Carroll Cave Survey Trips – 2008

Submitted by Bob Lerch

Feb. 23–Val Schmidt, Tony Schmitt, and Bob Lerch went to the Carroll River arm of the cave to work on some small side passages near the Lunch Room. The first side passage we went to was designated CL1 (1st passage on the left in the Carroll arm, relative to the Backdoor entrance). It is really a continuation of the massive ceiling joint that extends past the Lunch Room, but it is a distinctive side passage with a small stream. We surveyed 145.75 ft of small, mostly crawling passage. After a break, we went to the side passage in the Turnpike. As always, everyone was psyched for a sloppy Turnpike survey. The TPS side passage is a small winding canyon heading off to the northeast from the Turnpike. About half of the passage volume is filled with super-sticky mud, and the air-filled portion is a small canyon dissected through the mud. After 21 shots and 256.7 ft, we called it good on this little mud canyon from hell. Meanwhile, Spike Crews and Mike Freeman went to Upper Thunder to close a loop that defines the stream from U129 to U149. Some time ago, the stream survey was started from U149 (near the start of the Jumps) and had never gotten tied in with the downstream survey. They immediately noted a going lead off to the north, but they stayed with the main objective and closed the loop, adding 531.4 ft to the cave. Total footage for the day was 933.85 ft.

Apr. 19–Kyle Rybacki, Bob Lerch, Shawn Williams, and Ben Miller went back to the Carroll River arm to continue surveying the numerous side passages in this part of the cave. The first objective was a large side passage on the left side of the Mountain Room (relative to the Backdoor entrance). It was originally designated as R2 (2nd right, relative to the Natural entrance) by the earlier surveyors, and it was described as long, big, and decorated; all of which sounded good to us. We weren’t sure what number side passage it was on the left, so we called it CLX. After making sure we could all get up a tough little climb into the passage, we split into two teams and set up a leap-frog survey. Shawn and Ben ran ahead; Kyle and I started at the edge of the Mountain Room. We reeled off long shots in decent sized passage (20’ wide X 12’ tall), with some very nice columns and a 4 ft tall stalag. At the far end of this passage is an 8 ft wide column that almost chokes off the passage. It ends as an overlook to the main trunk passage. Also, we found another connection to the main passage along the right wall that posed an unnerving climb for Kyle, and it also rained a softball-sized chunk of rock on to my back. We racked up 751.2 feet in this nice side passage. After CLX, we headed back towards the Turnpike to what had become known as the Big Canyon side passage. It was originally designated R10, but no description of this side passage is in any report that we could find. Our designation for this passage is CL3, and it is a good-sized winding canyon heading north and east from the main passage, showing no signs of ending soon. Again, we set up the leap-frog survey and went to work. This time, Kyle and I headed further in, setting our first station on a tall mud bank. The passage is fairly big (20’ wide X 8’ tall), but it is very physically demanding with many climbs up and down the mud banks. The modest-sized stream meanders from one side of the passage to the other, occasionally disappearing beneath a severe undercut. After more than 14 hours in the cave, both teams were beyond tired, so we headed out with another 334.5 ft in CL3 on the books and no end in sight. Total footage for the day 1085.7 ft.

June 7–Dan Lamping, Bob Lerch, Joe Sikorski, Amber Spohn, and Roger Webb went to Lower Thunder River to mop-up some small side passages near Black Rock Riffles. Dan and Joe tackled DR3, and Amber, Roger, and I would survey DR2. The passages are right next to each other about 10-12 feet above Thunder River.  As we surveyed, we could hear Dan and Joe clearly through a tiny opening that no human could get through. DR2 is a phreatic tube that is mostly mud-filled, with a few small domes. Along the right wall was a small side passage that actually yielded about 45 ft of virgin mud crawl through 1.5-2 ft tall passage. This was the glorious thrill of discovery you read about in magazines like the NSS News or National Geographic – NOT!!! Returning to the main DR2 survey, we reeled off a few decent shots into ever-lowering muddy passage. We pushed the passage for about 100 ft and called it good once the ceiling height got down to a consistent 0.8 ft. The passage does go as a decent dig lead that we left for the next generation. When we returned to the main passage, we found Dan and Joe napping. They were just wiped out after their difficult three shot survey into DR3. Collectively feeling lazy at this point, we elected to head out rather than tackle another side passage. We got a whopping 339.3 ft for the day.

