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New cave trip! (lots o' pics!)





ocalhoun
Went on a new survey (mapping) trip in Wind Cave yesterday, and now I've got some pics to show off!

We did a re-survey of some stuff originally explored in the 1880's, and badly re-surveyed in the 1980's. Now the survey (and subsequent maps) will actually be accurate. We also discovered a lot of side-leads not mentioned in the original maps, and did some original survey of around 150 feet of those before we had to leave. (We only fully explored 2 of the around 15 new leads we found, and just those two added up to around 150 feet.)

For those of you who haven't already read elsewhere, Wind Cave is the 5th largest in the world, 2nd largest in the Black Hills where I live. It's extremely long, but also extremely compact and complicated. All 138 miles or so fit within 2 square miles of surface space; there are thousands of closed loops (places where it's possible to go around in circles), and while most caves can be mapped with a map that lists two or three different overlapping levels, Wind cave needs 7 overlapping levels to be mapped properly. It's quite a maze in there! It was named for the wind that blows through it when the air pressure changes outside. When the barometric pressure outside changes, wind rushes in or out of the cave to match it... Since the cave is so large and only has one entrance for the air, it can get moving very fast; the highest measured wind speed in the cave is 70mph! Most of the cave is very dry, but not this section, which is what makes it special. The part we explored yesterday is one of the few places in Wind Cave where 'wet' formations can be found. (By wet, it means formed by flowing water after the cave was finished forming.)

Anyway, on with the pics!

Most of the team I was with (not including me):

On the wall in the background are the original 1880's survey markers, made with carbide directly on the cave wall.

Me, measuring a survey station in a tight spot:


A few more 'action' shots:





Some of the 'wet' formations so unusual for this cave...
Most of these are in (or near) the room named 'fairy palace':





Flowstone, stalagmites, stalactites, columns, draperies, and 'soda straws'... all formations that are very rare for caves in this area.

Some more normal passages for wind cave... hopefully conveying some of the sense of what it's like to be there:




While on this trip, we made one pretty exciting discovery. Halactites are a common feature in many caves, but they had never been seen in Wind Cave... until yesterday. We found 7 of them, which are now the only 7 known to exist in that cave.
They look like this:

(The small diagonal angled ones, that is -- The long straight ones are soda straws; a much more common formation which you can see in a lot of the other pictures.)
Vanilla
I didn't know you are a speleologist (am I right? or should I call you a caver? or spelunker?)! I'm fascinated by caves. My dream is to enter the Lechuguilla Cave (I know it's not possible now...) but for now I'm satisfied with the caves we got here in Brazil.

The helictites look so delicate! I feel like I can broke them only by looking at them. The place looks full of wax. It is truly amazing!
ocalhoun
Vanilla wrote:

The helictites look so delicate! I feel like I can broke them only by looking at them.

They are breakable... but hardly the most fragile thing in the cave.
The main concern is that they're still forming; touching them at all could introduce dirt or skin oil, or disrupt the water flow, which would permanently alter the way it grows.

If you want really fragile stuff, you get gypsum hairs, calcite rafts, and hydromagnesite balloons.

Gypsum hairs are literally hair-thin crystals of gypsum that grow to a few inches long. So thin and delicate that they actually wave around in the slightest breeze... And by slightest, I mean that the convection currents caused by your body heat can break them, so even holding your breath and being perfectly still isn't enough.
Calcite rafts are extremely thin raft-like calcite crystals that form on the surface of water... and the water must remain perfectly still; the slightest ripple will cause the raft to sink and break. ... I couldn't find a good picture of those.
Hydromagnesite balloons are thin, balloon-like formations of calcite doped with manganese that are extremely rare, only a few known in the world. Nobody has really figured out how they are formed, but they are a thin skin of crystal encapsulating an air bubble.

Quote:
My dream is to enter the Lechuguilla Cave (I know it's not possible now...)

Some of the people I go caving with have been all over that cave... And it is spectacular.

I think it's still possible to go in, but you need to do so as part of some scientific expedition... Much like the survey trips I go on. People normally never have access to the parts of the cave I've been in -- the only way to go there is to be part of a survey and mapping team... or other 'official' business.
Vanilla
ocalhoun wrote:
If you want really fragile stuff, you get gypsum hairs, calcite rafts, and hydromagnesite balloons.


I went to Google because I didn't know hydromagnesite balloons. I didn't know that such a thing exists! Woa, truly amazing. And the gypsum hair, I'm so clumsy I don't even want to go near one... And for the calcite rafts... I went to Google to learn more about them. I really didn't know a cave could be even more fragile than I was thinking it was.



ocalhoun wrote:
Some of the people I go caving with have been all over that cave... And it is spectacular.


