Carroll Cave Survey Trips – 2009

Submitted by Bob Lerch

In all, there were ten survey trips in 2009. Spike Crews previously submitted a report for a trip in April, 2009.

Mar. 21–Andy and Bob Lerch and Ben Miller headed to UL3 to mop-up some leads that were nearly seven years old. One lead was past the unfortunately named Burrito Breeze Room, located deep within the central maze passages of UL3. The other lead was a small tube on the western perimeter of UL3. We started on the western lead and made quick work of this small, but dry passage that forms a meander loop, joining the main passage after only 3 shots. We then headed to the Burrito Breeze area and initially did some mop-up in low, muddy, mazey passage. With the unpleasant stuff out of the way, we headed into a small, sandy, crawling tube that promised to go nowhere fast. However, after a few shots of ever smaller passage, we realized we were heading for a too-tight lead in the western maze. Eventually, we had to bag it as the passage got to <1 ft high, but this tube does apparently connect the central and western mazes of UL3. It was a modest footage day with only 356.3 feet of new survey, but we finished off the last two leads in this incredible side passage, giving it a total of 7014.0 ft (1.33 mi) surveyed and 6706.8 ft (1.27 mi) of included passage length. It is the third longest side passage in Carroll. With 320 stations, it was one of the toughest sections of cave with an average of only 21.9 ft/station.

Apr. 9-11–Dan Lamping, Bob Lerch, and Joe Sikorski went on three-day camp trip to continue the DL7 survey. The area received about 2” of rain in the last two days, but we were looking at a forecast calling for 0% chance of rain over the weekend. It was Friday evening and the rain had ended. The area was soggy and the creek running through Greg Fry’s pasture was flowing strong. Instead of bagging it, Dan, Joe, and I talked over the situation. We (especially Joe and I) decided that if we could get through the low spot in the Forevers, then all would be well because the water level would drop substantially over the weekend (given the forecast that is). But Dan kept bringing up an annoying little detail – what if the rise in Thunder River is delayed – for what ever reasons – and instead we get trapped on the other side. No way, Joe and I insisted. Well, eventually we convinced Dan to at least go and take a look at the Forevers and then decide.

It was more exciting than the usual trip down lower Thunder River, but the high current really pushed us along and made travel easier than normal. In no time, we made it to the low spot, and we stopped to decide out fate. There was about 5”-6” of air space over about 3.5 ft of water, and it was flowing strong. It would be a full-on ear dunk to get through. We quickly decided to go for it and easily pushed through the low air-space – not as bad as it looked. After that, we were treated to a real water world as seemingly every crack, dome, and tributary was pumping water like we had never seen it. It was unsettling, but cool. We arrived at camp and set a rock in the bank to monitor the water level. It was a comfortable, but noisy night with the constant rumbling of Thunder River in the background. The next day, Thunder River was down more than a foot, but still flowing strong and muddy. The crossing just past camp was rather treacherous, with waist-deep water moving fast. Throughout the day, the stream crossings in Thunder River and DL7 were generally deep and difficult. Familiar paths were under water and the good places to cross were hard to find. At one point near the end of the day, I took a full-on swim in a pool that was ~8 ft deep. Joe and Dan never laughed so hard as all they could see were my feet and the top of my helmet. We made the long grind out to DL7-118, just past the Bottle Opener formation. We reeled off nice long shots in 30-40 ft wide and 4-8 ft tall passage. After 10 shots, we called it good and were about to head back to camp. However, as Joe was finishing his sketch, we noticed a side passage just past the end of the survey (DL7-L6). This side passage was shown on the old Hoffman/Rimbach overlay as a meander that returned to the main passage. The way this area was drawn on that old map never did look quite right, so Dan and I headed in to see where it was going. The passage starts out as an hands-and- knees crawl on mud for about 150 ft before intersecting the stream channel and opening up to walking height. At this point, we realized we were in virgin passage as were looking into a winding mud canyon heading west/southwest, away from the main passage, with no footprints!! We knew where we would be going on the next trip to DL7. We surveyed 719.1 ft and continued the northward march of the main DL7 trunk passage. By the time we headed out of the cave on Sunday, the 11th, Thunder River was down over 2 ft and the exit through the low spot was trivial.

