The “sump” — an underground channel filled to the roof with water. On January 1, 2018, caver Kathleen Graham was able to explore the sump in scuba gear and confirm Bisaro Anima as the deepest cave in Canada. Photo courtesy of Jared Habiak/Bisaro Plateau Caves Project

Search continues for new leads in Mt. Bisaro cave system near Fernie

Cavers returning October, November to push new leads, extend Canada’s deepest cave near Fernie

The never-ending story surrounding the Mt. Bisaro cave system is about to get a little deeper.

An exploration team is set to arrive back in Fernie again over the Thanksgiving weekend to work on extending the cave even further. Shortly after this trip, they will return in November to attempt to explore further underwater.

The mission in October will involve a 4-5 day expedition to assess some leads and move camp equipment down from the higher Camp One, deeper down into Camp Two. They also anticipate finishing off some leads around camp one.

This will be followed by a one week expedition towards the end of November in which the explorers will attempt to dive deeper and push leads all over the cave system.

In August of last year, this same group of cavers plunged into the Bisaro Anima cave, which is known as the deepest limestone cave in Canada. It was confirmed to have broken the world record on New Year’s Day, 2018. Among them were cavers Christian Stenner, Kathleen Graham, Jeremy Bruns, Colin Massey, Jason Lavigne, Vlad Paulik, Jared Habiak, Mehdi Boukhal and Jérôme Genairon.

Look back: VIDEO: Explorers uncover Canada’s deepest cave in Fernie

They were on a mission to extend the known length and depth of the cave, which was named “Expedition of the year” by the Royal Canadian Geographical Society (RCGS).

Bisaro Anima Cave, located in the remote mountains just north of Fernie, stretches 5.3 kilometres in length and 670 metres deep and 6.1 kilometers long – beating Heavy Breather, also located near Fernie, which is 644 metres deep.

Bisaro Caves Project co-leader Jeremy Bruns was the first to rappel into the entrance, discovered in 2012 by the Alberta Speleological Society. At the time, the initial discovery of Bisaro Anima was led by his father, Henry Bruns.

The conditions in Bisaro aren’t exactly ideal. Three degrees and 100 per cent humidity feels, Bruns explained, like being in a refrigerator.

Over a year since their record-breaking New Year’s descent, Bruns says they’re excited to revisit the cave system and explore new leads.

“Anytime that we go back there, one of our objectives is to explore new passages and map as we go,” he said.

This is in addition to rearranging camp equipment.

“Both Camp 0.5 and Camp Two will be busy for a couple of years yet, we expect,” said Bruns.

Camp 0.5 is about 220 metres of depth (three hours in), Camp One is about 350m (5-7 hours in), and Camp Two is around 520m (eight to 12 hours of travel into the cave).

Come October, the team will consist of four to six people from around the world. Only the most experienced have been selected. They include individuals who have explored Mt. Rainier, Mt. Saint Helens, Rats Nest Cave (Canmore, Alta.), Raspberry Rising (Mount Tupper, B.C.), the Wells Gray Park ‘Sarlacc Pit’ Cave, and more.

They are all volunteers and all lead varying careers.

“The team will consist of people who are very experienced with the cave in October, because we don’t want to spend a lot of time training new folks, we’ll just want to go clean up a few objectives and get ready for the big bad push in November,” said Bruns.

“The major focus for the expedition is going to be pushing the sump dive in the bottom of the cave,” he continued.

The ‘sump’, an underground channel filled to the roof with water, sits at 674 metres in depth. This is the sump that was first dived to break the record in 2018.

“Katie found a horizontal passage to continue the dive-through, so that’s getting pretty technical,” said Bruns.

(The “sump” — an underground channel filled to the roof with water. On January 1, 2018, caver Kathleen Graham was able to explore the sump in scuba gear and confirm Bisaro Anima as the deepest cave in Canada. Photo courtesy of Jared Habiak/Bisaro Plateau Caves Project)

With only one tank of air left, Graham didn’t have enough equipment to continue exploring. Two divers will return in November to attempt it again, survey the passage and hopefully push through into a new dry passage that the rest of the team can follow in the future.

The entrance to the cave is at 2350 metres elevation, which makes the deepest known point to be at around 1670 metres, sitting well above Fernie’s elevation of 1067 metres.

The last time the cavers visited Bisaro Anima was in October 2018.

“We explore other caves as well, but this is a project that’s very close to home for us,” said Bruns. “We’ve been running it right from the beginning with the same crew in 2012, it’s just been a tremendous success story.

“Every time we come down from there we crunch all the new data, and dream about what we’re going to do when we go back next.”

Bruns explained that most caves are never really ever ‘done’. Some leads are always left unexplored. Most of the time, he said, the leads that are left are poor quality and require digging with not much air. That being said, the exploration is never really done.

Currently the team has a massive amount of gear in the cave; from kilometres of rope to hardware and sleeping camp sets. If years of work goes by and they stop discovering new leads, slowly but surely they will start cleaning gear out of the cave and Bruns said that’s how they know that exploration is complete, at least until someone becomes motivated again.

That being said, not only is there a reasonable number of leads to explore yet in Bisaro Anima, there are also countless climbing leads which would involve climbing to the top of large chambers and attempting to explore tubes leading into them.

“There’s likely a whole lot of cave system and complexity up these climbs that we can go discover, the only problem is that climbing in caves is very time consuming process,” said Bruns.

He explained that an entire day could be spent in a cave to climb 20 metres up a chamber. Twenty climbs could take several expeditions. However, Bruns said that if people are up to it, they will chase those down.

As it stands now, the cave system has no end-date. Bruns said it’s hard to predict how long the project will keep going at its current pace.

 

A group of international cavers will be returning to the Fernie area in October and November to explore new leads and hopefully expand their exploration of the Bisaro Anima cave system. The cave is known as one of the deepest sandstone systems north of Mexico. Photo courtesy of Jared Habiak/Bisaro Plateau Caves Project

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