The excitement continues as the ISS pushes the frontier on diverse fronts in the Binkley Cave system. A major trip on March 15th into the South Branch section offers more reasons for excitement!
The Indiana Speleological Survey (ISS) first surveyed the South Branch River of the Binkley Cave system in 1968. Beyond where Fantastic Avenue, one of the more beautiful sections of the cave system, takes off to the left, the South Branch quickly deteriorates.
While the passage remains nominally 10-20 feet wide in most areas and passage height averages 4-6 feet, the caver traversing the passage usually feels like they are slithering through a contorting belly crawl. The passage at many points in almost completely filled with large boulders from floor-to-ceiling with openings above and below. When forced to go below, the caver is forced down into water that varies from a few inches to 2 or 3 feet deep. Sometimes, the opening above the water is only a few inches high forcing emersion in what caver’s call “a bathtub”. I think you get the idea. It isn’t a lot of fun. Besides the South Branch lies about three hours from the entrance: one-way!
Several survey trips have been made over the past five decades extending the length of the South Branch. In 2001, Indiana caver, Aaron Atz, along with Chris Schotter and the author made another attempt. We were stopped by a constriction that, with a lot of chiseling and hammering, only Aaron was able to fit through. Aaron reported scooping about 1000 feet of virgin cave to a point where a somewhat drier passage led to the left a few fee above water level. Up this passage about 200 feet Aaron entered a dome with twin 20’ foot waterfalls at either end of the dome. He carefully climbed up the one on the left and found a going hands-and-knees crawl in water. He couldn’t climb up the other one and being alone in virgin cave beyond a constriction no one else could fit through, he wisely turned back. (to be continued)