Category Archives: Ridgewalking

Caver slang. Searching for new caves, and usually cross-country travel.

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.

2011 Last chance to get out of the house?

Late October in Utah, and the weather starts to heavily impact my inspiration to be out and about. The forecast for the weekend looked absolutely beautiful, and there was no way I could stay inside all weekend long, no matter how many projects were waiting.

I checked with a few of my regular troublemakers, and was absolutely striking out. Lee came to my rescue by being available on Saturday, and willing to just randomly wander around Logan Canyon for a while. I had a potential lead that snow had been keeping me from checking off completely in the past, so a destination was set. I shuffled my weekend projects and goals around a little, and a loosely concocted plan jumbled its way into existence.

Saturday morning was a slow start, even by my own low standards. I had been out to a show the night before with friends, and had warned Lee it would be best to make sure I was out of bed before he started driving to meet me. My eyes had been open at least two full minutes before I received a text message asking if I was up. I dragged myself into the shower, knowing I had an hour to work with.  After showering I very slowly strung together some basic hiking gear. For a trip intending to walk around and maybe take pictures, this should take 5 minutes or less. After 15-20 minutes, I decided I may not be as awake and energetic as I would like to be. Luckily Lee had his own delays getting to the house, and since we didn’t have much of an itinerary, I puttered along until I had everything loaded up and ready.

On the drive from Salt Lake up to Logan, the wonders of modern technology might have intervened to save my life. Lee had a desire to try a breakfast sandwich from a fast food chain that was being advertised. His GPS not only gave us a location along our route, but also a phone number to confirm they were still serving said sandwiches at 10:30. (Like I said, slow start.) At the time I didn’t realize those sandwiches were the most real food I was going to eat for the next eight or nine hours. We anticipated actually walking for maybe 4 hours–eventually I will learn this is never going to be true.

By noon we had stopped and borrowed some forgotten orange items from relatives, covered the drive, and located our parking spot on the side of the road. (The opening day of the deer hunt seemed like a reasonable time to at least consider safety.) Lee wasn’t impressed by the overly steep start to get up along a ridge. I reassured him Steph had done this part of the journey before, and we weren’t in a big hurry. We slowly meandered up the hill, enjoying the perfect temperatures and beautiful fall day. There were still some pockets of spectacular colorful leaves on the trees, and we contemplated some of the various types of bedrock as we sat on outcrops for photo/breathing  opportunities.

Fall colors high in Logan Canyon

About the time we reached the high point of our planned trip, we made the mistake of looking at the cliffs above us. There were wet spots on the rock, and it seemed that someone should investigate this new development. Two summers of pattern searching have instilled a bad habit in me of making sure to check things while I’m close, so I don’t have to return if it isn’t warranted. Mostly this is a bad habit because sometimes I really don’t want to climb another couple hundred feet up the hill. But of course we went ahead and climbed up to investigate.

Along the way we discovered a small spring and several seeps being forced out of the hill by a non-porous bedrock layer. There were several small solution features, but nothing big enough to consider calling it a cave. We continued to check along the cliff band until an obvious stopping spot. Along the way we spotted some very obvious holes in the cliff areas we were headed to originally. Not only were the holes exciting and inspiring, more importantly they were all downhill from our current location!

Downhill turned out to be almost as exciting as working along the cliff band. It was steep terrain covered by leaves, and occasionally damp and muddy from seeps. We were both glad for gloves and hats partially protecting us as we zigged and zagged down the hillside. Along the way we stumbled across several more solution features, and found the dark spot I had seen a year or two prior that had started this whole event. It turned out to be a large fracture system with piled boulders that created a perfect shadowed entrance to a five foot long overhang. It was dissapointing it didn’t do more, but nice to finally take it off the list of back burner items to visit someday.

Original hope, up close

Further down a gully between the cliffs was another feature I had seen in April that I wanted to check out. It had looked like a small cave entrance with dirt and vegetation that could be dug out of the way. I headed to the left side wall to hit my lead, and Lee kept working the right side. I found my feature and was momentarily ecstatic. There were deposits of spar over an inch thick visible. Further investigation proved my “dirt” was actually solid bedrock. And the spar deposits seemed to originate from a hole smaller than my fist. Wonderful feature, but definitely not a cave I would be getting into.

Spar in a feature

About this time Lee was yelling something to me about whether I wanted to check out any of the holes near him.  I hadn’t looked back his way for a few minutes while I was checking on my hole. I asked him where they were, since there wasn’t anything obvious from my spot sitting by the spar. I stood up and took a couple steps back his way to get a different view through the trees, and it became apparent which holes he was asking about.

Black and "cavey" looking

Glorious black round hole! My crashing adrenaline rush from the spar moments before went through the roof. Four to six feet wide for certain. Absolutely looks like it is going directly into the bedrock. And I need to get some of the crazy people rounded up before I come back to try and visit it. I suppose I will consider having a lead that intersting looking a good problem to have.

