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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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!
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.
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.