One thing leads to another… We were going to meet Felix in Prince Rupert at the end of September, but instead, met him 2 weeks later on Vancouver Island. The high ferry price encouraged us to make the most of it and spend a week of caving up North. The amazingly warm welcome at Crag’s encouraged us to extend the trip.

Doing a quick search online about caving on Vancouver Island yields a number of caving destinations (it is after-all, the caving capital of Canada!), The most publicised destination is Horne Lake Caves, but having just spent the last month working there, I was keen to take my parents to some of the more remote karst further north, focusing on those with larger dimensions. Many of the spots I hadn’t visited before; as was the case with our first destination: Little Huson Caves

Little Huson and Artlish

Party: Mum, Dad and I
Photos: Felix Ossig-Bonanno

Leaving Quagers and Tawneys we headed north, taking about 4hrs before we finally arrived. A short work along the wooded trail, some steps led down to a wooden platform at the upper end of River Cave. Creeping around into the entrance, we found it was actually a large tunnel, and you could see light coming in from the other side.
We dropped down and followed an old watercourse to another entrance into the main River Cave giving us good views of both insurgence and resurgence. Rejoining the trail, we passed through Fern Cave(?) before exploring the resurgence. On this side you could explore further whilst staying dry. There was also a wave shaped rock with some old signatures, dated 5/1/31

Mum in the resurgence of River Cave.

We headed back over the cave taking a closed trail that leads towards Huson Lake. Just before the lake was an impressive natural bridge as well as a nearby cave you could do as a through trip (possibly named Shelter Cave – the area map isn’t great). My parents were quite impressed by the log jam and backed up floating logs, its funny how quickly you can get adjusted to previously alien things.

Heading back to the car, we headed to the nearby Atluck Lake to spend the night. It was an amazing spot and just so happened to be on the way to Artlish Caves Provincial Park.

I hadn’t met many people who had been to the Provincial Park, it seems that after the park was established interest in the caves diminished. Access has also seemed deteriorated. We parked at the unmarked turnoff, the bridge across the river has been pulled long ago forcing us to park on the old road. Packing for the trip, we followed Quagger’s directions to cross the river, finding a flagged trail on the left and then the handline that dropped you into a dry section of the canyon. Scaling the other bank, we were soon walking along the old road. The road seemed to have acted as a firebreak. The right side remained green, but the left was actually still smouldering! The season had seen the highest number of fires on record for BC (I think there were about 200 on the north end of the island). Many trees had fallen across the road making progress painstakingly slow.

Quaggers map of the approach to the Artlish Caves. (source)

Once we reached Crystal Ck (what used to be the TH), progress became easier (contrary to the map). Finally we reached the park boundary, happy to enter the old growth the formation of the park has preserved.
The trail was a little vague, and we followed the wrong flagging down to the river, at first attempting to follow it to the resurgence, but forced into a short very chossy climb to regain the correct trail.

The cave entrance was spectacular! One of the best I’d visited on the island. The river was flowing quickly but scrambling along the boulders, you could enter the cave on the left. Continuing in, our eyes adjusted revealing a huge chamber. A large lake at the back of the room looked like it sumped completely at the far end. No one felt like trying to ‘duck under’ so after some unsuccessful photo-pfaffing we headed back out crossing over the top to the adjacent cave.

Boasting an impressive entrance, Black Hole runs parallel to the river and also has an upper and lower entrance. It likely hosted the main river-flow in the past. The sign located at the entrance advised us to “stay on the [marked] designated route”, but soon into the cave it became apparent that the markers were not maintained very well. Following the stream, we reached a waterfall, backtracked and eventually found the way-on by climbing high CR. Rigging a pitch to drop back in above the waterfall we dumped our packs and continued through the cave.
The cave was more complex than I’d expected based on my quick study of the survey. Scrambling over significant breakdown, we dropped back to to find a small stream that was still slowly dissolving the limestone. Turned around a couple of times in the breakdown, we eventually found a way to climb up above. It wasn’t far and we found the upper entrance. It was raining heavily outside (probably good for the remaining fires), and it was getting notably dark – we’d be walking back with headlamps.
I explored a long passage that was quite decorated eventually turning around to prevent any damage. Catching up with my parents we all found different ways to return to our packs. We de-rigged (you can actually climb the pitch if needed but a handline is nice to have) and headed out into the wet, fading light. Soaked, we reached our car sometime after 10PM. That’ll learn us for starting so late!

