Cavers have emerged from Canada’s deepest cave near Fernie disappointed but not disheartened.
Twenty-two cavers spent a week exploring the Bisaro Anima cave in an expedition sponsored by the Royal Canadian Geographical Society, returning to Fernie on Saturday morning.
They took new measurements and were able to extend the length of the Bisaro Anima cave to 5.6km, making it the 10th longest cave in Canada, up from 11th.
However, the cavers were unable to achieve their main objective, which was to find a new entrance to the cave system, with many holes and sinks on the plateau turning up dead ends.
“We weren’t able to do that but we found some prospective caves that may connect in the future. We just need to find a way into some of these caves,” said expedition co-lead Christian Stenner.
“Sometimes the passages are too tight or we just need to find (a way) underground and maybe we’ll make that connection.”
Over the week, small teams were sent inside the cave, spending 3-4 days underground at a time, while the remaining cavers worked on the surface
They logged about 150 surface sinks, rifts and holes, and mapped 1km of cave passages, bringing the total number of caves explored and surveyed on the plateau to 10.
“All in all, we’ve got seven new caves and about 1km more of passage than we did before we came up,” said expedition co-lead Jeremy Bruns on Saturday.
As well as logging surface locations, the team flew a drone over the plateau to provide detailed topography and a better understanding of the area.
“We’ve got a lot more information now and we can target a few more of some of those surface locations, but I think our next trip is really focused on going into the deepest parts of the cave and trying to find new ways in there,” said Stenner.
The cavers believe they may have found another entrance to the main cave system, however, they were unable to gain access last week.
Bruns said it was in an area of the plateau that would likely connect to the main cave system.
“It was too narrow for us to fit into so we were hammering away at the rock to try to fit in,” he said.
“We didn’t finish that lead but we did put a GoPro down on a rope into the bottom and we found that there’s a huge canyon passage in there that’s more than a person wide, and you can walk through and (there’s) lots of wind coming out of the entrance, which is a sure sign that it’s connected to a bigger system.”
The group endured difficult conditions inside the cave, which remains at 2C and at this time of year is very wet and muddy.
“It’s really hard to stay warm in the cave because you’re constantly sprayed with water in a few of the places then once you’re wet, it’s nearly impossible to dry out,” said Stenner.
“Certainly we’re used to that from our previous experience but it was a little bit more I think this time than what some of us have seen before.”
One caver cut his finger during the expedition but did not require evacuation and the group otherwise escaped unscathed.
“There were multiple things going on at once, a lot of coordination, but at the end of the day everyone is back home safe and we had quite a few different successes, despite the frustration that many of those surface locations didn’t turn into a cave,” said Stenner.
They expect to return as early as September and will likely organize another winter trip to try to extend the depth of the cave – currently at 670 metres – even further.
“As the weather turns to winter, the cave becomes drier and the surface becomes less hospitable so the focus kinds of shifts to deeper in the cave, to the permanent camps we have set up there,” said Bruns.