Miles had a few takers for his "Return to Lower Dreen" survey trip. I was one, Pete and Scott requested a flogging and an amazing Canadian I met for the first time, Kirk made for a well rounded group. It was a lengthy trip and I want to avoid a lengthy article so lets get down to it.
Upper Dreen is large, walking passage with plenty to see and do, or so I'm told. Lower Dreen has only seen a handful of cavers since it's discovery over a decade ago. A testament to this is the existance of Miles' dog Jasper's footprints still in the mud of the passage floor from a trip after the 1985 flood.
We bopped down the walking trunk to a big hole in the left hand wall. We stepped down it and rigged a sloping, nuisance eight foot drop with a handline. Forty feet beyond this we squeezed into a low tube about two feet high and one and a half feet wide. Fifteen feet into the tube it turns right at a 150 degree angle. It was a real trick to negotiate this with lengthy shanks encased in a wet suit and caveralls but once accomplished the next S bend seemed trivial. A tight spot at the end of the tube popped us into stooping passage.
For a hundred feet you're in decent stuff but that ends and all you have is a low crawlway leading on. The crawl averages three to five feet wide and one to two high. It is full of water! and at times it's up to 10 inches deep. The crawl drags on for nearly 250 feet but passes quickly as we push for our objective at the other end, a fifty foot drop.
Eventually the stream we were following cuts a small canyon in the floor and then plunges down a narrow canyon to the floor many feet below. We found a decent rig point in the ceiling for the cable ladder and belayed everyone as they went down. Not being one for muddy cable ladder climbs I elected to rig the belay rope and use it to rappel down. The drop is tight at the top but opens up and you descend along the waterfall. The water lands on a wide ledge 25 feet down and pools before pouring off to finish the drop a second 25 feet below. A convenient projection allowed us to get the ladder and rope out of the spray. Heavier water flow would have made for a beautiful fall as well as a more dangerous stream crawl. I was satisfied with the small stream that we had.
At the bottom we were in a high canyon that runs along for 50 feet before breaking into a large, muddy room. At this point I should note that the top of the drop is at about the same elevation as the river level outside the cave. We were then over 50 feet below river level and this "Mud" room would become our home in the event water from a passing storm raised the level in our exit crawl.
We crossed the mud room and noticed a large canyon passage entering from the right wall. Miles, who had last been back here prior to the 1985 flood said that canyon had been a mud plug before. The huge floods of 1985 must have blown that plug out. I went up the canyon passage and found a 25 foot high dome, 15 feet in diameter with a waterfall pouring out of it's ceiling and crashing into a pool on the floor, spectacular. This was a different stream from what we had followed in. Potential for more cave?
From the mud room we continued downstream to another 22 foot drop. After rigging it with a cable ladder Pete, Miles and Kirk climbed to the bottom and began survey in a downstream direction. At that point they were about 80 feet below river level. Their survey lead them downstream for about 100 feet to a mud sump.
It was tremendously muddy and very humid. Scott and I began a two man survey heading upstream and into the mud room. It was kind of spooky thinking of the potential havoc a passing thunderstorm could reak. The survey equipment very quickly gummed up with mud and required all our concentration. It took a long time to survey the hundred feet or so back into the mud room. As we finished up our shot the others returned and declared it to be 7:00 p.m. So soon?!
I was feeling o.k. and thought that after a meal break we could survey the dome and back up the canyon to the top of the fifty foot drop. The others didn't seem so inclined and I was later glad they weren't. We left our last survey station, A11, high on a mudbank at one end of the mud room. Hopefully we won't get any disasterous flooding before a return trip can be organized some time in the next century.
I was obliged to let the others climb the ladder in advance of my rope ascent. The rope was 1/2 inch diameter and my caveralls made it very muddy as I ascended. One of my ascenders was having a hell of a time moving up the rope. The filament in my headlamp burnt out and I was in the dark for a while. I was heavy with mud and a mudball pack that must have weighed 30 pounds, it took me an embarassingly long time to get up the rope. I had come here seeking a challenge and now I was getting two, fatigue and frustration.
At the top Miles derigged the rope and stuck it in the bag. The crawl back up the stream felt like 500 feet this time. Pushing rope bag, then cave pack and then myself along, two feet at a time, it was an indescribable feeling when I finally got to my knees in stooping passage. Back at the tube crawl I skinned out of my caveralls (which weighed a good 25 pounds by then) and slid right through in my wet suit. We shinned back up that last 8 foot climb and made for the exit. Back at the car we stopped for some well deserved posterity photos, you may be able to view them on the world wide web some day soon.
All in all we were nine and a half hours under ground, if it had required traversing longer distances underground I would almost call it grueling at times. Instead I'll just classify this one as Miles puts it "memorable". Scott and I joked about spinning yarns in the future with, "It ain't as muddy as Lower Dreen" or "It ain't as spooky as Lower Dreen". I understand why Miles hasn't been back there in over ten years. It may be that long before anyone else get's in there to finish our job.
Devin S. Kouts