An aerial view of a large cave discovered near Clearwater, B.C. (Black Press Media files)

Mysterious cave discovered in B.C. park a gold mine for tourism, geologist says

Geologist Catherine Hickson said the currently off-limits cave could spike tourism in the region

  • Apr. 12, 2019 10:20 a.m.

–– Kamloops This Week

A recently found cave in Wells Gray Provincial Park has the potential to yield scientific discoveries and be a marketing boon in the surrounding community, according to geologist Catherine Hickson.

Hickson led an expedition to explore the massive hole last September and detailed the journey to a crowd at this year’s Kamloops Exploration Group (KEG) conference Wednesday.

“What’s exciting about it is it is a geological feature that’s rare and unusual, has the potential for new species [and] new understanding of the role between water and rock in the alpine environment,” Hickson told KTW.

With one expedition to the vertical cave under her belt, Hickson now hopes to lead another into its depths in 2020.

The cave has a waterfall flowing into it that may be moving too fast to allow many creatures to call the area home, but Hickson said more research is needed.

About two kilometres away from the mouth of the cave her team spotted a small spring from the air that was flowing out of what looked like passages — potentially the cave’s exit.

READ MORE: Newly discovered cave in Wells Gray Park might be the largest in Canada

READ MORE: Wanting to check out the new cave at Wells Gray? You could face a $1M fine or prison

“Is it just a huge tube that’s flushing water from one side to the other or are there passageway that would have things like draperies, stalactites and stalagmites,” Hickson told the KEG crowd.

The massive hole in the ground visible on Google Earth in the Ovis Creek area was spotted and photographed last April during a mountain caribou survey. It was initially dubbed Sarlacc’s Pit by due to its similarity to the Star Wars creature.

Yellowhead Helicopters pilot Ken Lancour contacted Hickson, and she in turn contacted colleague John Pollack, a cave expert and surveyor. Together they planned and permitted a reconnaissance trip in early September 2018.

The trip confirmed just how immense the cave is — placing it among the largest in Canada, if not the largest.

The entrance pit to the cave was measured at about 100 metres long and 60 metres wide. While its depth is hard to measure because of the mist from a waterfall running into it at about a half a cubic metre per second, initial examinations show it is likely more than 137 metres deep, Hickson said.

Hickson noted the enormity of the cave in her presentation comparing it to the Statue of Liberty, which is 93 metres from pedestal to torch.

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.

It was likely formed by glaciers over the course of an estimated two-million years.

“We certainly think a major contributing factor to the formation of this cave is simply all of this drainage area draining into one particular spot,” said Hickson.

One member of the expedition was lowered about 80 metres into the cave and confirmed there was a clear passage inside as far as he could see.

“But that is as far as anyone has been into this cave, so we just don’t know what that next two kilometres is going to be like,” she said. It may in fact be a much longer route than that — a much more torturous path to get to the resurgence area.”

Hickson said she’s in the process of securing another permit to explore the cave’s interior as well as surrounding surface features, but that will likely be delayed another year as BC Parks works out it’s relationship with First Nations in the area and the role they’ll play in the exploration of the cave.

In late February the Canim and Simpcw First Nations bands called on the provincial government to suspend planning with respect to the recently discovered cave in Wells Gray Park, until the two Secwepemc communities can meet with the province.

The province has closed part of the park and announced anybody trying to enter the cave could be fined up to $1 million and sentenced to one month in prison.

WATCH: Check out aerial views of the massive cave found in Well’s Gray Provincial Park

According to a public notice issued by BC Parks on Dec. 14, the cave and surrounding area are closed until risks to public safety are determined and First Nations are consulted.

The Tsq’escen’ people commend the Parks Service for taking measures to protect and preserve this site as both First Nations and nature have done for so many years. However, it is time to be at the table to discuss further consultation, protection and co-management of the land, , read a statement from the Canim Lake Band.

“The Tsq’escenemc are concerned that the province’s recent awareness of the cave is being characterized as a ‘discovery’ – It is not new to us” stated Chief Helen Henderson, noting that the cave is located in Secwepemculecw, the territory Secwepemc people have called home for more than 10,000 years.

The cave is covered with snow and ice for most of the year, which is probably why it’s gone mostly unnoticed, according to Hickson, who noted the hole was mapped once before in the 80s and that knowledge of the cave has existed in First Nations oral history.

Hickson said she’s been trying to tell Wells Gray Park the cave is “a marketing dream” and noted local tourism organizations could benefit from it.

It’s discovery generated global media attention. The story even made the front page of the New York Times, she said.

“You can’t buy this kind of publicity. This publicity is worth millions. They need to capitalize on it,” said Hickson.

Michael Potestio, Kamloops This Week

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Bizarre Review: Fighting with my Family packs a punch

Every now and then, a movie preview catches my eye, and I… Continue reading

Rockets gain an edge with dedicated athletic therapist

The Golden Rockets are upping their game this year in many different… Continue reading

Editorial: We’re already ambassadors to our community

There are many ways to spend your extra time in Golden. Have… Continue reading

Data shows nine years of Tourism Golden growth

Tourism Golden has seen its ninth consecutive year of substantial growth in… Continue reading

Protecting small mammals after logging near Golden

A team of biologists are keeping an eye on small mammals in… Continue reading

VIDEO: Rare white killer whale captured by drone near Campbell River

The transient orca has been named Tl’uk, a Coast Salish word that means ‘moon.’

B.C. imposes interim moratorium on resource development to protect caribou

The caribou population in northeastern B.C. has dwindled over the last two decades

B.C. sculptor depicts epic eagle battle in latest piece that took 2,500 hours

Clasped in one of the raptor’s talons is each one’s desire: a living venomous diamondback rattlesnake

Students disciplined after anti-LGBTQ signs posted in Kamloops high school

Vessy Mochikas, SD73’s principal for inclusive education, called incident a learning opportunity

Air Canada expects Boeing 737 Max to resume flying by September or October

Air Canada isn’t worried about safety of the planes, says vice-president

‘The Fonz’ gives thumbs up in letter to dyslexic students at B.C. school

Students in Maple Ridge reached out to Henry Winkler after reading one his Zipster books.

PHOTOS: MP Mark Warawa loses brief battle with cancer

The Conservative Member of Parliament and long-time community advocate died in hospice this morning

Fernie’s Kerri Wall hopes to represent Green Party in federal election

Nelson’s Abra Brynne and Kaslo’s Judson Hansel have also chosen to run

Most Read