Aug. 30–Sep. 1–Dan Lamping, Bob Lerch, Ben Miller, Joe Sikorski, Amber Spohn, and Roger Webb headed to Lower Thunder for a 3-day camp trip. The survey objectives were to start DR4 on our way to camp at Jerry’s Cairns, and to continue the DL7 north fork survey. DR4 is a nice-sized passage at the start of the Forevers. It’s a low and wide bedding-plane controlled passage with a modest-sized, super meandering stream. The entire passage was covered in fresh, gleaming mud. We broke into three teams of two so that we could get as much footage as possible before everyone got too cold to survey. Dan and I got the fun task of looking for the nearest station to tie into; Roger and Amber started at the entrance to DR4; and Joe and Ben headed in a few hundred feet. Tie-in stations were scarce in this area because of the major flooding of the cave back in April 2008, so most of our stations were washed away or buried under fresh sediment. We eventually found a tie-in station and had to survey 286 ft back to the entrance to DR4. Once we got that accomplished, Dan and I headed into DR4 for what promised to be some supper sloppy survey. We passed the other teams, who were enjoying themselves immensely and set-up our survey. We got in three shots, and the other teams were ready to get moving as cold had gripped them. We still managed to get a total of 580.3 ft surveyed in just a couple of hours of work.

When we got to Jerry’s Cairns, we noticed that things didn’t seem quite the same. The steps leading up the mud bank to the camp were noticeably obscured with new sediment, and a lot of the gear left at camp was missing. After further inspection, we came to the shocking realization that this area had nearly flooded to the roof. We found gear stuck in the ceiling of Freeman’s Loft, 35-40 ft above normal stream level, and there was fresh sediment over the entire camp area. We speculate that Thunder River backed up all the way from the Lake Room to somewhere upstream of the Forevers following the massive amounts of rainfall in late March and early April 2008. We further realized that our camp was a death trap since water could back up and sump the Forevers, trapping us in the cave, then slowly rise and drown us. We always figured that during high flows the Forevers sumped, but we never imagined that Thunder River could back up from the Lake. As you might image, we pay much closer attention to the weather than we used to for trips to Jerry’s Cairns. On the other hand, the rainfall amounts in spring 2008 were extreme, and the camp had not flooded in the previous four years. Regardless, it was a lesson to all of us. We had taken for granted that the camp was safe, and now we new to be way more cautious about trips to this area of the cave.

Our main survey objective was the north fork of DL7, essentially the main passage of DL7.  The end-of-survey was DL7-90, and it was a solid 3 hour trip from camp. Most of the trip in DL7 is up and down what seems like an endless series of mud banks in a huge canyon with a large meandering stream. We already had surveyed nearly 7000 ft in DL7, and there was still so much more big passage to map. We broke into two teams, and did the usual leap-frog survey. Dan, Ben and I started out in large canyon passage (40’ wide X 30’ tall) reeling off fairly long shots. We came to a nicely decorated left-hand passage (DL7L5). The floor is covered in flowstone, but we were too muddy to survey it. This passage will require a change of clothes before entering. By the time we tied into Amber, Roger, and Joe’s team the passage had changed, becoming bedding plane controlled rather than a deep canyon. We jumped ahead, passing a really nice stalag that is just a few inches from becoming a column. It’s 16’ tall and 8’ wide, hanging right in the middle of the passage. Joe named it the Bottle Opener. We reeled off about 4 more shots, and called it a day in passage that had become relative low (6-10’ tall), but still about 40’ wide. Our total footage for the day was 1452.8 ft, bringing the weekend total to 2033.1 ft (0.39 miles). DL7 total footage was now 8295.1 ft (1.57 miles).

Nov. 8–Josh Brewer, D.J. Hall, Bob Lerch, Ben Miller, and Shawn Williams went to the UL2 (Convention Hall) to mop-up what we hoped would be our last survey trip to this awesome side passage, the second longest in Carroll. Shawn and Ben were headed to some unpromising leads marked as “small boy” leads by Mike Freeman on his sketches. Their other objective was to take a look at Quizno’s Canyon to see if it had any potential to be pushed further.  Josh, D.J., and I headed to 3M (Meandering, Muddy, Madness) to hopefully finish off the last lead in this extensive side passage within UL2. 3M was already mapped to about 1600 ft when we started the trip, and there was one last south-trending lead that had been waiting to be finished for over two years.

