TRU sees the ‘world premiere’ of Wells Gray’s newest cave

Geologist Catherine Hickson presented new details on the globally recognized discovery

Though it has yet to be fully explored, the cave could be the largest in Canada; measuring approximately 137 metres deep. (John Pollack)

It’s not too often that a hole in the ground makes global headlines and the front page of the New York Times, yet the recent discovery of what geologist Catherine Hickson calls ‘a honking big cave’ grabbed the eyes and ears of much of the world. It was Kamloops, however, that was the first of many communities to learn more details of the cave in a presentation by Hickson at TRU on Jan. 10.

Hickson spent just over 45 minutes describing in detail a timeline of what she called the first “modern discovery” of the cave, referencing the ongoing dialogue with local Indigenous groups as to if this cave has significance with the area’s first residents.

While Hickson wasn’t part of the initial team, a Cariboo census operation, that located the cave on April 22 of 2018, she was later sent pictures taken by the helicopter team on May 2. It was then that Hickson began assembling a team to investigate the soon to be internationally renowned discovery.

Only teasing the location of the cave, which is being undisclosed at the request of B.C. Parks, Hickson, who was all smiles, recapped her over 50-minute helicopter ride from Clearwater to the cave last September.

The images on the projector behind Hickson displayed pictures taken by the crew from both air and land as well as video that was instrumental in later creating a 3D rendering of the cave measuring up to 100 meters across and 60 metres wide. Using laser instruments, the team measured a rough depth of 137 metres. Hickson compared this estimated depth to another local spectacle, Helmcken Falls, which stands at 141 metres and an amusing graphic of the Statue of Liberty, 93 metres tall, swallowed by the cave.

Further research of what’s inside the cave will be conducted over the next three years, but there was no denying Hickson’s excitement when she proclaimed that “it could, in fact, be one of the largest caves, if not the largest cave in Canada.

“Here it is on your doorstep,” she said.

Hickson then continued to show images taken inside of the cave by her teammate Lee Hollis, a veteran caver and the only person in noted history to descend into this cave.

A map of northern Wells Gray was also shown, created by Bert Struik who did extensive work in Wells Gray Provincial Park in the 80s around the same time that Hickson was also completing her PhD fieldwork in the park. Struik has since been included in the research and ultimately came very close, almost 500 metres to discovering the cave himself back in the 80s, claimed Hickson.

Hickson and an assembled team are now preparing for another September departure this year with the intent to explore the inside of the cave more, with donations of rather pricey cave exploration equipment from other organizations eager to learn more about the cave’s composition.

When describing the journey she’s had as far as the media attention, Hickson compared the extensive exposure to the activity around Mount St. Helens in 2004, an event she was mostly apart of as a volcanologist. Hickson was ultimately the one who pushed the news of the discovery of the cave to the public, calling her Kamloops lecture “the world premiere.”

Hickson then ended her presentation with a Photoshopped image of the Sarlacc from Star Wars: Return of the Jedi emerging from the snow-covered cave.