March 18th, 2020 ~ Vol. 90 No. 11
Looking Back - John Kinnear
Bisaro Anima – The Name Fits
Looking Back
Mount Bisaro in all its glory
As promised I will take Torindo Bisaro’s story to the next chapter, one in which there has been two important acknowledgements of his sacrifice. In last week’s column it was revealed that 21 year old Torindo John Bisaro from Fernie was killed on July 28th, 1944, just two weeks after he had landed in Normandy. Torindo was originally classified as an enemy alien when he first signed up in B.C. but once Italy turned sides and Torindo proved himself to his superiors, he was reclassified and shipped overseas. And was lost.

So some years later, in however the process works, the B.C. Geographical Names commission acknowledged his sacrifice by the naming of a spectacularly remote peak in the Fernie area as Mount Bisaro. It lies out of sight from Fernie, north of Mount Proctor and the Three Sisters (Trinity Mountain). There are five tenets for approving names for geographical features in B.C. They include historical events, unique natural features, native language associated with the area, early residents and finally, persons who died in war service.

There is a segment of mountains within the Rockies, known as the Italian Group which includes peaks like Mount Abruzzi and Mount Cadorna. Cadorna and Abruzzi are named after World War I Italian military leaders. There is also what is referred to as the Military Group throughout the middle Rockies that commemorates all kinds of World War I battles, ships lost and foreign military leaders that distinguished themselves. Some names are very obscure and of questionable merit and I seriously wonder why so many Canadian peaks were commemorated this way. But in the case of Torindo it is entirely appropriate.
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The B.C. Geographical Names commission chose to name a peak Mount Bisaro after this fallen Italian. This could have been the end of this story, commemoration wise, but it took a new turn in 2012. That is when explorers; specifically cavers who are always on the lookout for new undiscovered karst topography, came across a fabulous new entrance to the earth. It was caver Jeremy Bruns, while on an exploration of the Bisaro Plateau organized by his father Henry Bruns, who is credited with the find. After about a week of his team checking dead ends Jeremy found a small surface crack that turned out to be more than meets the eye. Its exploration has been on-going now for 7 years and ultimately has led to it being labeled the deepest cave in Canada and the continental United States.

The project team, specifically that intrepid caver Kathleen Graham, chose to call the cave Bisaro Anima. This name choice was explained by Kathleen in a quote in an article by caver Christian Stenner for Canadian Geographic magazine. She said: “Anima in Italian means heart or soul, or, in Latin, spirit. The name Bisaro Anima identifies the cave as the heart of the mountain, where our heroes’ spirits reside.”

In that article I also found a quote by Stenner that I connected with personally despite being a non-caver. Stenner said: “It’s the last frontier of exploration, really. The bottoms of the ocean and the depths of our caves are still areas where you can go where no person has gone before,” caver Christian Stenner said. “And the feeling you get when you know for sure you’re walking on a place no one has even been — it’s amazing.” How I indentify with this is quite simply the fact that I, as a coal miner, have stepped into a fresh-cut face of coal underground and realized that I was standing where no one had ever stood before.
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Bisaro Anima was systematically explored year after year from 2012 on, pushing deeper each year until Thanksgiving of 2017 when they encountered a sump of crystal clear blue water at 655 meters. The following New Year’s Day a 9 person team including Bruns and Graham entered the cave system to do what most of us would consider insanity. They carried in scuba gear so that Graham could probe the sump even deeper. What manner of madness would drive a human being to spend a week in an underground refrigerator of 100 % humidity, rife with dangers. They slept deep in this meandering karst drainage, covered in muck and with no way to communicate to the outside world.

As is the way of cavers the passages are systematically mapped. Deep canyons, small squeezes, dead ends and every notable feature were documented. They set survey stations and measured distances, inclinations and azimuths from station to station. In the process they chose names to identify features for mapping and personal reference. Such was the case with Bisaro Anima where a World War theme was used. As you progress through the cave map you find names like Trial by Fire, the first vertical 60 meter drop and following that the Black Watch. Torindo was with this regiment when he died but there is a double meaning to this commemorative name. It is a 105 meter wide drop that not even the most powerful lamp light can penetrate. Imagine lowering oneself into the Black Watch.

The whole course of Anima is salted with war theme names like Canal du Nord, Parade Square, Bloody Sunday and the Mess Hall. All designed to acknowledge in some way some aspect of war history.
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I found a name further into this labyrinth that tweaked my curiosity as to its connection. It appears to be a large side chamber on the map, at a depth of about 200 meters, with a question mark at the top of it. It is labeled Operation Mincemeat. I wrote about this particular war story in March of 2019 in a piece called; The Man Who Never Was. Interestingly enough, there is an Italian connection. Mincemeat was a concocted plan to drop a body offshore Spain with so called secret documents handcuffed to an apparently high ranking officer’s wrist. The documents, when studied by the Germans, revealed that the Allied invasion plans were other than Sicily, when in fact it was the actual planned landing site. The Germans took the bait after the complicit Spanish government shared the found documents.

In January of 2018 the team, sponsored financially by the Alberta Speleological Society and the Royal Canadian Geographic Society, reached the sump that had stopped them months earlier and spot they chose to call Dieppe. At that 655 meter depth Graham donned her scuba gear and plumbed another 15 meters into that pool to bring the caves total depth to a mind blowing 670 meters. They are not done yet with Anima and mapping its features and probing those question marks on the map. Graham said in Canadian Geographic; “I am hoping the sump is a P-trap, meaning I’ll dive down, pass a constriction and then rise to an open-air passage — perhaps a beach we can call Juno.”

I should mention that these explorations were carried out in late fall or winter months because the cave was dryer and more comfortable. Really? The other issue with this type of exploration is that you wind up setting up surface camp in temperatures like -20 centigrade with a ton of gear in the middle of nowhere. The only access to the site is by helicopter.
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Jeremy Bruns’ father Henry shared a story with me about Kathleen that demonstrates the technical skills and physical conditioning required to attempt such treacherous work. Henry explained that: “Katie Graham badly hurt her ankle on that New Years mission and needed to self rescue to the surface over a day long period of time. In her absence, the backup diver attempted to push the cave deeper, but was not successful. After Katie returned to the surface, she continued to return to the cave entrance to help haul bags out. It turned out later, she had actually broken her ankle, requiring pins.”

Many years ago a caver broke his leg in the depths of the Gargantua Cave which is high on the side of Mount Ptolemy. A rescue team, specifically headed by a local underground mine rescue captain named Tony Fumigalli, was sent in to bring him out. Tony was heard to say as he stood in the 25 meter high Boggle Alley, one of the three entrances to Gargantua; “These guys are nuts.” Nuts indeed, but also highly trained, disciplined and dedicated individuals pioneering their way into unknown worlds. Bravo Team Bisaro.
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March 18th, 2020 ~ Vol. 90 No. 11
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