The stories behind the expeditions funded by The Royal Canadian Geographical Society
The cave mappers
Nicholaus Vieira and his team are mapping one of the largest caves in the country. What they’re finding could change our understanding of the underground
A group of Arctic explorers hopes to revive a once-grand tradition
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The new landers
Retracing the treks of famed Norwegian Arctic explorer Otto Sverdrup
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Return to Quebec’s Again River
Adam Shoalts measures and maps the waterfalls he accidentally plunged over a year earlier, and captures the world’s attention along the way
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The cave mappers
Nicholaus Vieira and his team map one of the largest caves in Canada.
By Joshua Rapp Learn
With intense flooding in the summer, beautiful calcite formations,
marble passages and a massive, gushing waterfall
restricting access to deeper caves, Raspberry Rising is one of
the most exciting frontiers in Canadian exploration. Nicholaus
Vieira and his team of eight received a grant from The Royal
Canadian Geographical Society in 2013 to survey the cave system
in Mount Tupper, located in British Columbia’s Glacier
National Park, over the course of two-and-a-half years.
Described by Vieira as “a treat to behold,” the calcite formations
inside the cave include stalactites, stalagmites, soda straws
(cylindrical mineral tubes that emerge from the roofs of caves),
cave pearls (small spherical formations), draperies (sheet-like
deposits of calcite on the walls or floors) and many others.
Here’s an exclusive look at how the map of Raspberry Rising
is shaping up, along with the highlights of its significant formations
and a note about the survey’s potentially most important
work sampling microbes.
Sumps are cave passages submerged in water. To date,
four sumps have been uncovered in the Raspberry Rising
network, though the fourth and longest one has yet to be
fully explored by the team. Lines are often rigged in the
sumps with zip ties or duct tape to indicate direction and
help cavers find their way through the water, which Vieira
says can be akin to swimming in chocolate milk. The cavers
sometimes have to hold their scuba tanks under their
armpits to get through tighter squeezes.
This 25-metre-high waterfall held cavers at bay for decades,
until Vieira made it up the rocky cliff face gushing with
glacial water in February 2012. The name is a play on
words, as the term “knickpoint” describes a drastic change
in the slope of a water channel. For the team to pass the
waterfall, the first person in a given season must free climb
it, then set up ropes for subsequent cavers.
Above these falls — named for the decades of cavers
dreaming about what lay beyond Nick Point — is a huge
black tunnel that contains various soda straws. Vieira
thinks one of these, a 2.7-metre hollow tube, may be the
longest in Canada. The passage is also filled with boulders
— some bigger than vans — which are believed to have
fallen from the cave’s ceiling.
The second major waterfall in the system rises 10 to 12
metres, but it’s a tricky climb requiring protection. To get
through this area cavers have to climb over suspended
boulders wedged between both walls. It’s thought the
boulders came from a partial collapse of the cave.
This cavern is a fossil passageway — so called because
water no longer flows through it. The space is accessed by
a challenging climb that includes an overhang of loose
boulders. There is also a huge number of calcite formations,
including spars (clearly discernible crystals) that
Vieira says are the size of hummingbird wings — some of
the largest he’s ever seen.
This is a relatively newer geographical formation where
the water that once flowed through Freedom 65 now runs.
It has a wet approach, and although cavers can scramble
up the waterfall, Vieira’s team still uses ropes to ensure
At about 15 metres tall, Strawberry Shake is the second
most difficult waterfall climb after Nick Point, according
to Vieira, mostly because of the challenge of negotiating
the ledge at the top. Here cavers must use goggles while
stepping directly into the full force of the water.
Microbial sampling equipment
The caving team has partnered with a microbiology lab from
Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops, B.C., that is
interested in examining microbes that live in extreme environments.
Vieira and his team gather microbe samples
using swabs, petri dishes and soil samples. What the test
results will reveal is anyone’s guess, but like the larger
survey of the cave system, they’re sure to expose a new
understanding of Canada’s underground.