Party: Felix Ossig-Bonanno, Greg Horne, Martin Davis, Bob Rutherford
Photos: Felix Ossig-Bonanno, Greg Horne, Martin Davis
Greg first mentioned this trip at one of the community dinners… some winter caving, a helicopter ride, a bit of speleology/research; where could I write my name?! At this point it was only a possibility, and a week or two passed before – all fired up from some caving in Canmore – I sent an email to confirm my interest… it was another week before I got the answer that there wasn’t any room… but then!, two days later, miraculously things changed! I requested a day off work packed during the week and before I knew it I was picked up from out front of my apartment building and driving to Prince George.
The goal of the trip was similar to the trip into Cadomin I helped out on. Namely to take DNA and microbial samples, and record mass, forearm lengths, sex and species. We also had a roost logger to service. The interesting part about this trip is that neither of the caves we would be visiting are confirmed hibernaculum, though judging by the guano that has been observed during the summer, our odds where good!
The mission of the WCS Canada BatCaver Program is to identify and study hibernation sites for bats in Western Canada, using the resources of Cavers and the public to expand our knowledge. This information is critical to conserving bat populations from threats to their survival such as the disease White Nose Syndrome, which is spreading across North America and will reach Western Canada in a few years.
Bats play a major role in keeping insects including mosquitos under control, their only food source in this region. Knowledge is our best defense and we may be able to protect bats against the disease with further research.
On the way up we had plenty of time to talk, I think it was about a 5hr drive. We drove below Hosepipe Cave as well as the access to the Small River Karst. I also learnt about the tones that are used as a sort of password for radios… We’d be picking up Martin and Bob from the airport, but we’d left early so had time to kill in Atmosphere. During the week I’d been reading about Fang Cave in Mike Nash’s book on Google Books, now I could read the missing pages!
We visited our charter company and met with our pilot Ken Knight to make a rough plan and get all the radios working, sat. phone numbers exchanged, etc. After Martin and Bob had arrived we dumped some gear in the hanger and did the safety briefing to save time in the morning.
We did some shopping and visited Jeff Hunter to borrow some gear (bivy for Bob, sat. phone, snow shovel + probe…) before showing up at our hosts: Clive & Sue’s. Clive is a local caver and is actually the guy who drew up the survey for the cave I’d be visiting (Meadow), I also later found out that The Bobladder was named after Bob! Clive had a copy of Dale’s new book: Journey to the Centre of the Earth, which had some funny tales about some of his trips in this area, including one where he accidentally benighted Bob in Fang Cave! Anyway, I am probably being distracted by all these fascinating connections…
Bob was 100% correct in the fact that Sue had prepared us an amazing dinner! The night was a bit of a blur… stories (bird photos from Europe), food, dogs… whilst I had all my gear with me, it was far from packed. I spent some sorting this out, whilst the others struggled to get Jeff’s sat. phone working. We’d have one pack each for the cave and another in case we couldn’t get pulled out in the afternoon and had to spend the night – I used the pack Martin made for the Thanksgiving Expedition…
We woke in the dark (was it 4:30??)(hot water bottle still warm! – Thanks Sue!) and made a nice hot breakfast (eggs, toast, bacon/veg. sausages) before heading out to the airport. We were a little later than intended, and the weather wasn’t looking optimal – or was it just the pulp mills? But we soon got the go ahead, and after the inevitable crash stories (yet again), we were packed and in the air. Happy Birthday Martin!
The views weren’t amazing due to the low cloud cover, but as we pulled closer into the McGregor Range pockets started to open.
Martin and I would be visiting Meadow whilst Greg and Bob would visit the more challenging Fang Cave… which also had a chance of being plugged with ice at the Corkscrew… We dropped the Fang party off first, (so they’d have a bit more time) in a small clearing about 400m from the upper entrance. I jumped out to grab Martin’s GPS and we were quickly back in the air. It wasn’t long before we were circling the entrance to Meadow (a little hard to spot). Martin and I practically got dropped off at the entrance!
I already had my cave suit on, so whilst Martin changed I wandered over to inspect the entrance… several metres of snow was draping over a sizable entrance. It’d normally be a walk-in entrance, but it was now a 5m drop down a near vertical snow bank. The original plan was to rap./abseil in, but I figured it wouldn’t take me long to cut some steps – it’d prob save time on the way out, and be pretty nice, if we did end up having to spend the night.
Just in the entrance we saw the Roost Logger Martin had put in on his last trip. We intended to only swap out batteries and the SD card, but after a considerable amount of water was found in the ‘waterproof’ housing, Martin decided to simply replace the whole unit.
A little further – just above the drop into Marbled Slot – in we stopped to service the temp./humidity sensor. Whilst Martin was doing this I quickly passed through Loop Line. I wasn’t really expecting bats so close to the entrance, and didn’t find any… but did find quite a few sizable bones.
In Confusion Chamber, Martin spotted our first bat! Yay! this is exactly what we were hoping to find! Meadow is now a confirmed bat hibernaculum!
I didn’t have a rabies shot so wouldn’t be handling any bats – I’m not even sure I would be comfortable doing so anyway. But my hands were definitely needed for taking all the measurements we needed.
After the first bat I got faster and faster at recording all the data and taking the samples we needed. Dropping down the ‘Old Continuation’ we found quite a few more bats. One just above the pitch (not on survey) in a parallel side passage. (This cave really needs to be resurveyed… there was a nice column with webbing around it. Clive said it peters out at the bottom).
We also used a UV light which not only should light up any WNS, but also kills the bacteria!
Whilst looking for bats, we did a small climb and after crawling through a small passage that had definitely been dug popped out into a large room. The floor was trogged. This was good news – I was pretty sure we had bypassed the Arm-Smashed-in-Caver-Jump that we initially thought we’d have to bolt climb (would have needed maybe one bolt – you could stem to the lip). I returned with the good news and we were soon both into the ‘new continuation’.
This part of the cave had a lower (younger) vadose/canyon passage and upper (older/fossil) phreatic passage. My favourite section was probably the Crystal Hall which we only got up into on our way back. There was a bat up here, but it was too hard to reach.
I down-climbed The Bobladder – but would have much preferred to have the ladder present! it was a tricky little climb! Up and down the Mud Humps, we went no further than the Batpit. Even without the bolting, it was getting late and we had sampled as many bats as we had equipment. Time to head out.
To our horror when we emerged, it was snowing quite heavily – it looked like we would be spending the night after all. We got the radio out and quickly got in contact with the others (the A-team as they’d dubbed themselves). Unfortunately, the Corkscrew had been plugged so they hadn’t been able to get into the part of the cave we/they were aiming for. From the photos though, it looks like they got to experience a unique and special place.
(above, lower right. Bob re-enacting his cold overnight stay in Fang)
The weather was clear for the other team, and to my surprise, the weather lifted for us too, revealing some spectacular scenery. Maybe it would have been nice to spend the night?
We were picked up first and I managed to score front seat! Yay! Bob said I should since it was my first time in a helicopter.
Clive and Sue were surprised to see us back so soon – they’d thought the plan was to spend the night!
The following morning it was now Clive’s birthday! Unfortunately Greg and I would miss the celebrations as we both had to get back to Jasper. Bob and Martin were probably regretting that their flight was leaving so early the next morning!