The Search for Lizard Pot

Party: Mum, Dad and I
Photos: Felix Ossig-Bonanno
Caves: Zebellos Mine, Twist and Pout, Twist and Shout, Lizard Pot, Zebellos Hydro(?)
Notes: Not to be confused with the Lizard Pot in the Rockies

We woke the next morning, and whilst sorting our neglected gear, someone who’d driven past earlier pulled over, this time coming from the opposite direction. “Do you know the way to the caves?” she asked. With first hand experience, we were happy to help.
Soon we headed south towards Zeballos. Quagger had recommended Lizard Pot due to its large entrance: two large pits separated by a large natural bridge. We drove around a bit looking around for limestone (+marble) and the creek that should run down into one of its entrances. Not sure exactly where to look we pulled into the nearby hydro station. Don, told us about a vertical entrance nearby that he had descended on rope 20 years ago. He gave us very rough directions but with the description not really matching, we decided to ask around in town. After-all this is how cavers first came to know about the cave… so we may as well try our luck!

“It was quite funny actually. We all rolled into Zeballos and right away the town knew something was up; we must have had ‘cave’ written all over our faces in mud. Even the local newspaper approach[ed] us as soon as they heard cavers were in town. The reporter wanted to hear about all our adventures while in Zeballos. Then when we visited the local bar for refreshments, the bartender approached us asking if we were there to go caving in the local caves. One of them which they called Lizard Cave sounded quite interesting. We were not aware or [had] even heard. of a cave of this size being that close to the town and plus it was never published in the cave survey book of Vancouver Island. The bartender was quite happy to give us the directions and so off we went to check it out.”

BC Caver – Fall 2005 – Volume 19, Issue 3

We had quite a different reception. No-one seemed to have ever heard of a cave named anything to do with lizards, or natural bridges. Some people didn’t even realise there were so many caves about (crazy to me since I’ve spent around 8mths almost exclusively caving on the island). We went to get some gas but found out from the local store that it was closed for a few hours for a community meeting (maybe something to do with the evacuation due to possible landslides after the recent fires). We checked at the community hall/visitor centre and were directed to the owners of the post office. Asked some locals on the street, talked to some drunk loggers who where very friendly, even telling us about some caves (in the Wet Dreams area). But no-one could tell us about the one we were looking for. In the end, after grabbing some fuel/gas we decided to visit the popular mine near the Zeballos/Nomash junction (one lady told us she’d taken her new born in there – I think in a pram?).

Driving as far as we dared, we walked the rest of the road to the entrance of the mine, feeding on the salal and huckleberries on either side. Soon the open double gates came into view. The floor was wet but a pipe running along the floor allowed us to keep dry. We went as far as a section where the ceiling had collapsed at a dyke. The dam that had formed had banked the water up and we decided that was far enough.

We returned to the rough location of Lizard Pot. Whilst Mum and Dad relaxed, I spent a few hours exploring. Following a stream I ended up finding some short caves in a large limestone cliff, some dolines, and then, a steep pit dropping into the ground. Unmistakably a cave (possibly the one that had been described to us earlier that day). Scouting around, I could find no way down without rope. I did however find some flagging with the caves name (Twist and Pout) and some initials marked on it (including “PC”). I asked Peter about it a few days later. It turns out that he had started surveying it (with others) but had never finished.

EDIT 2019.06.03 Twist and Pout was explored and named by Barry Lewis and Chris Fernandes, Sept 2006; as far as I know, no survey was done.  Peter might have been there an earlier date.  Paul Griffiths?

Larry Henson, in Nanaimo.

With the light failing, and sighting a black bear just down the road, I returned to the car where dinner was awaiting. As we headed for a better camp I stopped briefly and got out of the car. Looking down into the woods I somehow knew I’d found the cave.

The next morning, I again did some solo scouting this time quickly locating the entrance to Lizard Pot. Finding a more friendly route down from the road I returned to grab my parents. On the return trip another cave was located. Mum and I explored some wonderful vadose passage that twisted this way and that. It ended in a large drop into a big room. We named the cave Twist and Shout after Twist and Pout nearby combined with the large room we turned around at.

