Earlier this year, researchers were flying in a helicopter above a remote valley in British Columbia’s Wells Gray Provincial Park searching for caribou. Peering down to the rolling green hills and rocky peaks below they saw something they didn’t expect—a gigantic cave like a hole bored vertically downward in the earth. It may very well in fact be Canada’s largest cave. Few, if any people, and maybe some caribou, knew it was there. Or at least if they did, they weren’t talking. The people, not the caribou.
Unsure of what they’d actually found, the crew from the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change that spotted the cave reached out to Catherine Hickson, a geologist who knew the folds and divots of the park’s land very well. She traveled to examine the cave this past September. She was shocked at what she found. “It is huge,” Hickson said. “It is enormous. When you first see it, you just gasp because it’s just this huge hole in the ground.”
The mouth of the cave is 328 feet across. An impenetrable mist prevented Hickson’s team from accurately gauging its depth, but Hickson expects that it’s at least 440 feet deep. “It’s about the size of a soccer field,” Hickson said. “So, if you think of a soccer field, 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 scale of this thing is just huge, and about as big as they come in Canada,” archaeological surveyor John Pollack told Canadian Geographic. “I’ve been in some of the biggest caves in the world, and this thing has an entrance that is truly immense, and not just by Canadian standards.”
Canadian officials don’t yet have an official name for the cave. They’re consulting with representatives from the First Nations to see if any indigenous name for the cave exists. One of the researchers who first spotted the cave from the air called it the “Sarlacc Pit,” a reference to the tentacled mouth-pit in the desert Jabba the Hut threw prisoners into in the Star Wars film Return of the Jedi. So far, that name has stuck in media reports. A Change.org petition is now gathering clicks to make Sarlacc Pit the official name of the cave.
Pollack thinks the cave is so deep, he expects the river formed from an ice flow that melts and pours into the cave flows underground for nearly a mile and a half before emerging once again into daylight. He also doesn’t think anybody has ever tried to descend into the thing, including indigenous British Columbians. Pollack cites as evidence the extreme challenge of descending such a vertical and challenging rock face without modern caving equipment; he also pointed out nothing in mountaineering literature suggests any attempts at challenging the cave.
Plus, it’s incredibly difficult to reach the place.
“This cave is truly in the middle of nowhere,” Pollack said. “We don’t even think it’s feasible for someone to walk in and do anything. You might be able to reach it, but you couldn’t bring in enough equipment to do anything about it. It’s out there in mountainous terrain, surrounded by glaciers and at the bottom of a 45-degree avalanche slope that rises 2,000 to 2,500 feet above it, meaning you can’t go to it in winter. The only time you can really do anything there is in September when the water flow is at its lowest. This is a wild place.”