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Underground Adventure





ocalhoun
Recently I got an opportunity to have a fun adventure underground:
I was invited to help explore and survey part of Jewel Cave (2nd longest cave in the world).
The explored parts already qualify it for that title, but the majority of it remains unexplored.
On my trip, we explored, surveyed, and mapped an additional 118 feet.
It doesn't sound like much, but surveying 118 feet took about 5 hours, not counting the (unusually short) 1 hour trip to and from the survey area.
(I say unusually short, because reaching the more remote parts of the cave can take several days.)
This particular trip went around 500 feet underground, and about 1.5 miles (one way) horizontally. We were able to use the tourist elevators and part of the improved (paved) tourist path though, which made access easier.

The cave is called Jewel Cave because of the calcite crystals all over it - some rooms are completely covered on all walls, roof, and floor. It also has some very rare formations like balloons and boxwork.

A chunk of calcite crystals that has broken off from the roof; this one is covered in a sulfur deposit.
(Which made it noteworthy enough to photograph; sulfur deposits have been found in the cave before, but they are not common.)
The black substance in the upper left of this picture is manganese. It is a black powdery mineral that is so fine that it penetrates everything and stains anything... It's one of the downsides to exploring Jewel Cave.


A more ordinary bunch of calcite crystals. Most of the crystals in the cave have been covered in a fine layer of dust over the millennia, though there are occasional spots that are still clean, usually either on the roof or on a broken section - such spots are amazingly beautiful - like being inside a geode.


Here's a pic of me in such a place (every surface in this picture is covered with crystals):
All faces in this photo series have been blurred to protect internet anonymity; sorry.
To make up for it, you can enjoy knowing that all these photos came from a section of cave that has never been seen before - you're perhaps the 5th or 6th person to have ever seen these areas.


I came in with a team of 4 people; this is B*** in the newly-named 'pit of disappointment'.
The pit was named that because we were hopeful that it would lead to more unexplored passage, so we put a lot of effort into getting down inside it -- and it turned out that it only lead to (the also newly -- and aptly) named, 'horrible manganese belly crawl'. - A 30ft tight crawl through manganese only to get to a dead end:


This is me taking a compass reading for the survey. This shot is perhaps the best one at showing how difficult the cave's terrain is to navigate. The cave is always 49 degrees F, a little chilly, but climbing through it is such hard work that everyone overheats and sweats. It's a terrific workout; I'm in excellent shape, and it wore me out enough to make me sore for 3 days.


This is B*** holding a tiny LED light for me to use as a target for compass and clinometer readings.
With three readings (compass - horizontal, clinometer - vertical, and laser range finder -distance), the cave can be measured and mapped accurately by charting the direction and distance point-by-point through line of sight. It's a tedious and difficult process, but it's the only (affordable) way to accurately map underground - GPS doesn't work here, of course. Why does he need to hold a light? The camera flash makes things look a lot brighter than they actually are; when I'm taking the reading, the little green light is the only target I can see.

(See that dark hole in the background? Take a moment to imagine crawling through that, especially while having no way to know what's at the end of it. It's actually a LOT of fun. Through that hole is the 'valentine room' (also newly discovered and named) it was named so because of a (small) perfectly heart-shaped hole in the wall.


So, if anybody thinks this is cool, I highly suggest doing some caving; it's an amazing opportunity, especially on survey trips like this when you get to explore places that no person has ever seen before. Threecaveats though:
1: No fatties. Nearly all cave trips have sections that are extremely skinny.
2: Let somebody know where you're going, and get permission to go there.
3: Remember their rule of three: At least 3 people, 3 independent sources of light, 3 points of contact (hands, feet, et cetera) while climbing.
I got this opportunity by joining a caving club - the local 'grotto' of the NSS.
Ankhanu
This is a pretty special opportunity!
I've never really been caving, but would love to some day. I don't think the caves around here are quite so well equipped with crystal formations, but even just the normal rock and formations would be incredible.
CheDragon
That looks cool
ocalhoun
Ankhanu wrote:
I don't think the caves around here are quite so well equipped with crystal formations,

Not many are; even in this area Jewel Cave is unique.
The caves in this area are mostly bare rock, but jewel cave is different (the theory is that it was at one time a geothermal steam vent, which is what formed all the crystals).
Oddly though, caves in this area tend to lack the 'decorations' in most caves... Stalactites, stalagmites, flowstone, curtains, they're all actually rare in this area.

I didn't know it when I moved here, but this is actually a fantastic area for caving. Two of the 5 longest caves in the world are here (both mostly unexplored, and both having different features that are extremely rare elsewhere), and there's a lot of other more ordinary caves around.
standready
That looks like a lot of fun. Did you come across any creatures that far into the cave?
ocalhoun
standready wrote:
That looks like a lot of fun. Did you come across any creatures that far into the cave?

The only things living in this cave are microscopic. -- and not many of those.

There's no water for nutrient flow for any kind of aquatic life, and it's too cold for baby bats, so the bats don't roost here.

The only evidence of life in this cave I've ever seen is a (probably very ancient) bat skeleton; probably one that wandered in and got lost, since it was a lot deeper than most bats go.


There's simply no energy source down there for life to survive on.
deanhills
I've been in caves before, but not in an exploration capacity. Yours also come with a wonderful reward. Jewels! Awesome photos, and also great you are sharing those with us Ocalhoun. While I was working through the photos, felt as though I was down in the cave with you.

In South Africa there are the famous Cango Caves in Oudshoorn with some interesting nooks and crannies. I was completely fascinated by the stalagmites (growing from the cave floor up) and stalactites (growing down from the cave ceiling), some of the formations are like natural works of art. And they are growing all the time!

