Volcanologist Dr. Catherine Hickson may not be a household name outside geological circles, but she’s used to limelight, as well as limestone. Cathie’s first major mass media exposure came as a university student when she was a witness to the eruption of Mt. St Helens. As a fully fledged geologist, in 2004, she and her staff fielded inquiries from around the world about subsequent activity at the famed volcano.
Most recently, Cathie was thrust into the spotlight again, as a newly-discovered cave informally named “Sarlacc’s Pit” has made headlines around the world. The vast opening into a mountainside deep in the back country of Wells Gray Provincial Park in BC captured the imagination of people all over the world. Cathie, who did her thesis on Wells Gray, has a long-running association with the park, and was one of the first to learn about it after a helicopter pilot spotted the feature during an annual survey back in April.
“It’s a great story,” says Cathie, “with lots of interesting angles.” The cave may be one of the largest in Canada, with a glacial river running into it. Only accessible in September due to snowmelt, and apparently unknown prior to the recent chance sighting from above, “Sarlacc’s Pit” will take years to properly study—and Cathie is thrilled to be involved.
But Cathie says the story’s real hook is its fundamental optimism: “We’re all hearing such bad news, but here’s something: there are still places and things that we don’t know about. The world isn’t completely known!”
Cathie visited the cave as part of a Canadian Geographic Flagged Expedition on September 9, but the story didn’t break until November 30, as parks officials contacted local First Nations and worked on a media plan. (Due to concerns about potential illicit visits, the exact location of the cave is not being made public.) The morning after the story first broke in Canadian Geographic—a Saturday—Cathie got the first of what would turn out to be a flurry of phone calls: Global News, CBC radio, CBC TV, CTV, the Canadian Press, and many more. Even the New York Times!
Cathie takes it all in stride. “I’m happy to be an ambassador for geology,” she says. A member of the Explorer’s Club, a Fellow of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society, and the president of Geothermal Canada, Cathie is that and much more.
As Adventure Canada clients who have had the pleasure of travelling with her know, Cathie personifies enthusiasm, professionalism, and a passion for the planet. We are thrilled that Cathie has played, and continues to play a pivotal role in Wells-Gray Park, to which she has devoted much of her professional life, and to the advancement of the earth sciences.
Well done Cathie!