And we’re back up and running…

Caving adventures are fun and fascinating. Recovering websites after losing servers is neither fun, nor fascinating.  It looks like it will be fastest to rebuild the few missing items off an older backup than to try and put things back in place with a newer backup. So bear with us while we update 2012 and 2013 to include pictures and other fun features. 2014 trips have been occurring, but aren’t posting to the site until we make sure we aren’t going to have other major headaches…

2013 Great Basin Ridgewalking

Carrying on with my 2013 efforts of checking off old leads, Jeremiah and I headed west for a day. This was primarily a recon trip to figure out access points for future searches. With a 6 AM start out of town, we had more than a half day to drive some roads and do a bit of hiking.

We started in a flurry, with several openings in the first hour of walking. The big obvious holes of course had been seen by others. But Jeremiah came across a couple smaller holes in close proximity to each other that appear to be new. They would be digs, and require removing a very old Juniper tree, so we’ll likely leave that for a future generation.

We were both surprised how much ground we had covered in the first few hours, and had to decide what to do with the rest of our day. From our stopping point on a ridge, it was apparent there was one big high point west of us that was near the cliffs on the west side of the mountain range. We decided that we would have to check that high point someday, and we could get an overview of the in-between areas if we took a shot at it today.

90 minutes later we were on top of the world catching our breath. We had a better feel for how far we could go in a day from various access roads, and the areas that should be looked at carefully. Along the way we found several spots that had promising deposits in the limestone, but very few new holes. We do have a couple distant suspicious points to get back to on future trips, and managed to still get home before midnight.

2013 New to me cave above a town

I had decided 2013 would be a good year to knock off some old leads and projects that have been on a back burner for years now. So I grabbed Jeremiah and headed for a small lead I had been told about by a local resident on a prior trip.

We parked at the base of the hill, and proceeded up to find the cave. The directions I had been given were reasonably accurate, but it was higher on the hill than I had been led to believe. We spread out and staggered our way through various stages of shrubs, cliffs, and other adventures. We found the thing in due course, and basked in the splendor of all 20-30 feet of passage.

There were some camelback crickets inside, and a couple small domes. But nothing overly interesting or spectacular. There was an impending rainstorm coming our way, and I thought I had lost some gear out of my backpack on the way up. So we called it a day and headed back down watching for gear. Luckily I found the gear carefully stored in a different bag at home. A good afternoon adventure after all.

Wet Boot Ballet

We got a trip to Little Brush in, and I have been very slow in getting it up. Life was busy, caving took precedence over writing initially, and then several variations of the plague rolled through our house in rapid succession. I think we’re all going to live, so this post finally gets updated. Thanks to the magic of back dating, most of you haven’t even noticed. I apologize for the lack of pictures, I honestly only took my camera out a few times, and most of those didn’t turn out.

When we showed up at the final turn off the paved road, there was one vehicle just off the road parked on a couple inches of packed snow. So we knew we were not going to be alone in the cave that day. We looked at the packed snow leading away down the road, and all the drivers decided they were game to give it a try and save some walking. We made it up to the closer parking area, and were surprised by a crowd of vehicles. It quickly became apparent we had stumbled into a family Christmas tree harvesting tradition. The tree family was friendly and chatted for a few minutes while we were loading up packs. They were well aware of the cave, but most of them said they had only been a short distance in and had no desire to go any further. They wished us well, and we headed into the cave.

Most of the group had never been in the cave before. I gave a couple quick pointers of what we would encounter early on, and then opted to bring up the rear of the group since I had seen the entrance series several times.  We had a short delay early on, as an under-prepared youth group came slowly back through some of the log jams on their way out, then we made our downstream uneventfully.

The entrance series had more log jams, and more crawling than I had remembered the prior season. There is still a slight redirect over toward the maze area compared to a couple years ago, but route finding was not particularly difficult down to the Window Room. The log jams were just as awkward as always, and caused more crawling than I like. Survivable, but irritating on the way back out. This trip we splashed our way through the Glowing Stream area, puttered around in the big rooms for a while, and bounced and splashed down a ways further. Jeremiah and I had rubber boots we were trying out, and after splashing through the pools we both decided they were worth every penny of the $13 we had invested in them. Below is a poorly lit video of Jeremiah not quite making the move he wanted to avoid sinking his boots one last time on the way out.

We found our way into the White Stream area, and were running up toward required bailout time. Some participants had to get back to the Wasatch front that night, which is a short 3-4 hour drive. We noticed some lights up ahead, and decided to at least see who else was that far along in their adventure. I was actually guessing there was a reasonable chance we would know them, because there are only so many crazy cavers in this part of the world. We found that they were “new to us” folks from a neighboring state, taking pictures on a practice run for later expedition level trips elsewhere. After exchanging some basic info, and exchanging pot shots about caving outfits and who was using carbide, we started the long grind back to the surface.

