A grey morning greeted us on Friday. We had all our gear packed beforehand so we each jumped into our respective vehicles and headed off to Thompsons to pack in the carbs. Over eggs, pancakes and french toast we clarified our goals; head in Lumber Jack trail, GPS fix the entrances to Lumber Jack (Broken Shovel) Cave and Ice (Pig Pen) Cave, proceed to High Meadows Cave, setup camp and enter the cave if possible. The last objective looked more and more dubious as we drove through rain and clouds up the slopes of Spruce Knob.
I inadvertently stuck the GPS unit at the bottom of my pack and in frustration decided to forgo the first two GPS fixes. Both Lumber Jack and Ice Caves are within 3/4 mile of the trailhead and would be easy enough to GPS when a trip was made to check their registers. We struggled along the trail for some time. The rain had ceased but copious amounts of runoff made progress a sloppy task at best. We arrove at the cave around 1 p.m. and I checked the entrance, sure enough this stream resurgence was a gusher.
The weather was breaking and we had a good forecast so we made the decision to set up camp and wait for the water level to drop. We found a lovely spot nearby the cave and we all settled in. The skies cleared and the temperature dropped. By 10 p.m. Pete and I guestimated the temperature to be in the upper 30's. Dave Roberts produced a flask of Bacardi 151 and we all had a nip. Some nipped more than others and were reintroduced to their low tolerance for alcohol. It was a fine relaxing evening around the fire however and we all turned in completely bushed.
Saturday dawned bright and blue. We had a healthy trail breakfast topped off with some excellent cocoa brought in by Dave Roberts. We were raring to go and got suited up shortly after breakfast. The plan was to scoop into the cave, see if it was passable and worth a survey.
At the entrance Dave Roberts, Dave Crenshaw and I posed for a few posterity photos and then hunkered down to business. We had a good flow coming out of an entrance that was 8 feet wide and 18 inches high. The cobble floor made the first 15 feet rather painful but that was just an appetizer to the icy water that lay beyond.
At the nether end of the cobbles the passage narrowed to three feet wide by two feet high. There was a lot of water coming toward me. It felt a little creepy. My light didn't penetrate all the way to the end of the crawl, all I could see was low passage full of cold, racing water, heading off into the mountain. Taking heart I plunged in.
SHOCK... it was cold! I knew I couldn't take these temperatures for long so I moved forward as quickly as possible. I pressed my back to the ceiling making every effort to keep my trunk dry. At one point the water made it to five inches in depth wall to wall and the ceiling began to dip down. I was about 80 feet in from the entrance and would have to back out if it didn't go. I've never been the claustrophobic type but the added element of rushing water gave a new sense of tension. Pushing to the bitter end it began to look grim. I couldn't really tell where the water was comingfrom, it just appeared. The ceiling dropped low on all sides and it looked like I had reached a sump. Hearing the sound of running water to my right I ducked my head low to the water's surface and looked beyond a low dip in the ceiling. I could see standing passage!
That last little bit was hard, I just managed to drag my body through on forearms and kept my torso dry, my legs were soaked however. I stood up, turned left and could see walking passage disappearing into the mountain ahead of me. The thrill of exploration and the discovery of going, virgin cave can be very heady. I reveled in the feeling for a moment and let out a whoop for the others back at the entrance. I stuck my face down the entrance crawl and shouted the news, "walking passage, come on in"!
I waited for Dave and Dave in a space that was 7 feet high and about 7 feet wide. From this small chamber a keyhole shaped passage lead away into the mountain, our stream ran along a channel in the floor. We gathered at my waiting point and started our push. We wanted to see what kind of passage we had and what amount of effort the survey would take. I figured we would push to a point that we could be reasonably assured of surveying in a single trip. Anything more would wait for a future trip. We went on about 170 feet through canyon passage that ran as an inverted keyhole. The lower portion we walked through ran up to 6 feet wide and 7 feet high. A channel in the ceiling gave glimpses of the real ceiling nearly 20 feet above.
It quickly became obvious that we were following a joint controlled passage. At the 170 foot point (from the initial standing chamber) we encountered large breakdown flakes that had fallen from the ceiling and blocked the path. We squeezed past the left side of the first flake to find a 90 degree maneuver through a nine inch gap. This pinch stopped Dave Roberts and he was forced to wait while Dave Crenshaw and I reconnoitered on.
