Permit #: 0209-02

Project manager: Bill Gee
Trip purpose: Biology baseline survey, far upper Thunder River
Areas of Cave visited: Upstream beyond Round Room
Trip participants: Bill Gee, Jeff Grigg, Andy Isbell, Jim Cooley, Shawn Williams
Entry Time: 9:30am
Exit Time: 10:30pm
The trip report: Biology Project Trip Report

Date of Trip – 21 Feb 2009

Participants: Bill Gee (Leader)
Jim Cooley
Shawn Williams
Andy Isbell
Jeff Grigg

Time in: 9:30am
Time out: 10:30pm

Areas Visited – Upstream Thunder River beyond breakdown pile

It has been several years since we did a biology survey trip beyond the breakdown pile in upper Thunder River. Several planned trips fell apart for lack of participation. This time we got a good crew together.

I arrived at the schoolhouse about 6:00pm Friday evening. Shawn Williams arrived a few minutes later. We had dinner and talked around the campfire before going to bed early. Jim Cooley and Pic Walenta arrived about 9:30 and Andy Isbell sometime after 10:00.

Jeff Grigg stayed in Camdenton in a motel. He met us at the schoolhouse around 8:00am as we were having breakfast. We had about an inch of snow overnight. Jeff’s car cannot make it across the creek bed, so he rode with Andy. Shawn’s car did not have traction in the snow, so he left it at the bottom of the hill and rode with Andy.

Everyone was dressed and ready to go by about 9:15. The first person was down the hole at about 9:30 and we were all in by 10:15. Jim Cooley was the last person in, and he reported that Rick Hines had driven up just as he was getting on the rope. Rick had a photo trip planned, and we wanted to be in the cave before his group.

The trip out to the Round Room was uneventful and took a bit less than an hour. We took about a 15 minute break there. Andy got out his magnifying glass to look for some spiders, but did not find any. The bio site on the floor of the Round Room is now completely dead. There were no critters on it at all. From the ladder to the Round room we saw 6 fish, and there was one flying bat at the ladder.

From the Round Room to the breakdown pile proved to be a bit more difficult. The trail is partly marked and partly not. We managed to go around in a complete circle in one breakdown room. We stopped at the Second Azure Pool for a while and took some pictures. Some of this part of the trip is in the stream. We were not looking for fish but even so saw about a dozen. We saw a grotto salamander beside the stream which we measured at 9cm.

We arrived at the entrance to the breakdown pile about 1:00pm. Everyone took a short break. I left some bait sticks on a ledge about 2 feet from the rock that marks the end of the 1963 survey.

I was the first person through. The water was about the usual level, which makes the first pinch a bit easier. The second pinch threatened to block Cooley, but he managed to ooze through. At the third pinch over the top of a flat piece of breakdown, I got out the camera and took a picture of everyone as they came through. Cooley had to exercise serious breath control at this one. We now know he is the biggest person who can get through that pinch!

In total we took about 30 minutes to get through the breakdown pile. Once through the breakdown pile, the plan was to do a fish count in as much of the stream as we could get to. At the terminal waterfall we would have lunch and then do a general bio survey on the way out.

The first several hundred feet of stream is fairly accessible to humans. We counted and measured a number of fish. Some of the fattest fish I have ever seen were here. Once we hit the Broken Sidewalk, there is no more stream accessible until the waterfall itself. The trail is not marked at all, and we spent some time figuring out that the cave goes left after the Broken Sidewalk. There is a side passage that goes right which looked like it might be the way on.

We arrived at the terminal waterfall about 3:20. The pool there contained a number of fish. I caught and measured three of them. We took pictures of the group while there. Andy went on past the waterfall a hundred feet or so.

Due to the noise we retreated a few hundred feet back down the cave to a nice flat dry area to have lunch. Jim and Andy went back to the waterfall to filter some water and wound up cooking their lunch there.

About 5:00pm we packed up and started back out. There are several riffles just upstream from the breakdown pile. We stopped to do isopod count and measure.

On the way out, we got lost in one room, circling the entire perimeter of the room looking for the trail. One team member circled the perimeter again while Shawn checked out a promising exit, and others waited until the confusion was resolved. Following close or in the steam turned out to be the right strategy at that point.

The return trip through the breakdown pile was more difficult. We were starting to get tired. Jim nearly cracked a rib at the third pinch. He reported later his chest was sore from the squeezing. We got out of the breakdown pile about 6:15. After a short break we continued on.

We debated about taking the stream or the overland route to return. The stream won. We missed the cairn that marks the place where you get out of the stream. After wading through some waist-deep water, we realized we had missed it and turned around.

One of the small goals of the trip was to pickup some dye trace packets for Ben Miller’s project. We saw one of the packets on the way in, just upstream from the Bone Room. On the way back we picked it up. Another packet was in UL5, but we could not find the entrance. I have since seen a map. The stream is severely undercut around the Bone Room, and we did not bother to look under the ledges. Shawn and I looked in what is probably UL6 a few hundred feet upstream from where we found the packet. It is barely a trickle coming out of some breakdown.

It was nearly 8:30 when we got to the Round Room. We took a very short break, then continued on to UL2. Jeff and I went into UL2 a couple of hundred feet to pick up the dye packet there. It is very close to the entrance – well within earshot.

The last part of the trip went slower. Everyone was getting tired. We arrived back at the ladder about 10:00pm. There is another dye packet very near the ladder which I completely forgot about. In the end we managed to pick up two out of the four packets Ben has in the cave.

After gearing up, we climbed out. Jim was the last one out at about 10:30pm. We changed, closed up the cave and were heading down the hill by 11:00pm.

Jeff went back to town for another a hot shower and warm bed. The rest of us spent the night at the schoolhouse.

The cave upstream from the breakdown pile does not have much life. We saw only a few live bats and 3 bat carcasses. This part of the cave is nearly 6 miles from the natural entrance. Any bats that wander that far back are probably lost and doomed, especially given how convoluted and tight the passage through the breakdown pile is.

We did not see any insects. Fish seem to be much the same as the rest of the cave, except somewhat fatter. Isopods are present in about the same abundance as the rest of the cave. We saw one juvenile grotto salamander which we netted and measured.

This data covers only the section of the cave upstream from the breakdown pile. Other observations were casual and are included in the narrative.

First hundred feet of stream, near survey marker U218:
6 fish, measured 4 which were 63mm, 63mm, 60mm and 59mm
First Riffle 8 isopods, measured 2mm, 3mm, 4mm, 8mm, 9mm, 10mm (2) and 12mm
Second riffle 5 isopods measured at 6mm, 8mm (2) and 10mm (2)

A small isolated pool about 2 feet above the stream:
2 isopods measured 6mm and 15mm

Next hundred feet of stream:
1 fish measured at 50mm
Juvenile grotto salamander, 9cm

Rest of stream up to the waterfall:
2 fish, not measured

Pool under waterfall:
8 fish, 2 measured at 48mm and 50mm

Bat carcassas near the waterfall, marked off with tape.  The carcass is almost completely decomposed, just a few bits of fur and the skeleton is left.