Spending a week in a damp, cold cave hundreds of metres underground is an idea that, for many, likely causes feelings of claustrophobia, nausea and fear.
But for a group of explorers, uncovering the deepest known cave in Canada has been nothing short of a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Just north of Fernie, B.C, the cave, named Bisaro Anima, is located in a remote mountain plateau and stretches 5.3 kilometres in length and 670 metres deep – beating Heavy Breather, also located near Fernie, which is 644 metres deep.
Project leader Jeremy Bruns was the first to rappel into the entrance, discovered in 2012 by the Alberta Speleological Society. At the time, the initial discovery of Bisaro Anima was led by his father, Henry Bruns.
Since then, the cave has been visited by more than 30 explorers who’ve found access to new depths.
During the most recent trip, on New Year’s Day, Bruns and nine other “cavers” camped out 520 metres down, and after exploring further, have confirmed the cave is now considered the deepest in all of North America.
The team descended 30 vertical shafts – some up to 35 stories long – through the passage, and then climbed using ropes and technical caving equipment.
While they encountered waterfalls on some stretches of the route down, they clambered down deep canyons, deep squeezes, and passages called “crawlways.”
“You are constantly cold, damp and covered in mud, with no reprieve,” said Christian Stenner, a member of the expedition and provincial coordinator of the Alberta-BC Cave Rescue Service, in a statement.
“The consequences of an injury in this environment are tremendous, due to the hazardous conditions and exceptional remoteness.”
Fernie cave a ‘milestone’ for explorers
The society and its volunteers are undertaking several projects involving newly-found caves across the country, but the Bisaro Anima is considered a milestone because of its natural features – it only has one entrance, whereas many deep caves have multiple – as well as the plateau’s connection to history.
The cave is near Mt. Bisaro, a mountain range named after Fernie-born infantryman Torindo Bisaro, who fell during the invasion of Normandy in World War II. And some underground passages have been named Vimy Ridge, the trenches, Dieppe and the Black Watch.
Depths will continue to be explored
Prior to these latest efforts, the group had mapped the cave and established it as the third deepest in Canada at 531 metres. But as they explored further, they found it went even deeper, now at 670 metres, so they want to keep coming back and see what else the cave might reveal.
“Our knowledge of the topography and geology puts the depth potential of the system at more than 1,000 meters,” Bruns said. “I expect with ongoing effort that this cave system could also become one of the longest in Canada.”