May 30–Dan Lamping, Bob Lerch, Joe Sikorski, Amber Spohn, and Roger Webb went to UL5 with the objective of finishing this tortuous canyon beneath UL4. It had been just over four years since the last time anyone surveyed in this canyon, and it needed to be tied into UL4 to bring the survey of this side passage to completion. We broke into two teams with Dan and I jumping ahead, twisting and grinding as we strained forward in this annoyingly tight canyon. The survey was slow work for both teams, with many short shots; 21 of the 32 shots were <10 ft. Dan and I did finally break into a couple of wider sections with small waterfalls (4-8 ft high) before entering a good sized room where UL4 connects about 15 ft above the stream level. The walls were over hung and no one could climb up to tie in the survey. So, Joe went out the UL5 canyon and back through the length of UL4 so that we could throw the tape up to him and tie-in the UL4 and UL5 surveys. It was another modest footage day with 291.3 ft of new survey in the books. More importantly though, we finished off another Upper Thunder side passage. The total distance surveyed in UL4/5 was 2276.3 ft, with 2189.4 ft of included passage length making it the 5th longest side passage to date.

Jul. 3-5–Spike Crews, Dan Lamping, Ben Miller, Joe Sikorski, and Roger Webb went on three-day camp trip to DL7, camping at the Junction Room. The Junction Room is where DL7-L2 splits off to the south and the main passage continues north. On 7/3, Spike and Ben continued the survey of L2, adding another 433.4 ft to this nicely decorated passage which continues 25 ft wide and 8 ft tall. On 7/4, Joe, Roger and Spike continued the main DL7 survey, extending it from DL7-128 to 144 and adding 797.0 ft to this never ending trunk passage. Another major side passage was noted by this team (DL7-L7) as well as a possible site for a new “Push Camp” near the L6 side passage. Meanwhile, Ben and Dan began the survey of DL7-L6, an area they named the Moonwalk because they were the first to walk where no man had been before! They reeled of 17 shots and surveyed 664.1 ft of virgin side passage with no end in sight. The passage continued to head away from main DL7 going southwest into unknown territory. Total footage for the trip was 1894.5 ft.

Sep. 4-6–Bob Lerch, Ben Miller, Tony Schmitt, and Joe Sikorski did a three-day camp trip to continue the DL7-L6 survey. We were all very excited about the prospects for this side passage, with high hopes that the mud canyon would break out into bigger passage. Ben and I started where the previous survey ended and Joe and Tony jumped ahead into the unknown. Within 3 shots, the passage began to get much wider, and we encountered the first of several side passages (DL7-L6R1). After a couple more shots, we tied into Joe and Tony’s survey. The passage was now 25-30 ft wide and 5-10 ft tall.  As Ben and I caught up with Joe and Tony, the passage suddenly broke open. We were staring at trunk passage about 20-30 ft tall, 30-40 ft wide, and 100 ft long with some of the nicest banded dolomite walls anywhere in the cave. This was the largest new section of passage discovered in Carroll since Convention Hall in 1968. The wavy, banded walls reminded us of a Van Gogh painting, so we named it Van Gogh’s Hall. At this point, we established a trail through the virgin mud to minimize damage to the floor. The passage now split several ways, with the stream going off almost due west and a possible lead behind a nearly 20 ft tall flowstone heading northwest. At the end of Van Gogh’s Hall, the passage forked. One fork is a tightly meandering 20 ft tall canyon headed south/southwest. The other fork was a 4 ft tall, 8 ft wide phreatic tube heading southeast. Ben and I began surveying the smaller southeast fork, but encountered some very nice cave pearls encrusted in the floor after only 4 shots. We could not survey past the pearls without destroying them so we halted the survey, but the passage does continue. We then did a couple of shots into the canyon passage while Joe finished sketching Van Gogh’s Hall. This was one of the best days of virgin discovery since we had begun the survey of Carroll seven years ago. We headed back to Jerry’s Cairn Camp tired but very stoked about our discoveries. We added 1008.25 ft of virgin survey to this growing side passage of a side passage.

