Saturday, February 16, 2008

[trip] TCSS Revisits Bonner Cave

Getting a later start for our monthly Tucker County survey than usual, the usual suspects rolled into Parsons around 10am for breakfast. In addition to Kevin Keplinger, Brian Masney, Dave Riggs, John Harman, and Cullen Hencke were Jeff Stutler and Bill Good, as well Nikki Green (from U. of MD). Our goal of the day was to reinvestigate the Bonner property and try once again to find a back connection to another nearby cave.

We arrived at the Bonner property at around 11am. Kevin, Bill, and Jeff took advantage of the beautiful weather and went ridge-walking, which (I believe) resulted in no new discoveries. They also bounced Bonner Forty Footer, which they confirmed was a dead-bottom pit.

Dave, Brian, John, Cullen, and Nikki loaded up and prepared to push Bonner Cave. We were surprised to find that the cave is no longer enshrouded in fortress of briers and barbed wire, but is now very easily accessible with a small 4-wheeler road going right beneath the entrance. We rigged a hand-line and descended the steep entrance slope and free-climbed down the slot with compressed cave-air blowing up into our faces. We quickly followed the main stream passage (which had very little water flowing) to the Waiting Room.

Dave and Nikki pushed the low main passage, which starts as a belly-crawl in a shallow stream perched on the "Tucker County Asphalt", an impermeable black conglomerate with embedded rounded, white quartz pebbles. After several tens of feet, it is no longer possible to stay on the floor, and the unfortunate caver is forced to attempt to squeeze/crawl/pull/twist on top and through an ever-changing keyhole/slot/canyon. It should be noted that there are several small "rooms" throughout the passage in which one can sit and turn around easily. I eventually became so frustrated dragging my cave pack through this passage that I left it behind at around the half-way point. Flowstone, soda straws, and small stalactites are found throughout this passage. We came to what appears to have been a flowstone choke at one point, but has been hammered on one edge. Nikki squirmed over it with her helmet off, and I squirmed under it with my helmet off, one ear in the stream and one pressed against the rock overhead.

Unfortunately, we found large breakdown blocking further progress. Obvious cave of similar proportion can be seen beyond, and a strong wind blows from it, but we were unable to squeeze around the breakdown, despite our best efforts - Nikki made a struggled attempt, there was no chance of me getting around it. The stream flows beneath it, but this lowest level is only inches high. Breaking the rock would be extremely difficult, as it lays in the canyon passage lengthwise and is stacked high. I'm still personally convinced that connection to a large cave lies just a few hundred feet beyond this breakdown. Soaked, sore, and exhausted we headed back to the Waiting Room where the others were waiting.

Brian, John, and Cullen explored the upper passage, accessed by climbing up at the Waiting Room. An immediate lead on the left, which appears to be an infeeder to Bonner, is choked with flowstone and small rimstone dams, both at the upper and lower level. Heading straight, a very-dry, rounded crawlway heads off to the right and zig-zags from joint to joint. John pushed this passage to a flat room 18 inches high, where the thinly-bedded ceiling peels off and hangs dangerously over ones head. I did not note airflow in this dry passage, and we didn't deem this lead important enough to risk disturbing the ceiling flakes.

We exited the cave to daylight and sunshine, a welcome change for a February TCSS. We were packed and in the vehicles by 4pm, met the surface team on the road, and all headed to CJ's for a pizza dinner.

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