I envy them so much! I'm in love with Lechuguilla since I knew it existed. I saw it in a documentary 2 years ago. I have a top 5 list of places and Lechuguilla is in that list, for sure. The other places are the Uyuni Salt Flat, Socotra Island, Cenotes of the Yucatán and the Lençóis Maranhenses (a very beautiful desert we got here in Brazil).

ocalhoun wrote:
I think it's still possible to go in, but you need to do so as part of some scientific expedition... Much like the survey trips I go on. People normally never have access to the parts of the cave I've been in -- the only way to go there is to be part of a survey and mapping team... or other 'official' business.


I bet someday you'll be inside Lechuguilla and you'll take loads of pictures to post here. I'll preay for that. Very Happy

Ah, this is a cave near my home. It's called Blue Lake Grotto. I visited this cave when I was 8 (I'm 26 now) and I think it's the main reason I love caves so much.

menino
Nice ocalhoun, I'm sure the caves must be pitch black, if there are no lights at all, since they have no sunlight at all going anywhere inside it.

Nice blue grotto cave vanilla, it looks awesome.
ocalhoun
Vanilla wrote:

Ah, this is a cave near my home. It's called Blue Lake Grotto. I visited this cave when I was 8 (I'm 26 now) and I think it's the main reason I love caves so much.

Nice place ya got there!
I'm guessing that it's just a small place, but still, what there is is very spectacular!

menino wrote:
Nice ocalhoun, I'm sure the caves must be pitch black, if there are no lights at all, since they have no sunlight at all going anywhere inside it.

Well, yes... a few hundred feet of rock does filter out the sunlight pretty well.

Being in there without a light will play tricks with your eyes and mind though... If you try to see in a place that dark, you keep seeing faint, imaginary lights.

But, that's why I take plenty of light. I've got two headlamps and two flashlights, with spare batteries for all of them. Wind cave is plenty complicated enough to get hopelessly lost in even if you have lights... I'd hate to be in there with no light!
Josso
=0 138 miles, it's not all mapped then? There must be some dig groups that go down there and try and uncover more.

Nice formations I bet you have to be really careful where you are putting your head.
Helios
Wow, looks awesome ocalhoun. Almost makes me wish to go into one, but I'll avoid that since I'm claustrophobic Laughing
The cave looks beautiful though, very alien.
Is it tough navigating there? You mentioned that it's quite a maze, but since I've no caving experience at all, I can't even begin to imagine how to navigate inside a cave with so many tunnels.
Also, what special gear do you guys bring with you?

Thanks for the sharing! Smile
Vanilla
ocalhoun wrote:
Vanilla wrote:

Ah, this is a cave near my home. It's called Blue Lake Grotto. I visited this cave when I was 8 (I'm 26 now) and I think it's the main reason I love caves so much.

Nice place ya got there!
I'm guessing that it's just a small place, but still, what there is is very spectacular!


I don't remember very well the size of the place, but I remember a lot of stairs! My mom was with us and she was afraid to go to the bottom of the cave because she was holding my little brother (he as a baby at the time). The place was very slippery so yeah, she could't come with us.

I was looking for the size of the cave, but I didn't find anything. I find this site sayig that the lake is over 200 ft deep. Creepy. Razz
ocalhoun
Josso wrote:
=0 138 miles, it's not all mapped then? There must be some dig groups that go down there and try and uncover more.

Yep, 138 miles and counting.
From the volume of the cave as estimated by the airflow in and out of it, less than 10% of the cave's volume has been explored...
A lot of that volume might be made up of little cracks too small to explore though. One of the veteran explorers there gave me his opinion that we've mapped about 60% or so of the humanly navigable passages.

--And we don't dig any... (Well, not much*). We just survey the passages that are already there... which there are plenty of.

*Very occasionally, they will open up a narrow passage by chiseling so that people can go through it... That has to go through a permission and approval process though, and they'll only approve it if removing a small amount of material will obviously open up a large new area to exploration... an area that couldn't probably be reached through other passages.
Quote:

Nice formations I bet you have to be really careful where you are putting your head.

You do... Sometimes trying to avoid delicate formations can make it much harder to move around the cave. It can turn what would be a simple crawl into a complicated acrobatic act.
Helios wrote:
Wow, looks awesome ocalhoun. Almost makes me wish to go into one, but I'll avoid that since I'm claustrophobic Laughing

A lot of people say that... but don't really have a problem with it if they try.
The only time I get a little uncomfortable is in the extremely tight cracks where there's not even room to turn your head... If I can't even turn and look to see what's going on, it freaks me out a little.
(We generally avoid those when surveying new cave though... I suppose eventually someone will explore those places, but going into a place that tight when you don't know what's on the other side can be risky sometimes. You might get in, then have nowhere to turn around and have a very hard time getting back out.)
Quote:

The cave looks beautiful though, very alien.

