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 their safety.
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.