Memorial Day Cave Survey

May 11, 2002
By - Bob Robins

Memorial Day Cave Plot Memorial Day Cave lineplot, May 2002. Click for larger image.
With another Germany Valley Karst Survey weekend upon us Ralph Hartley, Rick Royer and I carpooled to the GVKS field house Friday night with the intent of spending the weekend continuing the survey in Memorial Day cave. With all the leads in the North cave tied up the previous month, the only going leads were the ones my team, led by Pete Penzcer, had left in the South cave in April. Saturday morning we got off to an early start with Ralph, Rick and I intending to get into the cave before 9:00am. A second team came together more slowly, Tom Barton eventually joined up with Bob Zimmerman and Jo Smith. Despite some early confusion, we all managed to get into the cave by 9:00 as planned. That was the last thing that went as planned for a while! The entrance of Memorial Day had not shown any signs of taking a lot of water from flash flooding last month, but the entrance to the South cave, a shaft dug straight down through breakdown and cobbles, had taken water and had completely collapsed. (At least this month it did it while no one was inside.)

We spent the next three hours digging out the entrance again, hauling out several large boulders and lots of smaller rocks and gravel. Tom Barton directed a shoring operation to stabilize the collapse area, which now has a more reasonable slope. Finally the dig was complete and we entered the South cave. The next surprise came at the first tight belly crawl where the former dig had turned into a sump – the water had retreated but mud the consistency of chocolate syrup awaited us. Ralph went through first, confirming his reputation as a mud puppy. Rick followed, trying unsuccessfully to minimize contact with the mud, followed by me. The other team was having some commitment problems however. Bob Zimmerman finally decided he couldn’t handle the combination of claustrophobically tight squeeze and oozing mud. We finally conned (oops – I mean encouraged) Jo to come on through and Tom joined her leaving us with five for the survey.

We continued on through the series of walking passages and tight crawls till we reached the stream passage, where we crawled through the wider top of the passage, about six feet above the stream. The slot in the floor rarely opened up enough to swallow packs but they often became wedged or caught straps as packs were pushed ahead. We soon reached the point where the passage ahead was blocked by flowstone and took the bypass to the left. The first corner and several tight turns following convinced everyone that it was for the best that Bob Zimmerman had not come with us – this passage is definitely not for those who shop in the Big and Tall section.

We finally emerged into a narrow fissure, tall enough to stand in, that led to the end of the last survey at the top of a canyon. Only Pete Penzcer had been beyond this point in April, when he climbed down to the stream about 28 feet below to set station P43 below the ledge where we stopped for a final vertical shot. This last station represented the previous low point in the cave at -105 feet. As we began the tricky down climb to the stream, Jo decided that she would not be able to go any further as her foot was bothering her and she was not comfortable with the climb (a very reasonable concern). Tom decided to go back with Jo and our survey crew was now reduced to the original three.

We surveyed back to the dome where the stream entered from above – presumably the same stream we had been following on the way in, and then surveyed downstream a short distance, where the stream dropped down and doubled back under itself to enter the top of a dome through a tight squeeze. Both Rick and Ralph later tried to get into the dome on belay and see if it could be down climbed, but neither made it past a small ledge where there seemed to be no way down the seventeen foot drop.

Heading the other direction we followed a small canyon passage that descended through several turns to the top of a LARGE canyon. We found ourselves looking down into blackness and a flashlight lowered on our fifty-foot tape didn’t quite reach the surface of the clear pool at the bottom (According to calculations by Devin Kouts this would make Memorial Day Cave fifteen feet deeper than Kahn Cave). Bowling ball sized rocks fell for over two seconds then hit the water with a splash that indicated a fair depth, probably a plunge pool. Rocks thrown further out seemed to take even longer to fall but sounded like they were hitting dry ground. The canyon looked like it was about eight feet wide and went about fifty feet to the Northeast before making a left turn obscuring our view. Further exploration beyond this point will require a crew with rope and vertical gear.

Bob, Ralph and Rick
Bob, Ralph and Rick return late to the GVKS fieldhouse.
Retracing our route back up the climbs, we started surveying the remaining lead off the top of the canyon. This was another tight sinuous passage complicated by two levels of thin shelf below and occasional formation above. We managed to survey through this obstacle course without inflicting any serious damage and reached a T intersection, with passage leading to a small dome on the right and a large dome on the left. Rick and Ralph did two extremely tricky climbs to survey the upper level of the larger dome. With only one marginal dig off this section, its probably not worth risking damage to this section of the cave by further trips unless later surveys show some potential for connections.

Having completed all of the survey work that was possible without rope and vertical gear, we made good time heading out of the cave. The passage of additional people and a stiff breeze blowing out of the cave had changed our chocolate syrup dip to a thicker, sticky mud that resisted forward motion. We returned to the field house after a thirteen and a half hour trip. As it turned out one team was able to complete all of the survey work for this weekend so, despite the many difficulties getting started, it was a very successful weekend in Memorial Day.