The first Kamloops Exploration Group lecture of the year will focus on the massive cave that has been discovered in Wells Gray Provincial Park.
Geologist Catherine Hickson will be speaking on the cave during a lecture this Thursday at 7 p.m. in the Mountain Room in Thompson Rivers University’s Campus Activity Centre.
(Hickson will also be speaking on the cave in Clearwater this Friday, at 7 p.m. at the Clearwater Ski Hill.
Rumours of a huge cave somewhere north of Clearwater have circulated among old timers for decades, but until now these rumours have never been confirmed.
On April 22, 2018, during a mountain caribou survey, the gigantic opening was spotted and photographed. Yellowhead Helicopters pilot Ken Lancour contacted Hickson, a geologist long associated with the park. She in turn contacted colleague John Pollack, a cave expert and surveyor. Together they planned and permitted a reconnaissance trip in early September.
The trip confirmed the immensity of the cave — placing it among the largest caves in Canada, if not the largest.
Hickson, who first went to the cave in September, said the discovery promises a dramatic new chapter in the story of Canadian cave exploration.
“It was absolutely amazing,” she told the Canadian Press last fall. “I immediately recognized that this was very significant.”
Before making the trip, Hickson and fellow researchers spent months studying satellite imagery and rocks in the area, she said.
The entrance pit to the cave is about 100 metres long and 60 metres wide. While its depth is hard to measure because of the mist from a waterfall, initial examinations show it is at least 135 metres deep.
“It’s about the size of a soccer field,” Hickson said.
“So, if you think of a soccer field and you put that soccer field on its end so you have this pit going down. Think about this giant circular or oval hole that just goes down and down and down. It is truly amazing.”
The cave is the largest known of its type, a variety of striped karst, which is marble interspersed with other types of ancient ocean rock, she said.
“It’s in an area where this size of a cave is unusual,” Hickson said. “It’s an important landmark — an important feature for Canadians to be proud about.”
The people who first spotted the cave from the helicopter named it Sarlacc’s Pit because of its similarity to the lair of Sarlacc, a creature from Star Wars: Return of the Jedi.
But a formal naming of the cave will happen after consultations with First Nations, Hickson said.
The feature was formed underneath glaciers for potentially tens of thousands of years, she said, so there is no way of immediately knowing the real age of the cave
“Right now, because of the recession of the glaciers, it is open to the sky,” she said, adding that as ice retreats from the landscape due to climate change, more such features might be discovered.
Caves support a very unique ecosystem because they are dark, so the flora and fauna living in such areas are acclimatized to those conditions, Hickson said.
With this cave, she said, the flowing water is at such a rapid rate that it may not allow many creatures to call the area home, but further research is needed.
Although the cave is in a remote, rugged valley covered with snow and ice for a greater part of the year, Hickson said researchers are keeping the exact location a secret so as to preserve the unique area.
The province has closed part of the park and has announced anybody trying to enter the cave could be fined up to $1 million and sentenced to one month in prison.
Hickson said further investigations and research of the cave and its unique geography will likely be carried out in 2020, depending on funding.
“We think everything is known and everything has been discovered, but here’s a major discovery that is made in today’s world and likely has never been seen before and certainly not explored before,” she said.
“It’s just a message that there is still stuff out there yet to do and yet to be discovered.”