I had tested out some gear on this trip, which have their own short write ups that will be posted eventually also. The knee high rubber boots were awesome, my newish bag did great on a serious trip, and the elbow pads are my new single best recommendation for people after they get the basic necessities squared away.

2012 Capturing a Sinking Stream

We decided to see if the cave was still plugged up with debris, or if it had washed open with the 2011 high runoff. There is a massive log that jammed up the entrance in the big runoff of 2005, and doesn’t allow people to reach the historical rock collapse from decades ago.

Today we poked around, looked at the water sinking in the stream bed on the left entrance and right before the log in the right side, and pushed a few sticks around. The big log is still as jammed as ever, and there is no way to get over the top of it. The thing is at least 24 inches in diameter and would take a chainsaw to make a dent in it quickly. Probably not worth that effort unless we knew the rock collapse inside the cave were clear, which wasn’t the case for decades before things plugged up. I’ll let the bugs and mold keep doing their work for a while longer and go after some easier projects. We did find the entrance was still holding some ice and snow in late June.

We don’t give up easily when there is a known cave to get into. Jeremiah jammed as far as he could down the left entrance, deciding it was a no-go. And I found a little hole before the log that had washed clean of dirt. After dragging out some rocks and sticks, I took this picture by holding my arm down the hole. It appears the water keeps going, but it would be an endless dig to fit a person. This “passage” is only a few inches high, the stick is probably about the size of your finger. Given this location is five or ten feet upstream of the log that we can see is twenty plus feet long, we decided to move onto other options for our day. We’ll keep checking back later.

The 2011 runoff did bring down a sign from upstream somewhere, and lodged it in the brush along the drainage. Interesting to see how far that makes it in the future.

2012 Hunters of Spanish Gold

One dead robin on the hike to the cave. A perfect looking little cave entrance. An interesting little drop to negotiate, and a few pretty but very small formations. And that is about all there really is to say about this location.

There has been some obvious digging by someone in the last 30 years, as evidenced by plastic 5 gallon buckets and a tailings pile. Probably looking for treasure, or some other fascinating idea. They had built a ladder at one point that is doing it’s best to rot apart and become a hazard. Luckily someone has replaced the rotting ladder with a large aspen trunk, which is perfectly in the way at all times if you are safely using a rope to get down and up the drop.

I know it is hard to believe, but by the time you finish reading this post, and look at all the pictures, you have seen basically the whole cave. Fifteen feet from the entrance to the drop, another fifteen feet down the vertical piece. Then a big steep slope for maybe another 20-30 feet. Not exactly something I would plan your weekend around. Unless you really like to straddle dead aspen logs.

2012 Pole Creek Sink

This is a very large, well known sinkhole. There is an active mine claim in the area as well, so don’t collect anything if you visit. At this point in a low runoff year, a small stream runs down the side of the sink and ultimately dissapears into the ground. The spring the water comes back out of is known, and quite a ways away. I just wish the top end wasn’t full of rocks and dirt, I would like to visit the rest of the system in the middle.

We poked around just a little, and found that there was still ice in the mine shaft. Someone is convinced there is a reason to mine here, but I’m not seeing a good reason. Oh well, some people think I have strange hobbies also.

2012 Walk right on in, if the water is low

Need a stand-up, easy walking cave? This is one that is good for all of that, with a minor issue. Most years, you have to wade through a deep cold puddle right at the entrance area to get to the main passage.  This year we lucked out with the low spring runoff, and were able to simply waltz right into the cave, no wading required. (Do not try to enter the cave too early in the spring, at high runoff the sump pool comes up higher and the water flows out of the cave entrance.)

This cave is a fascinating segment of trunk passage that we cruised up and down. The main upstream passage ends at a large sump, or area where the passage goes underwater. There has been much discussion of why and how this is the case, which is outside the scope of this trip report.

On the downstream end, you end up doing a little crawling to find another small sump. There are a few small side passages and crawls you can wiggle through, but they generally all reconnect or dead end in a muddy mess.

There is about 800-900 feet of accessible cave passage, and as long as you are careful not to slip on the mud, generally a fun place to visit. Make sure and check into the runoff conditions if possible, cold silty water pouring out of the cave would certainly shorten the fun. And in high runoff conditions, you can see that the cave fills to the roof with water.

