Five Springs Cave

September 29, 2001

Left-to-right - Larry Baer, Rick Lambert and Phil Lucas prepare to survey in Five Springs Cave - copyright D. Kouts
The first couple of survey weekends in Five Springs cave had returned phenomenal results. Over 1600 feet have been mapped in just three outings. The majority of that was a long, sinuous stream passage, walking height, which proceeded upstream for hundreds of feet to a sump. Three teams returned on September 29th to keep working on the upstream end of the cave and mop up other side leads left from earlier trips.

As we gathered at the parking area and got geared up I found Rick Lambert, Barry Horner and Rick Royer as well as Larry Baer and Ben Schwartz milling about. I had seen Ben's presentation on the survey in Omega system at Convention last year and was happy to get the chance to meet him here. Maybe he would bring some good luck to this project.

Ben Schwartz in Shazam suit, ready to survey in Five Springs Cave - copyright D. Kouts
In due course we had everyone in the cave and the gate locked behind us. I had heard from Rick Royer that the entrance series itself acted as a gate to the cave, and had interpreted that to mean crawly and tight. What hadn't come through (for me at least) in his descriptions were the copious amounts of water to be found. I didn't keep count of all the pools we had to crawl through but there's plenty more water there than I had imagined.

Three teams were in the cave. Rick Lambert would take his team of Phil Lucas and Joshua Rubinstein into some leads near the front of the cave. From there they would work deeper into the mountain if possible. Rick Royer, Ben Schwartz and Scott Walquist would go to the back of the cave and push a small upstream lead that Barry Horner had previously described as "inhumanely passable". I guess that means you could be get through, but it would be inhuman to put any one through there.

Barry Horner lights up one of the many highleads in Five Springs Cave - copyright D. Kouts
My team, with Barry Horner, Larry Baer and a late comer, Rick Wagner would head back to the area of the "inhumanly passable" lead but would then start surveying leads moving in a direction back toward the entrance. This approach had the most people working in the most areas with little chance for stepping on each others toes given the distances involved.

Some comment about the cave's characteristic must be made at this point. Foregoing the low, wet entrance series with multiple pools of water to traverse, the cave does eventually stand up and become comfortable walking passage. The earlier surveyors basically stuck to the stream level where ever they could and only occasionaly climbed up over breakdown to circumvent obstructions. As they progressed the cave passage grew taller and showed the maturity of a well worn vadose stream trunk. Chimneying along the stream channel at the bottom one could often look up and see significant blackness, ledges or voids over head. The high places in the passage are where most of the remaining survey leads are located. In fact all of the survey we would do that day were in this level well above the stream.

Devin Kouts stands next to the igneous dyke in Five Springs cave. The small black flecks are mica and possibly biotite crystals - copyright D. Kouts
Traveling along the stream channel is precarious however. The cave in places has formed wonderful collections of stal formations but even more interesting collections of mud "hoodoos". These are similar to miniature versions of the hoodoos that make Bryce Canyon so famous in Utah. The passage walls are adorned with hoodoos and mud that appears to have been applied like cake icing. In places the hoodoos have deformed, with drill holes in their middle, and flared out to form delicate mud cups with thin walls. Flagging has gone up in multiple locations to help cavers avoid treading on these delicate forms.

Eventually the sculpted mud area has ended and the stream character makes an interesting change. Where it had previously been rather straight canyon-like passage, following the strike, the stream now began to follow wide meanders left and right across the base of a complex multi-level passage. In the places where major corners were encountered there were often high leads to climb up and survey. We noted several of these and made plans to knock them out on the way back.

Larry Baer (background) and Rick Wagner (foreground) survey into the upper levels of Five Springs Cave - copyright D. Kouts
Finally, after about a thousand feet of sculpted mud and then meandering stream passage we caught up to Ben, Rick and Scott. They were just getting their survey underway, in fact Rick was deep into the "inhumanly passable" lead. I had a look and was reminded of the Gun Barrell passage I'd squirmed through in Cassell's a couple weeks before. This looked longer, and maybe a little more doable. But as I would learn later I'm happy I didn't go in there.

As we stood there Ben mentioned that he had spotted an igneous dyke in the passage just ahead of us. I quickly scampered up, following his directions and there it was. Right at station AA41 the passage had punched right through the nearly vertical plane of an igneous dyke. We stopped to take pictures of what looked like a seam, two feet wide, that had been ripped open and then filled in with a light, mineral rich material. Closer examination showed lots of mica and possibly biotite embedded in the rock. We took several photo's but unfortunately didn't think to try for a strike and dip reading. Instead we moved on and got our survey under way.

Rick Wagner (left) and Barry Horner (right) pose with the igneous dyke (above Barry's head) in Five Springs Cave - copyright D. Kouts
Our first lead, at station AA40 took us up a mudslope and into a low wide passage that ended after just 50 feet. The passage held two highlights however including extensive claw marks in the mudbanks along the walls and mica flecks mixed into the fill that had washed downstream from the igneous dyke.

