Category Archives: Alpine Cave

High elevation caves, typically cold and only accessible part of the year.

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.



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 Opening up plugs in a cave

We have some serious interest in trips to one of the largest caves in the state later this year. So I decided it would be good to make sure we can get through the log jam at the entrance, and other known obstacles. Lee and Jeremiah agreed to accompany me on a recon trip. We got off to a slow start, which wasn’t helped by endless roadwork on the way.  We found ourselves a camping spot in the twilight. Conveniently the nearly full moon didn’t come up over the ridge until after we had everything set up. We enjoyed a quick meal, and watched for meteors from the Perseid shower. After a couple big  fireballs we called it a night and tried to ignore the full moon. Woke up in a prettier than average campsite for somewhere we found in the dark.

We discovered that the road to drive closer to the cave had been closed and gate locked, probably for roadwork. So we had the opportunity to add a couple miles of hiking onto our trip as well.  That was irritating to discover, but better to discover on a recon trip than a full on expedition level trip.

We found the cave in short order, and introduced Lee into some of the highlights of the entrance area.

The real goal of this recon trip was to ensure we could get through the logjam high up in the cave, and to the passages that lead deeper into the cave. We found that someone had been working on the logjam with a saw, and keeping in mind that everything is relative, we made our way through fairly easily.

We played around in the cave for a while. We discovered that one of the main passages was blocked, and had to find ourselves a bypass. Luckily we were able to find an alternate route to continue on, that didn’t even require us to crawl down the 3′ high passage with 6 inches of water. Unfortunately it required more crawling than I had originally planned for. And in the process we ran into a couple locals that had come today to clear out a lower blocked passage for their own later trips. We helped move a few logs around, and zipped to the end of the “easy” part of the cave to make sure we could get that far on a later trip.

A good time was had by all, and we can now come back later in the fall. Preferably after we figure out the road access better, because a longer day in the cave is not going to be compatible with having to hike a couple miles out afterward…especially if my boots are wet. :-)


2011 Looking down into Onyx Canyon

I was talked into the this trip a few weeks earlier, and eventually psyched myself up for it. I know this sounds like a strange comment from someone who enjoys caving. Let me explain.
Little Brush is on my agenda of caves I want to visit several more times, and get to know better. It is currently the cave with the longest amount of mapped passageway in the state, so it can be seen many times and still have new areas to visit. It has one particular drawback though. It is not accessible during the warm summer months.
The cave entrance is in the bottom of a riverbed. During spring runoff there are large volumes of water that go into the cave, and it would be suicidal to venture very far in. During the summer there is less overall flow, but an unpredictability factor as well. The reservoir upstream occasionally releases water for irrigation down in the farmland below the mountain range. Since there are a few small and narrow areas to negotiate near the entrance, this could leave a bad case of being trapped in the cave waiting for water levels to drop. Or worse, being in the wrong place and swept downstream is an even worse case scenario.
So the generally accepted time range for visiting the cave is somewhere roughly from October through February. After the irrigation season, but before the spring runoff begins to pick up. Even in this range there are risks and spikes in waterflow, so paying attention to the weather and other factors is still a must.
Now that you have a little background of the cave, it may become more apparent some of the drawbacks to visiting. You are entering a cold, wet, high elevation cave in mid-winter. After spending several hours in the cave, you often come back out and trudge back to your vehicle through deep snow and sub-freezing temperatures. Many cavers have stories of brushes with hypothermia from these trips. So it takes a little mental effort to get excited about preparing and executing a trip.
This trip was originally planned as a visit to the deeper reaches of the cave. Unfortunately we had a few people that had to cancel a few days before the trip. But we had plenty of other folks to make up one big group, or two small groups if needed. So we converged on the cave from our various starting points and departure times. (I left home with my carpoolers somewhere around 6:30, which was nearly physically painful but a record departure time.) After we reached the parking area there were a few short introductions between the couple combining groups who hadn’t met before. Then we began our hike through the snow to reach the cave entrance. Everyone made it down the steep entrance ravine fairly uneventfully, previous visitors had packed a reasonable base trail under the couple inches of fresher snow.
Once under the overhang of the massive cave entrance, everyone finished getting gear and lights on.  I made one last brief foray out to take care of nature’s call, and discovered how useful the packed trail had been. After floundering through waist deep snow for a few minutes, I made my way back to the bare stream bottom in the cave in time to bring up the rear of the group headed downstream.
Being in a river bottom, this cave collects debris of various kinds. The most noticeable is the large tree logs that have washed in. They are expected early in the cave, but can actually be found deep inside the cave as well. It is hard to fathom how 30′ logs manage to get that deep, as you twist and contort in places to get a shorter human frame to fit. the power of water is amazing!  We also encounter various signs of human debris. Large railroad ties, tires, metal culvert pipe sections, chain link fencing, and others make up the large items. Smaller debris includes beer cans, food wrappers, empty plastic water bottles, even occasionally batteries and worn out glowsticks.  Most of the human debris has washed in with the river currents in the spring, but it is apparent visitors have left items behind inside the cave directly as well.
As you descend from the entrance the volume of the cave rapidly decreases from being large enough to hold my house, to small enough I need to duck and work around between the logs. Eventually sections are reached where the stream gravel rises toward the roof level, and crawling commences. There are long sections where crawling is interspersed randomly with higher ceilings and easier walking. And then the puddles start.

