Party: Me, John Lay, Peter Chiba, James Campbell and Alex Thexton
Photos: John and I
Mmm, that was a good meal. Cuban coconut, black beans and rice from Backcountry Pantry; topped off with a hot chocolate. Everyone is asleep or at least in the process. We’re at Camp 1: Miller Swiller. Tomorrow the plan is to wake at ~3am, head to Camp 2, dump gear and head up to Dream Catcher (the limit of the explored part of the cave), and with luck find the elusive upper entrance.
Thanksgiving Cave is one of the longest caves on Vancouver Island and ‘the’ upper entrance has long been theorised. It has one of the strongest breezes I have ever felt in a cave, some of the stals have rectangular cross sections as their growth has been influenced by the draught.
There are five of us on the trip, and whilst this was the original team size, two dropped out, and it was down to John, Peter and I. Funemployed James later joined, and last minute Alex also decided to come along returning our party to five.
The last two expeditions weren’t super successful due to the cave flooding on both occasions. Were I am sleeping now was apparently under a couple of feet of water!
The cave has been fairly straight forward thus far, my heavy pack has been eisier to manage than expected. Everyone has matching packs designed by John himself. Martin in the nearby community of Tahsis (the caving capital of Canada) made them.
The cave isn’t very big. Lots of crawling, stemming, sliding and shuffling. We all wear harnesses and the pack is attaced to the mallion. This works really well for dragging it behind you on the crawls and dangeling it beneath you when stemming. I found that tying a couple of butterflies into the teather worked really well; it creates handles for hauling the pack and also allows you to clip in short when required. I had tried a clove at first, but quickly changed.
I didn’t do a great amount of prep for the trip. In many ways it isn’t too different from many of the other trips I have been on, but it is also very unique. All the longer caving expeditions I have been on have been organised by Alan Pryke and we have always had a base camp outside the caves (on the Chillago trip, we did 20 days of consecutive caving!), this time we were planning on 6 ‘days’ (5 ‘nights’) in the cave. It reminded me of the Denali expedition I was on in many ways: similar thought process to food packing, increased pack mass, remoteness/self sufficiency, a team of 5… but following cave passage up instead of a mountain. What made this exciting, is that we were heading into the unexplored.
In preparation for the trip, I organised a visit to familiarise myself with the system. Five of us (a different five), explored some of the lower portion: Inside Out –> Lower, (Main to Inside Out) + Inside Out to Birthday Pot. We were a few hours past Birthday Pot now, so I am into new cave which is always fun. It would have been nice to push on to Camp 2, but it was the right call to stop as Alex was pretty spent. He got stuck on the fixed ropes at Dr Grunges Sleezorium and John had to help him out.
We arrived at the cabin pretty early the day before. I wasn’t overly happy to leave John’s at 6, but it was nice to have the extra packing time. I had pretty much sorted my gear by the time Pete arrived, but after weighing each other and our packs I decided I was taking too much and ended up cutting a lot of food the following morning (I was the only one who didn’t carry their pack to the entrance the day before). Here are the measurements we ended up with:
0960g – Mat + Tyvek sheet
2830g – Sleep bag + liner + clothes
4850g – Food
I woke to an alarm around 3am and wasn’t pleased about it. Ignoring the alarm, it seemed that I wasn’t alone. Some time later Alex arrived – he had camped down at a lower spot and wasn’t aware that we were all slacking of a bit. It was a bit of a game trying to get stay in your sleeping bag until everyone was pretty much ready… only, with too many people playing it definitely takes a while to get moving!
But finally we were underway. The caving for the next leg was easier over all. The Otter Run was tiring but just a lot of crawling, followed by the Ogre Choker a tight section of cave up through some boulders… or as John did, you could ascend the rope.
When we arrived at Camp 2, one of my footholds broke off and if I didn’t catch myself, apparently I would have fallen onto a sharp blade of rock. A reminder of how easily things could go wrong…
The camp was smaller than the first. Sleeping spots were quickly claimed. John had a fancy setup that looked like quite a bit of work had gone into it. I picked the next most comfortable looking spot… it also proved to be the largest meaning I got to share it with Peter. The next hour was spent enlarging the sleep platform, at the same time creating walls so that we couldn’t easily roll out.
We timed all our exploration so that it coincided with daylight outside – this would make it easier to find an entrance. The first pitch was at the Bug Climb. You had to go on rope, and squeeze through a small hole dropping down onto the rope. Many of us then free climbed a waterfall (what I think is called the Etrier Climb?)… whilst fun, this may not have been the best idea as it got us a bit wet.
The Final Option was as far as any of the surveys I had seen showed. I had looked at John’s sketch maps of the following section: “The Dream Catcher” so had a rough idea of what to expect. We ascended up a pitch, did a traverse, up the Staircase, and then up another pitch into the Dream Catcher area. I headed up to Miles High and ascended the aven to have a look at the boulder choke… knocking a couple of rocks down that nearly sconed James.
We then set out exploring the spiderweb of passage ways. Bat poo was found. A dead harvestman (or was it a cave cricket?)… we were close. Some of the promising leads ended in breakdown… more exploring, climbing around in the upper vadose. Finally promising lead was found. We’d need the drill and bolts… we’d return the following day.
