Just after the grand opening of Indiana Caverns in June 2013, Rand Heazlitt, who was an integral part of the Indiana Caverns development team, returned to active caving with the ISS. On his first real caving trip in over a year, Rand pushed a low, wide, wet crawlway that came to be known as “Rand’s Return River Ride. “ After 1700 feet of crawling mostly in water, Rand emerged into another new underground river now known as the “Wild Wild West.”
Off of this large river, there was a major lead to the left named “Wilson Way” since it ultimately passed with a few hundred feet of a beautiful well-known 90-foot deep hole known as “Wilson’s Pit.” Several long survey trips extended Wilson Way southeast until by late fall the end of the survey was almost directly under a 920- foot elevation ridge about 1 ½ miles south of Indiana Caverns. However with the unfortunate passing of ISS caver, Tim McLain, in November, the survey project slowed down dramatically and no one returned to push the walking virgin passage cavers knew to lie beyond.
Finally on June 14, 2014, the ISS cavers decided it was time to return to Wilson Way to push the frontier. The trip there would be at least four hours one way and include around 3,000 feet of crawlway both going in and coming out. The trip would be a long one.
On the 14th, six cavers, Tim Pride, Shane Myles, Laura Demarest, Marion Akers, Rand Heazlitt and new recruit to the ISS project, Chris Parks, headed into the Miller’s entrance to the system just after 11 AM. Five hours later they broke into three two-person teams to begin surveying. Shane and Marion’ s job would be to survey a couple of side leads off Wilson Way near the frontier. The other four would continue a leapfrog survey down Wilson Way. Everyone’s goal was to get as much survey done as possible and hopefully find a big dome that might be a good place for a new entrance to shorten the journey and eliminate all the brutal crawling.
Shane and Marion had the harder task as their passages weren’t as spacious or pleasant. The first lead, which Rand hoped would lead to the bottom of Wilson Pit and a possible short cut, turned into a crappy tight wet crawl in less than 150 feet. In the second passage, things were better. The passage was nominally walking height, but very sinuous. They surveyed for several hours before deciding it was time to head out and meet up with the others. They added nearly 400 feet of passage that trended to the west and continued on beyond the end of their survey. Another team would need to come back as their was plenty of potential remaining.
The other four leapfrogged quickly down Wilson Way in spacious walking passage. As the two teams were ready to leapfrog again, they arrived at an opening high up on a steep mudbank. They peered down at a big underground river flowing from left to right. Their speculation had been right. Wilson Way was indeed a crossover passage that led to still another large underground river. They had found still another borehole!
They were ecstatic with joy even though they were now at least five hours at a fast pace from the nearest entrance. The passage was much larger in the upstream direction so they decided to survey that way first. Chris Parks did a quick recon downstream and found it continued with deep water in an 8-foot high bell-shaped passage. It definitely went; but wasn’t quite as inviting as the upstream appeared to be. They surveyed upstream in big passage averaging 15 feet high and 20-25 feet wide. There was a big mudbank on one side and a vertical rock wall on the other. The underground river was flowing briskly over a rocky floor. Very pleasant caving conditions for the Binkley system and one of the larger passages yet discovered in the cave.
They surveyed about 900 feet up river over the next hour and a half. They were a long way from daylight and it was getting late. Reluctantly, it was time to head out. Before total exhaustion set in. They decided to do a little NTI (next trip investment) before leaving. They quickly strolled up river another 800-900 feet in nice big easy river passage. It just kept going and going beyond their turnaround point. Wow! This was great fun!
After meeting up with Shane and Marion back in Wilson Way, they started the slow trek out. Everyone was beat; but exhilarated by their breakout. It was nearly 3 am when they finally crawled out of the Miller entrance into the dry streambed. It had been a 15 ½ hour trip; but an epic one. They had added 3,015 feet of new survey in cave passages that had never before seen by human eyes. Binkley Cave was now 39.3 miles long and the 40-mile mark was now within reach. Although everyone was totally exhausted, they all agreed it wouldn’t be nearly as long before they returned next time.
After a huge meal at the Corydon Waffle House, everyone scattered for their homesaround 5 am ready to sleep all day Sunday.