2012-02-11 Exploring Utah Dark and Deep

This is a write up of Stephen’s first wild cave trip. I was impressed that he had taken the time to write the experience out so thoroughly, and asked him if I could share it with others. It was originally written for another audience, but other than some minor edits in location names and terminology I have tried to leave it as originally written.

– JasonBX 

Exploring Utah Deep and Dark

By Stephen Burton

To start off, I am not the best at telling stories and the photos are not the greatest. They are taken with old point and shoot cameras that have been beat up from rough conditions, and have seen their fair share of dirt. Hopefully I can get my excitement across and share the adventure with everyone sitting in front of the computer wishing you were somewhere else.

I believe that the memories that we have in life are of the things that are different from our mundane days that we remember. When your child does something new for the first time, the first time you see the ocean, or your first loud concert that your parents did not approve of. Any chance that I can make another memory to stick in my book of life I try to capitalize on the opportunity. Most of the time, I can get my wife to join me or she approves the activity without much effort on my part, but this trip took a little convincing and was way past her comfort level.

A coworker of mine is part of a group that volunteers and occasionally gets paid contracts with the Forest Service in searching out caves in certain parts of Utah. He explores them, maps them and checks on areas that they are concerned about. He came to me on Thursday and asked if I would be interested in joining him on searching a cave that he has spent the last couple of years exploring, and thought we could make a good day trip out of it. After begging my wife she finally agreed and four of us headed out on the long drive from Salt Lake City to Vernal at 7:00am. Other than my co-worker and I, none of us had ever spent any time together before, so we had a good 3 1/2 hour drive to get to know each other and plan out how the trip would go.

After stopping for breakfast (and a free old-folks concert at the local Burger King) in Vernal, we arrived at the parking area for the cave. We changed into our warmer clothes, and started our half mile hike in the snow to the cave entrance.

The water entering the cave is too high and rough to enter into it during the summer months; so the winter, while it is frozen, is the only time you can get access to it. In 2005 this cave entrance actually flooded and overflowed over entrance sink and actually washed open another cave about 50 yards downstream. I am still amazed at the amount of water that has moved through this cave and the things that it has brought with it.Window

There is a huge log jam inside the entrance at the bottom left and this is where you begin to make your body into a pretzel trying to push your way through. The original path we were going to take was sealed up with sand, rocks, and logs; so we had to change our plans and head for a different part of the cave. About 10 min into our hands and knees crawl the cave opened up to the window room where we could walk again.

Preparing to cross the first poolAbout three or four minutes later we got to the commitment point where it seems the local High School parties stop and the real caving begins. We did not know how long we were going to be in the Cave and were not too excited to get wet yet, so off came the shoes for the first cold water crossing.

33 degree water Keeping the boots dry early Putting boots back on

After using a spare pair of socks in my bag to dry my feet and legs, we were off to the next sections of the cave where we again came to a larger water crossing, with the ledge a few feet off the ground. One of the cavers in our group had rubber boots and was able to stand a little bit in the water to offer the rest of us support. We used some of the logs around us to make a crossing by holding onto the wall, to keep as much weight as possible off the water soaked logs.

Corner Pool constructionCorner Pool

After the water, we were back to the hands and knees crawling, and all I can say is knee pads were the best thing that I packed for this trip (besides the helmet that got a lot of use). We crawled, dug, and wiggled our way through some spots to go further into the cave about an hour and a half. We got to a spot that the cavers wanted to know if it was open again or still blocked. After all the effort, it was still blocked. We tried to dig through but it was just too tight for us.

 Neil 

Andy 

What I could not get over in my mind was the size of some of the logs, railroad ties and tires that have been washed into and forced into the cave. The force of the water had to be amazing to get them through some of the spots that they were in that I had a hard time getting through

There was another tunnel that branched off that went to a Canyon room that we talked about, as well as back the way we came there was a log jam with a small tunnel that we wanted to explore. We started to head back and one of our cavers, Andy, was in the lead and I was right on his heels. I waited just a minute to give him some space in the crawl, and after the next two corners we got to a junction and he was gone. We had not made a final decision on what way to go and did not want him to get left behind. The three of us took turns yelling down the two tunnels trying to figure out what way he went and tried to look at the ground to see if we could track the way he went; but the rocks are too numerous and you could not tell if anyone has touched them or not.

We decided to leave one caver at the junction in case we went back and Neil and I went deeper into the cave towards the Canyon room to see if we could find Andy. The sound and light does not travel in this cave, and Neil could just get around the corner from me and could not hear me if I yelled. If I turned off my light there was no trace of any light in the cave. In one spot I stopped to rest for about five minutes with my light off. My eyes never adjusted, and I could not see my fingers in front of my face. I can only imagine the tricks that your mind would play on you if you were down there for a long time with the darkness and the silence. Neil and I finally came to the conclusion that Andy had not come this way and we headed back to meet up with Jason at the junction; Andy had not returned there either. About 50 feet up the cave, around a corner, we found him eating his lunch waiting for us. Another learning experience on how three people yelling could not be heard, due to the way the walls and the darkness swallow up the sound.

