The wait was interminable. First the two months between Cassell Surveys, then the hour or so at the top of the pit entrance, all dressed up but waiting for others to rap down first. When the time came and I got on rope, the anticipation was almost painful. Finally I was off to explore and survey the section of cave beyond Medville Falls, an area only perhaps half a dozen humans had visitted before. During the July and September Cassell trips, Pete Penczer and I had bolted our way up the last waterfall in the Big Room area and rigged a rope off a nearby ledge 25' up. Finally, the area beyond was accessible!
Pete was unable to join me this month. Instead I was joined by Madeline Li, Ben Madore and Cartographer Bob Zimmerman. When the team had assembled at the bottom of the pit, Ben lead the charge through the Miseries, a sloppy bit of crawling through awkward passage and into the huge North Fork trunk passage. Within an hour of entering the cave, we had reached the Big Room where Ralph Hartley and crew were busy surveying up and into the 2nd Waterfall lead (another fine Penczer/Danforth rigging job), previously misidentified as the Bratwurst Passage, now tentatively dubbed the Not-Wurst Passage. (By all reports, it was not the worst, but certainly wasn't very much fun unless low crawling through a cobbled streambed is your idea of a good time.) A bit more hiking through narrow, tall canyon brought us to the Scaling Pole Room and Medville Falls. Survey gear was broken out and we set to work.
Madeline took point and ascended the rope to the Formation Gallery above finding a good first survey station. I followed while Ben and Bob located the several old survey stations below. While Ben and Madeline worked the tricky, high-angle shot, I got pointers on sketching from Bob. Eventually the shot was declared good enough and Ben came up performing a second foresight (also fairly high inclination) while suspended partially over the drapery-covered lip.
Two different interpretations of the cave. The sketches are drawn at the same scale (2.5' per square) and orientation (magnetic north at the top). The top sketch is by me, the bottom by Bob Zimmerman, official sketcher for our team. I filled in the stream passage and the survey east of DZ16 from memory. Bob also includes a few profiles at DZ9 and DZ15 on the same page.
The going was slow at first, but we steadily surveyed through a bacon-fringed aperture and into the tall, narrow, well-decorated passage beyond. Madeline plumbed a tight, floor-level lead off to the south which likely drained the popcorn and coral-filled basin at the bottom of the passage. Indeed, further exploration revealed a high lead in the parallel stream passage which almost certainly connects.
The DZ survey in action above Medville Falls. Madeline takes a shot at Ben's station.
Bob sketches furiously. Click images for larger versions.
The sketching was proving to be challenging but managable and let me wander around staring at things. Erasing was almost more common than sketching and it's a very good thing Rite-in-the-Rain paper is as durable as it is. Bob's sketches bore far more resemblance to the speleo-reality than mine, but my efforts at least told the general story. All in all, a valuable learning experience though I'm not ready yet to be the sole sketcher in a survey.
At the seventh station, the passage makes a very sharp right-hand turn and becomes smaller working over occasional large blocks. Thirty feet farther on a six-foot diameter hole in the floor revealed the babbling stream in the passage below. Several more shots were made into and out of this hole (the traverse was exposed and tricky for shorter people) and we emerged into a large room with high ceilings. I was now in new territory! A huge block in the middle of the chamber served as a survey station from which we could see the stream passage entering from the lower left and a speleothem-choked lead atop a steep-but-manageble slope on the right. The former lead back to the top of the waterfall. The latter probably goes, but will require squirming through some well-decorated breakdown. Bob heated up his MRE and we took a break.
Surveying resumed with a series of shots up the merged upper- and stream-level passage. Large blocks made for easy station-setting and we made quick progress. Water trickled through across rounded, black cobbles. Clearly a great deal of water flowed through here in the past. At the second large block, the passage becomes smaller ahead while a short flowstone slope on the left leads to massive breakdown and a high ledge. In the passage ahead, we found a huge, undulating sheet of flowstone perhaps half an inch thick supported, seemingly, by nothing! Apparently flowstone had covered a mud deposit in ages past. Something changed in the water flow patterns and the mud erroded away leaving a great "Magic Carpet" supported only on one edge levitating a foot or more off the ground. Very strange!
Two views of the Magic Carpet; a sheet of flowstone about 3' by 7' by 1/4" thick supported only on one edge.
I scrambled up the left lead through the breakdown. Ahead I could see a shiny, white, man-height stalagmite. Squeezing through into the cavity I was suddenly surrounded by thousands of delicate soda straws! Truly astonishing! The old map had mentioned a "profusely decorated region" in the area and there was no doubt that This Was It! All my shouting and wonderment had brought the others up quickly. Squirming through various holes we found several more chambers even more impressive than the first. White flowstone covered various boulders and soda straws inumerable covered the ceilings. One branch lead back to a ledge above the large stream passage room. In the other direction, the passage continued through at least two more chambers. Bob and I veeeeeery gingerly and excitedly worked our way through these. The formations became less profuse and eventually the now hands-and-knees passage was blocked by a flowstone mound. But it looks promissing! Dripping with sweat, we reversed direction and carefully wormed our way back out. Amazing! I was energized and revitalized by my discovery.
Three samples of the formations above Medville Falls.
Cave coral on the walls of an old pool now drained by a small lead in the floor. The old waterline is clearly visible.
Equipment Note: My lighting in the cave was provided by a Princeton Tech Matrix 3-LED headlamp as well as a Petzl Duo crammed in side-by-side on my helmet. The downside of this setup was definitely the weight and bulk. But the upside was the extreme flexibility afforded in lighting. In most cases, especially when we were surveying or crawling through small passage, the Matrix was sufficient lighting. For larger passage, I would turn on the Duo low beam in conjunction with the LED. The Duo high beam was very occasionally used, for spotlighting distant leads or features. Neither set of batteries was fresh when I entered the cave and both sets lasted me for an entire 13+ hours survey trip. Normally the Duo gives out after about 8 hours.
The Home Cave