By Chad McCain
DL7 to Tomorrow-Morrow Land
Friday afternoon I returned to Carroll Cave for my long-anticipated 2nd trip into the cave. Being a SEMO caver, I have no shortage of long caves to survey including the 1st, 2nd, 7th and the 17th longest caves in the state. I was invited on a weekend underground camp trip to push leads in the remote part of the cave, nay the most remote part of Missouri!
I have long since heard the stories about how remote the area is and how arduous the trudge out to that section of the cave is. I like long trips and I like remote trips, so this one fit my modus operandi. I showed up Friday afternoon, well before anyone else and got started getting my gear together as other members began trickling in. Michael Bradford showed up immediately followed by Seth Colston. Shortly after Ben Miller, Dan Lamping, Joe Sikorski, and Derik Holtman all arrived and we began getting dressed, donning wetsuits and vertical gear as well as staging our camp packs for entry.
As the sun went down, the temperature plummeted to the teens, and we were shaping up to get the hell into the cave as fast as possible. The wild card of the bunch, Isaac Smith, was still not on site but he assured me that he would be there shortly. He arrived fashionably late as usual, but on this day, it was arguably understandable as we all get off work at separate times, different routes to the cave and of course unknown traffic delays due to rush hour and accidents is almost a guarantee. Even with that we got started at a reasonable time. Sometimes around 7:42 a.m. I took a photo of Bradford digging into his pack at the bottom of the pit and the clock had started.
The trip began as soon as Isaac’s boots hit the floor. Everyone began making their way down to Thunder Falls. Everyone had a large camp pack, most of which were between 35 and 40 pounds, packed into Seal Line backpack-style dry bags. Once at Thunder Falls, I saw Ben’s pack floating in the water, so I chucked my camp pack into the drink then followed the bypass route to the ladder and down to the stream level to retrieve my pack. What a site to see, but this would not be the coolest thing I saw all weekend.
The trip down Thunder River was uneventful. The packs must be portaged three times total, one being over a spot called the Black Rock Riffles, a section of cobble and chert that would no doubt shred a cave pack to pieces if it were dragged over. Other features were pointed out on the way in, but I have to say the hour and a half it took us to get to Jerry’s Cairn reminded me a lot of caving in Blackfathom River Cave or even in Rimstone River Cave in Ste Genevieve and Perry Counties. Lots of water, lots of pack floating and lots of floating crawlways. The water clarity and the fact that I was up front allowed for a lot of blind fish to be observed.
There were various bits of old flagging tape from stations washed away during torrential flood events and I even found the sole of an old neoprene boot that someone must have lost years ago. The sole was rock-hard rubber and had obviously been in the cave for a long time. This was left for retrieval on the way out, at which time I grabbed it and hauled it out of the cave.
Once at Jerry’s Cairn I set up camp on top of the muddy boulder slabs next to the cairn, away from everyone else and the snoring that I was sure that would ensure later. Getting camp set up and staying clean was a challenge, but one I gladly accepted and conquered. No one set their alarm and we did not really wake up until around 9:00 a.m. After a quick breakfast, packing for the trip and getting ready to hit the trail, we were leaving camp at 11:41 a.m. This was not the pace I was used to, but I was along for the ride this time mainly because I had no idea where the hell I was going.
Soon after leaving camp we came upon what I feel was the coolest feature in the entire cave. Horseshoe Falls was by far the coolest water feature that I saw on the entire trip. It made for a great shower on the way back to camp after getting completely slimed in Dl7. I took a shower in the cold water to get the mud off my face and out of my hair and to get 90% of the mud off of my body before I rolled back into camp and started slinging mud everywhere; but that came much later in the day. Once we got to the junction where DL7 came in, I quickly realized why they always refer to DL7 as a cave within a cave. It is quite large and obvious that it was its own cave long before Thunder River decided to pirate out all the water from Carroll Cave and start a new route to Toronto Springs.
We headed up DL7 and moved as quick as a group of eight can move. I tended to stay in the rear of the group so I could get good GoPro video shots throughout the day. The trudge up DL7 continued through the Hills of Hell, past the Pissing Budda, past an ill-fated camp site where the south fork of DL7 breaks off, and other features. As we got to the easier going portions of the route, Ben found a Mountain House meal in the stream, a casualty from a decade ago when the cave flooded out and lots of gear was lost. That would make the food 12 to 13 years old. Immediately after I found a blue tarp wrapped around some boulders in the stream which I hung up on a ledge to drip dry so it could easily be brought out on the return trip.
