Trip date: 2024-01-13

Trip purpose: Map that shit

Trip participants: Dan Lamping
Joe Sikorski
Ben Miller
Derik Holtmann
Josh Hafner
Nathan Curran
Jack Reufner
Chad McCain
Logan Dowd
Michael Bradford

Entry Time: 5:30 PM and 9:00 PM on Friday, Exit Time: 3:00 PM on Sunday

How far: All three survey teams camped at Jerry’s Cairn. One team went down to the Lake Room and two teams went into DL7, with one team going back into the L6 Complex mapping a lead off Van Gogh’s Hall.

Injuries: None

Trash: A tarp was removed and a water container. Both remnants from past exploration trips. Plans are in the works to remove more gear left behind in Lower Thunder, later this year.

Biology: Cave fish were seen in both Thunder River and the DL7 stream.

The trip report: Our group entered in two waves, with one group entering around 5:00 PM on Friday night and a second team entering around 9:00 PM. This brought 10 cavers down Lower Thunder River to the camp at Jerry’s Cairn. This is the largest group we’ve had stay at the camp to date. For the most part there was plenty of room with cavers not being too packed in together. There are few good camp spots and fewer flat spots that don’t include a slope. Everyone made due.

On Saturday morning, a team consisting of Chad McCain, Michael Bradford, Logan Dowd and Jack Rufener made their way further down Lower Thunder River to check leads marked on the D5 Sheet of the Carroll map, with the objective of working their way down to the Lake Room. They picked up where Ben MIller, Tony Schmitt and Cathleen Yung left off in January 2023, starting just downstream of DL8. Chad’s team was able to check each of the leads marked on the map and determined whether they were enterable, making note of what would be needed to access the particularly high leads, while surveying a few others. They were able to begin mapping the high side passage off the Lake Room on the west side of the passage. Ben Miller had first entered this passage over 20 years ago. They initiated survey with more wet, muddy passage remaining to be mapped. Their teams mapped a total of 378 feet of new survey. Because they got so slimed pushing muddy leads the team stopped to clean off and shower at Horseshoe Falls. They were the first to get back to camp early Saturday evening.

The other two teams got out of Jerry’s Cairn a little later on Saturday morning, having not gotten down to camp until after 11:00 PM on Friday night. Our objectives were in DL7. We all traveled together, except Nathan, who, at 19 years of age, was a good 20-30 years younger than anyone else of the trip. By the time we entered DL7, Nathan would blast ahead a bit, sit, chill and wait for us to catch up. Moving through DL7, particularly in the Hills of Hell is a slow, challenging drudge. We made it to the first team’s lead in about 2.5 hours travel time from Jerry’s Cairn. The team consisted of Ben Miller, Dan Lamping and Derik Holtmann. We mapped an upper passage that crossed over a turn in the main DL7 passage, which connected at both ends. This passage was just downstream of Hunchilla at a point where the stream makes a confusing turn back on itself. We entered on the upstream side. After climbing up the mud slope, it immediately turned into a belly crawl with formations both on the floor and ceiling. After a few survey shots the passage got too tight, though we could see it opened up past a constriction. Since we couldn’t continue on, we went to the downstream side and hoped we could enter in and connect the surveys. The approach to this entrance in the passage was a little more sporting. Derik was the first to climb up, and Ben followed. Getting up seemed like it would be easier and safer than climbing down. To climb down would put the caver coming down a steep mud slope with little footing below to land on. So I decided to stay at the bottom in order to help Derik and Ben get down once they finished the survey. We knew it likely wouldn’t be too many shots to either connect or for the passage to pinch down, too low. While they surveyed, I sat on a mud bank and waited with a little nap and a warm fire from wax in a paper cup. Once the passage got too tight to continue, they turned around and I helped each of them down. We made our way slowly back to camp. Our team mapped 348 ft. of new survey.

The third team continued on into DL7 from where our objective was. They continued up to Push Camp where the L6-L8 Complex begins. After eating at Push Camp, they entered L6 and made their way to the back at Van Gogh’s Hall. Their objective was about 1 hour further into the cave than the team. Their team had two different leads to map. One was determined to be exceptionally wet and slimy, so they went to the better of the two leads. In that passage they mapped 169 ft and decided to make their way back to camp rather than trying to map the other lead and getting back exceptionally late Saturday night. Joe’s team was the last team to make it to camp.

On Sunday morning, we made our way out in four different groups. Unfortunately Logan had forgotten his glasses down at Horsehoe Falls so he and Bradford ran down to get them, while everyone else slowly packed up. I hauled a tarp out of camp that had been left in the past. I have a goal this year to remove most of what’s left at Jerry’s Cairn as the camp trips are so infrequent and most people bring what they need. The tarps and sleeping pads down there will slowly degrade. Chad was the first to make it up the shaft. He rigged a haul rope as others began to arrive. All of the packs were hauled up, using a truck, before the last four cavers made it up the shaft. We got out to single digit temperatures, and quickly changed, loaded gear and buttoned up the silo. In total, between all three teams, we mapped 895 ft of new passage. There is at least one more lead remaining in L6 within DL7 and the lead off the Lake Room which still needs to be mapped.

Report by Dan Lamping