Purgatory Pit/Lloyds Cave – Saturday, February 11, 2012
Last weekend I called a land owner friend in Ste. Genevieve county to ask for permission to park on his property to continue surveying (mapping) a cave that was on his property that we started on over a year ago. The cave was called Lloyds Cave and it had a beautiful green moss covered limestone outcropping cliff hanging over the cave entrance. The entrance was a surface collapse which had buried a canyon cave passage that was approximately 54’ tall. This happened due to surface erosion and valleys cutting down through the roof of the cave, inevitably causing the collapse and burial of the cave. I am using the past tense because when I called him up he regretfully told me that the neighboring property to his had been sold, a house had been built and the new owner had completely buried the cave and installed a metal stand pipe. While these pipes are good for erosion control in the fields, they are harmful to the cave in that they require destroying entrances to the cave that bats may use. This particular cave was a winter bat hibernacula for a colony of 4 to 500 little brown bats, and a regular home for many pipistrel bats. When I learned of the historic entrance (the first entrance discovered for any given cave system) was now buried, I wanted to dig open the new entrance to the cave as quickly as possible. Luckily the land owner who owned the two entrances was very caver friendly.
At 9:00 a.m. I met with Ray Shaw and Richard Young and we proceeded to New Castle Pit. I had to climb down to the 98’ drop to take 2 bolt hangars off the wall to use in a new project for the day since I was out of hangers. We arrived at the Arnold farm in Ste. Genevieve around 9:30 a.m. and got out our digging and cutting tools to take down to Take Out Pit. Our goal was to open this cave entrance up to regain access to Lloyds Cave which had just been buried a few months ago.
We cleared the brush surrounding Take Out Pit extremely quick only to find very large boulders causing the constriction. I then walked over to the other sink entrance to the cave which was only about 30 to 35 feet away. This entrance was blowing steam out and by taking a closer view I could see a pretty open drop that was surrounded mainly by old fence wire and cedar limbs. We decided that this would be the better option so we retrieved our vertical gear and I got on rope and got into the pit and started cutting limbs with my chainsaw while Ray was busy pulling out old timbers and cutting other limbs while Richard tossed out what I handed to him. We made quick work and after a couple short hours we had the side of the pit we would enter from cleared out. We would later find out that this particular pit had been buried due to a calf falling into it. It fell in during an ice storm and it took a tow truck, tied to a tractor, which was tied to a nearby barn at the top of the hill, to pull the calf out due to the ice and the steep gradient down to the sinkhole. Amazingly enough when the calf was retrieved it stood up and ran away. Little did the land owner know that he was standing at the lip of a hole in the ground that had a depth of approximately 90 feet to the bottom.
The rest of the sink is still filled with many rolls of wire and rotting timbers. The two heaviest items brought out was an old brush saw implement for a tractor and some kind of drag behind grating. We quickly decided to make use of rebelays in the pit as there were too many places that were going to need rope pads and it would be impossible to make the pit safe without rebelays. After I installed the first rebelay I dropped down into a very tight chimney drop that was smaller in diameter, by quite a bit, than the top culvert pipe in Echo Pit in Perry County. I was hoping that this was going to go as I would have a very hard time doing a changeover and getting out. Luckily after about 15 to 20 feet my feet swung free and the drop opened up. This portion required rappelling past several large breakdown boulders that were wedged into the top of the pit, which was a collapsed dome.
Once I reached the next ledge I kicked down a large amount of loose rock, wire fragments and even a shovel head. I then found a place for the next rebelay and Ray lowered down the hammer drill so I could get it set. Once the rebelay was installed and the rope was rigged, Ray met me down at the ledge at the 2nd rebelay. I then moved on down and after rappelling another 15 feet I saw that I was at the top of the canyon passage of what was known as Lloyds Cave. To my right was the last of the free climb to get up to the bottom of Take Out Pit, and to the left was a traversable passage at the top of the canyon which led to the Heavens Hangover formation.
I rappelled down to the “floor” of the canyon which was still 25 feet above the lower stream level. The full extent of this drop from the surface is around 90 feet. Ray made his way down, followed by Richard and we then made our way through the cave to the end of survey. Once we were at the end of survey we started finding more and more bats, and several small groups of clusters of 4 to 6 bats. Making our way through the canyon passage, through the constriction in the middle of the cave, and beyond we finally found what we were looking for. Approximately 3 to 400 bats clustered up in groups of up to 30 or more, scattered all along the canyon walls. We had to crawl along the floor of the canyon to avoid knocking them off the walls.
After we were past the bats we made our way up the 8 foot drop, which is a pain in the butt, to the Lloyds entrance. After we climbed the breakdown mountain up to where the entrance was, we were met with a wall of boulders that looked like a fresh breakdown collapse, which had sealed the entrance. The boulders were scarred from the earth movers pushing them in, but they were surprisingly clean of clay and mud. The stand pipe on the surface wasn’t visible and there was very little air flow moving through the rocks. We then made our way to the upper ceiling channel where we traversed to what could be called the bitter end of what needs to be surveyed. The entire upper passage is stained black and very ancient. Very dry clay was at the top that was dusty to the touch.
Since we learned the bats were still alive, we left the cave and contacted the land owner about what to do about the two entrances. After looking at them after we cleaned them up a bit he has agreed to pull all of the trash out, and do a restoration on the two entrances to the cave, and fence them off to keep his cattle out. This will give his property a nicely decorated karst feature which bats already use, and will ensure that this cave is kept open so that it is not lost. Since the bat colony has not been destroyed we will also be staying out of the cave until they are done hibernating before we resume our survey work underground. While this is only a fragment of a truly massive cave system, we still expect to map over 1000’ of cave passages in the cave.