File photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS                                A newly discovered cave in a remote valley in British Columbia’s Wells Gray Provincial Park just might be the country’s largest such feature. The entrance is seen to the cave, nicknamed ‘Sarlacc’s Pit’ by the helicopter crew who discovered it.

File photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS A newly discovered cave in a remote valley in British Columbia’s Wells Gray Provincial Park just might be the country’s largest such feature. The entrance is seen to the cave, nicknamed ‘Sarlacc’s Pit’ by the helicopter crew who discovered it.

Newly discovered cave in B.C. park might be the largest in Canada

VANCOUVER — A newly discovered cave in a remote valley in British Columbia’s Wells Gray Provincial Park might just be the country’s largest.

The feature was spotted by a helicopter crew from the province’s Ministry of Environment and Climate Change in March, when they were conducting a caribou census through the northeastern part of the park.

Geologist Catherine 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 said. “I immediately recognized that this was very significant.”

Before making the trip, Hickson and fellow researchers including John Pollack, a cave expert, 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, and 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,” she 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, she said.

The feature was formed underneath glaciers for potentially tens of thousands of years, so there is no way of knowing the real age of the cave right away, Hickson said.

“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, 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, she said.

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.

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.”

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Eighteen inmates and four staff at Red Deer Remand Centre have tested positive for COVID-19. Advocate file photo
Red Deer Remand Centre up to 22 COVID cases

Eighteen inmates and four remand centre staff areactive COVID cases

Christine Cornelius, department manager at Parkland Nurseries and Garden Centre, prepares seed racks at the Red Deer County shop. (By SUSAN ZIELINSKI/Advocate staff)
Central Alberta gardeners already buying seeds to prepare for spring

Potatoes and carrots popular choices for backyard gardens

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw announced 16 additional deaths Thursday. (Photo by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
No easing of Alberta’s COVID-19 measures Thursday, 678 new COVID-19 cases

The province also hit 1,500 COVID-19 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic

Red Deer’s newest Waskasoo Park trail offers some bird’s-eye views of the city. It runs along the Highland Green escarpment, between Howarth Street Close and 60th Street. More information is available on reddeer.ca. (Photo by LANA MICHELIN/Advocate staff).
PHOTO: New Red Deer trail offers hikers a bird’s-eye view

It links Howarth Street Close with 60th Street

Gov. Gen. Julie Payette delivers the throne speech in the Senate chamber in Ottawa on Sept. 23, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Gov. Gen. Julie Payette resigns

OTTAWA — Gov. Gen. Julie Payette is resigning. The news comes as… Continue reading

Former Alberta Premier Rachel Notley shakes hands with Joel Ward, former Red Deer College President and CEO, as Notley announces that the college is on the path to grant degrees. Red Deer-South MLA Jason Stephan says university status is not a necessary condition for offering degrees. (File photo by Advocate staff)
Future of Red Deer University increasingly uncertain

MLA’s college update says RDC more like SAIT and NAIT than a university

Winnipeg Jets' Mark Scheifele, left, and Kyle Connor, right, congratulate Blake Wheeler on his goal during second period NHL action against the Ottawa Senators on Thursday, January 21, 2021 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Four different Jets score as Winnipeg beats the Ottawa Senators 4-1

Four different Jets score as Winnipeg beats the Ottawa Senators 4-1

Canes’ season paused, while Caps play on without 4 regulars

Canes’ season paused, while Caps play on without 4 regulars

Team Stecklein forward Allie Thunstrom (9) shoots against Team Szabados goalie Shannon Szabados in the NWHL All-Star Hockey Game Sunday, Feb. 10, 2019, in Nashville, Tenn. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Mark Humphrey
NWHL expansion Toronto Six head to Lake Placid women’s hockey bubble

NWHL expansion Toronto Six head to Lake Placid women’s hockey bubble

United States defender Aaron Long (23) and Canada forward Lucas Cavallini (19) battle for the ball during second half of CONCACAF Nations League soccer action in Toronto, Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Cole Burston
Canadian men’s soccer team returns to action on weekend with scrimmage against U.S.

Canadian men’s soccer team returns to action on weekend with scrimmage against U.S.

FC Dallas forward Fafa Picault, left, steps into a kick as Nashville SC midfielder Alistair Johnston (12) defends during the first half of an MLS soccer match, Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2020, in Nashville, Tenn. A dozen Canadians are available in Thursday's slimmed-down MLS SuperDraft, reduced to three rounds from four this year. While the draft is not the pipeline it once was, the success of players like Johnston, taken 11th overall last year by expansion Nashville SC, show there are still success stories.THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Mark Humphrey
Whitecaps go international with Nigerian forward, Jamaican defender in MLS SuperDraft

Whitecaps go international with Nigerian forward, Jamaican defender in MLS SuperDraft

Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Bill Blair responds to a question during question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Friday, Dec. 11, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Patrick Doyle
Report on Quebec woman murdered by offender on day parole calls for better oversight

Report on Quebec woman murdered by offender on day parole calls for better oversight

White House press secretary Jen Psaki speaks with Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, during a press briefing in the James Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House, Thursday, Jan. 21, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Fauci unleashed: Doc takes ‘liberating’ turn at centre stage

Fauci unleashed: Doc takes ‘liberating’ turn at centre stage

A man wears a protective face mask to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 as he walks past the emergency department of the Vancouver General Hospital in Vancouver Wednesday, November 18, 2020.  THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Manitoba eases measures as COVID cases decline, but feds warn of severe illness rise

Manitoba eases measures as COVID cases decline, but feds warn of severe illness rise

Most Read