Peter, James and I ended up surveying the new passage whilst Alex belayed John on the climb, like clockwork, we rejoined just as the anchor was being created. John was gone for a while… he returned, “I found a pine cone”… why wasn’t there greater enthusiasm? Images of a tight 30m long grike with a faint slither of light entered my head… were we going to be so close but not be able to get out? We even talked about drilling a rock in half…
I was third up and peering up saw the hint of light that could be mistaken as a trick of the mind. I peered up again before starting the climb. It didn’t look that bad. The rock was pretty chossy, but testing everything as I went, I could safely make my way upwards. There was a large rounded granite(?) boulder plugging the hole but after stemming back across the rift I confirmed that we’d be getting out! Getting a good body jam, I started digging away at circle of light. My rock calls became less and less frequent due to the sheer quantity of rock, yelling it out only for the larger ones, throwing in a ‘log’ call for some humour.
They were getting a little impatient below, but soon I was out on the surface. Someone later asked what the weather had been like and I answered “bright”. James climbed up next bringing a rope that we fastened to a tree. It wasn’t long before we were all on the surface.
My first guess was that the cliff behind us was the main ridge… but that would mean we were on the other side of the mountain? Maybe we were in the gully between Thanksgiving and Huckleberry? In the end, my internal compass was right and we had popped out the other side of the main ridge.
There were many things to discuss. The name of the entrance and if we should head back to the cabin being the foremost.
JLFA, Dream Catcher, Over the Edge, Its About Time, The Other Option, and Too Easy were some of the names that were thrown around. My vote was for “The Other Option”, but I think thus far “Too Easy” is the winner; though I think the other expeditions are also going to have some input into the naming.
As to whether we should go back or not. Food in town was tempting, but heading back into the cave, spending the night and packing out gear the following day seemed the most sensible, energy efficient way to me. Alex seemed on board… in the end we spent so long discussing options that it was too dark to head back anyway and we were soon heading back into the cave.
James was very happy that we were heading out. He had almost eaten all his snacks and would have starved if he had to spend any longer in the cave. The mood was much lighter than the previous night.
In the morning we packed and headed up and out of the cave. Alex was in front. I followed him up the first ascent and noticed something funny with the rope above me… quickly I ascended over it… pulling the rope up, I could see through the sheath/mantle and into the core! I isolated it with a butterfly, putting in a second so it would be easier to pass. Other than that we were soon out without a hitch. Peter, John and I tied in the last bit of the survey… and then the hike began…
The packs may have worked well in the cave. But they sucked for hiking. Gaining the ridge, Alex located some flagging. All we’d need to do now was locate the faint trail down the ridge. Peter spent quite a while scouting, he was the only one who’d been up here before. After what felt like an hour, we followed the trail down we had been sitting on. Soon some familiar features were spotted confirming we were in the right spot. Now it was just a matter of perseverance. Moving the single strap from one shoulder to the other and back again. Carrying the pack in your arms, on your head. Dragging it and sometimes even just rolling it down the hill. Peter’s pack strap broke. Dragging it worked really well in some sections, and in others not at all. With my pack strap still intact, I tried taking the best of both worlds.
The cabin was a welcome sight. Everyone was a bit dehydrated. Soon food was cooked, and all the alcohol consumed.
Finishing early meant I could head over to Memekay for some more caving! After Indian in Campbell River and driving back to John’s, I headed back up north to do exactly that.
Thanks for a great trip guys. This is now the longest I have spent in a cave without returning to the surface.
[Bcsf] TGC Upper Entrance Found
john lay via BCSF <firstname.lastname@example.org>
to viceg <email@example.com>
We are back from our 2017 Thanksgiving Cave push trip. This time a more successful trip! We popped out an upper entrance that although we may change it, so far we have called “Too Easy”.
However TGC is the furthest thing from easy. Which I have certainly learned the hard way.
I was not alone on this dream quest either. Many names are on the TGC survey as a lot of time and energy has been put into this cave. The people from past trips put their heart and sweat, … man did we sweat, into this common goal of punching out the back of this cave. I can still remember the first time I was told TGC was a impossible going cave. The planning, people, gear, money and time over the past five years has consumed me and affected my family, work, and close friends. My dream of the upper entrance became a dream for others as well. Their goals and sacrifices on the three trips leading up to this moment contributed to the success that the five of us can hold right now.
As I hauled my heavy ass expedition bag up the pitches for the last time I felt the presence of the many cavers who I spent many days & nights with underground. The many cold hours watching me bolt climb up the cold dark pitches and searching for the way on. I could not thank those cavers enough for making this fourth expedition successful. My thoughts going into this trip were positive but restrained. Charlene said “be nice to them” and I said “I’ll be happy if they just keep up”. Well to say I was eating my words would be a understatement, and I do remember ignoring Charlene when she laughed when I answered that way. All four of the team members were half my age and twice as fast as me. I’m sure I asked Peter twice if we could stop for a break. The team way exceeded my expectations by never complaining and always ready to tackle a problem. We had a plan and we stuck to it. We gave thanks and respect to the teammates before us and we pushed until we achieved our goal. Dream Catcher was no match for this team and we pushed right out the other side of Thanksgiving Ridge.
I hope you read our trip report in the next BC Caver/Canadian Caver and we can share some fireside or cave time chat about how it all went down.
Peter Chiba, Felix Ossig-Bonano, James Campbell and Alex Thexton , thank you for an awesome few days (and nights) of caving!
Survey of Thanksgiving Ridge area. Route marked in red. Camps in yellow.