EDIT 2019.06.03: it looks like the origianl name for Twist and Shout is ZTT (Zebelos Trickle Tributary):

On August 4, 2006, while doing some karsting near Lizard Pot, Joan and I found a small collapsing hole at the downhill end of a small sinkhole.  Just below the small hole we cut away some fibrous tree roots, scooped away some dirt, and crawled into the cave.  A pleasant sinuous vadose led us to some remnantal over passage extending out into a largish room.  Looking down between the floor remnants we could see a big drop.  The remnantal over passage can be seen near the ceiling opposite.
        On September 15, 2006, we returned with 3 caver friends and found that big drop was 4.6m; all 5 of us had over estimated that “dig drop”.
        There is a second drop, down passage, of 10.6m.  See crude survey.

Larry Henson, in Nanaimo.
Descending into Lizard Pot

It was a short work to Lizard Pot and it had been a fun adventure simply finding the cave. The upper pit has a waterfall running into it and is the easiest to climb down into. Whilst not required, we dropped a handline to make it easier. Passing under the bridge we found an entrance on the far side. Dad waited outside whilst Mum and I explored the cave. We were hoping to pass the sump that was described in the trip report, but after heading down from the Sucker Room we found the passage to choke where the sump would have been. Climbing back up, I explored more passage finding the other exit below the bridge. Mum came out the other way.

Some photo trickery… my parents are in this photo twice!

From our previous visits to the hydro dam, we’d also been told about a cave just before the dam runoff enters the Nomash River. We knew they wouldn’t be releasing water through the turbines (since the lake level was still 2m low), but ended up having a conversation with one of the employees. JJ became more friendly after we mentioned talking with Don and gave us more information about the river sinking into a small vortex.
We followed the race? (output from power plant) and following the stream down we found where it sunk into the river-rock. I continued down a short way and entered an interesting marble cave. After squeezing through the white breakdown I dropped into a large room complete with lake. Looking closely I found a fish swimming around – probably swimming through some underground passage from the river.

A fish in the Zeballos Hydro Cave.

We headed back and decided to move on to the Glory Ole area. We tossed up camping by Nimpkish Lake but decided to camp close to the caves. We couldn’t get all the way to the Arch Camp, but established a pretty good camp on The Connector. We soon met Rob, Dennis and Franck on their way to do some night exploration. After they helped Dad get the fire going, they headed off, apparently Franck asked if we were speaking another language! Ha!

Our camp on ‘The Connector’

I partially woke when they drove back out, Mum had some kind of conversation but it was incomprehensible to me in my partial state…

Pellucidar & Glory ‘Ole

Party: Mum, Dad and I
Photos: Felix Ossig-Bonanno

We headed off early the next morning to visit a highly decorated cave I’d visited only a couple of weeks ago. Not having a 4WD it was quite a walk but it was worth it! Crawling in through the resurgence we followed the stream to the decorated room at the end. Here are some photos:

Heading out, we stopped at the Treasure and Pesky Squeeze entrances. I relayed the story of how Dale dug open the entrance. What a great find!
Dad went to make dinner. Mum and I visited the others who where just having a break from the Sparkling Dig. Rob loaned Mum an old suit and light. I went to get Mum’s phone to install TopoDroid. They had made good progress, and when I got returned got roped into digging for a bit. Soon we called it a day. I hitched a ride back and Rob pulled out his chainsaw and helped stockpile some firewood for us. Set up shelter. Got fire going. I think they all wanted to stay! We discussed my plan to take Mum down into Glory ‘Ole, there were some doubts… Peter and Dale hung around a little longer. Dale lent Mum his kit – as long as we came and visited him on Hornby. It was a deal!

When we met P(eter), F(ranck), D(ennis), (R)ob, D(ale)… I noticed some weird side looks when Felix mentioned planning to do Glory’Ole with his 62 year old mother, and started questioning the idea. Remarks like – “Felix, your really want to take her down Glory ‘Ole without a caving suit?”
F:’Mum likes canyoning’
Dale: “Well, enjoy”
As many times before in my life, I decided to trust F knowledge in my (in)abilities and stick to the plan.

