Christian Stenner was an elementary student when he and a handful of friends decided to grab their backpacks, a few military canteens of water and take off into the woods in search of some caves they’d heard about near his home town of Edmonton, Alberta. It was a rather, “Goonies style exploration,” as Christian puts it…
This is the third installment in my series into the depths of Rat’s Nest Cave in Canmore, AB, Canada. My first cave descent in 2017 prompted a deeper look into the cave and the people who make caving their lives. If you haven’t read about my initial descent earlier this year, you can read Into Earth’s Womb and my second post in the series, Adam Walker: A Man Underground.
Christian and his friends had only a vague description of where the caves were and after hours traversing the forest not really knowing what they were doing, they found these caves. The “caves” were really just sandstone indentations, but at the time it was this massive expedition for this small team of young minds and it created a lasting memory of what adventure felt like.
Fast forward a dozen years and Christian finds himself on vacation in the Canadian Rockies with his girlfriend (now wife), Melanie. On a road trip from Edmonton to Banff, Christian and Melanie explored various areas around Banff National Park and Canmore. It was then they heard about Canmore Cave Tours and signed up for a tour within the Rat’s Nest Cave. That moment would forever change Christian’s life because upon descending, he felt an immediately-powerful attraction to the nature of caving.
Not long later he and his wife moved to the city of Calgary, and Christian’s caving outings became more easily accessible – the mountains were just over an hour away! Now, his first love, Rat’s Nest, was quite literally in his backyard for the first time in his life. That was the good news…
Christian was then diagnosed with an auto immune disorder. His doctor described it as, “it won’t kill you, but it’s highly annoying.” This struck a note with Christian and he immediately took it upon himself to DO THE THINGS THAT MADE HIM FEEL ALIVE. And that one thing was caving. He joined the Alberta Speleological Society and took it upon himself to make a go at caving at a higher level.
Today I spoke with Christian on the phone and I asked him, “What do you think it was about caving that consumed you so much?” He replied, “It’s hard to describe. At the time of the tour, you’re doing something that seems so wild…it feels like you’re the first person inside this place.” I have personally learned that feeling repeats itself. Christian also said it’s about the unexpected (and welcomed) mental and physical experience when you’re down there. He says, “The mental challenge comes from overcoming your fears of rappelling into a black hole or shimmying through a squeeze. You’re putting yourself into situations that are physically and mentally unnatural. You don’t get that anywhere else, doing anything else!”
Christian’s fascination with the unnatural is strong. He has since been on expeditions in some of the deepest caves in the world and has made significant discoveries while working tandem with scientific and ecological organizations. His partnership with Adam Walker, owner and operator of Canmore Cave Tours, is that of two professional cavers, who both made caving a large part of their lives. They’re both involved with the Alberta Speleological Society and Christian does cave rescue training inside the Rat’s Nest Caves with AB/BC Cave Rescue.
Christian is now the AB Provincial Coordinator for AB/BC Cave Rescue and often appears at workshops where he speaks more about the science of caving, his exploration and unique discoveries inside caves worldwide.
“In my opinion, rapelling into the Rat’s Nest Cave is often a journey of discovery, and an exploration of self. The outcome is one of self-discovery.” – Dax Justin
East Crater Cave, Summit of Mount Rainier. Photo by Francois-Xavier De Ruydts
I photographed the Rat’s Nest Cave while on Canmore Cave Tour’s new Private Caving Experience – SOLITUDE. Without being with a group of people, you’ll have time to enjoy every inch of the cave while exploring at your own pace.
What: A Signature Canadian Experience as designated by Destination Canada.
Where: Rat’s Nest Cave, designated a Provincial Historic Site in 1987, situated on the south-facing slope of Grotto Mountain near Canmore, AB, Canada. Access to the cave is restricted in order to protect the environment inside and entry is facilitated by Canmore Cave Tours.
How: Connect with the Team at Canmore Cave Tours:
Toll Free: 1877.317.1178