Tight spot in the Glowing StreamWe headed to the Glowing Stream. Our guide, Jason, has never been through this part of the cave, and it was a spot that several people wanted to know that the conditions were like. So we made our way back to the log jam to see what was there. If you did not know this tunnel was here you would have a very hard time finding it. It is amazing the difference a rough map makes, and also amazing the amount of time people spent down there to survey and map the cave out. Right now there is almost 6 miles of cave mapped at a depth of almost 700 feet, and there is still more not explored. This is currently the longest documented cave in Utah. When we got through the log jam we were greeted with the option of getting wet and seeing more of the cave that none of us in our party has seen, or we could turn back. We decided you are not a real caver unless you are willing to get wet, so wet we got.Staying dry Superman style

There were a couple of pools through the Glowing Stream that were thigh high. Also some tight spots you had to climb over the same log twice that crossed into a hole. We came to a hole that dropped off about 6′-7′ and we had to help each other down into the room that opened up large enough to fit my house in it.

We took a rest in this room where we let the steam come off our wet clothes and inspected some of the collapsed passages. We then decided to continue into the Bone Passage, from here that was a lot of belly crawling and hands and knees crawling. This was the point I was about ready to give up and head back. My wrists were killing me and we had a long way to go. I decided within myself as the only non-caver in the group, I did not want to be the guy who slowed others down. I mustered up some more energy and kept going, and I was glad that I did.

The next passage was called Humming Passage, and it was just like a slot canyon with a roof about 6′-7′ high. The twists and curves in the passage were awesome; and at the end it came down to a hole that was stuffed with a 33″ tire, from probably the late 70’s. You used the tire to hold onto and pull yourself past it, and head into the larger room. According to some other cavers, in years past the tire used to be in the Glowing Stream area and years later it has now made its way down here. Again I am amazed at the force of water, the things that it can move, and where it can move them.33" tire in the cave

We finally made it down to the Cascade Room, which was at least 4-5 stories tall and about 100′ wide. We stopped here to rest for about 15 minutes with the lights off, and found a nice spot to enjoy the darkness and sounds of the water dripping in this part of the cave. We were at our abort time of 4:00pm, and needed to head out of the cave to be able to get to the car with some daylight left.

Cascade Room Steam from breathing 

Burton's Boots in the Glowing StreamWe started our long journey back with more crawling. We worked our way back out of the passage, the belly crawls, helped each other up the 7′ ledge into the hole, into the Glowing Stream again, and back up to the original pools that we tried to stay dry through earlier in the day. This time we were already wet, so we just waded through the pools of water and made our way back out of the cave. As we came out of the cave we noticed that some of us had rocks frozen to us. We looked at some of the ice formations at the entrance before we started our hike back up to the road; to walk back down to the car to change into dry clothes and soak in the warmth of the heater.

How deep is it? Wet clothes meet cold rocks

We spent a total of 7 hours in the cave. 11:00am to 6:00pm. It was an adventure that I would never do by myself, and I stepped outside of my own comfort zone and experienced something that I have never done before. I got to see things that a lot of other people have not been able to see. I have been on tours of caves that you can pay to walk through, but this was a whole new ball game for me. I know that my words do not share the excitement that I felt; but looking at our map, after 7 hours we did not even cover half of the cave. It would require spending the night in the cave to see what else has been found, and who knows what else has never been seen by the human eye. I think I might have gotten cave fever because every night since, my dreams have been filled with crawling through caves. Imagining what might be seen around the next corner, and what the water might open up by the next time. I think I’ll convince my wife to let me go back in and see how much deeper and darker we can go.

2011 Huge Cave in Maple Canyon

Another gift of nice weather in late October, and thus another quickly planned trip to get out of the house. And a chance to wear stylishly garish colors during the deer hunt. This time I was more interested in just getting out and hiking, and wasn’t even necessarily looking for a cave trip. I was searching for some hikes that have been on the back burner, and stumbled back across another Utah website. (They stole my brilliant idea to list and describe all the interesting places in Utah, but they had a headstart before I thought of it. So they can keep it.) I had browsed through their site in the past looking at their descriptions of places I had been and others I wanted to visit, and seeing their site again triggered my memory of a trip I had been meaning to make.