Glory ‘Ole

Party: Mum (R) and I
Video: Felix Ossig-Bonanno

An SRT-kit (not at all like my fancy one at home) from Dale, an adaptive light and old caving suit from Rob completed the preparation. As usual – hearing about the coldness of the cave, I added wetsuit, wetsuit socks, garbage bags on my feet, and down jacket to the list and wore it all as we set off the next morning. Not far down the road my glasses fogged up and I stumbled through the woods. Finally arriving at the entrance of the Glory ‘Ole, F looked down and said “this is much more water than a coupe of weeks ago – I don’t think we will get around surveying (our plan was – if possible – to get to the end and survey some passage some passage F scooped a few weeks ago).
So we set off leaving a bag behind [at the first pitch] to take Rob’s orange rope out after finishing. A pleasant start down boulders, a few climbdowns, an abseil. Great fun! Just as F said – an underground canyon (I love canyoning). We stop in a couple of places to look at some nice decoration: a beautiful white and black wall, a nice side trip to… and a formation with a false floor. I really enjoyed myself and my construction with the garbage bags between socks and neoprene + wetsuit bottom to keep me nice and snug, the wetsuit and Rob’s cavesuit also give me nice protection so I can enjoy “The Crawl” while looking at the ‘foam’ on the floor and roof contemplating how one could get stuck in the cave with heavy rain. The idea of staying nice and dry in the cave while James might spend it in the pouring rain doesn’t sound half as good any more contemplating the possibility of spending a night underground. But then again, F told me about the cache Rob arranged especially for this case [situation]. F. also carried a cooker [/stove, emergency sleeping bag] and food all the way, so I felt reassured. {also James was instructed to call for help if we weren’t back by the next morning}.
A kilometre of passage with decoration, side trip, false floor, whitewall leads us to “The Cascades”: a number of abseils and Tyrolean traverses to the bottom of the cave. Somewhere is an extension turnoff to a new bottom – well, I can’t remember where that was. I just remember that I really suck at Tyrolean Traverses (never done one before) and did them the real tiring way while all the abseils where real fun. We got quite wet in the waterfall and around one of the corners at a T.T.
The T.T’s really made me aware how much more practice I need learning about all my gear and gadgets while being in a ‘situation’. I watched Felix do it so easily and think – ‘ah well, I don’t think that helped me much. I start to get stuck, listen to Felix’s step by step instruction: now put the microtraction, now put your weight on the rope. Don’t go so high. Now put the ascender on the rope above you… no, not that one. Yes, that one. Now put your foot in the footloop, get the weight off the other rope… yes, I know all that, I know what he is talking about, but my mind is so sluggish. My arm just wants to keep pulling me up to undo gadgets without using more gadgets, so my mind doesn’t get overloaded. But Felix keeps persisting that I don’t use all my muscle power on this traverse. He knows there are many more to come – and all the way back again. The worst comes when I see a knot in the middle of a traverse. Well, I can abseil/rappel over a knot easily, so it can’t get too bad. Haha, it’s not long before I am stuck again. Put microtraction on, now put… same as read above. I obey my son! What choice do I have?
When I am not preoccupied with keeping Felix busy I enjoy the interesting dykes and beautiful vadose. Felix keeps checking that I am not getting too cold. At the big drop I am starting to feel a bit cold. It feels like Felix gives me the option to turn back, but I feel he knows that I will be fine to go on – even after ‘warning’ me that it will get pretty wet now. How well he knows me.
I actually don’t get very wet since he pulls me across. I unbuckle and let go of the rope. On we go.
Just before the last drop (or two) we look down to the ‘end’ (old end). There is a lot of water down there! That’s where we got to last time Felix explains. That’s where the old end is and that’s where the new one was found…
We decide to call it quits. So much water, and certainly no surveying for today. It looks like I made it just about to the old end.
We are returning and all is well until I hear Felix’s “oh, no!!!” I call: “what?” – No answer but his ‘oh no’ sounded more like ‘oh shit’. I expect no good, then I see. The rope dangles down the waterfall and ends in the middle of the deep pool. Felix’s mind is spinning, how to get it without goiong for a swim. I don’t think he even hears my question.
After studying depths of the pool edge he keeps reaching his foot to hook it behind the rope. Not quite. Another step deeper into the water… still not quite. A bit deeper… yeah! Got it. Phew! Saved.
I actually look forward to prussiking up [ascending]. It’ll keep me warm and I am usually okay prussiking. However, Dale’s SRT kit is not quite as efficient (on me) as my one at home, and my arms are much more tired than usual – after those Tyroleans – and I keep Felix down in the cold, [holding the rope] for a long time. Sorry!
The other prussiks [pitches] are fine (but I am slow) and every Tyrolean makes my heart sink deeper – not another one! I heard myself a few times that I hate Tyroleans – but please don’t take this as a racist remark.
At one Tyrolean on the return I thought to be more independent to save some time and not always to wait for Felix to talk me through. I felt confident that I remembered this one – an easy one. You had to be quick to not get wet and take a shower, so off I went. Why did the water just keep pelting down on me? I kept moving and get wetter and wetter. Ah… finally I am out and hear Felix yell – “Not that way Mum!” You get wet. Soaking wet. (Oh, really?). I start on the return through the water. Well, my attempt to become more independent didn’t pan out.
I don’t know if I went better or worse, since my arms got more and more tired. The thing I do know that I need to practice them (Tyroleans) a lot. I don’t have Felix when I go to Tasmania after X-mas to do some big caves. I better find out if they have Tyroleans in Tassie. I am quite glad to giver my arms a rest when it is ‘all over’ and I can climb and wriggle and crawl. I am warm enough and alive enough to enjoy all the beauties one more time. Even manage to pull Felix’s 100kg pack up a couple ???
Until – Oh. I had forgotten about this traverse. Bugger! Off I went pulling myself across on my microtraction. Half way across I decide to put my ascender on to help pull me across and now comes the part that I should leave out of the trip report because it was really stupid: reaching the other end I tried to unhooked the mircotraction. My brain was obviously not working very well, trying to move [remove] it before taking the caribiner out. I started to get impatient, “oh, stupid me”. I got it out then undid the ascender and presuming it was attached to my cows tail, I let go… it wasn’t. Another wet one for Felix. Sorry! Walking back, we tried to detect smoke smell in the hope that Jimmy (husband/father) had the fire going. Yeah, I can smell it remarked Felix just before we got there. What a glorious day. Thanks Felix (and Rob and Dale!).