Conveniently placed logs

In late winter the main passageway into the cave is dry, due to the water upstream being frozen as snow. But there are some deeper pools in the bedrock that hold water year round, and the circulating winter air blowing over them keeps it chilled to freezing temperatures. In deep winter they can be frozen solid, but in March they have started to thaw. The last few years these initial pools have begun at the Window Room, and continue down to the Corner Pool, which are some recognizable landmarks.

Corner Pool

We monkeyed our way around the pools, staying reasonably dry. The new visitors received the grand tour and explanations of how the cave system worked as we went. And then after a while we found ourselves in a flat out belly crawl. We worked our way down single file for a ways, and had last larger area to congregate in while a couple people tried to continue. After twenty minutes of them scrabbling around and moving rocks and dirt, they reported back our route was plugged beyond what we were going to dig out that day. We were disappointed, since we had planned on going deep into the cave that day. (Afterward we discovered that we had someone missed a key turnoff a few hundred feet earlier, and weren’t in the passage we thought we were going to go through. Caves can be confusing, even when you know what to look for.)

Sam squeezing through

We decided to head back a short distance to the Onyx Passage turnoff. Only Dave had been down it before, and it had been several years. So we proceed on our new journey. What we hadn’t realized was how much crawling there would be in this journey from that point on.  The Onyx Passage was never tightly plugged until just the last hundred feet. But it never opened up enough to stand up. Hundreds of feet of relentless crawling, with a bag that would occasionally get hung up on the ceiling, wall, etc. I was looking forward to coming out into Onyx Canyon and getting to stretch and move around a little.
At the end of the Onyx Passage, we encountered an interesting couple of right angle turns with logs jammed in them. After a little contortion and wiggling we all popped through into a tall narrow crack of a room with beautiful eroded flowstone on the walls. There was only one route out that was human sized, and it was up a 45 degree slope covered in large loose cobbles.  We worked on our angled chimneying techniques to get up the slope while still in a narrow crack. And found ourselves looking out into Onyx Canyon at last!

Eroded flowstone in Onyx Passage

Upon further inspection, we found that we were looking into the canyon, but also at least 30 feet off the floor.  Something had plugged up the water flow, and redirected it upward to spill into the canyon. Leaving us on a high ledge, with no safe route down to the canyon floor.  We could hear water splashing off in the darkness, but there was no safe option to even attach a rope, even if our random assortment of webbing and handlines would have reached the floor.
We took some pictures, and I sadly headed back into the seemingly never ending crawl. We covered ground fairly quickly, but I also noticed that all the crawling was wearing me out faster than I expected.  Too many months of only sitting in an office were taking their toll apparently.  We eventually got back to the sections where I could stand up and straighten my back, which was much appreciated. The general consensus was folks were getting tired on our journey back out, so we didn’t take many more detours.
Those that hadn’t been to the cave before checked out the ice formations in the entrance area, and wallowed through the snow to look into the Toothbrush entrance briefly. Jeremiah ended up regaining some energy on the walk back to the car, and jumping into the snow to see how deep it was. Which eventually lead to him losing a shoe under about 3-4 feet of snow. We did manage to get a short video of him throwing snow over his shoulder in a hole while digging it back out.
We grabbed a burger in Vernal, and let various family know we were headed home that night. I have become far too familiar with the drive from Vernal back to the Wasatch Front over the years. And true to form, I had the joy of driving through a short round of white-out blizzard coming over the pass from Strawberry to Heber. I joke that it never fails, but these winter trips do run about 80-90% odds for me every time. We’ll see if the tradition continues next winter. In the meantime, you can enjoy the full set of decent pictures of the trip.

