Monday, January 09, 2006

[trip] Bonner Cave #1

Tucker County Survey took an off-week trip to check out the Bonner Caves. Brian Masney and Aaron Bird worked an above-ground survey, while myself, Josh and Kevin Keplinger pushed Bonner Cave #1.

Bonner #1 is a smallish sink on the side of the hill, surrounded by briars, but not difficult to find. There are several good rigging trees lining the opening to the sink. The entrance is a very steep drop - if not vertical, then pretty close. We needed ascenders to get back out, and kicked ouselves for not ascending in full vert gear. The view back out the side of the hill is quite beautiful, with just a bit of water dripping down from the entrance.

The the entrance room continues sloping down. The floor is lots of small breakdown and large animal bones, however it does not stink like Bonner #2 (Josh and Aaron dropped this carcass-filled pit first and recommended that we not follow). This entrance room slope goes down to a slot in the floor where the wind whips out furiously - Josh's hair was literally blowing. This slot drops about 7 feet onto some sloping breakdown which continues down a few more feet to rubble and more large bones. The slot can be hand-climbed, but a rappelling rack definitely helped here too. It should be noted that this room and the entrance room contain the largest spiders that I've ever seen in my life.

The cave at this point is about 25' tall canyon passage with some shelves at about head-height and up towards the ceiling. A small stream appears here from beneath the slot and under the breakdown, and it more or less stays with the main passage the entire cave length. The existing maps says that there's an upper level to the cave, but it doesn't look like you could travel it here at the beginning of the cave, at least not a human (hint: this is what writers call "foreshadowing"). It winds for a bit, but generally follows the same straight path set out from the start.

After a few hundred feet of walking, a large 25' - 30' dome is encountered. A small stream pours out of the top, from the direction of Bonner Garbage Cave. It looks like a bolt climb or scaling pole would be necessary to reach passage at this level. Several interesting scratch marks were noted on the wall here, looking not unlike the claws of some animal...

The walking passage continues, from this point frequently interrupted by breakdown blocks in the passage which must be scaled over or snuck around, but movement is still easy. The cave then does a short zig-zag. In this zig-zag, there's a layer of white calcite crystals on the wall - not nearly as pretty as Cave Mountain, but cool to see. The water flows underneath the floor by about two or three feet, and is occasionally visible. There's a nice resting spot, a shelf table, a couple hundred feet ahead. There's also a side lead ahead and to the left, but the water and air continue forward, so we did as well. According to the map, which I didn't see until after we'd exited the cave, there's a traversable upper passage somewhere along this point - we did not notice it.

Here, the walking passage gets constricted and the water passage gets crawlable. This was the first time we really got wet in the cave. It's hands-and-knees at first, but eventually becomes a chest-in-the-water crawl. The water is only an inch or two deep, but it's just enough to be a pain. At this point, Kevin wisely chose to wait for Josh and I back at the resting area.

We crawled forward, scooting across the Tucker County asphalt, observing lots of white soda straws and small formations up towards the ceiling, and wishing it were big enough for us to stay out of the water. There's a kneeling point where we believe the final survey station, some orange tape, is placed. The ceiling here is filled with formations, including a 3' long soda straw. From here, the floor is too low to continue crawling, but the middle tube - about 10" by 10" with side, top, and bottom slots - is big enough to continue. Movement is very constricted, and is made especially annoying by how rough the sides of the passage are. We both eventually had to ditch our packs to keep going. Josh was 30' - 40' ahead of me, and we were both concerned that we'd have to try and back out of this tube. I waited at a "convenient" spot, he rounded a bend to where the passage gets a bit wider with some more soda straws, but continues as a nasty tube crawl. The wind in this constricted passage is incredibly strong, visibly blowing the orange survey tape around.

We managed to get turned around, eventually went back to meet Kevin, and headed back out. At the big dome, Josh and I examined the claw marks on the wall, speculating about what sort of animal would make them. As we headed forward to leave, I shined my lamp out towards the canyon ceiling, and Kevin shouted "Look at those eyes!" Two pair of glowing yellow eyes, moving around up above, were watching us. Raccoons! While the Keplingers are the kind of folks that hunt 'coon with their bare hands, I was just a bit nervous thinking about how my accident report was going to sound..."150lb City-boy Caver Mauled By Rabid Cave Coons". Apparently these raccoons were well-fed at the time, because they chose not to attack us as we briskly jogged the rest of the canyon passage back to the slot. I kept my light pointed towards the ceiling just in case.

We used hand ascenders to climb back up the slot, then each slowly and un-gracefully climbed back up the wet sinkhole entrance. We probably spent only 3 hours in cave. Josh and I walked around the area afterwards, finding a very small sinkhole that didn't move air on the far side of the hill, and a tiny resurgance with no cave passage on the bottom of that hillside.

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