I don't particularly like cave diving, but I have done a "tame" one in Muscat, Oman a couple of times. Don't know what it is about caves, but everything surrounding it, and in it seems to be beautiful and pristine. We had to manouvre ourselves into the cave, and had to have a really good spatial sense of our tanks on our backs vs limited space, but must say it was quite awesome. Especially the play of the lighting against the darkness as we were exiting the cave. This was the closest I have come to sharks, called the black fin sharks. They're rather small, and in my view looked like a Mickey Mouse version of the real shark as we know them. But I must say I'm glad they were the Mickey Mouse version Smile Amazing how fast they disappeared when they noticed homo sapiens with all of those bubbles! We noticed them as we were exiting the cave.
ocalhoun
deanhills wrote:

I don't particularly like cave diving, but I have done a "tame" one in Muscat, Oman a couple of times. Don't know what it is about caves, but everything surrounding it, and in it seems to be beautiful and pristine. We had to manouvre ourselves into the cave, and had to have a really good spatial sense of our tanks on our backs vs limited space, but must say it was quite awesome. Especially the play of the lighting against the darkness as we were exiting the cave. This was the closest I have come to sharks, called the black fin sharks. They're rather small, and in my view looked like a Mickey Mouse version of the real shark as we know them. But I must say I'm glad they were the Mickey Mouse version Smile Amazing how fast they disappeared when they noticed homo sapiens with all of those bubbles! We noticed them as we were exiting the cave.

^.^ You should try the Florida aquifer.

There are places where you can dive down off-shore, enter into a cave, swim under the shore, and then surface through a natural spring far inland.

(personally, I would never do cave diving though; too risky... Just consider the survivalist's rule of three: "You can live for- 3 minutes without air, 3 hours exposed to the elements, 3 days without water, 3 weeks without food." If I get lost in a normal cave, I have 3 days to get out, possibly even 3 weeks if I find water in the cave. If you get lost while cave diving, you have until your air runs out, +3 minutes. -- That, and scuba equipment does malfunction sometimes, and while cave diving, a malfunction could easily mean death, because you may be a long way from being able to surface.

That said, I do see one very interesting use for it. Cave explorers often mark an underground lake as a dead-end... but there are probably passages that continue on further underwater - it would be awesome to explore those.)
rogue_skydragon
man, that's awesome! quite the special opportunity.
what's great about cave exploration is that it can be such a thrill at times, and you could even secretly pretend to be Indiana Jones or some other globe-trotting explorer....or perhaps that's just me.

have you checked out the crystal caves of bermuda?!
Ankhanu
rogue_skydragon wrote:
... you could even secretly pretend to be Indiana Jones or some other globe-trotting explorer....or perhaps that's just me.


Secretly?? Screw that noise!

<indi>BA ba babaaaa baa ba baaa BA BA BA BAAA ba ba baa baaa ba</indi>
deanhills
ocalhoun wrote:
(personally, I would never do cave diving though; too risky... Just consider the survivalist's rule of three: "You can live for- 3 minutes without air, 3 hours exposed to the elements, 3 days without water, 3 weeks without food." If I get lost in a normal cave, I have 3 days to get out, possibly even 3 weeks if I find water in the cave. If you get lost while cave diving, you have until your air runs out, +3 minutes. -- That, and scuba equipment does malfunction sometimes, and while cave diving, a malfunction could easily mean death, because you may be a long way from being able to surface.

That said, I do see one very interesting use for it. Cave explorers often mark an underground lake as a dead-end... but there are probably passages that continue on further underwater - it would be awesome to explore those.)
Agreed, that's why I'm not so much into cave diving I prefer openness around me with plenty of freedom to move around. I enjoy below water seascapes as one gets in the Red Sea, the ones near Ras Mohamed are amazing and looking at fish. If it gets to the adventure type stuff, my fun comes from doing drift diving. I also don't like to dive too deep either. As then one uses too much oxygen, and one can't see that much either at deep depths. I stick with the PADI 30 meters (100 ft) and my nicest diving is usually at around 12-15 metres (39 to 49 ft). At that depth and with good diving conditions I can make a tank last almost one hour.
silverdown
Cool, I dont like tight spaces sooo Id never do it but i like to see and hear about other people what they seen or experinced. Cool
ocalhoun
silverdown wrote:
Cool, I dont like tight spaces sooo Id never do it but i like to see and hear about other people what they seen or experinced. Cool

Strangely, the cramped spaces don't seem confining to me... Perhaps because of the intense lighting everywhere I look (because of being helmet mounted). The parts that actually feel confining and imposing are the huge rooms where light beams fade off into the dark corners... that's when you feel aware of hundreds of feet of rock above you.

rogue_skydragon wrote:
man, that's awesome! quite the special opportunity.
what's great about cave exploration is that it can be such a thrill at times, and you could even secretly pretend to be Indiana Jones or some other globe-trotting explorer....or perhaps that's just me.

Bah, he was just a (peculiarly violent) archeologist - he only explored places people had been to before - usually places people built.

I go places nobody has ever been before. ^.^ Much cooler.
(Though with less fighting bad guys over a museum's possession of a priceless artifact.)
rogue_skydragon wrote:

have you checked out the crystal caves of bermuda?!

Problem with those caves is that they're really really hot... 200+ F If I remember correctly.
(There's a reason the people in that photo are wearing protective suits.)
Given the chance, yeah, I probably would go... but for now I'll just stick to my comfortable caves.
deanhills
Another amazing thread well worth bumping. Any one else had an adventure like this? In a Jewel Cave no less. Amazing photos of the "jewels". Smile
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