It sounds like the others had a good trip in Sparkling too! Breaking through the dig into virgin passage…

Caving with Peter Curtis

Party: Mum, Dad, Peter Curtis, David Wall and I
Photos: Peter Curtis and I
Caves: Eternal Fountain, Benson R. Cave / Devils Bath, Woodwind, Oh Baby!

Sleeping in we had a slow morning, enjoying the sunshine. Eventually we broke camp and headed to Port McNeil to visit Peter. We talked and watch videos online, and Peter even played some songs on his guitar. We made plans for the following day to visit Eternal Fountain, and Benson River Cave.

The next morning we piled into Peter’s car and headed out along “the Frigon Road”. Dad found this quite amusing! I’d seen pictures of the entrance, but it was better in real! Water pours out from a hole, the water then flowing back under itself. A rope on a tree served as a handline and passing carefully behind the waterfall we entered the cave.

Entering the Eternal Fountain

The cave was fairly straight forward, but a great experience with water pouring in everywhere. I could understand why Rob used to guide this cave when he used to have his caving company.
We followed the stream down until it sumped and then returned the same way.

Next we headed to the Devils Bath system. Bushwacking, we headed to the Devils Spring by the river. Peter told us that some times the whole river is dry; it looked deep right now!
Continuing to the main TH, we looked out over what I’d heard was the largest cenote north of Mexico. The trail led us down to the entrance to the Benson River cave. We couldn’t go far before we reached an underground lake. Apparently you can dive this and emerge in Devils Bath.

The pool in Benson River Cave.

With the road onwards blocked for repairs we couldn’t continue on to visit the Vanishing/Reappearing River.

The following day David joined us to visit Woodwind Cave… though he seemed more interested in picking blue berries. As we approached we could look over the karst area which lies in an OGMA (Old Growth Management Area). Interestingly you could see a distinct change in the trees at the contact.
Parking on the side of the road, Peter soon picked up a route he had flagged. Picking berries as we went, it wasn’t long before we reached the lower entrance. The cave system runs quite shallow and dips in and out of the limestone having around 14 entrances. This is where the name Woodwind comes from. Weaving in and out of the cave we managed to stay relatively dry.

Reaching the top of the system, we split up to look around the karst. Peter, Mum and I quickly lost David and Dad. I think they ended up mostly blueberry hunting. We checked out a number of karst features and I did a quick trip through Oh Baby!

Peter gave us a lift back to our car we’d left at the Hwy, and bidding farewell, we headed south to visit Dale.