This trip report is from Jared Pels, one of the students in Dr. Ashley’s Cave Biology class. Although the trip was in early June 2008, I have just received the trip report.
Trip Report – 6/2/2008
Title: Carroll Cave
Trip Date: June 2, 2008
Time: 10:00am – 5:00pm
Weather: Low 80’s, Overcast, Little Precipitation
Participants: Bill Gee, Eric Hertzler, Max White, Ben Miller, Natalie Jain, Charlie Andrus, Jared Pels, Dr. Ashley
Prepared by: Jared Pels
Purpose: The purpose of our trip was to observe and measure troglobitic cavefish. If we could do this without catching them, it was preferred (in the end we never netted a fish anyway). We also counted isopods and noted their length and the substrate they were crawling on, as well as the water flow in the area.
Cavefish Counting –
As mentioned, we carried little green fishnets to net the cavefish if necessary. However, we were only told to do this if we could not estimate their length or if we could not place our ruler relatively close to the fish. In the end, we never netted a cavefish and settled for rough estimates of the length of every fish seen.
Troglobitic Isopod Counting –
Whenever a rocky outcrop in the stream was noted we began gathering data on the isopods present in this area. Each person would pick up a rock and note: how fast the stream was flowing, the amount of silt located on the rock, the color of the rock, and then estimate the dimensions on the rock. If an isopod was present, the length (in millimeters) was relayed to the data-recorder (myself). The rock was then placed in the same location from where it was picked up, in order to disturb the creatures on it as little as possible.
The data on troglobitic cavefish as well as troglobitic isopods was gathered in order to add to Dr. Ashley’s database and eventually add to the state database and Carroll Cave’s database.
Carroll Cave is located in Camden County, MO. The water located in the cave occurs from an unknown recharge area (possibly from sinkholes near the town Montreal). The natural entrance to the cave is located near Wet Glaize Creek. However, we entered from a 125 foot drop in a silo near Highway 7. The cave itself stretches more than 16.5 miles, and continues to grow every time surveyors (like Ben Miller) enter the cave to map it. It is an extremely important biological site. It possesses a strong troglobitic cavefish population. It is also home to the two endangered species of bats in Missouri (the Gray Bat site and Indiana Bat).
We entered the cave with the knowledge that this would be the most grueling cave we would enter in our short three weeks of taking the class. We began by repelling down a 125-foot shaft that continuously “rained” down on us as we went deeper and deeper. This “rain” was slowly depositing calcite on the ladder and cables that go deeper, and will one day be completely crystallizes, assuming the are not disturbed. When we finally reached the bottom, we were told that we were in the general area where the three portions of the cave meet. These areas are known as Upper Thunder, Lower Thunder, and Carroll River. The part we explored was more “caver friendly,” because it was drier and easier to navigate.
As soon as Dr. Ashley came down, he was already moving to the first set of bait sticks to check for “critters.” Many of these sticks were covered in what appeared to be Springtails. However, Dr. Ashley was not 100% sure on this information.
After the brief viewing of these cave sticks, we began our slow walk through the cold waters towards our destination – Thunder Falls, and eventually Upper Thunder. It was at this time that I realized that the girl who had responded to “What is a cave?” on one of Dr. Ashley’s test was actually correct. Her answer was “A cave is a hole in the ground filled with mud.” This description was very fitting for the walk to Upper Thunder. Traveling in muddy waters that sometimes crept up near my waist, we kept our eyes open for cavefish. However, as Bill, Eric, and Ben pointed out, the water was moving much faster and was also much higher than usual. Because of this, we did not see as many cavefish as we might have normally seen had there not been as much rainfall earlier this year.
As we neared our destination, we split into two groups. Myself (Jared), Charlie, Eric, and Bill headed towards “Flat Rock Falls” and eventually headed towards “UL2” side-passage. Dr. Ashley, Max, Ben and Natalie headed directly towards “UL2.” Dr. Ashley and Max began their data gathering from “Convention Hall.”
(Any information from this point on is based off of my group’s data gathering around “Flat Rock Falls” and eventually “UL2.”)
At “Flat Rock Falls,” Charlie and Eric entered the water to count troglobitic Isopods located on the large, flat, black rocks on the small waterfall. Eric quickly pointed out that the water was moving much faster than normal, and because of this there would probably not be very many Isopods. In the end, we counted roughly 50 isopods. Many of these were located on the more upstream position where the stream was wider and slower. The length of these isopods ranged from the smallest of 2-3mm, to the largest of 7-8mm.
After “Flat Rock Falls,” we headed towards “UL2.” Along the way we kept our eyes open for cavefish. We only counted 6 cavefish on this course of our trek. We were unsuccessful in netting any of these and had to settle for a simple estimation of their length. Most of these fish appeared to be roughly 25mm in length.
As we neared “UL2” we saw strange strings of fungus hanging down from the ceiling. Bill took a few pictures. As I walked beneath it, I noticed the cause of this fungus. On a ledge there appeared to be a dead bat. With my little knowledge of bats, I identified it as an Eastern Pipistrelle (Pipistrellus subflavus), Eric then confirmed my observation. Along the way, we continued to check for Isopod’s located on rocks in the stream. We found 3 more areas were there were rocks and the water was moving at a speed of “2,” which is moderate to fast. In these 3 areas, we counted roughly 200 isopods that had lengths that varied very similarly to the lengths of those from the earlier count. In one of these areas near the “T-Survey,” Charlie found a flatworm that Eric said might be a new species that has not yet been documented. We took the flatworm as a sample in an airtight tube filled with stream water, and handed over to Dr. Ashley when we met him.
After this data was recorded we met up with Natalie and Ben, who were surprisingly on their way out of the cave without Dr. Ashley and Max. Because of the extreme levels of mud, our boots were continuously getting stuck in the mud, and at times feeling like they would be pulled right of our feet. This exact situation happened to Natalie. Both of the soles from her boots had been ripped off. Luckily she had master caver, and cobbler Ben Miller at here side. With nothing but rope and cord he lashed her boots back together. This not only enabled her to make it back to the entrance, but also to climb the 120-foot ladder to the top. Whenever we met up with Dr. Ashley and Max, we turned around and began our slow retreat back to the artificial entrance.
Carroll cave is one of the most tiring treks I have ever encountered. However, the beauty of the speleothems, the cave pearls, the cave biota was all worth the sweat and eventual cramps of Dr. Ashley. The frequent “mudslides,” where we were at the mercy of the slippery, muddy slopes were enjoyable. The random drop-offs in the streams that were known as “ball-dippers” were also interesting occurrences to ensure that we were awake and alert. Although we reached the surface and were glad to feel the sun on our faces, it was also somewhat sad to thing that we had left a very pristine ecosystem that not many people have been able to view. However, despite these mixed feelings, the A-team of myself, Charlie, Natalie, Ben, and Dr. Ashley once again demonstrated that caving is all in a days work and we headed back to our biological station with a lot of data; stinky, wet, and muddy coveralls, and plenty of good memories that we all will not soon forget.