Trip report by Bill Gee

This is the second of two trips I set up to show trip leaders routes through the cave. The previous trip in February went to the far end of upper Thunder River. Today our goal was to see as much of UL2 side passage as we could.

I drove to the campground Friday afternoon, arriving at 4:15pm. After setting up the camper, I took a small sledge hammer and some t-posts to the road gate and the middle gate. I set the t-posts so that the gates can only be opened one way. The middle gate is more of a problem in this regard. If it is opened the wrong way, then you have to lift up on it to get it across the gravel trail. Too much of that will bend and eventually break the gate.

Saturday morning the weather was 34 degrees, cloudy and breezy. The wind chill was biting! Jack and Kohl had both arrived late and were camped out in their trucks. The other participants showed up by about 8:45am. Kohl is doing another cave trip tomorrow, so we used his rope. He has a brand new length of 9mm PMI Pit Rope. I helped him tie loops for the anchor end. Kohl also provided the safety tethers.

We geared up and were all in the cave by 9:30am. The first stop was Convention Hall. We were moving at a pretty good clip, but still managed to count 19 cave fish from the ladder to the UL2 entrance. We counted another 23 fish from the UL2 entrance to Convention Hall. I took Alex and Jack up to the overlook, which is one of six ways out of the room.

Moving on to the Conference Room, I showed where three exits are. The first is the way we came in. The second is to the right and the third goes straight ahead. We started with the right side. That passage goes a few hundred feet and then forks. Alex did a quick run down the left fork. Everyone went down the right fork. After some hand/knees crawling and a short belly crawl, we came to a steep climb-up. At the top of that was a fairly large room that I have never been in. We poked around there for a while looking at all the corners.

We were back at the Conference Room at noon for lunch. After lunch we took the remaining passage. This leads down to the stream and eventually to the end of UL2. When we came to the UL2-90 side passage (also called Muddy Meandering Madness), we went in. This starts as a series of spanky banks and then becomes a muddy stream walk. There are a couple of belly crawls. Some of the slopes are very muddy and slippery. It is a sporty passage – difficult to traverse unless you are in good physical condition.

In UL2-90 we saw two juvenile salamanders and about 10 or 12 fish. The stream was flowing. When I was in the passage for the first survey trip some 15 or 17 years ago, the stream was a bunch of isolated pools. Today there were no isolated pools.

Eventually all of us reached a fork in the passage. Jack, Kohl and Alex went down the left fork to the bitter end. It was not far and took them only ten minutes or so. Mike and Candace went down the right fork. They reported that it gets smaller and smaller, but they did not reach the bitter end.

From there we made the arduous trek back to the main UL2 passage. Martin and Candace were ready to leave, so they let Alex know their plans and then left for the ladder. The rest of us went on to the bitter end of UL2. We also poked into some small short side passages. Those were probably just alternate trails through the cave. The survey stations had numbers that looked like side passages.

That side trip took about 20 minutes. As we traveled back to Convention Hall, we expected to see Martin and Candace somewhere along the way. They were not at Convention Hall. Not being sure what their plans had been, we sent Mike and Jack back to the Conference Room to see if they were behind us. They soon came back to report nothing found. They realized that Martin and Candace had to be ahead of us. If they were behind us, we would certainly have encountered them. The climb up from the stream to the Conference Room can be a bit hard to find, but if you miss it you are going through a sump. Therefore they could not be behind us.

We made a beeline back to the ladder. Along the way we saw several boot prints in the sand that showed cleats heading out. We knew Martin was wearing cleats, so this was a good sign. We were back at the ladder by 3:00pm. Checking gear, we saw only five seat harnesses. That was good! It meant that Martin and Candace had made it back and climbed out. We were not worried about them getting lost. Both have been through this section of cave many times and know the route well.

After some gear cleaning, we all climbed the ladder. Everyone was out of the cave by 3:30pm. The weather was sunny and 50 degrees. Everyone but me went into town for dinner. It was a strenuous six hours of caving.

Cave fish count – 19 from ladder to UL2 entrance, 29 from UL2 entrance to Convention Hall, about 10 in UL2-90 side passage

Salamanders – 2 juveniles in UL2-90 side passage. Too small to identify species. Two grotto salamanders at the ladder.

Two ring-neck snakes at the ladder were brought out by Martin. I saw the carcass of another.

Trash – Alex found an aquarium fish net in UL2 upstream from the Conference Room. No idea how it got there. He brought it out of the cave.

Gate locks – Martin Carmichael replaced the lock at the road gate with a new one. It is exactly the same brand and model, and also the same combination. The old lock is in the silo along with the special key that is used to change the combination. The old lock on the road gate has been a bit fiddly to open for the last few months.