In the period of Google Maps, one may be tempted to imagine that there aren’t any undiscovered corners of the Earth.
But a cave with a gap that may accommodate the Statue of Liberty, and a roaring river operating by it, has been found in a distant space of British Columbia in Wells Gray Provincial Park, about 280 miles northeast of Vancouver.
“As far as North America goes, this is a honking-big cave,” mentioned John Pollack, a profession caver and governor of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society, which final week introduced the cave’s existence.
“It’s one of the biggest in Canada,” he mentioned, “and certainly one of the most spectacular.”
The cave was truly found in early spring when a bunch of biologists and researchers conducting a mountain caribou census first observed what seemed like a black gap on the snow-covered slope.
The helicopter pilot despatched photographs to Dr. Catherine Hickson, a geologist who labored for many years on the Geological Survey of Canada and conducted her Ph.D. research in the park. Dr. Hickson quietly assembled a team of experts, including Mr. Pollack, and raised about 5,000 Canadian dollars (including some of her own money) to make a site visit.
“You get this chance once every decade or two,” Mr. Pollack said. “It was time to get on the road.”
But first, they had to wait for the winter snow to melt.
On Sept. 9, a five-person team took a 50-minute helicopter ride from Clearwater, Canada, to the northeast corner of the park, a rugged area that has almost never seen humans.
The exact location of the cave has not been divulged, partly to discourage Instagram tourists and amateur climbers.
“You know it’s big when you’re standing there,” said Lee Hollis, a spelunker and member of the expedition team. “But it’s hard to tell just looking at the photo.”
Mr. Hollis, circled in red in the photo above, is standing to the right of the pit.
The opening of the pit, called a swallet, is unusually large: spanning about 330 feet in length and almost 200 feet across.
Using a laser beam, the team measured the depth at about 450 feet. But they believe it to be much deeper.
Its other distinguishing feature is a gushing river formed by melting glaciers above. It exits the cave about 1.3 miles away through another opening, called a resurgence.
Mr. Pollack took hundreds of photographs from various heights in the helicopter and stitched them together to create the 3D rendering above.
“Caves are hard to measure because they’re so irregular,” said Mr. Pollack, who has been surveying them since the late 1960s.
“There’s an art to it,” he said. “You’re not just collecting data; you’re filling in the blanks.”
Mr. Hollis was the person on the September expedition who descended into the cave. He carried about 50 pounds of gear, including a hulking battery-powered hammer drill to set bolts into the rock and about 500 feet of rope.
“In my 30-plus years of caving, this is by far the biggest pit that I’ve had the privilege to descend,” he said.
According to Dr. Hickson, the cave is most likely tens of thousands of years old, and the rocks are hundreds of millions of years old.
They’re what’s known as “stripe karst,” which means layers of marble, schist and quartzite that, over millenniums of pressure and heat, have fused together to form a stripelike pattern.
Mr. Hollis descended about 280 feet into the maw of the cave as the cascade roared. Because the cave is in a shaded area, the bottom of the pit was full of last winter’s snow, creating a misty haze.
The September expedition took about 10 hours. The team is planning to make at least two more forays between now and 2020.
“As a geologist, there aren’t necessarily a lot of things we do that excite people,” said Dr. Hickson.
But there is a mystery here, she said.
“Caving is all about the exploration of the unknown.”