I should have known that planning a back packing trip would break the back of this summer's drought. I could have gone hiking earlier and raised the level of the river for OTR.
Saturday morning drizzled greyly as Miles, Joanne, Sheila, Dave, Pete and I started north from the Lumber Jack trailhead on Spruce Knob. Despite Dave West's best syphoning technique at breakfast I still had a full compliment of cavers. The trail wasn't flooded like it had been last May so we all made good time to the meadow where we like to set up camp before entering the cave.
By two in the afternoon we were all lunched and geared up for our return to High Meadows. I was especially looking forward to this as I was the only one who had seen how big the passage was at the turn around point of our last trip. The ceiling was 30 feet high and walls were 10 feet apart.
I had also located a collapse sink some 2000 feet southwest of the entrance and very nearly in line with the trend of the main passage. I had hopes that the cave would go atleast that far and planned to get a surface survey this weekend to show how close we were.
Dave, Sheila and I began work in the entrance to clean up some hanging survey from our last trip. Miles, Jo and Pete went in to our last station to continue survey up the main stream trunk. The air was still coming out the entrance with a good force even though the days temperature was somewhere in the low 60's.
After my team had finished the entrance crawl and tied in to last May's survey we hussled to catch up with the others and leap frog ahead. We found them a couple hundred feet past the point they had started from. They were using a hundred foot tape and in the arrow straight stream trunk they were able to get the most for their money. I saw Jo doing foresight, and way down the passage I could hear Pete reading his backsight. It wasn't until a burst of cackling laughter drew my gaze upward that I spotted Miles, he was sketching the ceiling, nearly fifty feet overhead!
We confered briefly and it was decided that my team would jump about three hundred feet ahead and start survey. As Dave, Sheila and I moved forward I mentally calculated the distance we had covered and began looking for a good landmark to start survey from. At about 250 feet I could hear water falling somewhere up ahead. At 300 feet the passage intersected a dome 25 feet high by 15 feet in diameter. A nice stream poured down the middle of the dome from a lead at the very top. No chance of getting to this lead with out a bolt climb. The stream dropped into a nice shallow pool before joining the main stream of the cave.
Obviously we had our landmark. We marked our first station and shot off down the passage. We were using a fifty foot tape, something I prefer as a sketcher because it reigns in the equipment people and allows me to draw a more detailed map. I have to admit I wish I'd brought the 100 foot tape though. Miles, Jo and Pete were really racking up some footage and our progress was much slower.
The passage continued much as it had before. Walls were usually 10 to 15 feet apart and the ceilings were 20 to 30 feet high. After 150 feet we hit a second dome in the passage and the character of the cave finally began to change. At ceiling level, to the right side of this dome, I could see a lead entering the trunk about 1 foot high by 3 feet wide, 18 feet off the floor, definitely requiring a scaling pole. On the far side of the dome the stream trunk continued but a meander passage developed on the left wall. I climbed a slope from that passage that lead into a ceiling channel and took me to the top of the dome. A promising looking lead took off but was quickly blocked by large breakdown.
Back at stream level Miles, Jo and Pete had caught up with us. We had been in the cave four hours now, it felt like no more than two. This cave is colder than most and it was decided that Miles, Jo and Dave would head out while Pete, Sheila and I would continue the survey. We got back down to business as the others faded off down the passage.
Still heading upstream we encountered yet another dome entering from the right. Eighteen feet up the wall of this dome a stream entered from a very promising looking lead about 2 feet wide and 3 feet high. But again this would need a scaling pole to reach it.
We continued up the trunk for another shot and found a side passage heading up slope to the right. A trickle of water came in there. The cave was becoming a little muckier as we went and it was obvious the rain on the surface wasn't helping things. A couple leads at the end of that side passage were left unchecked. One more long shot up the main trunk and we were at yet another small dome with a trickle coming in the top. A 12 foot climb would put us up to where we could check the lead but our enthusiasm was beginning to wain. It appeared all these leads were heading updip toward the surface which I estimated no more than 80 feet over our heads. We decided to flag our last station and scoop a little trunk to see what waits for our next trip. Survey station J8 is on the left hand wall of the trunk, marked with a carbide bullseye and very near the free end of a dangling piece of orange flagging.
Scooping up the passage we continued to find walls 10 to 15 feet apart and ceilings 20 feet high. A great stream in the floor and good air in our faces. We went about 100 feet past our last survey station and rounded a corner. Formations! Finally, after all this stream trunk with it's great dimensions and pretty domes we actually had some nice white stuff up at ceiling level. It was 25 feet overhead but the flowstone and shields were very pleasing to the eye.
The passage continued, we could see ahead between the somewhat narrower walls into more stream trunk. The stream came down a wide chute at floor level and the air blew strong. Satisfied that we had great potential for our next trip we turned around and headed out.
On the surface it was miserable. Rain fell steadily and things were getting nicely wet. Pete, Sheila and I prepared hot meals for ourselves and then turned in. We had been underground almost seven hours.
The next morning people were up early and packing. My stuff was soaked so I new the hike out would be hard. I got Pete's participation and we completed the surface survey I had needed. The others took off for the vehicles and Pete and I surveyed for a couple hours. When we finished and picked up our packs for the hike out it was 1 p.m.
Miles, Jo and Pete surveyed 701.1 feet that day. Sheila, Dave, Pete and I surveyed another 352.1 feet. Added to the 289.2 feet we had covered back in May we have a total surveyed cave length of 1,342.4 feet. The surface survey totals 2641.2 feet for a grand total of 3983.6 feet surveyed in two trips. Pete hit a personal best of 820.3 feet surveyed in one cave trip, almost all of it virgin.
Cave fauna noted were; Pipistrells, Big Brown bats, a small frog, grand daddy long legs, cave crickets, cave spiders, an isopod and a spring salamander. Miles was heard to comment that this was an amazingly large find for Pendleton County. I'm glad to hear that because as the enclosed survey plot indicates there is potential for quite a bit more cave. Atleast 600 feet remain before we even approach the area of the collapsed pit. And once beyond that there really isn't very much to stop the cave until you get to the Judy Springs vicinity, over a mile away! That last bit is wishful thinking but not outside the realm of possibilities. The survey profile indicates an overburden of 40 to 100 feet and while the cave slowly rises in elevation the surface features and limestone do too.
Thought has been given to a return trip that entails hiking in to the cave (about one hour), entering and surveying and then hiking back out. Such an approach would require a very early start but would afford us the luxury of good meals and descent lodging. It would also enable us to use the few remaining good days of the year before the weather closes down the mountain. This cave has become a pleasant surprise in the well picked over remains of Pendleton County. Dues are owed the cave gods (but didn't I pay enough penance in lower Dreen?).
Devin S. Kouts