Three monster days of caving. And I’m going to cram them all into this one post because it was all one big fascinating blur for me. Prepare to be overwhelmed–and your page to load slowly. Three caves means three slideshows all in one post!
This was the biggest caving event I had ever attended. It was one of the biggest caving events in Utah for several years before and after. Cavers from all over came and camped out west of Utah Lake for the Labor Day weekend. I was able to meet quite a few new people, and see some awesome caves for the first time.
My first trip for the weekend was eventful before we ever got to the cave. We were headed west from our campsite, and were informed there was a shortcut road we could take to save driving a long loop around the paved road. So we headed on up the suggested route. It turned out to be a fiasco. Rodney’s lifted pickup was shoving through piles of tumbleweeds that were stacked deep enough to come up on his hood occasionally. The vehicle behind us was able to proceed only because Rodney was bulldozing a path. Eventually we made it through our “shortcut” and onto more travelled roads. (To this day I still don’t know if we took a wrong turn, or if our suggested route hadn’t been used for a decade.)
After a couple hour drive we made it out to the cave area. We unloaded from our vehicles, picked up our shovels and headed up the canyon. Yes, you read that correctly. Shovels. For various reasons, not the least of which is safety for the unprepared, the entrance is buried. So we walked up the canyon looking for our place to dig. Unfortunately we only had one person in the group who had been there before, and the entrance dig was missed due to a bad GPS location that another person had been given. So we spent at least an hour wandering the hillsides determining where we should be. Eventually we figured it out, and dug the entrance open. After figuring out a way to tie off a safety handline for a long slope inside the entrance, we headed off for adventure.
It was a neat little cave, with several interconnected passages inside. Some rooms were highly decorated and covered with flowstone or soda straws, and others were totally bare bedrock. Eventually I need to go back, with a better understanding of what I am looking at, and figure some of it out.
Day 2 — Mossy treasures
Since I was relatively new to vertical caving, I was a bit limited which caves I was able to go see. There were a few that I had heard were amazing, but I wasn’t qualified to make a 90′ rappel and then get off rope partway down a hole yet. So I took some recommendations on another cave or two that weren’t quite so intense to get into.
I was pleasantly surprised by my first visit to Spanish Moss. It wasn’t one of the caves that everyone was fighting to sign up for, but turned out to be perfect for my needs. Brutal uphill hike to reach the entrance, reminding me that most interesting places require some effort to see. Enough of a rappel for me to get some more practice in, but not pushing any of my limits. And some absolutely fascinating formations packed into a short stretch of cave. I took dozens of pictures, have since been back and tried dozens more, and would happily spend a relaxing day just slowly moving through the cave admiring and taking pictures again. Throughout the cave there are formations all over the place, and many of them are conveniently high on walls and ceilings where they have stayed out of harms way as people have visited the cave.
I was able to meet some Colorado cavers on the trip, and was introduced to a high quality cave, complete with a high quality register. (You will see someone took some serious time in the pictures. Not your typical makeshift visitor log.) And the journey back down the steep walled canyon was much faster than on the way up. We also ran across some goats on the way down, which were practically on top of our trail.
Day 3 – Serious cliff entrance
I had thought my previous day was a brutal hike up to the cave. This trip was a few hundred vertical feet further, and required some looping around to stay out of the cliffs below the cave. But it was well worth it.
This cave is in the top portion of a massive cliff. So you are required to rappel 20-30′, but are looking down a couple hundred feet to the first place you will bounce, before continuing on to the canyon floor. I am well acquainted with heights, and still found it a bit unnerving. But I found the cave well worth it.
You enter through a small gated opening. Years ago the entrance passage had to be initially dug open for human visitors to get in. And it is still a lengthy army crawl to get into the first place things open a bit higher again. And even when it starts to open up, you have to keep your head down. There are delicate formations everywhere on the ceiling in places! The advice Brandon Kowallis had given me about looking up before I lifted my head anywhere was understandably important once I was in the cave.
We carefully made our way through the areas of the cave that were open to visitation, taking time to admire some of the green and yellow tinted formations. Trace minerals cause these fascinating color differences, and make for some very unique tints in the formations. I spent some time taking some pictures of both large and small delicate formations, and Brandon and Jason Ballensky poked around in some of the corners where there are rumors the cave could continue if enough effort were applied.
Once we were done in the cave, we headed back to the ascent at the top of a cliff. I learned a fascinating lesson at that point. If you are standing on a solid floor as you start to ascend a rope, and have the rope pulled back a bit from the edge, you will swing a little as you leave the ground. When you are looking out at a couple hundred foot drop, swinging forward out over that drop is extremely disturbing. Almost in a “need to change my pants now” sort of way. If you want to save yourself that heartstopping moment, consider facing toward the wall as you leave the ground. Harder to see how far down it is when you are staring at the cliff wall. Discussing that experience later, it turns out there are several cavers in Utah who learned that lesson in that same spot. I haven’t heard of anyone actually wetting themselves yet, but several people have admitted they came close.
After we found our way back off the mountainside, I was spent for the day. Brandon and some of the others were headed over to where I had been the previous day. I salute their ambition to do another thousand foot vertical climb in the day, and happily headed downhill along a reasonable trail to my waiting car.