2006 Jeremiah’s First Vertical

This trip was a chance to show Jeremiah and Lee a little taste of Tony Grove caving. Having relatives in the Logan area, and spending most of my undergrad years at Utah State, we had spent some time in the area over the years. And until I started spending time with the cavers in 2005, we had no idea how much we were missing out on.

On the way up the hill we wandered a bit and found some sinkholes and other features of note. Our main goal this trip was Thundershower Cave. It was a simple enough entrance that I felt comfortable we could get Jeremiah in and out of it, even if we had to just haul him out. He had been practicing with me on a tree and my grandparent’s hay barn, so we were pretty sure he would get out under his own power. (Consistent readers may recall this was the cave I made my first ascent in as well.)

We reached the cave, and dropped into the icy cold below. None of these high alpine caves are particularly warm to begin with, but there is something about starting out on a giant snow pile that doesn’t help you feel any warmer. Lee opted to take some time topside to read a book, or maybe nap?  Jeremiah and I dropped down the main route to the bottom of the cave, taking a little time for some pictures along the way. Once we returned to the surface Jeremiah made his way out under his own power, to my relief. (He was a skinny little kid, but hauling dead weight is never fun.)

This still remains one of favorite little caves. A beautiful hike across alpine meadows and hillsides to reach the entrance. One of the most picturesque entrances for silhouette pictures I have come across. A series of neat formations in an icy cold cave. But still small enough you can zip in and out in a few hours, and enjoy the warmth as you come back out to the surface again.

After the cave we held true to a Baxter tradition of refusing to waste any daylight. We hit a few more of the sinks I knew about in the area, and basically took the long way back to the car. Beautiful day for a hike, and I had someone else willing to share carrying the rope, so why not?

You will also notice a few pictures of Providence Cave mixed in. I took Austin to see Providence the next morning. We just cruised the cave, didn’t stop for many pictures.

2005 Dropping the funnel of doom

This is one of the newest discovered caves in the state. The entrance area was in a known sinkhole near another large cave. Heavy spring runoff in 2005 caused to cave entrance to wash open, and once the water levels went down exploring could commence.

This trip was one of the earliest large group trips into the cave, and one of the first documented attempts at using aluminum ladders for cave exploration that I can find.  More notably for me, this was my first experience with being the first person into virgin cave passage. Since the cave had to wash open, and then we needed a ladder to get up into a couple of the leads I tried, I was absolutely certain I was the first person in. And for a couple of them, I was the only person into them until the cave was thoroughly remapped in 2010. It wasn’t the prettiest passage.  As you can see from the pictures, this high lead was absolutely coated in mud several inches thick. It left much to be desired for visual interest, and little reason to inspire others to return to see it later. But in its mud covered glory it was all mine for a few years.

2005 October Deep Vertical Experience

Fall 2005 found me visiting my first truly deep cave. I was along on a rigging trip to get ropes in place for planned activities later in the year. In exchange for helping carry several hundred feet of rope up the side of a mountain, I was able to go on a “guided tour” of the cave. This tour included invaluable pointers and tips on vertical gear and techniques, and a chance to test out some alternative equipment from what I personally owned.

This is a deep and cold cave. You’ll notice “fog” in the below pictures from people breathing in the passageway. Having to hold your breath for a minute to let fog clear in order to allow the camera flash to work properly is one of the strange quirks you learn while caving in high elevation caves.

This trip helped me realize just how much learning I had to do in order to safely and effectively visit vertical caves, and I still appreciate the time that was taken to help me out that day.