Important discovery in Wells Gray Park

By Jaime Polmateer

Earlier this year a small group conducting a caribou census for the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change found more than they were counting on during a flight over Wells Gray Provincial Park.

Ken Lancour, a Clearwater based pilot for Yellowhead Helicopters, and biologist Bevan Ernst, spotted an unusual feature in the ground in a remote corner of the park that would turn out to be one of the largest caves in the country.

After Lancour reported the find to BC Parks it was recommended he get in touch with Catherine Hickson, a geologist with the Royal Canadian Geological Society (RCGS), who quickly realized its importance after viewing photos of the cave.

“Tod Haughton (of B.C. Parks) suggested (Lancour) get in touch with me because my long association with the park, so at the beginning of May, he sent a few of the photos and the location and as soon as I saw the photos I realized this as very significant,” said Hickson.

She added after looking at the photos of the cave she immediately got a hold of a colleague in the RCGS named John Pollack who is a surveyor and cave expert, sending him the images to get his take on the situation.

Pollack’s reaction was enthusiastic and swift and the pair started making inquiries within the caving community, as well as with contacts who had knowledge of Wells Gray Park, and it seemed nobody had prior knowledge of the cave.

“Nobody had any inkling, so in June we decided the best time to explore it would be in the end of August or early September because water levels would be at the lowest,” Hickson said.

The cave was dubbed “Sarlacc’s Pit” by the discovery group due do its similarity with the lair of Sarlacc, a creature from Star Wars. Formal naming is pending First Nations consultation.

The reconnaissance field visit, which took place on Sept. 9, was undertaken by Hickson, cavers Lee Hollis, Chas Yongue and Pollack, as well as Haughton and Lancour.

The finds during the visit would surpass the team’s expectations.

The entrance of the pit is 100 m long by 60 m wide, with an overhanging drop on the high side of more than 120 m., though the actual depth of the cave couldn’t be measured because of mist from a fast flowing, turbulent river that flows into it, but it’s at least 180 m deep and likely more than two km long.

These dimensions make it one of the largest caves found in Canada.

“In the end it was decided the fastest thing was to have a single person go down and that was Lee; he geared up and descended down while I continued to look at the geology around the area, taking notes and measurements,” said Hickson.

“He was able to descend only 100 metres because of the incredible amount of water.”

Hollis said it was an honor to be the first to enter the pit, even if it was a short descent.

“It’s a privilege and as a caver of more than 30 years, this is by far the biggest pit I’ve personally seen and certainly the biggest pit I’ve had the chance to descend, so it’s a phenomenal experience and a memorable one,” Hollis said.

“For this thing to go undiscovered for that length of time to the present day is, again, pretty significant; we suspect the hole was actually filled with snow until a few decades ago and that would hide this thing from anybody discovering it.”

Another expedition to the pit was initially planned for 2020, but organizers, including Hollis, have decided to move the date to next year some time and a team is already being put together for the event.

The trip last September was short lived, and while the team discovered a lot about the cave during the investigation, there’s still a lot to learn.

“Because the last time we went we had a limited amount of time and only went a short distance, we need to understand in more detail what’s actually down there: what are we looking at? What hazards are there? What additional equipment are we going to need? How much time is it going to take to get in this thing and get it mapped?” said Hollis.

“It’s very important to get a better idea of what we’re up against.”


An unusual feature was spotted from the air in a remote area of Wells Gray Park during a government caribou census. The find would end up being a cave considered one of the biggest in Canada. Photo submitted

Just Posted

Trudeau has won the most seats — but not a majority. What happens next?

Trudeau will have to deal with some of the implications of Monday’s result

LIVE MAP: Results in Canada’s 2019 federal election

Polls are now closed across the country

ELECTION 2019: Here are the results from our 12 B.C. races to watch

Incumbents mostly won our 12 key races, but there were a few upsets too

Have you filled out Housing Survey for the Lower North Thompson?

The District of Barriere is currently preparing a Housing Needs Report. The… Continue reading

Jim’s Food Market celebrates 100 years of operation in Little Fort, B.C.

Jim’s Food Market marked a 100-year milestone last weekend, with friends and… Continue reading

In the news: Liberals eke out a win, but will need NDP, Green support to pass bills

Conservatives say they are ready if Trudeau should falter

‘Wexit’ talk percolates day after Liberals returned to power with minority

An online petition is calling for a western alliance and Alberta to separate

Federal election saw 66% of registered voters hit the polls across Canada

Roughly 18 million people cast their ballots, voting in a Liberal minority government

Alleged RCMP secret leaker must stay with B.C. parents while on bail

Cameron Ortis, 47, is charged with violating the Security of Information Act

‘Inconsistent’ message on climate change hurt Liberals at the polls: SFU prof

Trudeau government will have to make concessions to hold onto power

Opposition to Trans Mountain won’t change, B.C. minister says

Pipeline projects proceed under minority Trudeau government

Remains found under Kamloops street belong to woman who lived five centuries ago

Woman was between ages of 50 and 59, gave birth at least once, was right-handed

Greta Thunberg to attend post-election climate strike in Vancouver

Sustainabiliteens Vancouver strike expected to emphasize need for cross-party collaboration

Security guard bitten, punched by patient at Terrace hospital

Violent incident is one of many in northwest B.C., nurses’ union says

Most Read