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May 13, 2002
The dig site was somewhat different from the way we'd left it last month. Recent heavy rains washed a lot of detritus into the pond and this found its way into the lead. Matted leaves plugged up the cobbles in the lead and filled it to the rim with water. Floating debris obscured the surface and gave the hole a pretty gross appearance. Not daunted however, I plunged in looking for the cave that lay below.
After digging around at the bottom of the pool with my nose right down at the water level, I eventually found the magic wad of leafy debris that unplugged the drain. Slurp! Down went the water in a big whirlpool. Voila, there was the lead we'd left last month.
I spent the rest of the afternoon carefully removing cobbles from the bottom of the lead, sod from the bedrock around the lead, and cobbles in front of the lead at the edge of the pond. This last action allowed me to perform a controlled drain of the ponds contents, specifically thousands of gallons of water and dozens of pounds of stinky algae (much of this I successfully scooped up, but some got by).
By 6 p.m., when Rick Orbin and Mark Gardas arrived, the level of the pond was about one foot lower and I was ready for dinner. After a tasty meal at the 4U Motel, Mark, Rick and I reconvened at the edge of the pond and set about removing cobbles and clay to expose the bedrock. Our goal was to get down to a solid foundation upon which we could pour a concrete footer. That footer would later support the cofferdam we intend to build around the entrance to the cave.
By sundown we made great progress and much of the bedrock in front of the lead was exposed. A temporary cofferdam of clay and sandbags held back the incessant pond flow and proved entertaining when we would occasionally open the dam to allow the pond to drain. By sundown we were working in the lead to clear out some of the cobbles that blocked our passage into the cave.
On Saturday morning Rick, Mark and I were joined by Ben Madore to continue work on Akwa. The lead was a real sight, we exposed all the surrounding bedrock and lowered the pond level by over a foot. Today we would work on cleaning out the passage and then pour the concrete footer. Our goal was to restore the pond level to its original position by the time we left Sunday morning.
Throughout Saturday morning we finished a few details around the bedrock and then turned to the passage. In short order we cleared a significant amount of loose rock from the lead and exposed a going passage. The passage itself was ultimately three feet high and just under two feet wide. To our great surprise and pleasure however, the passage quickly turned into a narrow, yet deep canyon.
Less than four feet in from the entrance we noticed the water swirled down under some rocks and disappeared. After removing those rocks we found a narrow crevice that took all of the water. The sound of water was so loud we really couldn't tell how deep it was, at first. As we removed more rock from the floor, and exposed more of the crevice, we discovered that we were in a rounded tube, at the top of the canyon.
Eventually we cleared enough that we could drop rocks down to the floor below. Conservative estimates put the floor 20 to 25 feet below the position where we were digging. I was able to stand up in the passage, with my feet jammed down into the crack and look down the slot. The floor was out of sight, but all the water headed that way, and I was beyond the sink point, comfortably dry. Once I came out, Rick went in and threw a rock forward in the passage. He reports that the rock sailed into the blackness and hit the floor below, without bouncing off any walls. It appears that after a few more feet of cobble removal we will intersect the top of a pit wide enough for us to reach the floor.
At 3 p.m. we began preparations for the pour. Tom Barton joined us and several people from other projects showed up to spectate. We put plywood forms in place around the bedrock and got the high strength concrete mixed and poured. Eight bags later the concrete was up to the level of the bedrock lip below the lead and we were at a good break point. We packed up and headed off to dinner.
The next morning several of us returned to inspect the result. The pour set up very nicely, and the steel rebar we set was ready to accept our next pour. We finished the weekend's effort with some concrete touchups that would prepare us for our next trip to work on the cave. We restored the pond's original level with sandbags and then left the site.
After speaking with the landowner it was determined that we would attempt to build the cofferdam up a level at a time. As the structure rises we will place drain valves at various elevations. This will give the landowner the opportunity to collect and store water through the spring and summer, and then drain the pond in the winter.
We all came away very pleased with the result and hope to see similar success on our next weekend at Akwa.