At this point we had to decide our exit strategy for the day. As fun as it would be to keep checking the cliffs, we were going to run out of daylight soon. Back up over the ridge would require some time to get up the hill with reasonable rest breaks. Downhill to the river would take far fewer rest breaks. But down to the river could be an issue if we were trapped between the water and the cliffs. We knew we could wade the river this time of year, but the two of us have a long history of going out of our way to keep our feet dry. It would be a shame to have to wander down the road back to the vehicle in dripping jeans!

We decided to chance going downhill, and work along by the river. As we stumbled through the scree piles below the cliff, Lee was even dissapointed we were missing sections of the cliff that could be checked with more time. He’s not even the one who necessarily cares about finding caves, he was just along for the excuse to get out for the day! He had observed during the day that looking for something greatly reduces the number of miles you have to cover to fill a day, and there was some satisfaction in knowing you had seen everything there was to see in an area before moving along. We occasionally looked back over our shoulder as we worked our way along the river, and found we definitely had another excuse to putter around some when we came back for the high lead. The twilight made it tough to tell if the hole went back very far, but it certainly looks promising for now.

The hole can’t be seen very well from the road, but I think the ledge system below it is visible. So hopefully I can check it with binoculars and see if it can be traversed. If necessary to get there from above, the rappel would be even more exciting than the round high lead we found earlier. Maybe more exciting than I want to deal with myself.

We lucked out, and could get back over some low cliffs without getting our feet wet in the river. We had just enough daylight left to drive up the canyon and try to spot everywhere we had been during the day, and then enjoy the fall leaves on the way down the canyon. I was mulling over what we could call our discovery if it panned out into a nameable cave. “Get out of the house” cave seemed too long to be functional. Lee asked if “OutHouse Cave” was an available name. I haven’t heard of another one offhand, so that may end up sticking. We’ll have to prove it is a cave worthy of such an elaborate namesake first of course… :-)

2011 Easter Hike

Easter was being hosted near Logan this year. I have a dozen cave related things up there I have been meaning to do for quite a while now, and it seemed like I should check something off the list finally. Most of the items I have in wait are not compatible with anytime earlier than about July, but I thought of one that might work.

A couple years ago on my way home from another trip, I had stopped and wandered off the road a ways looking at cliffs and canyons for future trips. In the deep shade of some trees there was a darker patch than even the regular shadows. With a 10x zoom it was still just a darker spot. But the nearby cliffs had “cavey” looking signs on them. So I made a mental note that it should be checked out on a later day. Easter was now looking like my potential day!

The approach to my target was up a south facing slope and along a ridgeline for a ways to bypass the worst of the cliffs. It is still early enough in the season that there is plenty of snow on the north slopes, but the southern exposures seemed likely to be clear. I convinced Steph that she was interested in getting out in the sun for a few hours, and we headed out on the condition that we be back for dinner with everyone on time.

Once up the canyon I explained our goal to Steph in highly technical terms, from the best vantage point we could find along the roads. “We’re going to start walking from wherever we can park along the road back down there, and end up somewhere over there, by the cliffs and trees.”  Steph chose to roll with the vague description and wild pointing in the interest of simplicity. For those who haven’t been in Logan Canyon, I could have randomly spun in a circle and pointed, and hit something that could be described as “cliffs and trees” almost anywhere the length of the canyon.

We started out from the car with a lung numbing ascent up a steep hillside. For some reason most of my trips start out this way. I would take advantage of frequent “photo breaks” to try and pick out interesting items in the cliffs across the canyon with my camera fully zoomed. After we had successfully survived the trip and were driving home later, Steph pointed out that starting hikes like that has made her realize how close the words hill and hell really are to each other. Luckily I was able to bait her along by pointing out that once we hit the ridgeline it was relatively level the rest of the way. She doesn’t really believe comments like that anymore, but she humors me by continuing to grind up the hill anyway.

We did eventually reach the ridgeline, after a few more Gatorade stops. And were even rewarded with some spectacular views off the cliffs as we worked our way around. Unfortunately, there was considerable snow still drifted on the northern slopes around us. My potential lead was down in a steep ravine on a north slope, so I was fairly certain we weren’t going to get in it. But with all the hard work of the climb behind us, it seemed worthwhile to walk over and at least see if we could check off whether we would ever need to return up that hill again.

We started working our way along the “level” ridgeline toward the ravine in question. I use the term level loosely. Overall we were going to end up at the same elevation, but there were several short climbs and descents as we tried to pick our way around occasional snow fields. Eventually we hit a snowfield that was conveniently on a flat section, but 100′ across with no bypass. It looked mostly melted and shallow, and wouldn’t be a showstopper. But we knew it wouldn’t take much more than that to end our journey. We headed across the snow, and found it was crusty under the top half inch of slush. Unfortunately just crusty enough that you would walk a few steps, get confident, and the next step plunge through ankle or calf deep. Luckily it was a short patch, and we could see the clear ground ahead of us again.

