Stories from Dad

The Story of The Maps – Valerie Cave (3 min)

Reading Time: 4 minutes
Here’s the story of the maps of Valerie, Cave 16.

In 1973 we, Prokop Lobkowicz, Mike Skapa and I, did the first Nahanni River trip in two Avon Redshank inflatable rafts, each about eight feet long. We descended the South Nahanni River from Glacier Creek to the confluence of the South Nahanni and the Liard River, and then on to the a ferry station a kilometre or two from the confluence with the Mackenzie River. (Will tell you more about that trip at another time.) 

We were clearing the First Canyon of the Nahanni, and had stopped at Kraus Hot Springs and Gus Kraus’ cabin when we found a speleologist and started talking with him.

The guy we talked to was one of the two discoverers of the Valerie cave system. Valerie was the name of one of the guys’ girlfriend. (Note: Wikipedia says it was J Poirel’s daughter, which seems to be accurate). The two guys were J. Poirel & J Maryon Speleologists University of New Brunswick (you’ll see their names on the top left corner of the map). They discovered the cave in 1971.  

I have this information, including a full map of Valerie, because the speleologists allowed us to photo the map they had made, and mounted on one of the walls of Kraus’ cabin. 

Valerie is about 2 km deep. The galleries of Valarie are the Central Gallery, Water Passage, Gallery of Stalactites, Great Ice Passage, and The Gallery of Dead Sheep where there are the skeletons of about 100 Dall Sheep, rams, ewes, and lambs.

Dad's Drawing of a Doll Sheep Skull - North-West Expeditions
Dall sheep drawing by David Rowe

The skeletons are reported to have died between 2,000 before the present era (bpe) and 250 bpe. I don’t know what technique was the dating tool, but given that all of this was done in the early 1970 I would guess it was carbon dating.

Dall Sheep Skeleton - Valerie Cave - North-West Expeditions

It is thought that the sheep went into Valerie during extreme weather and avalanches trapped them in the cave. From time to time the cave flooded and left “bone piles” where the water slowed and dropped the bones, not unlike the discovery of dinosaur bone piles in the Red Deer River Valley. 

The speleologist told us where to start the climb, but we had to find our own way from there. Here’s where the climb begins:

Entrance to Valerie Cave System - North-West Expeditions

I’m not certain how many times we went in to Valerie, but it was at least five times. I know we were in there on one of our first trips with clients, another time was with Randy Mitchel First Superintendent of Nahanni National Park, and perhaps two more times.

Randy Mitchel First Superintendent of Nahanni National Park in Valerie Cave

On our final trip with clients, Valerie was locked up with a metal gate; however, the new first Chief Park Ranger, Lou Common, was with us. He didn’t know how to reach Valerie from the river so we guided him, which got us into Valerie for the last time.

To the best of my knowledge the cave remains closed other than a few research people.

View from inside the cave - North-West Expeditions

Valerie is south facing, another cave Mickey about 3 km deep. It is the deepest cave north of 60˚ and more or less faces Valerie from across the South Nahanni, but it lacks the interesting features of Valerie.

A little additional info about the Kraus Cabin where we met the speleologists:

Article About Valerie Caves - North-West Expeditions

Original Maps of Valerie 

Valerie Map 1 - North-West Expeditions
Valeri Map 2 - North-West Expeditions
Valerie Map 3 - North-West Expeditions

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