3/14/2015 – Biology Baseline (but too wet)

Trip date:  14 March 2015
Project manager:  Bill Gee
Trip purpose:  Biology baseline in downstream Thunder River
Areas of Cave visited:  CarrollPassage
Trip participants:  Bill Gee, Jarrett Ellis, Cliff Gill, Rita Worden
Entry Time:  9:40 am
Exit Time:  3:00 pm
The trip report:  The original plan for this trip was to do a baseline biology survey from Thunder Falls downstream to DL7.  Along the way we were going to look at the rescue cache at Jerry’s Cairn.  Events put a scotch to this plan.

I drove to the schoolhouse Friday afternoon.  It rained on me from about Clinton on.  Jarrett had reported by email earlier in the day that it had rained for a couple of days and the ground was pretty soggy.  When I arrived at the schoolhouse, I saw that he was correct.  The ground was very soggy.  The low water bridge just west of Greg Fry’s house has about 4 or 5 inches of water flowing across it.

Friday night it rained slow but steady all night.  I had a rain gauge out.  It recorded about 0.70 inches of rain from 6:00 pm Friday to 6:30 am Saturday.  During my early morning exercise walking I walked up to the silo.  The ground was soggy all the way up the hill, though there was very little water in the creek bed.  The area right in front of the upper gate was a big mud puddle.

I did not want to leave ruts trying to drive up the hill, so I decided we would dress at the schoolhouse and walk up to the cave.  When Jarrett arrived, he agreed this was a good idea.  Cliff and Rita arrived a few minutes later and they both concurred.

We left to walk up the hill about 9:30 am.  It is an easy ten minute walk.  Since we were already dressed, we could hit the rope immediately.  The shaft was already rigged with a rope I left from a trip in early February.  We were all in the cave by 9:50 am.

The first thing I noticed was the noise from Thunder River flowing around the ladder.  It is normally almost silent, but today it was making quite a bit of noise.  I saw an earthworm on a rock right at the base of the ladder.  The pool at the base of the ladder had a grotto salamander in it which I moved to one side so it would not get stepped on.

As soon as we all had our vertical gear off, I outlined three possible trip plans.  Plan A was the original plan.  Plan B would go upstream Thunder River to the Round Room doing a fish count, then check the rescue cache there.  Both of these depended on the stream level.  Plan C was to turn the trip into a photo project using Cliff’s camera with the idea that he would turn the photos into PhotoScan 3D visualizations.  This would be done in Carroll Passage since the water levels would be much lower.

We all went down to Thunder River just below the ladder.  The stream was very turbid and running about 8 to 10 inches above normal.  This did not look good.  We then went over to Thunder Falls.  The higher water level was producing a rather impressive flow over the falls.  We noticed that the water in the pool below the falls looked to be a foot or two higher than normal.

To verify, we went down the Hines Highway to the ladder.  At normal levels the base of the ladder is in a pool of chocolate pudding mud with the stream flowing another foot lower.  We saw there was 6 or 8 inches of water on top of the mud at the ladder base.

The decision was easy!  The water was too high to go downstream and too muddy to count fish upstream.  Therefore we settled on Plan C.  Cliff got out his camera and did a sequence of photos down the Hines Highway plus some of Thunder Falls.

From there we went down Carroll Passage to the first formation area.  Cliff did his photo thing around the formations, including the stalagmite that has been cleaned many times.  From there we went on to the Rimstone Room.

I thought a 3D visualization of the Water Barrier would be pretty neat.  Since we were all wearing wet suits anyway, we decided that Cliff and I would shoot a photo sequence from one end to the other in the Water Barrier.  It took a while, but we got several hundred photos going both ways.  Rita and Jarrett decided to stay somewhat dry.  I went along with Cliff mainly to help guide him through the trip hazards, and to be there if something happened to him.

The water level in the Water Barrier was about 6 inches higher than normal and it was very turbid.  We saw a very noticeable flow of water at both ends, something that is almost never seen.

After completing the Water Barrier sequence, we all went back to the Rimstone Room.  Rita and I cooked up a hot meal while Jarrett had an MRE and Cliff a sandwich.  Cliff ate fast, then did a photo sequence around the rimstone formations.

We left the Rimstone Room about 1:00 pm and headed to the Angel Pool Passage.  Cliff shot photo sequences around both of the pool and flowstone formations.  Back at the ladder, we did one final photo sequence of the T-Junction room.  Jarrett went down to the river again and reported that it was a few inches higher than it had been when we came in.  This confirmed that we had made the right decision by going with Plan C.

While Cliff was finishing, Rita and Jarrett climbed out of the cave.  Cliff and I climbed about ten minutes later.  Everyone was out of the cave by 3:00 pm.  We pulled up the rope, gathered our gear and walked back to the schoolhouse.  The weather was very pleasant and mostly sunny.  The field had dried out some but was still quite soggy.  If we had driven, we would have left another set of ruts on the way down.

After changing to clean clothes, Cliff got out his laptop computer and showed how he creates 3D visualizations using an application called AgiSoft PhotoScan.  Jarrett and Rita had never seen this sort of thing.  It helped them to understand why we took so many photos at each stop.

Everyone left by about 4:30 except me.  I camped overnight and went home early Sunday morning.

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