Trip report by Kohl Mitchell

Trip date: 2024-03-24

Trip purpose: Survey DL2

Trip participants: Kohl Mitchell
Ben Geisert
Jack Rufener
Tristin Whetstine

Entry Time: 9:15 AM Exit Time: 10:00 PM

How far: Down Lower Thunder River to DL2, and about 1,500 feet to the end of DL2

Injuries: No

Trash: Jack retrieved a jug from USS Strap-On

Biology: 12 cave fish, several isopods

The trip report: Originally, we were planning on doing a five-person trip, splitting into two teams once we got to DL2. However, the day before the trip Logan Dowd let us know he wouldn’t be able to make it. While this meant we’d only be able to have one team, Ben and I, who along with Logan were the only people to ever visit this passage, still thought we’d be able to survey the whole thing in one long day.
We dropped in the cave at about 9:15 AM on Sunday, quickly beginning the slog through the Forevers to DL2. Jack was relieved at how much easier it was than the last time he’d come through here lugging a 60-pound camp pack, while I quickly came to realize that I’d worn one too many wetsuit layers. I ditched my neoprene jacket, but kept it with me until we began survey in case I’d need it later (I didn’t). While it was a relief when we reached the large entrance of DL2, about an hour and a half from the ladder, we knew it would still suck slipping and sliding up and down the spanky banks and through the intermittent belly crawls of DL2 until we reached the relatively large passage past Shower House Dome.
We began the survey at station DL2-35, the upstream side of the Shower House, where Ben ran lead, Tristin ran front shots, I sketched and Jack provided assistance wherever needed, as well as doing cross-section sketches. The passage for the next couple of hundred feet consisted of 4 to 6 foot high passage with the small stream meandering back and forth between the sloping mud banks and walls. A few narrow, joint-controlled domes were present in this area, rising from 15 to 20 feet high but none leading to upper passage of note. The only navigable passage in one of these domes was a small, 2 foot high and 6 to 8 feet wide room at the top of the last dome. The floor throughout the entirety of DL2, barring only the bottoms of a couple of the domes, was typical Lower Thunder mud – gooey, slippery, and coating absolutely everything.
At station 44, what initially appears to be a terminal mud choke instead leads to a hard right turn down a belly slide into continuing passage. The first hundred feet or so of this is more of the same, but before long the passage widens and the ceiling rises to 15 to 30 feet high. Jack and I were getting somewhat chilled and hungry at this point, so we stopped for lunch at the first decent spot we could find. Shortly after the spot we ate, beginning at station 49, a large room denotes the beginning of the first side-side passage in DL2. A Y in the stream is present here, with one way leading towards large, open passage while the other way, which appears to be the dominant water channel, leads under a small opening in the right wall. Ben and I had no memory of this side jog from before – we were so excited about the borehole-sized passage before us that we didn’t pay it any mind.
While Jack and I worked on the sketch in this room, Ben and Tristin poked their way down the side passage and reported that went an estimated 60 feet before reaching what Ben suspected was the breakdown area that the three of us had stopped exploration at last trip. We left a station, named DL2-50A1, at the entry of this area and decided to survey it last.
The next area after this large room was the second and final of the massive domes leading to upper-level passage that we’d found last trip. This one, which we named the Gentlemen’s Lounge, looks better to climb than the Shower House, but still not great given Carroll’s rotten rock. This dome has a maximum height of 46 feet from the floor to the ceiling of the upper passage visible at the top, with only a small overhang at the top preventing it from simply being a sheer vertical climb. It is smaller in diameter, at only about 10 feet wide.
At this point, another 100 feet or so of larger than normal but unremarkable passage led us to the large breakdown area that we’d stopped at last time. This was a complex area to survey, as we had to run one line up to the highest point on this slope, which was a good distance away from the best shot at continuing passage, which was following the stream along the right wall of the collapsed room. We also had to leave a tie-in station at the base of the pile in this area, where the -50A1 side passage terminates at a small waterfall, dry at the time of survey, where the water flows towards the previously surveyed passage.
We pushed for a few more shots around the right side of the pile before it started to close down enough to start getting us concerned about the potential of dislodging boulders on top of ourselves, as at points through here the floor, left wall, and ceiling were all breakdown. The stream continued below us as a tight slot canyon, but eventually Ben and I reached a point where passage opened up somewhat into a small room and the stream continued onwards in this slot canyon into the right wall – too tight to negotiate further.
With the main passage of DL2 completed, we returned to run the line to the top of the breakdown pile, where Ben attempted to dig a spot he’d noticed had potential last time, but eventually gave it up. We also surveyed a small, muddy worm tube side passage just before the breakdown that gave us another 70ish feet, and the terminus of which interestingly appears to be nearly directly under the highest surveyed point of the breakdown slope.
Finally, we finished DL2 with just less than 60 feet of survey in the -50A1 side passage, connecting with station 56 at the end. Exhausted but satisfied, we slogged back through DL2 and returned to the main passage for a much-needed soak in the river with 828 feet of survey in the books.
We made surprisingly good time back to the ladder, at only an hour and a half from when we left DL2. Jack made a stop at the resting place of USS Strap-On to retrieve one of the cans for a souvenir cave restoration. We climbed up the ladder at a snail’s pace and were outside of the silo by 10:30.
The easily accessible portions of DL2 are completely finished. The only remaining leads are the upper rooms or passages visible at the top of the Shower House and Gentlemen’s Lounge. If someone wanted to try a bolt climb in this area, I’d recommend the second option – the Shower House bells out to a much greater degree than the Gentlemen’s Lounge, which as mentioned is nearly a sheer climb. In addition, the rock around the Gentlemen’s Lounge appears to be more steady (although we only gave this aspect a cursory examination).
Interestingly, we also found two bat carcasses that weren’t fully skeletonized yet near the terminal breakdown. I don’t know where this location correlates to on the surface, but I highly doubt a bat would fly all the way from the natural entrance to end up here.