The cave continued to get smaller and smaller until we reached Upper Push Camp, where the guys spent quite a bit of time pushing leads in this remote part of the cave. From this point we did our final prep before splitting off into our objectives. Ben and Derek were the first team to branch off at the DL7LC survey into the Doll Head Grind and off into the Pig Killer. I continued to follow Dan up to the L8 survey and into Bartertown. Dan and Isaac broke off to the right and checked out leads in North Bartertown, but not before leading the rest of us to our objective areas. Joe and Seth branched off up into the Captain Walker lead which is an upper-level lead. Bradford and I continued from there, on our own and out into the unknown at the proverbial end of Tomorrow-Morrow Land.
The slime fest had started. There was red clay everywhere, white flowstone everywhere, and no way to avoid permanently getting clay on formations that have otherwise remained clean. Traveling through the area it was obvious that many a critter had traveled been there due to the amount of claw marks that covered the walls. Why were there so many claw marks and yet no remains of the critters anywhere? One thing for sure about this area – the heavy meandering that the canyon had proved to me that there could be tombs at the base of the canyon and I was not the person to find out if that were so. To check out every little hole in the floor at the base of the canyon would flat out exhaust anyone who tried due to how soft the clay was. Getting down would be no problem, but getting back out would be an exercise in futility. After 10 or 15 minutes on our own we came upon the pit that stopped the survey dead in its tracks at station DL7-L7-35.
This is not your typical pit. The canyon is a series of tight undercutting meanders on various levels and this pit is the result of several meanders crossing in the same place, giving the passage shear walls and only one way across. There was a clay bank on the left wall that gave the appearance of enough stability that a foot trail could be made to cross it. After getting a path started, I was able to lean on the ceiling ledges out over the pit to keep pressure on my feet as well. The clay bank was soft like everything else and wanted to collapse, sending me into the oblivion below. A good breakdown chunk buried on the bank gave a good hold at the very end. One last leap and I was across. At this point Bradford told me to push up ahead and see if it goes. After all, if it just ended there was no point in him taking any risk crossing the pit. I crawled ahead and immediately rolled down a slop into a junction room. Crawling to the left, canyon continued straight ahead. I returned to my pack, got out the survey gear, rigged a webbing hand line around a bomber flake on the wall and tossed it to the other side as a backup.
After getting the survey started, Bradford crossed the chasm and we were both safely on the other side. Survey started and boy was it a shit show. The downside of 2-man teams is the sketcher must use hands to take shots and the pace goes much slower. In this area, I had to focus on shots and sketching and had no way to keep my hands clean. The notes were quickly becoming slimed, my hands were getting caked, and the protractor was quickly getting a red film of clay on it, making it harder and harder to see through. At station L46 the meandering canyon below opened, and I could clearly see a pool of water down below. I slide down to it so I could clean off my pencil, protractor and hands and immediately felt better. I even managed to climb back up to the top of the canyon without using my hands, ready to continue the survey. The passage continued trending westward, snaking all over the place with windows visible in the floor in various places. The cave was inviting us to slide down the walls and explore the lower levels, but we had no idea how we would get back up if we did, so surveying at the ceiling level is what we continued to do. After what seemed like an eternity, we reached station 50.
“Uhm Chad, I think we are hitting a junction on the next shot. I can see a ceiling channel above our current level.” Michael stated confidently. We have surveyed a lot of caves together and we had one of our most memorable discoveries on a 2-man survey where we pushed a lead of low air that opened up into 25-foot x 25-foot borehole and ended the day in a junction room with 7 passages leading off at 35 feet tall. That cave is still going at 4.5 miles long. On the very next shot, Michael confirmed his early conclusion and we in fact hit a junction. An upper crawl continued to the left and the canyon went with a solid walking floor for a whopping ten feet before taking a hard left-hand turn.
At this point I was done. I was done sketching, I was done cleaning my hands off every shot, I was done not having clean paper or a protractor I could see through, and I was done not having any water to clean anything off with. We decided to take lunch in this junction room and regain our composure. At this time we saw a house fly on the ceiling. It eventually was buzzing around my face as it had not seen light in a couple of months. That is, if it came in during the fall and got lost in the cave. Where did it come from???
After lunch I told Michael that I did not want to continue mapping the canyon, so we checked out the crawling lead. It was full of bat bones, claw marks, but it was also bone dry, not soupy, and easy going. We pushed ahead for a few minutes and eventually came to another junction room. Once I caught up with Michael, I noticed footprints everywhere that he said he did not make. We realized this was the junction room from the start of our survey and the entry pit was just on the other side of a clay mound down the passage on the right. This got us excited knowing that we would end our survey two shots from where it started, and we would close a loop in the process.
We quickly returned to out packs, got everything put away and continued the survey through this easy-going crawlway. One thing for sure – on return trips, this crawlway is the preferred route of travel over the canyon. It is easier going, faster and it seemed a little shorter, but that was just because of the faster travel. There was boxwork on the ceiling in this area as well as a soda straw formation room.