Maple Canyon is an interesting little spot tucked away in conglomerate rock cliffs. Southeast of Nephi, it is a relatively quick hop from the Wasatch front to spend a day or a weekend. I had heard it is renowned as a  rock climbers paradise, and after visiting it I can see why. I have done some climbing, but never seriously pursued it. Walking around in Maple Canyon I kept finding myself thinking how fun it would be to climb that spire, or that crevice, or even that big wall over there…

Hidden among the big cliffs and spires, there is a spot I have only seen referred to as Huge Cave. Rumors abound that it is a single room the size of a football field. I am well used to overly exagerated descriptions of caves, but it still seemed intriguing enough to go and see what was there.

Travel Directions: To get to Maple Canyon from the Wasatch Front, head south along I-15 until Nephi. From Nephi head east through the mountains until Fountain Green, stay on the west side of the valley and head south to Freedom. At the first road in Freedom you will head west and follow the road a short distance back northwest into the canyon itself. The pavement stops shortly inside the canyon, but it is a well maintained road up to the campground. (We encountered actual signs pointing out the turns from Fountain Green on. And a Google search of Maple Canyon Campground should get you there as well.) 

Once you reach the campground, there are some choices of where to stop. There is a couple dollar day use fee for the campground area. Signs are everywhere, but the obvious place to pay is right when you reach the campground by the first kiosks you encounter. Rock climbers can go anywhere and find something to do, there are better climbing websites to explain their climbing options. If you are headed for the cave, you want to follow the road along and go to very far end of the campground. About 100 feet before you leave the campground there is a small pullout on the left. There is a kiosk back in the trees 30′ or so that describe the hiking trail system. You are looking for the Right Fork Trail, and headed most of the way up toward the “Viewpoint” labeled on the maps.

Kiosk at the trailhead

The hike itself isn’t too long. Less than a mile one way. There are several small side trails that take off to the various climbing routes. Only one side trail stuck out as potentially big enough to be confusing, and you stay left when you hit it. The trail immediately starts to climb steeper than it has been to that point. It isn’t horrible, but I was happy to stop and catch my breath a few times.  You are headed to the “Pipedream” climbing area, we encountered a sign tied up on a tree with some rope. This is the more heavily trafficked trail, and you can’t miss the cave or the climbing routes as you get close.

Huge Cave itself is eye catching right from the start. About 20 feet up the wall, and a big black hole. We free climbed up into it with heavy hiking boots without any trouble, but both of us are well over 6 feet tall and have done a fair bit of scrambling in the past. A rope and someone confident enough to lead climb and belay would probably be a safer plan. Also be aware there are several pigeons that appear to live in the cave, that can be surprising as they fly out the entrance. There are plenty of big hand and footholds in the cobbles, but it is high enough that a slip and fall would be very bad.

The entrance of the cave has a three foot wall that you actually climb up and over, stepping down into the cave. The “entrance” is obviously an area that simply eroded open as the cliff has eroded back, happening after the main void had formed. It certainly isn’t the size of a football field, but it is impressively large none the less. 

The uphill end narrows down to a small crack. The downhill end has a large dirt pile, and had some minor water flow on the dirt that had come from the continuation of the crack system recently. The whole interior is fairly dusty, and pictures with a flash will look like a snowstorm if you have walked around much at all. It is interesting to walk around and try to hypothesize how the void formed, but there isn’t much more to look at than the big open space and ubiquitous conglomerate rocks. (There are a couple bolts we noticed inside, so somebody has done some interesting climbing.)

After the cave, we decided to continue hiking the loop over the viewpoint, and back down the Middle Fork trail. It is fairly steep heading up, and the trail was obviously less used and even partially washed out in a couple places. We decided we had to be on the right route when we found some extensive trail work creating stairs and erosion control. We followed our way up to the top, and followed the trail along the top of the cliffs. Despite the overcast and cloudy day, we still had some beautiful views looking down over Maple Canyon and out into the valley beyond.

The Middle Fork trail appeared to be more heavily used most of the way along. There was also a very impressive arch just a few hundred yards off the main trail, and one of the more impressive things to not miss if you are in the area.

On our way back out of the area, we noticed an interesting looking slot canyon. We decided it couldn’t go very far up, and decided to check it out as sunset rapidly approached. It was a very fun little spot, that was a fairly impressive slot canyon that was generally about 20 feet wide. After scrambling through some large boulder piles we found ourselves at a 30′ waterfall with a rope hanging down. We decided that was a good time to turn around in the semidarkness and cold, and found our way back out to end our day. (After doing some research later, the Box Canyon is private property that the landowners have allowed the public to continue to visit. Please be responsible and leave no trace if you visit so future access isn’t restricted.)