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Cave Exploring 101
by Stormy on April 27, 2007

So let's say you find a new cave. How do you tell other folks how to find their way around in it? Rand McNally doesn't come out to map

I was given an incredible opportunity to come to Cave of the Winds with a survey crew that would work after the cave had closed to public tours to map out a section of the cave that has been locked down for well over a decade. Mapping caves isn't all that unusual. Any time a new cave is found or a new extension of an existing cave is discovered, someone has to go in and map it. Mapping in commercial caves isn't all that unusual, either. If new passage has been discovered. This, though, was an unusual event. The mission was to map a section of Cave of the Winds that has never been open to public visitation and has been gated to prevent entry by anyone for well over a decade. A lot of people knew it was there, but no one has gone there in a very long time and as a consequence, a map of this stretch of cave passage has never been made. Exploration itself is exciting. I understand that even the old timers didn't really know what was on the other side of the gate. Guesses ranged from walking passage to tight nasty crawls to incredible formations too fragile to be visited. Doesn't just going in there, knowing that there is no clear cut answer, sound exciting? I was excited! We arrived at the cave after the last of the day's tourists had left and let ourselves in with the keys that had been given to us. We would be spending the night in the cave. Having set up our camp in Canopy Hall, we gathered our gear and made our way to the very back of the tour route. We would be surveying the mystery passage just off the Adventure Room. Finding the lead and the gate past it was fairly easy. The lead itself had been excavated and secured with a culvert decades ago. The problem was tying the survey in with the known cave. Just like mathematicians, we had to find our "known" to identify where on the already existing map we were. This was a little tricky as there are no big flashing signs that say "survey marker" in this cave, especially off the commercial route. The last thing anyone wants is to have tourists mess with the markers. Instead, the markers are small ink spots at the point where the survey was made. They are too small to be seen by someone just walking by. And that, of course, included us. To find the old survey stations we had to use the existing map of the cave and track down the proper location to a nearby marker. We looked for three in the immediate area with absolutely no success. Then we got lucky on the fourth one and located a dot where it was expected, on a protruding knob in one of the passages. From here we used the existing survey data to track back one station. We had the inclination and compass heading and distance available and found the right spot in a flash. It was the tip of a very obvious stalactite and it was not inked for the obvious reason that no one wanted to mess with a formation. From here we tried to locate an even closer station, but just weren't able to do it. The inclination and compass heading and distance were available, but the spot they pointed to was not an obvious survey station and there was no ink to confirm that we were in the right place. That was inconvenient, but we had a place to work from, so we added new survey points to make it to the start of the passage we were to survey. Here came problem number two. The lock on the gate was old and rusted. We had the key, but it would not work. We also had a back-up plan -- a large pair of bolt cutters that tore the lock off like it was string. We were ready to go! We surveyed down the passage past crumbling rock and areas of breakdown, under a low overhang and over a field of dried and cracked mud. We ended up in a small room with moderate decorations and a crack in the wall about seven inches wide and three feet high. Most of the surveying party were far too big to make it through. Two of the women on the team were just small enough to try it, but there was a lot of debris in the hole. They could continue the survey through there after cleaning up the debris. That took a long time and ultimately a lot of huffing and puffing. We got a lot of work done, but did not complete the survey. In the middle of the night we all decided to let it rest until we could arrange for another trip into this area. It was all very exciting, but it was also very late and everyone was tired! Just what is it that we'll find past the little squeeze? There's a room visible at the other end of the pinch, which is five or six feet long. This exploration of the unknown will have to continue another day. I hope I'll get invited on that trip!

Stormy poses on the sign to Cave of the Winds.
(taken by Max on April 27, 2007)
Stormy checks out a column along the commercial route.
(taken by Max on April 27, 2007)
A marmot in the Oriental Gardens. Do they eat marmots in the Orient?
(taken by Max on April 27, 2007)
Yep! It's a hole just big enough for a marmot!
(taken by Max on April 27, 2007)
The Nursery at Cave of the Winds. Delicate formations are shielded by a mesh along the ceiling.
(taken by Max on April 27, 2007)
Surveying is hard work. A helmetless caver takes a compass reading as Stormy supervises. Stormy is the one wearing the helmet.
(taken by Max on April 27, 2007)
Stormy uses a small green LED to direct a caver in the culvert below to take a reading.
(taken by Max on April 27, 2007)
On Station! A caver records the readings provided by the survey team.
(taken by Max on April 27, 2007)
Log jam in a crawl. Stormy waits patiently for his turn at a squeeze. Note the debris next to him that had been washed in by flowing water.
(taken by Max on April 27, 2007)
The age of this mud is anyone's guess, but it's been dry here for a very long time. The deep cracks in the surface speak to the history of time. Many are 6 inches or deeper!
(taken by Max on April 27, 2007)
There is a plastic scan tag imbedded in the mud three inches below the surface. The tag can't be more than 20 years old. This is a significant clue in determining the age of the fill.
(taken by Max on April 27, 2007)
This old bucket is a "home made" lantern from the Cave of the Winds Historic Tour. It was no doubt washed in here, but how and how long ago is not known. The bucket had rusted through.
(taken by Max on April 27, 2007)
An animal bone is calcified to the wall. It's at least thousands of years old. It could be hundreds or even a million years old!
(taken by Max on April 27, 2007)
The pinch in the back. It's a hard squeeze, but one that can be negotiated by nimble cavers of the right size!
(taken by Max on April 27, 2007)


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