Hopeful Hole Cave dig trip, March 13, 2010
Paul Hauck, Edmund Tucker, Kiel Harms, I headed to Craig Schindler’s at 9:30 a.m. and got our gear together for a dig trip to a small collapse in a dry stream bed north of Schindler’s house. Kris Hartman and I checked the hole out a couple days ago to assess the situation. Now we were back to dig. The hold was covered with one large rotten log and several smaller sticks. We immediately got the large log out of the way then Edmund got to work; however, not before he put on his harness and I tied into my dynamic blue water rope after an intense bowline knot tying lesson. I think he got it down pat after some instructions. I backed him up with an ATC rigged to the tree on a dynex runner, and two separate triple wrap Prusic’s on 6mm cord, backed up with spectra slings. He wasn’t going anywhere and this also made it very easy to give him more slack or take in the slack. Our fear was we were right over the top of a 70’ dome, and we didn’t want to dig open the roof of the dome causing a collapse.
While Edmund dug and put debris into 5 gallon buckets, and Kiel pulled them up and dumped them, I began rigging a high line over the pit. I had Paul help hold the lines while I tied a 20’ long double figure 8, which is more than a challenge when dealing with long lengths. After the knot was set and anchored to two bombproof trees, I ran the tail end back to a 3rd tree and tightened all of the slack by fastening an ascender on a trip wrap prussic on the main line, ran a sling, biner and pulley around another tree, and ran the rope through the pulley and back to the ascender. This allowed me to literally stand on the tree, pulling with all my strength and getting all of the slack out of the high line. I was then able to rig a 3:1 pulley haul line over the pit to make pulling up buckets of debris much easier on the back. The system worked flawlessly and soon Edmund was deep into the crawl.
By deep of course I mean he was about a body length in, and he was backing out, pulling more and more debris out. He finally backed out after his 3rd or 4th time with a large 1 gallon glass jug with a “moonshine handle” at the neck. It was intact and in perfect shape so I set it to the side to add to my cave junk collection. While digging he dug down enough to expose a water channel and water was now pouring into the hole out of a 1’ wide 2” high in feeding passage. Edmund soon froze out after trying to make a push through the passage and he had to back out and warm up. Kiel, Edmund and I ran up to the trucks so Edmund could put on his wet suit, and I took the opportunity to run into town and buy some hot chocolate. I got back and Edmund told me to grab my wetsuit gear so I can get in the hole with him.
We made our way back into the field, and brought along a relative of the land owner who stopped by, who lives just up the road. He was interested in what we were doing so we brought him down to show him. Edmund got back to work, I changed into my wetsuit and jumped in the hole as well. Edmund was pushing deeper into the passage, but he had to keep back drag out rocks and other sludge. The water in the passage was now liquid mud. By that I mean our headlamps would go dark if the lens dipped into the water. It was very frustrating for Edmund, as he kept getting mud in his eyes and mouth. Several times he had to back out so I could pour water on his face so he could see again.
After he got in further and further, I was finally able to crawl in about 10 feet as well, but I was still about 10 feet from his boots. The passage was about 10-12” high, depending where you were, and only 20-24” wide. I filled up the hole pretty good but I was pretty comfortable. As I was in, Edmund had to back out again to bring out more debris, but this was his 6th or 7th time and it was beginning to wear him out. I can understand because just backing out 10 feet was a challenge when you can only push with your fingers, and pull with your toes. When Edmunds feet would come into view I would grab him by his boots and pull him the rest of the way out of the hole. “Thank God” Edmund would say every time, as he was pretty exhausted. We repeated this again until he was about 30 feet into the hole and the passage finally made a right turn and it was pinching out too tight.
By this time I was now getting cold, Edmund was tired and I called the dig attempt stating maybe we should come back after a few hard rains to see if it has opened up at all. He agreed and while he made his last push, I took a disto reading from the entrance, and took a bearing shot. With that information, Paul began to draw a map of the cave. He would hand the sketch down to me and I would describe where a couple ledges were, and the general shape of the entrance at the floor, which was out of view from the surface. Paul figured we may as well map it while we were here. After Edmund was out for the last time, we began gathering gear and I tore down the crazy rope work I had going on all over the place. All of our gear was muddy, we were soaked, cold and covered in more mud that we ever had been, coming out of a cave. It’s definitely a trip I will remember, even though the cave didn’t go. Mertz definitely isn’t going to give up its secrets very easily.