Sep. 19–Dan Lamping and Tony Schmitt accepted the unpleasurable task of finishing the right arm of the Bear Claw (CR1) passage, which would complete the survey of this mud hole. It took only 6 shots and 90.9 ft to finish it.

Oct. 10–Josh Brewer, Dan Lamping, Andy and Bob Lerch, Ben Miller, and Joe Sikorski were originally planning on a camp trip to Lower Thunder to continue the DL7 survey, but heavy rain forced a change of plan. Instead, we decided to go to the Carroll River arm and work on the many side passages that needed to be surveyed. Ben and Josh had driven from Kentucky and didn’t have gear for camping above ground. So, they headed to the Lunch Room on the night of the 9th, and the rest of us met them the next morning. Ben and Josh had just completed the Belfry side passage when we emerged slimy-as-always from the Turnpike. We headed to what for now is referred to as CR12, a packed mud, crawling tube that was very pleasant to survey. With two teams we made quick work of it, even with some good hard tight crawls that Joe and Andy pushed. Next we headed to CR8, a complex multi-level side passage with a fairly nasty lower canyon and an upper level area of dome complexes. There are some really nicely decorated domes and the largest fallen speleothem that I have seen in the cave here. One team headed into the lower canyon while the other went up to the domes. After several hours of surveying the lower canyon terminated at a nice dome room about 25 ft wide and 40 ft long, with a nearly 20 ft tall ceiling. The upper teamn finished with one more dome left to survey. There is also a right hand canyon that heads east which needs to be surveyed, so we will be back. Total footage for the day was 991.05 ft.

Dec. 5–Dan Lamping, Bob Lerch, and Joe Sikorski were determined to reach DL7-L6 and continue to push this virgin side passage. A sub-objective was to drop off gear at our newly designated Push Camp for a trip coming up later this month. We new it would be a long tough trip, humping heavy packs through the Hills of Hell all the way to Push Camp. The nearly 4 hour trip from Jerry’s Cairn Camp to Push Camp was as tough as anticipated, but it was worth the effort to have a camp near all those virgin leads in the far reaches of DL7. After dropping off gear at Push Camp, we headed into DL7-L6 and reeled off 8 shots in virgin passage. The passage remained a modest-sized muddy canyon that continued with no signs of shutting down. Total footage for the day was 299.2 ft.

Dec. 27-31–Dan Lamping, Bob Lerch, Ben Miller, and Joe Sikorski headed in for a five-day camp trip to our now well stocked Push Camp. We still had fairly heavy packs, and the Hills of Hell sucked as always, but we made it to camp in about five hours – an exceptionally fast pace for this trip. Our objectives were to survey DL7-L6 and DL7-L7 side passages and also to extend the main DL7 survey.

On 12/28, we headed into DL7-L6 to the large canyon passage beyond Van Gogh’s Hall. We split into two teams, with Ben and Joe starting at the end of survey while Dan and I headed into virgin territory a few hundred feet ahead. The passage was a very meandering 5 ft wide, 20 ft tall canyon with mud covered shelf stone throughout. So, we named the passage the Shelf Stone Canyon. Eventually, Ben and Joe got their turn at mapping virgin when they leap-frogged Dan and I. The canyon was going strong and we were psyched for a long day of mapping virgin when Ben and Joe encountered a decorated area that was wall-to-wall formations. There was no apparent way through without causing serious damage. The formations were brilliant white with the centerpiece being a huge calcified drip tube, 4 ft in diameter and 6 ft deep, surrounded by flowstone and a profusion of stalagmites and stalactites.  Once Dan and I tied in our survey, we went to check out this apparent obstruction. The passage obviously kept going, and we thought we could step around the extreme edge of the passage without causing any noticeable harm. After some lengthy and impassioned discussion, Ben and Joe deemed the risk of damage too high and declared that they would not try it. Dan and I firmly disagreed. So, we decided to split up at this point. Dan and I delicately made our way past the formations and continued the survey of the canyon. We reeled off another 15 shots before calling it a day and the canyon was still going strong. On the way out, we easily negotiated the formation area and did minimal damage. We were feeling pretty cocky and decided to rub it in by naming the area Clear Conscience. Joe and Ben weren’t amused. Meanwhile, Ben and Joe went to map the DL7-L6R1 passage, a virgin phreatic tube heading north into the unknown. They nearly got pinched out but were able to squeeze through the low spot and busted into walking passage going in two directions. They surveyed to the east, and after 6 shots, encountered another t-intersection which they incorrectly thought was DL7 main passage.  Total footage for the day was 1008.25 ft, with 596.85 ft in Shelf Stone Canyon and 411.4 in DL7-L6R1.

