Nothing sparks the human imagination quite like the black, gaping mouth of a cave.
What secrets lurk in that vast emptiness beyond?
Especially when it’s a massive cave — perhaps the biggest in Canada — and one that may have never been glimpsed by human eyes.
Maybe that’s why the helicopter crew that first spotted the cave in a remote valley in British Columbia's Wells Gray Provincial Park named it Sarlacc's Pit.
A sarlacc, you may recall from Star Wars lore, is the enormous tentacled hole that Jabba the Hutt was fond of feeding his prisoners to — sentencing them to a thousand years of slow, painful digestion.
So far, this cave is keeping its secrets locked down just as tight as any sarlacc. It was spotted in that flyover last March during a routine survey, but scientists only made a preliminary site visit in September. What we do know is that it’s big.
"My immediate reaction was that there can't be a cave there, it's impossible," Catherine Hickson, who conducted the expedition, tells Global News. “It is huge. It is enormous. When you first see it, you just gasp because it's just this huge hole in the ground.”
All the more surprising is that the mouth of the cave, measuring about 328 feet (100 meters) long by 197 feet (60 meters) wide, has managed to remain hidden for so long. To get a sense of its scope, consider the two red circles in the image below. Those are members of the Canadian team — mere crumbs at the edge of the cave's gaping maw.
“I’ve been in some of the biggest caves in the world, and this thing has an entrance that is truly immense, and not just by Canadian standards,” John Pollack, a member of the exploration team, tells Canadian Geographic.
“You don’t get lines of sight of 600 feet in Canadian caves — it just doesn’t happen. And this is a shaft. It goes down quite precipitously, it had a large amount of water flowing into it and is wide open for as far down it that we’ve gone. The scale of this thing is just huge, and about as big as they come in Canada.”
And what can we expect to find in that gaping chasm? Uniquely situated and physically buffered from their surroundings, caves can host rich ecosystems teeming with very different forms of life. Even without sunlight, many species can thrive, from bats to cave spiders to salamanders and even cavefish.
Consider New Zealand’s Waitomo Glowworm Caves, home to bioluminescent insects that give the sprawling subterranean network its iridescent glow.
There’s certainly plenty of room for surprises in Sarlacc's Pit, which, mercifully, will be renamed once the government consults with nearby First Nations communities — online petitions notwithstanding.
Scientists have already reported the sound of rushing water in the depths.
It’s possible when geologists pry deeper into the cave — likely in 2020 — they will witness things that no modern human eyes have glimpsed before.
As Pollack tells Canadian Geographic, “this cave is truly in the middle of nowhere. We don’t even think it’s feasible for someone to walk in and do anything. You might be able to reach it, but you couldn't bring in enough equipment to do anything about it.”
Or will nature pull an Al Capone’s vault on us, delivering a much-ballyhooed box of nothing at all?
For now, even the location of the cave is being kept secret, lest foolhardy spelunkers attempt to visit the very dangerous site — and incur the sarlacc's wrath.