On our clear patch it was smooth sailing until we were within a few hundred feet of the edge of our target ravine. Suddenly we were confronted with a new snow patch caused by drifting in a depression area and some trees. This was no longer ankle deep, it was knee deep and occasionally more. Steph surprised me by being the one to point out our socks were already cold and wet from the last stretch, and we were so close it wouldn’t make sense to back out now. (I had already spent considerable time muttering to myself about the extra 30 seconds it would have taken to grab the gators from the house and carry them along, as I should this early in the season.) Since Steph was game, we postholed our way across to where we could see down into the ravine. This was deeper snow, and Steph found herself knee deep and beyond a few times. Its hard to convince your wife that you care deeply about her cold pants and wet feet when you can’t wipe the grin off your face as she staggers in front of you.  Video evidence of snow on the hike was her suggestion, and she even edited it into a short clip for your viewing pleasure. It was a great view back down toward the canyon across the cliffs, and we took a break along with some pictures.

The moment of truth had arrived! We wandered around a bit on the short cliff above the ravine, and determined there was no way we could get into it. Drifts as much as 6-10 feet high on the edges, and not enough manuvering room to see the exact spot I wanted. So no definite confirm or deny on the trip. However, from our different vantage point on the edge of the ravine, we could see the far side of the ravine that was hidden from further away. There was one very obvious suspect hole at the base of cliff. Only 5 or 6 feet high, with a lot of rocks and dirt in the entrance, but it looked very likely that it went at least a short distance. Above it in the cliff was another hole that looked very suspect, but not quite enough room to get out and see it without an ability to hover.

We called it a day at that point, and had a relatively uneventful journey back down the mountainside. Steph would have to occasionally ask me why I was wandering the wrong way, and I would point the small rock outcrop that should be checked out since we were there, had time, and weren’t certain when we would be back. As I put it, “Because I’m defective like that.” We found a few treasures of interest, including what appeared to be an old deer skull.

To sum up our findings: The cliff bottom hole looks interesting enough on its own to come back at a later date and poke around a little. The ravine would be trivially easy to enter from above without the snow, and a few hours with a couple people would check off most of the area around it to determine if I had really seen a larger entrance. We could hear flowing water below us somewhere in the ravine, but it wasn’t clear if it was simply runoff splashing off a cliff or something more. It isn’t the highest priority on my follow-up list, but certainly worth climbing that hill at least once more on a cool autumn day. I again encounter the active explorer’s curse: so many projects, so little time.

2006 Little Rock Canyon discovery

This wasn’t intended to be a caving trip. It was a fall hike through the changing leaves, and a new route we had never tried. The initial route was a little arbitrary as we were dropped off in the foothills and looked for an old trail along a ridge. Eventually we had to give up on the trail and simply dropped down into the nearby canyon. And partway down it was approaching darkness, and like many trips when you are out of time, we saw some suspicious corners that were begging to be checked out. Another time…

2006 Tony Grove Cave Hunting

This was another trip where I simply wanted to get out and have some time to think on my own. Ridgewalking is fairly compatible with this idea, since there is nearly limitless walking to be done. Tony Grove and the White Pine Basin were the targets of this day.

I headed out with a list of a couple known locations marked on a topo map, knowing that there weren’t good entrance pictures of them. I took the path less travelled on my way out to see if I could find anything new as well. A couple small holes created a diversion and a rest on my way up and over the dividing ridge. And at the top of the ridgeline I had an expansive view into a near moonscape of karst.

I zipped down from the ridge, hardly noticing the hill from excitement to find new sinks and features. With some minimal circling I managed to find a couple of the holes that were marked on my map, and get good pictures of their entrances for the future. After hitting the nearby ones, I headed out to areas that didn’t have many holes marked yet. There was hope that people simply hadn’t walked out this far as consistently, and there were new discoveries waiting to be made.

I quickly learned why people hadn’t cover this area as closely. It was an ankle twisting karst landscape, and you had to watch your feet to keep from falling down. It made for slow searching, since most of the time you had to stop to look around. Eventually I made my way to the saddle below Mt. Magog, and found a small 10′ sink that appeared to be new to the caving world. I took it’s picture and decided what to do from there. I knew going up Magog was beyond my remaining time. Instead I dropped down into the next basin over briefly to see what was there. In the bottom I found a heavily used cow trail, but realized I was below the best cave potential. I toyed with the idea of circling Magog and coming back along the White Pine Lake trail, but wasn’t sure if the cow trail would peter out, and decided I better head back the way I had come.