It is pretty far removed from ordinary experience isn't it?
Quote:

Is it tough navigating there? You mentioned that it's quite a maze, but since I've no caving experience at all, I can't even begin to imagine how to navigate inside a cave with so many tunnels.

I follow the guy who knows his way around!
Navigating in any cave is extremely difficult... but Wind especially... It really is a huge 3D maze... with more turns, dead-ends, and intersections than you could explore in a lifetime.
(People have been exploring this cave since the 1870's and we're nowhere near finished yet.)
There are a few tricks and conventions to help though. The survey markers are labeled sequentially, with the lower number/letter always closer to the exit, and in any cave, by convention, any arrow marking you ever see will be pointing towards the exit.
Quote:

Also, what special gear do you guys bring with you?

Well...
There's the survey equipment, laser range finder, small flashlight, markers, inclinometer, and compass... and notebooks to record it in.
A helmet (not for falling rocks; in all the years of exploring all the caves in this area, people have only seen rocks fall twice. The helmet is in case you fall, and to prevent you from smashing your head on overhanging rocks. (I've got a few good dings in my helmet from that ^.^))
Lights, at least 3, and at least 2 hemlet-mounted. (I carry 2 mini-flashlights, because the batteries run out quickly and I use them for hours on end when surveying. -- You use the flashlights to mark a point that the other guy is surveying to, to make it visible.)
Knee and elbow pads, because it involves a lot of crawling, often over rocks that aren't smooth at all.
Gloves, both to keep skin oil off the cave walls and to protect your hands as you climb and/or crawl (sometimes both at the same time!)
Water bottle, and if it's a long trip, also some food and a pee bottle. (No bathrooms in the cave, after all.)
And, a small specialized bag to hold it all in... one that can be easily strapped on in many different ways, but usually on the side of the body... to help keep it out of the way when crawling.
On very long trips (sometimes they go on trips of 10 days or more... Which makes sense; if you're mapping a part of the cave that takes 2 days to get to, you want to spend a lot of time there to make the trip in and out worthwhile), they'll also bring full camping gear in separate bags (that get pushed ahead if crawling)... but I've never been on a multi-day trip.
Sometimes special climbing gear is also used (similar to rock-climbing gear), but most of the caves here don't have very many vertical passages where that's needed, so I've never done that either.

Vanilla wrote:

I don't remember very well the size of the place, but I remember a lot of stairs!

Oh, well if there were a lot of stairs, it can't be as shallow as it looks in the photo. In that picture, it looks like natural sunlight lighting it all up... but I guess there must be more below the surface too.
Quote:
that the lake is over 200 ft deep. Creepy. Razz

Yeah... I know what you mean... I was in Carlsbad once on a tour, passing by an underground 'lake' (more like just a portion of the cave that was flooded)... I could see maybe 30 feet down into it, and the guide there said that nobody had ever managed to find the bottom of it yet; that it fed right into the local aquifer.

Personally, for the local caves, I actually find the really big rooms to be the creepy parts, not the tight crawls.
Somehow, being in a room so large that my light can't reach the walls makes me feel more claustrophobic than being an a hole so small I can barely move.
You can actually get lost in some of those big rooms, because you can be out of sight from any of the walls.

The other kinda scary part is when you're moving around at the top of a deep hole or crevice... sometimes vertical (or very steep) passages can go up and down farther than your lights can reach... and it's really unnerving to be working your way around above one, hearing little rocks you dislodge clatter on their way down.
rogue_skydragon
Man, that's awesome! I wanna do some exploring like this soon.
TheGremlyn
I'm not huge on caves but I still think they can be very beautiful places to go. My friends and I went to the Warsaw caves not far from where I live but they're.... like holes in the ground. Nothing too impressive. You had to really get down on your belly to get around and you could not afford to be afraid of small spaces of the dark. Freaking out in there is a bad idea since the rocks around you are not very forgiving if you hit your head.

I remember a friend of mine who is very outdoorsy nearly freaked when we were in one of the deeper caves. She just suddenly said she wanted out and we had to watch and make sure she didn't freak out. It was an easy trip in since you had to slink downwards and you had to grips the walls of the cave to stop from slipping or falling.

I went a bit further and when it came to getting out it little folded like a piece of paper just to get out. That was not overly fun and it would have sucked if I could. It was an odd place where I was since it was a 5 foot long slope I climbed up so going head first would have hurt a bit. The tunnel itself was only a few feet high, just enough to crawl on your belly, stick your head up a little to see.
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