One thing to note is that this survey did not really have an end point. We surveyed a loop, and there are side passages going off the loop that still need to be surveyed. We did not push ahead past the end of survey other than the 15 feet past the last station L51, that we could walk. As the passage made the turn to the left and went back to full body caving at the top of the canyon/crawl, I was able to shoot off a 50-foot DistoX shot due west.
Once we closed our loop, we packed up the gear and started to make our way back to Push Camp. We had instructions with every team that if a team left first, to leave a note at every junction for every team to see and the last team out would collect the notes. Our return trip was uneventful except for crossing the pit. The buried breakdown (or bedrock) protruding from the clay on the right made a bomber hold to grab and keep you from falling into the pit on the way out. I crossed the pit easily enough then spotted Bradford as he crossed as well. Once we were both across, we agreed that the crossing is not that bad, but the potential for falling is real. Any travel across the pit in the future must be done with extreme haste as lingering on the wall too long could cause the mud sloped floor to slump.
We made our way back to the Captain Walker Lead and found a note from Joe on the floor that read “Seth and Joe are done and heading toward push camp.” Minutes later we got to this crazy ass wall that we had to climb. We were completely slimed, and everything being coated in clay made it worse. We then returned to the hole in the floor we popped up through on the way in and found a note from Dan. Dan’s note said “Dan and Isaac’s leads in N. Bartertown all shut down. We went out to L7 entrance to eat. Will wait for a bit then plan to head and map side passage on left in DL7 with flowstone that Hafner went into once. You will see our gear in the main DL7 if were in there as you are leaving. Time 5:22 p.m. To leave go down this hole in the floor.”
Dan felt the need to give me directions on how to get out, as if I would ever forget. Hah! I never get lost! After a few minutes we reached the junction where Ben and Derek were mapping. Another note! This was like collecting breadcrumbs on the way out! This note said “Dan, Isaac, Joe and Seth are at push camp at 6:50.” Did these guys even map anything??? It should be noted that on the way in we reached push camp in 3 hours 45 minutes once we left Jerry’s Cairn. Then it happened. I got lost. I headed into the Doll Head Grind and immediately heard Ben coming out. He told me to turn around as I was going the wrong way. Granted this shit hole of a crawl did not look in any way familiar, but it was too late. I made a wrong turn and got lost. Granted I would have figured it out quickly, but still rather comical with how cocky I am about knowing my way even after only being somewhere once.
Ben and Derik came out and we headed to push camp together where we were met with yet another note. “Isaac, Dan, Joe and Seth left to camp. May map side passage off DL7 on way out. Sometime after 7:00 p.m.” Losers! Only the hard-core cavers were staying at camp until 9:00 p.m. apparently. As it was, the four of us remaining headed out sometime around 9:45 p.m. after eating one last meal before heading back to Jerry’s Cairn. Before leaving we noticed one of the three tape measures at push camp was now missing. Dan stated earlier that it was his and he would remove it.
As we headed out, we eventually reached the blue tarp I left hanging. I wadded it up as tight as I could and tied it up to my pack. Shortly after we caught up with Cool and the Gang (Dan) and we all started traveling together. As we began moving, inadvertently Isaac, Bradford, Seth, and myself sort of split off in the lead as we were traveling at a much faster pace. Eventually we simply all agreed that we would go ahead and break off and leave on our own. I felt we flew out of DL7 and smoked our way through the Hills of Hell. Once we hit Thunder River it was easy going but we did the long stop at Horseshoe Falls to get cleaned up. We arrived at camp sometime around 1:30 a.m. I quickly got my sleeping gear set back up and crashed. I was not in the mood for cooking another meal or staying up any later. After about 45 minutes the rest of our crew rolled in, sometime between 2:15 and 2:30 a.m.
In the morning, the same groups split up as I was ready early and wanted out of the cave. Before leaving I grabbed a destroyed tape measure sitting next to Jerry’s Cairn, as well as a half full bottle of Jägermeister that had been sitting at camp for an unknown amount of time. Isaac, Bradford, Seth, and I traveled together. We were all on the surface within 1 hour and 50 minutes after leaving camp. It was a little windy and a brisk 40 degrees on the surface but also sunny. We passed the time and when Dan came up, we started getting the haul system together to pull the camp packs up the pit with Dan’s truck and a rope through a pulley with redirects. This worked very well and saved us all a lot of anguish. By the end of the trip we had been underground for about 42 hours at the minimum.
DL7 is still going as Tomorrow-Morrow land still has airflow which is not strong, but noticeable. Something tells me that one more survey could push that passage to the most remote section of the cave surveyed judging by the existing plot lines of how remote everything else is out there. I am excited to get back. Next time I will stick with a more strict sleep schedule so we can get an earlier start on travel back out and get more survey done.
Thanks Chad. These travelogues are most appreciated. =:)