On 12/29, we headed back to where Ben and Joe ended the previous day, traveling through L6 and the L6R1 phreatic tube to the t-intersection in what we thought was main DL7. Ben and Joe headed south/southwest to tie-in what we thought was a by-passed section of main DL7 survey and Dan and I headed further into what we initially thought was DL7. After a few shots, Dan and I were in low, very wide passage (1-2 ft tall and 30-40 ft wide) surveying around a huge mud pillar. I was on lead tape and belly-crawling through the passage when I reached an area plugged with sediment. After a couple of minutes of digging, I broke through, but the passage continued low and wide. This was definitely not the main passage, and it was clearly virgin. We now realized that we were in DL7-L7. We had been on a theme of Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome all day – a movie with many classic, bad lines. So, we called our somewhat nasty, low passage Bartertown. Eventually, we managed to map around the huge mud pillar where we were forced into the stream for the next shot. It looked like the passage was about to get low and wet, so we decided this would be the last shot of the day as were not dressed for surveying in water. I crossed the stream and was crawling to the far wall to set the last station when suddenly I broke into a 25 ft tall canyon going left and right! We did the last shot and while Dan finished sketching I went about 100 ft up the left passage. It was very strange passage with steeply sloping floors covered by 2-3 ft of granular clay and a series of low bridges over the stream. It was about 20 ft wide and up to 25 ft tall heading southwest back towards L6. To the right, the passage is a canyon about 6 ft wide and 20-25 ft tall heading northwest into blank space on the map. Joe and Ben, meanwhile, mapped DL7-L7 towards what really was main DL7. After 8 shots, they hit low, wet passage they were not dressed for mapping, so they headed out to really continue the survey of main DL7. Once arriving at the main passage, they quickly realized what was going on as well. The phreatic tube (DL7-L6R1) connects the L6 and L7 side passages, forming a large 2-dimensional maze. In addition, DL7-L7 connects to the main passage forming a large loop from the entrance of L6 to L6R1 to L7L1 to L7 and back to main DL7 – got that? We had discovered another extensive maze (the other being UL3) that now had five virgin leads. Ben and Joe also managed to reel off nine long shots in main DL7. Our footage for the day was 881.05 ft in Bartertown (DL7-L7) and 523.5 ft of main DL7 for a total of 1404.55 ft.

On 12/30, we headed to the end of the main DL7 survey. At the end of the previous day, we had reconned ahead and found that DL7 crosses over a drainage divide. We found a swiftly flowly creek going from west to east. Up to this point, the stream in DL7 had always flowed to the south into Thunder River. So, we had definitely found a third major drainage in addition to Carroll and Thunder Rivers. This also meant that Ben’s dye-tracing work had just expanded significantly. Where did this water come from and where was it heading? We kept our same teams from the previous days, surveying to the east, going downstream in large walking canyon passage, 15 ft tall and 30 ft wide. We came to a point where the stream flowed under a ledge into fairly grim passage (2-3 ft tall and 4-6 wide) and the main passage continued up a 25 ft tall mud slope into a phreatic tube about 4 ft tall and 10-12 ft wide. Dan and I surveyed the lower drain, hitting water-filled passage after 10 shots. Ben and Joe surveyed the upper phreatic tube, reeling off 6 shots before hitting passage half-filled with water. They looked ahead and the passage continued for several hundred more feet. Footage total for the day was 847.65 ft. This brought the total for the trip to 3260.45 ft (0.62 miles).