Thirty feet beyond the second flake Dave and I encountered a chamber in the passage containing a large pool with deer bones in it. I guestimated this to be about 200 feet in, half of what I thought we could survey. Dave stopped to help Dave at the flake and I told him I would push on. The passage continued as a stoopway, the stream following a channel along the floor. At a point about 100 feet beyond the pool I crossed a large slab of breakdown, something Pete later likened to a tall tombstone. I continued upstream 50 to 100 feet above the "tombstone" and encountered breakdown in the passage. Nothing terminal just large enough that I couldn't readily see past it. I knew I was about 400 feet from the standing chamber and thought this breakdown would be a good point to leave a terminal survey station. Turning back I found some more deer bones in the stream. I picked them up and placed them on a shelf along the right hand wall. Continuing my exit I encountered thin Dave at the tombstone.
As I traversed the tombstone it teetered to the left opening a gap between it and the boulder beside it. My foot slid down the face of the tombstone and very nearly dropped into that gap. Once the foot had gone in the weight would have been off the stone and it would have rocked back into place, crushing my ankle. I stopped my foot just an inch from the brink, repeating Oh Shit over and over until I had assessed the situation. There was an instant there of pure luck, I was lucky my wet boots stopped sliding. Carefully I perched on the leaning slab, I adjusted my weight slightly and settled the stone back to its original position. I stepped off the rock and from a safe position shoved it down off its fulcrum to a more stable place in the passage floor. This could have been a death trap as the slab was two feet wide, four inches thick and eight feet long, several hundred pounds in weight. I've always paid close attention to breakdown but I'll be even more diligent now.
Dave and I headed out. The cold temperatures had begun to gnaw at our wet bodies. The air movement was strong in the passage and it cooled us even further. We got back to the standing chamber and made the decision to exit for lunch.
Over our meal we told Pete and Madeline what we had seen, the grueling entrance and the awesome walking passage. We were all hot to survey. Feeling revitalized and rewarmed we suited up a second time and crawled back into the cave.
We drove the survey quickly. Dave had fatigued easily from the cold before and I wanted to cover as much ground as possible while our endurance held. With Pete and Madeline setting station and leading tape Dave Crenshaw shot foresight and I sketched.
Sketching conditions were miserable, water drops were frequently spattering my sketch book and I couldn't keep a dry hand to sketch with. That trip drove my sketch book into retirement, time to buy a new one. Pete had his new SYSTECO compass and clinometer with tritium view finder to survey with, he was a happy clam. Dave was experienced with Ed Rickett's borrowed Suunto's and the shots matched well, our normal error was in the 1.5 degree range. Our first tape was indicative of what lay ahead, 51.7 feet! We had to make two short shots through the big breakdown flakes and one across the pool but outside of that we were shooting over 45 foot shots. We worked for just over an hour and surveyed nine stations for a total of 289 feet.
I started our station numbers at 5, leaving the first four numbers for use on a future entrance crawl survey. The "H" survey ended at station 13, scratched into the left hand wall about 15 feet beyond the end of the tombstone and 50 to 100 feet short of the breakdown I had scoopd to earlier. Bearings ranged between 212 and 218 degrees.
Surveying past the flake had taken a lot out of Dave and myself and as we sat at station 12 we both began to shiver. The air movement down the passage was really chilling us. We called off the survey and headed out. On the way back I noticed several green boughs of hemlock in the passage and an inch thick stick, 18 inches in length floating in the stream. This got me to thinking.
Back on the surface we all warmed up at the camp fire and had another bite to eat. I grabbed my compass, walked back to the cave and shot a bearing of 215 degrees. I walked along this for 100 feet or so and stopped shooting the same bearing again. I continued in this manner carefully scanning the terrain and foliage for a distance of about 2000 feet. At approximately 1200 feet I came across a dry stream bed cutting through limestone bedrock, a search of the stream bed turned up nothing. Continuing on my original path I began to encounter sinkholes. At what I guess to be 2000 feet from the entrance to High Meadows Cave I found a sink with old fencing strung around it. The sides were rapidly washing into the sink and one end obviously took a lot of water. I straddled a log over the insurgent end of the sink and started to dig. I found and area at the bottom of the sink that was full of sticks and debris that had been washed in. For as far down as I could reach all I encountered were decaying sticks. Could this be where the deer bones and boughs entered? It looked like it had been closed for a couple years. Boughs in the cave wouldn't be green after that amount of time. Curiouser and curiouser. I do recall Miles Drake's report of two pits in the area. Maybe they're a part of this.
The evening progressed comfortably. We had beautiful skies for star watching and the temperatures were slightly warmer. We were all very satisfied with the way the trip had run and were discussing plans for our return. We think August will be the date, when water levels begin to dip in the region. At that time we'll finish the entrance crawl and then push hard up the main passage.
Sunday morning's hike out left us with huge appetites and after a weekend of water based food a Thompson's Burger loomed large on our taste buds. On the drive home Dave and I agreed that this weekend had delivered more reward than we had hoped for. Some hard effort was expended and we all gambled on the outcome but it paid off nicely. I hope our return will be as rewarding.
Devin S. Kouts