Shawn and Ben knocked out the “Small Boys” leads in a couple of shots each, then headed to Quizno’s Canyon. Quizno’s is a tall (~20’), very skinny (1-2’ wide) canyon that had not really been pushed. The previous survey teams got squeezed out at the bottom of the canyon, but they thought there might be potential to keep going at the top. So, Ben and Shawn did just that, finding ~200 ft of passage before it became obstructed by pendants, but it keeps going. It will require some judicious pendant removal to survey it.

Meanwhile, the 3M team started our survey in wide, low passage that seemed very unlikely to go anywhere, but after two shots it annoyingly began to open up – wouldn’t this lead ever die? We enjoyed several more shots in very muddy passage that alternated between belly crawls (1’ tall or slightly less) and nice sized passage (4-6’ tall). After about 9 shots the passage split, with an upper level going off of the left side of the passage. What? Another lead? Damn it, we were supposed to finish this today!!#% After some recon of the two passages, it seemed likely that we would not finish everything. We had already been in the cave for 10 hours, and we were looking at several more hours of survey. So, after some discussion, we decided to do the upper level as it appeared to have more passage. After 5 shots, the passage got too tight for everyone to get through, so we decided to leave it for a “Small Boys” team. We then went back and finished off the lower level. Oh well, looks like one more trip to finish off 3M. Of course, this wasn’t a big footage day. Shawn and Ben, 71.4 ft; 3M, 256.0 ft (327.4 ft total). This brought 3M to over 1800 ft long, and the UL2 total is now 7,710.4 ft surveyed.

Dec. 26-29– Dan Lamping, Bob Lerch, Joe Sikorski, and Tony Schmitt were originally going to camp at Jerry’s Cairns and then continue the survey of DL7. However, the weather had other plans with heavy downpours that had brought Thunder River roaring to life once again. Knowing better than to risk being trapped in Lower Thunder, we decided to go to the Carroll River arm and camp at the Lunch Room.  We had many sides to continue pushing in this part of the cave, and it does not pose a flood hazard. On the 27th, we decided to head to CL3 (R10 in the old system) to see if we could finish it off. We broke into two teams, leap-frogging through winding canyon passage. Eventually, the passage changed to bedding plane controlled (wide and low), and we knew we were getting near an end. This very nice side passage, that we named the Dagobah System, ends in a round-shaped room with a rise pool spring that is the source of water to its stream. It taped out at just over 1200 ft total.

On the 28th, we headed to CR4 (L12 in the old system). This side passage is near Paradise Passage at the beginning of the large bend in the Carroll River trunk. It is an innocuous 7 ft tall, 5 ft wide stream channel tributary about half filled with water and deep mud. The notes from Dwight Weaver indicated that the passage “supposedly becomes very unstable.”  I had been on a team that shot about 100 ft into it and recall that it was just a V-shaped muddy stream passage with mud-covered walls. We picked up that old survey, and shot through a knee-deep mud trough for many shots before coming to a wall of mud-covered breakdown. The breakdown forced us to the right (looking in), where we surveyed to a hole going up through loose breakdown. It was the only way on, clearly going into a large black void, and obviously what Weaver’s notes were referring to. After some assessment, we realized that one wall was bedrock while the other was loose and large breakdown jumbled together in an unstable arrangement. By carefully keeping your back against the bedrock, you can slowly work your way up without touching the breakdown. The hole opens up to a very nice piece of isolated trunk passage that we named the Trunk in the Junk Room, its 86 ft long and about 20 ft tall at its tallest point. We decided to end the survey here extending the total distance surveyed in CR4 to 420 ft so far, but there a couple of not-so-promising leads going off of the southwestern corner of the Trunk in the Junk Room. It wasn’t a big footage trip, but we saw some nice side passages. Footage totals: 523 ft in CL3; 319.5 ft in CR4. Trip total, 842.5 ft.

We ended 2008 with 4584.4 ft of new survey in the books, bringing the total surveyed to 90,736.6 ft (17.18 miles) and estimated passage length of 83,957.3 ft (15.90 miles).