriginal people) deposited the marmot bones that became nearly extinct as time passed. Forgotten about for a long time, the cave was rediscovered by Quagger back around 1999 and is now receiving revitalised attention due to an influx of people in the area.
I was told that when the ACC built their new hut, one of the requirements was to install a gate on the entrance to protect the significance of the site. Quagger and Jim had visited the cave a couple of weeks ago to tape off the entrance and install some informational signs to inform people why they should not disturb the site (this was after there was noticeable damage and missing bones/skulls).

The sign Quagger and Jim installed at the cave entrance.

It was late the night before they were to go up again. This time to drop a new pit (named MI6) that was inevitably part of the same system and Quagger thought would drop into the Marmot Cave thereby bypassing the more delicate entrance. I was supposed to be leaving the island but at the last minute plans changed and I quickly packed before heading to bed.

We woke early and packed the car. Jim soon arrived and we were off driving to the TH as the sun slowly rose. I packed light. (On the way down I lifted Jim’s – It felt like it was nearly twice mine!). Continuing up the familiar route we soon shed layers taking stops at special trees and impressive views. We were sheltered from the sun until we began traversing over to the karst landscape decorated with rills, bridges, frequent dykes and a peculiar flat surface that I don’t think was a kaminitza pool.

Walking across the karst.

Suiting up, Jim and I rigged the pit using rope pro. to protect the edge. Quagger took point, Jim the centre taking photos and helping me locating the survey stations. Whilst surveying down we heard Quagger’s grumblings below: it sounded like it was plugged. When I reached the bottom, Jim had already started working on the drafting dig. I soon took over passing rocks back to Jim whilst Quagger worked on notes on his tablet. We made a small breakthrough but it was again plugged. The breeze was coming from the left, but there were some marmot bones and skulls that had presumably come from the Marmot Cave. Instead of disturbing them we elected to head back out and survey from the other side.

Jim in the entrance of MI6.

It was obvious why the First Nations people had chosen The Marmot Cave. It had a large entrance with a sizeable, relatively flat area beyond the drip line. There were bones scattered everywhere. Charcoal from a fire near the entrance. A sea shell off to the side. And perhaps most peculiar of all a pictograph at the far end drawn in a reddish ochre. This is the only known site on the island, and its geometrical nature puts it at odds with the others I have seen in North America (not that I would consider myself versed in such things!).

Jim at the entrance to the marmot cave.
Jim pointing out a shell amongst the bones.
The pictograph at the cave entrance.

Whilst I was looking around, Quagger had the pitch rigged but I still had plenty of time to look around further and admire the green straw that was above the pitch. I soon followed Jim down. Squeezing beside a rock that nearly blocked the passage, down a ramp with numerous marmot skulls as well as larger ones probably from bear? Dropping down the last vertical section (the Disto got 10.5m) I landed in a room much larger than expected and could hear running water through a small hole. Rounding the corner, I was further surprised by the decorations; stals growing along a dyke that caused the passage to twist, and old sparkling moonmilk caking of the rocks. The passage twisted again, soon ending… Quagger was noticeably annoyed. This was not how he recalled it! Backtracking, we followed the water and soon found the way on, smaller though it was.


We didn’t get far before a rock blocked our progress. Jim and Quagger worked at it while I continued shooting the last couple of legs with radials/splays. They soon had just one rock left but it wouldn’t budge. Thinking I’d just be able to squeeze in, the let me have a look and I soon slid through the gap… The water was falling over a large orange dyke and following it through some small passage. I didn’t think it would go at first, but lying on my belly, back brushing the roof I edge forward quickly emerging in a large room. A really old bear(?) skull on the floor had some strange purple porous material that looked like brain, but was more likely bone marrow or something of that nature. The room sloped down, I followed the breeze. There were two pits at the bottom, the water in the right one didn’t look overly promising. I stemmed over the left into a small room of clean, wet rock. Water was obviously dripping down – probably from a grike on the surface, we wouldn’t be getting through there.


Purple brain-looking stuff that fell out of the skull.

Realising I’d been gone some time, I headed back into voice contact. It was time to go. “We only just got here” I joked. Quagger was already ascending up; we’d be back a little late.
I located the hole at the bottom of the pitch through which I’d first heard the running water and began working at it. Jim soon helped me from the other side and had it large enough that I could get through. Up we went. Back on the surface, Quagger set a cracking pace. I didn’t see him the whole way down. Not even at the tree! (Too much berry feasting?). Just before I reached my coat I’d left hanging by the trail I encountered Jim hurrying back up. He’d left his rain pants at the tree where we hadn’t stopped. Drats!



Reunited at the car we quickly packed and headed off. A bit of work done – but still more to do. The long hike inhibits day surveying and exploration, and being my last day on the island, I’d have to rely on the others to carry the torch. Thanks for another great trip!

N.B. The Marmot Society is interested in any marmot sightings on the island. Read more here: https://marmots.org/

3.5hrs? up.
3.5hrs? caving
2.5hrs down.
an ~11hr day? (1.5hrs driving)

After the trip, having recently caved with David Wall in the Woodwind Area, and experiencing first-hand his passion for cave archaeology. I put them