The actual survey into the Wild Wild West began on July 20th. Six Indiana Speleological Survey (ISS) cavers made a leapfrog survey totaling almost 1800 feet of new cave. They started with the dreaded survey of the last 600 feet of Rand’s Return River Ride, which is very, very wet and low. Everyone was totally chilled when they were finally able to stand upright at the river junction marking the start of the Wild Wild West.
The upstream team quickly found a hole pulling strong air into breakdown in an alcove about 12 feet above the river. Rand also explored ahead beyond the survey and found a side lead carrying in white limestone dust from the quarry. Survey notes later showed that the cave passage comes very close to the north high wall of the quarry, however the river level is probably 40-50 feet below the quarry floor. Fortunately there were no signs of breakdown or fracturing from the massive blasts in the quarry above.
The downstream crew surveyed to the junction with a major lead to the left. Everyone then did a little “Next Trip Investment” (NTI) for a few hundred feet downstream. The river continued sometimes walking, sometimes stooping but never too large. There was noticeable airflow into the unknown in front of them.
On August 3rd, two teams returned. One survey party continued the downstream survey while the other team dug on the upstream hole sucking major air into it. The team digging in the hole almost froze from the chill of the strong breeze over their totally wet clothing. The downstream team added about 800 feet of new survey in wet stoopway. When they did their NTI, they found the virgin passage beyond almost immediately enlarged to nice clean washed walking passage. The passage started bearing almost due west. It would take at least four miles of cave to get to the nearest spring on Indian Creek. They were clearly heading into a totally blank area on their map.
A week later two more teams surveyed downstream in very wet conditions adding another 843 feet of survey. Their NTI revealed no end in sight. However the passage was often only four feet high with 2 feet of water wall-to-wall broken by occasional short walking sections. They decided to count blindfish on their way in. From the ladder climb down into Blowing Hole to the frontier where they turned around, they saw 47 blindfish including the largest one Dave had ever seen in the cave.
August 17th marked the third straight weekend of survey in the Wild Wild West. That’s a lot when every trip includes over 6,000 feet of crawling. Everyone was excited about this trip as it was up the left hand side lead that appeared to be larger than any of the other passages and moved big air. They again had two teams for a leapfrog survey. It was a great day! In the larger passageway, survey shots were much longer so they could cover more ground with less shots. The two teams wound up setting a total of 31 stations totaling over 2255 feet. During their NTI, they crossed over a breakdown hallway and on into more walking passage averaging 7 feet high and 15-20 feet wide. At one point, they had to slog through suck mud that was close to crotch deep. In other areas, there was almost no mud. No one could really figure out what was going on.
The weekend after Labor Day found three teams heading in. This would be my first survey trip in over year. During the development of Indiana Caverns, I didn’t have enough energy or time to do both. At age 66, I chose a modest goal to survey a short segment upstream just beyond the connection up to the terminal breakdown in main stem of Blowing Hole. The other two teams would continue the upstream survey in the main river beyond the 1600-foot crawlway. On their way, they would put a couple of big smoke bombs into the hole sucking air into the breakdown. Dave thought it might connect back to the main river in Blowing Hole. If so, my team should see the smoke coming through the terminal breakdown. Sure enough, just as our survey was about to reach the breakdown, here came the smoke out of a low water crawl and down low on the right hand edge of the breakdown. Later after everyone was out of the cave, we determined that it took the smoke only 5-10 minutes to get through the breakdown, which represents a missing gap of about 600 feet. The total survey for the day was 1470 feet.
On September 14th, Tim Pride led a survey team back to the downstream river in WWW. They added 705 feet of new survey mainly in stooping-to-crawling height passage averaging about two feet of water. During their NTI beyond the survey, they encountered deep water and low air space. Tim pushed into air space as low as 2-3 inches with air howling downstream through it. There should be miles and miles of passage beyond and eventually it has to turn into big booming passage. However it appears the downstream area is not going to reveal its secrets easily.
In less than two months, the ISS had added close to two miles of new survey in the Wild Wild West. Now it was time to return for another trip to the bigger upstream passage heading due south into the big ridge. More on that next week.