Climbing the hill back to the saddle was more work than I had thought. And as I headed out across the relatively flat basin I started to observe I was travelling slower than I had on the way out. By the time I was headed up the ridge to cross back into the Tony Grove drainage I was considering where I would like to lie down and die. I don’t think I can remember being that exhausted on a hike before. I had matches and a jacket, so I knew I could spend the night if necessary. But I knew there would probably be a panic if I didn’t show up by midnight. I steeled myself to at least make the ridge and then decide from there. It took me three rest breaks to get up a couple hundred feet, but I made it.

From the ridge I could tell the sun was about to set, and I had a long way to get back to my car. But it was all downhill, and I had a light that would help if I could hit one of the maintained hiking trails before it was too dark to tell where they were. I took one more break and downed some food and water while I planned my route. Luckily I was back in familiar hiking territory from my college days, and knew which ridge lines would get me down without leaving me on top of a cliff.

I stood up and stretched my tired legs out. My biggest concern at this point was knowing I was exhausted, and headed down a steep descent for quite a while. A stumble could have very bad consequences. I focused on keeping my feet on stable ground, and headed unsteadily down the mountain. I started to recover a bit with the lower exertion of heading downhill, and decided I was going to make it out alive. I even took a few minutes to try pictures of the moose and deer I could see from hundreds of yards away.

I hit a trail I knew would take me out before I had to get out my headlamp, and was cruising as fast as I could handle back down the hill. I broke down and put on the headlamp for the last mile to the car, but mostly for my own safety. Once I hit the parking lot I couldn’t believe how light my tennis shoes felt in contrast to my heavy hiking boots. It was full dark as I came down the canyon, and from Logan I called to let folks know I was headed back. My mother has no idea how close she came to pushing me over the edge when she started asking if I could swing 40 minutes out of my way to pick up some things at her sisters house. Luckily she reconsidered, and I headed straight for basecamp before I was too tempted to fall asleep behind the wheel.

I showered, crashed into a bed, and don’t think I moved again for 10-12 hours. My thoughts about spending the following day hiking were long forgotten, and I settled for eating and napping instead. I had found some interesting things, and somehow haven’t managed to get all the way back to the far end of my trip to look again…. :-)

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.

2006 Steep Canyon Ridgewalking

I had a free weekend, and took a chance to get out of town. With no particular plans until just a few days before, and holiday on the way, it was too short of notice for most people to get out and have fun. So I had a half formulated plan of going and looking for caves in an area I hadn’t seen before.

I knew that Tony Grove had a lot of caves, and not many people had specifically looked around some of the more remote areas north. So I decided to head up and try and sneak into one of the canyons to the north and try some initial recon.

I took my camping gear, let a couple people know where my general target was, and headed out. I took my Pontiac up roads that it wasn’t designed for, but nothing crazy until I hit a stream crossing.  I got out and looked it over, and decided the worst I would do is get stuck halfway if I lost traction. There had been several campers along the roads below that could save me if necessary, so I went for it. Other than my adrenaline being a little higher than necessary, after the initial splash as I hit the water it was fairly uneventful. The looks on the faces of the 4-wheeler crowd I encountered further up the canyon was priceless. I probably took the bragging rights out of their “tough day of riding” by getting to the top of the road in the main canyon. (I chose not to try the logging road headed up the ridgeline.) 

That first day I was early enough to get a quick hike in, and get a lay of the land. I quickly determined the limestone bedrock didn’t actually start until partway up the canyon wall. So some of my time was spent simply getting to limestone, and taking pictures of flowers, mushrooms, slime mold, and other fun things. On top of a pinnacle of rock I found a random item. Someone had made a face, likely in a pottery class, and left it on top of the world. I took a picture and left it there, to confuse some future archaelogist no doubt. I bombed back to the car in the twilight to set up camp. I encountered a porcupine along the way, and only harrased him for two or three shots with the camera. The mosquitos were horrible, so I decided I would have to use the tent to survive. I had brought along an old army cot, and wanted to use it instead of only a thin pad on the ground. With some finessing everything fit, but not even an inch to spare because of how high the cot stood. I had won out, and had a bedroom for one that was fit for a king!

The next morning I had a full day hike planned. I had spotted a couple potential holes, and had to get up close to check them out. There were still snowbanks melting in the deep shadows, and some of the small streams were still in runoff mode. One of my leads was directly under/in a small waterfall coming off the wall, after climbing a couple hundred feet of snowfield.  It didn’t seem to go further than what I could see, but I made a mental note to come back on a day where someone else was along and later in the year to see what it looked like then.

I ran around on the ridge tops again, finding the limestone wasn’t as thick as it was near Tony Grove. I checked one full ridgeline covered in potential karst features off my list, but had to leave others for another trip. I decided I could get back to a real meal at my grandparent’s if I headed out before dark. So I dropped back to the car, and took another pass at the stream crossing on my way down. Smooth sailing from there…