The deep places of the world

Extreme caver Nicholaus Vieira spoke at TRU about what it’s like to be an underground explorer

Mark Hendricks, Science & Technology Editor Ω

Cavers climbing down to explore the underground river. Image courtesy Nicholaus Vieira

Cavers climbing down to explore the underground river. Image courtesy Nicholaus Vieira

It takes a very special kind of person to explore the deepest places on Earth. We know very little about caves – they remain largely unexplored and there are constantly new surveys taking place to map out the interiors and take samples of what’s being found inside.

Exploration is not without its perils. Caves can be home to underwater passageways, tight squeezes, dizzying climbs and descents, fast flowing rivers and waterfalls, deep spanning crevasses, low-oxygen areas, razor-sharp rock and of course the absence of nearly all light. It’s an utterly foreign environment, rife with peril for the unprepared.

“Underground is where all the fun stuff is,” Nicholaus Vieira said during his presentation on extreme caving at TRU on Jan 16.

Vieira has made his home in caves like these. He’s not a professional caver, only because according to him, there are no professional cavers – but he is an extreme caver.

Vieira spends over 200 days of the year caving, sometimes spending weeks at a time underground. In order to support this passion, he lives out of his jeep in the Canadian Rockies. He has been working alongside TRU microbiology professor Ann Cheeptham, bringing her the cave samples for her research.

“Be careful of that recreational caving thing, because it leads to the next step, exploration and scientific research,” Vieira said. “Because you’re going to start asking questions. That’s where all the trouble begins.”

Vieira’s current work is on a B.C. cave system called Raspberry Rising in the southeast of the province. Raspberry Rising has been known since the 1800s, but the interior has still not been fully explored. Many of the samples for Cheeptham’s research come from this cave system.

This photo taken within Raspberry Rising shows Vieira in the stream of the cave. Image courtesy Nicholaus Vieira

This photo taken within Raspberry Rising shows Vieira in the stream of the cave. Image courtesy Nicholaus Vieira

Vieira explores caves all over the world and recounted his experiences of several caves during his presentation, including what it’s like to explore in Castleguard Cave, the longest cave in Canada. Exploring Castleguard requires bridging, the act of stretching your body across a chasm and shimmying across with your hands and feet.

“You do this for about four kilometres for the first fissure and two kilometres for the second fissure. Don’t slip, there are no ropes and it’s usually about a 16 meter drop,” Vieira said. “It’s quite amusing.”

Vieira stressed how little we know about caves and just how unexplored these places are.

“Many people have been to the top of Everest, multiple people have been to the moon, one person has been to the bottom of this cave,” Vieira said, referring to the deepest cave in the world: Krubera Cave in Russia with a depth of 2,179 meters.

If you’re interested in learning more about Vieira’s exploration and research, read more on his website at www.crazycaver.com.