Wells Gray Cave Frequently Asked Questions
In response to media and public interest in the 2018 discovery of a large cave in Wells Gray Provincial Park, BC Parks is providing the following information as responses to Frequently Asked Questions:
- Q: What is the significance of the discovery of the cave in Wells Gray Provincial Park? Is it mostly the size that is noteworthy, or are there other qualities that make it an important find?
A: Geologist, Dr. Catherine Hickson, who did her PhD research in Wells Gray Provincial Park, visited the cave in September 2018, has stated that the cave is the largest known of its type; a variety of stripe karst, which is marble interspersed with other types of ancient ocean rock. Additionally, it is in an area where a cave of this type is unusual.
- Q: Since the cave has such a large, prominent entrance, why did it remain undiscovered for so long? Is that due to the remote location?
A: The remote location of the cave has certainly contributed to a lack of knowledge about its existence. In the past it may have been overlooked because of snow or ice cover during aerial wildlife surveys. The area receives a considerable amount of snow that persists well into the summer.
- Q: What were the circumstances of the aerial discovery? Was that the first time that an aircraft had flown over that location?
A: In the spring of 2018, members from the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Regional Development were conducting a caribou survey by helicopter and photographed a large pit that is now known to be the opening to the karst cave. It was not the first time that caribou surveys had been done in that area; however, the cave may have been missed or obscured by snow/ice during previous surveys.
- Q: What was the extent of the subsequent investigation of the cave site?
A: A team of experienced cavers with a geologist visited the cave in September 2018, but were only able to explore the entrance to a depth of approximately 80m.
- Q: What are the cave's estimated dimensions at this point? How much uncertainty is there about the size?
A: The actual size of the cave is not known at this time, since the expedition was only able to venture 80m into its opening. It has the potential to be massive. The entire length is estimated at approximately two kilometres but it has yet to be fully explored.
A: Dimensions of the cave entrance are 100 metres by 60 metres. While its depth is hard to measure because of the mist from a waterfall, initial examinations show it is at least 135 metres deep.
- Q: How has the cave been surveyed to date?
A: In addition to an experienced caver exploring the entrance, it was mapped with a reflectorless laser surveying instrument to create a photographic rendering.
- Q: What will be the process or strategy for exploring the cave? What will be the next steps? Is it feasible for a team of explorers to venture inside? If so, who will do that?
A: Until risks to public safety have been assessed, ecological values considered, and engagement with First Nations concluded, the newly discovered cave and surrounding area will remain closed.
A: When the above assessments and engagement have concluded, BC Parks will work with First Nations, geologists, and advanced cavers to move toward planning and conducting further exploration. BC Parks may allow exploration under authority of Park Use Permits and would evaluate applications as they are received, but there is much background work to be done prior to evaluating any applications.
- Q: Even though the exact location hasn't been revealed publicly, will the BC government be taking other steps to prevent people from finding it and attempting to enter?
A: A Director’s order has been issued closing the cave and surrounding area.
A: Until risks to Public Safety have been assessed the Director’s Order will remain in effect.
A: Any member of the public in contravention of the Director’s Order is subject to the following:
Park Act (Section 28):
(1) A person who contravenes any provision of this Act commits an offence and is liable to a fine of up to $1,000,000 or a term of imprisonment of not more than one year or both.
(3) When a contravention of the Act or regulations continues for more than one day, the person is guilty of a separate offence for each day on which the contravention continues.
- Q: Why has BC Parks closed the cave and surrounding area?
A: BC Parks has issued a Director’s Order for the primary purpose of ensuring Public Safety. The closure will also provide BC Parks with the required time to accommodate First Nations consultation, determine heritage, conservation and ecological values, and to consider appropriate measures to preserve the integrity of the cave and surrounding area.