Tying Up Loose Ends

I was pleased to be joined by Bob Alderson, Rob Phelps, Robbie Spiegel, Karen Willmes, and Dave West at Hancock Cave Saturday morning. I was especially pleased that Howard and Hayden Holgate had already rigged handlines at the entrance drops, so we flagged them to let them know to leave them in place until we exited the cave.

I led the survey team of Bobs over to the high leads that remained in the Noogah Way while Dave and Karen admired the formations. The sticky crawl through the Noogah reminded me of the waves of ingredients in the Milky Way commercials, and it left me pretty muddy. I set the Bob/Rob/Robbie team up at their leads and headed back to Karen and Dave in the main passage. By the time I led them to the other leads, we were joined by the original Noogah boys, Gordon Bolt and Matt Jenkins.

Gordon drew the short end of the stick and was assigned to cave with me. Matt joined Karen and Dave in the survey of the Transportation Wing. Gordon and I began a profile of a section of the cave, beginning at the Earthworm Gym and extending back to the Funnel Tunnel. While I sketched, Gordon tried to find the survey stations we had set ten years earlier. Along the way we encountered Brian Bolt’s sport trip that had chosen a particularly difficult route to begin; they turned around at the entrance to the Noogah, before their opportunity to see the real pretties.

After Gordon and I got all the way back to the Funnel Tunnel, we returned again to the Earthworm Gym area. The other two teams hadn’t yet emerged from their leads, and I took this as a particularly good sign that they’d found lots more cave. Gordon and I then started checking leads ourselves. Because we only had two people, I chose the least promising lead first, a low passage that we had breezed by on an earlier circuit trip.

Breeze was where the debate came. Gordon saw little hope for the passage, but I was sure that it wasn’t just dead air I felt when I wedged my body into the hole beside the mud wall. I pulled out Tanya’s mini-pick-and-shovel and started digging at the dirt. I eventually got far enough in the dig that I could see that the passage continued forward at least a few more feet before turning right, but it was going to be a long left-handed dig. Before I was ready to quit, I sent Gordon back to the other side of the mud wall. He peered down a small hole, and we managed a voice connection. That killed the lead, but it really was live air I felt.

Next Gordon and I started a short survey into the flowstone above the passage where Karen and Dave had gone. We were hampered by only having one set of survey instruments, but the Bob team showed up shortly after we began the survey. They helped us get the readings. When I climbed up so that Gordon could show me the survey point, he sat down to get out of the way. Unfortunately he was practicing his Cornhole game at the time and left some of his coveralls atop a stalagmite (ask him for the fool story).

I gave the Bob team the choice of the remaining two leads from this room, and they chose the Earthworm Gym lead because it was blowing air. Gordon and I surveyed the opposite lead over some beautiful rimstone dams and up a flowstone slope. By the time we reached the second station, we could hear Karen and Matt excitedly rejoicing in the big walking passage that they had just discovered. Gordon enjoyed talking to them through a small hole in the wall, and they asked if they could be in passage that was already known. Although they sounded as though they were above us, I responded that the only walking passage I knew of there was the one where they started their survey. Dave West made Karen and Matt feel silly when he told them to tie their survey back into the existing station (at least the loop closure was good).

Gordon squirmed sideways beside a flowstone mound as we surveyed uphill. Beyond the pretty decorations the room transformed into a dank passage with broken ledges similar to the Harvest Domes. It petered out in a sharp bend. As we descended past the flowstone mound, Gordon discovered that his cheek muscles had recovered and were again functioning properly. However, I think that the Bob Team found the discussions amusing.

We gathered up all of the teams when the leads had all been surveyed and exited the cave together. We celebrated the survey conclusion with a bottle of champagne. Forty-five surveyors made nearly fifty trips into the cave to close 58 loops. The cave length now stands at 13,153 feet, just 47 feet shy of 2.500 miles, and I have a big map to produce. Thanks for all the assistance with surveying over the last eleven years.