A Big Breakthrough in Memorial Day Cave
by Ralph Hartley
January, 2003
First published in the December 2002 PSC Cavers

Memorial Day Cave is arguably the most interesting find to come out of the Germany Valley Karst Survey project. The (former) main passage runs north and south from the entrance. At the south end, there is a smaller passage that goes east. It joins a small stream and turns back north, with some slightly tight spots. All of this has only small changes in elevation. At the end of the passage to the north, the bottom drops out.

Several climb-downs lead to the top of a 50' pit. The bottom of the pit is drained by a small, very twisty canyon that we are calling "the puppet buster." It takes much of the very strong airflow from the entrance.

On my last trip I was able to twist myself around a very tight sharp turn, about a third of the way through the puppet buster, at the previous limit of exploration. At the end of the canyon I found what looked to me like a 30' pit. The rest of my party had the good sense not to attempt to come and take a look, but I did manage to get past the corner coming out.

Ralph Hartley's Carto morphed working map of Memorial Day cave after the big breakthrough of December 2002, previously published in the December 2002 Potomac Caver.
Most of the next trip (I was not there) was spent demolishing the nasty corner, but they also rigged a 60' rope. Unfortunately, the perspective from the top of the pit is not very good, unless you lean way out, all you see is the far wall. Pete Penczer descended to the bottom of the rope, and climbed down a mud slope onto a ledge. He estimated that he was about 30' from the bottom, and that the pit was 80-100' deep.

On December 14, 2002 Miles Drake, Pete Penczer and myself made an early start and were in the cave by 9:00AM. After finishing the survey of the Puppet Buster, Pete rigged the rope and descended.

Pete's estimate of the distance to the bottom was the same as mine, even though he was more than 50' lower, so this time we brought a 150' rope, just to make sure. Only 5' was left at the bottom. On the way out, we taped the drop at 125', most of it free. The place where Pete climbed off rope could not have been less than 75' from the floor. He called that fact "pretty scary", it sure scared me just looking at where he was.

The lower cave has a very different character. It appears to be mostly high canyon 15-25' wide and 15-100' high. Much of the variation in hight appears to be due to changes in the floor, with varying amounts of of mud and breakdown fill. At no point could you touch both walls at the same time or touch the roof at all, except in two dead end side passages.

Before the trip, there was a great deal of discussion of whether we should survey north first or south. The main passages in Hell Hole, as well as the other passages in Memorial Day, all run north-south. The cave itself had other plans, i.e. east.

Because the direction we identified as "south" had some scary looking breakdown, we decided to go "north". The passage curves to the left, eventually turning south, and after climbing for a while, starts steeply down.

Ralph, Pete and Miles Return Ralph Hartley, Peter Penczer and Miles Drake return from the first trip to complete the 125' drop in Memorial Day cave - copr. D. Kouts, 2002
Each time I looked around the next corner, I expected to see the bottom of the hill. I had made an estimate of our elevation relative to Judy Spring, and we were getting very close.

Eventually we were blocked by a lake as wide as the passage and several times as long. According to the line-plot, the lake is the low point of the cave at 355' below the entrance, and is directly under the first section of the "Second Scoop", only 100' horizontally from the entrance. I'm estimating that it is only 30' above the spring which is at least 2 miles away.

The lake has shear sides, and looks deep. The left and right walls appear to be undercut near the surface. There is quite a bit of organic debris on the nearby mud slopes, mostly parts of leaves.

Our theory is that is is a window into a phreatic river, an underground cenote. This could be good news for the landowner, who really needs water. As well as radio locations we will need to do some kind of test of its volume, and whether it is continuously recharged. This should be possible by measuring how much and how fast a dye is diluted.

The passage looks like it might continue around a corner beyond the lake, but there was debate about whether it continues at water level. I considered swimming (Miles did not), but that requires a little preparation. I would have ended up cold and with wet hair, and our survey would have been over.

Having exhausted that direction, we returned to the bottom of the rope, and the scary breakdown I mentioned before. The breakdown, which we needed to climb up through, was indeed scary. It showed signs of recent movement and was mostly SUV sized. There was one spot that looked like it would have been a good place to climb up, if a few person sized rocks were removed. On the way back, those rocks fell out without anyone touching them.

Entrance to the Puppet Buster On an earlier trip, at the bottom of the 50 foot drop, Bob Robins enters the beginning of the puppet buster while R.D. Milholand points to a high lead - copr. D. Kouts, 2002
Beyond the breakdown the passage became easier with less changes in elevation. It headed roughly east, but sometimes turned 90 degrees in either direction. Much of our surveyed distance was in this passage.

To reduce the load on the sketcher caused by long shots (we used a 100' tape), The instrument reader recorded the data. We would have used a four person team, but the obvious volunteer, Rick Royer, was in Australia on business. We changed jobs part way through. The survey ran smoothly.

At 4:00AM we turned around in going passage. We reached the entrance without incident at 9:30AM Sunday. In 24.5 hours we had surveyed over 2100' of passage in 63 stations, including ~90' of the puppet buster and a 125' virgin pit.

According to Pete, this was his record in trip duration, survey length, and number of stations.

Except for the continuing passage and the lake, there are relatively few easy leads. There are a couple of digs, one of which blows some air, and one crawlway which was not pushed. There were also numerous waterfalls, much like the stream we followed into the cave. These tended to be near the low points in the passage, so many of them might be big projects to bolt up. At least one, with obvious passage at the top, was less than 20' from the floor. In a sense, because the roof was often not within range of our lights, the whole upper passage is a potential lead. There may be ledges that could be traversed with only an occasional bolt.

For more information on Memorial Day Cave visit the survey projects home page - www.psc-cavers.org/memorial