Claw marks were found in the mud of several upper level passages in Five Springs Cave - copyright D. Kouts
As we moved on downstream, back toward the entrance, we by passed some high stuff at AA39; basically the upper reaches of the already surveyed stream level that would be better described with a profile. We went back to AA37 and surveyed from there up onto a breakdown pile above the stream. Passage dimensions were generous; the stream was 15 feet below, the ceiling 30 feet above, and the walls close to 20 feet apart. We found a duck under at this level that led to a mud slope. Up the mud slope we found a high dome, ceiling 20 feet up, that moved considerable air. Unfortunately the dome was too muddy to climb so we'll probably have to go back with a scaling pole.

Barry Horner pushes up into a tight high lead at station AA34 - copyright D. Kouts
At station AA34 we climbed up into a narrow high lead that Barry had pointed out previously. It was tight going but it put us up onto a nice balcony about 20 feet above the floor. We surveyed out an interesting chamber with lots of floor channels. The far wall of this room didn't really exist. Instead a deep canyon dropped straight back down to stream level. A dome climb out of this chamber looked promising but only led 20 feet up to a mud ceiling. The best lead from this room headed downstream, so we followed it.

We soon found ourselves at the edge of a pit. A nice step across and then straddle along a canyon put us up onto another ledge, even higher above the stream floor. The only way to go from here was up. We skirted around another pit and stepped up onto yet another ledge and into a wide chamber. Up and up some more. From here we climbed up a crevice in the ceiling and into a low wide chamber. Some narrow pits dropped back to the lower levels but were too narrow for passage. The unique feature of this area however appeared in the walls.

Rugosa Coral Fossils in Five Spring Cave - copyright D. Kouts

In almost every direction we looked there appeared fossil casts. These were unique though, not the normal crinoids or brachs. These fossils were conical in shape and appeared to be tightly coiled gastropod shells. Making a leap of faith I guessed they were a fossil known as an "Archimedes Coil". I was dubious however whether that fossil existed during the period in which this lime was deposited in the oceans. The only examples of Archimedes Coil I had seen before were from the Greenbrier limestones, and we were in the Helderberg or Tonoloway limestone (much older). [Ed. Since the writing of this article a geologist, Gordon Brace, has identified the fossils as Rugosa Corals (common name). Their scientific name is Enterolasma but most people know them as horn coral, or just "Rugies". These are the largest examples of horn coral I've ever seen.]

We satisfied ourselves with some photographs and then moved on. We surveyed across the chamber to where the ceiling disappeared and then stepped out into the space of a new room. Forty feet above the cave stream we had found a room with 20 foot ceilings. The room was probably 40 feet long by 20 feet wide and two large passages exited the room on the left and right heading down stream. Unfortunately my large flash unit had rolled down a mudbank and into the stream earlier in the trip. Otherwise I would have taken a shot of this large room.

Fossil Coral patterns appear in the walls of Five Spring Cave - copyright D. Kouts

We pushed the left hand lead and followed it 50 feet to where it died in a pair of domes. In the walls we saw more of the conical fossils but also noticed what appeared to be large beds of coral. Some more photos were taken and then we went back to the right hand lead in the room and looked into it. It was a great passage, 4 feet wide and over 8 feet high, but it would have to wait. We agreed that this should be left for the next team and we should head for the stew dinner being served at VAR.

As we climbed back down to stream level we were keen on finding a new route that would avoid the traverses around the pits we had done earlier. Barry had spotted an overlook that appeared to offer a 10 foot drop into an area of the cave known as Crinoid Hall. We had handlines and thought a body rappel might be the way to go.

When we came to the ledge Barry and I noticed other windows looking down that might offer alternate routes. One of these was an 8 foot drop which Barry used my handline to french-arm rappel down. He then walked around to peer up the second, narrower hole that I had been looking down. It proved to be a narrow chimney with little exposure to falling. The rest of the team slid down this hole and we flagged it with tape as the best route to climb back up to the Rugy Room.

We pushed back toward the entrance, endured the tight wet crawl, which was tighter and wetter going out, and emerged into the dim of evening. Nine and a half hours underground and 433 feet surveyed, not bad considering all the traverses and complexity of the passage sketch involved.

Rick Wagner and Larry Baer get ready to survey some booty in Five Springs Cave. copyright - D. Kouts.

One observation on the cave that could influence how we proceed with mapping... in winter conditions this entrance will take cold air (even with the gate closed). The dampness of the entrance crawl is going to make it miserable for folks as they enter and leave the cave in wet caveralls, through howling, cold winds. It might be a good idea to survey as much as possible while the temperate conditions are still with us.

Devin S. Kouts

The awesomeness of Five Springs cave is evident on Larry Baers face as he exits the cave - copyright D. Kouts Rick Wagner seems to have enjoyed himself, too - copyright D. Kouts

The pictures in this article and others from this trip may be seen in higher resolution on the Five Springs Pictures page. D.S.K.

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