13 February 2016 – far down Thunder river Lake Room snorkeling

Trip date:  13 February 2016
Project manager:  Bill Gee
Trip purpose:  Reconnoiter trail to Lake Room for possible dive
Areas of Cave visited:  Downstream Thunder
Trip participants:  Bill Gee, Ben Perkins, Laura Battle, David Moore, Bob Koch, Nathan Taylor, Tucker Palmatier, Dirk Bennett
Entry Time:  7:30am
Exit Time:  7:40pm
The trip report:  In 2015 Ben Perkins of the OCDA (Ozark Cave Dive Alliance) contacted me about the possibility of doing a dive trip in the Lake Room of Carroll Cave.  Ben and other members of OCDA did a couple of practice trips in October 2015 and January 2016.

This trip was intended to reconnoiter the trail from the ladder entrance to the Lake Room.  We wanted to find out what sort of logistics would be required to move people and gear.  We also did some basic survey of the bottom of the Lake Room to see if there was any obvious drain conduit.  We had a third goal of replacing the rescue cache at Jerry’s Cairn with something that is truly watertight and tied down.

I drove down Friday afternoon, arriving at the silo about 5:30pm.  The weather forecast was 10F overnight, so I camped at the silo where I could plug into power.  Nathan drove in from a work training session in Wichita, arriving at the silo shortly after 9pm.

We set the meet time at 7:00am, hoping for an early start on what promised to be long day of caving.  Everyone was there by 6:40am, so we got started even sooner than planned.  After gearing up, I was the first person down the shaft at about 7:30am.  Everyone was in the cave by 7:50am.

The trip downstream went very quickly.  A few hundred feet downstream from Black Rock Riffles we found an interesting collection of stuff.  It was several lengths of iron pipe strapped together.  Three green 6 gallon water jugs were attached, obviously to act as floats.  The entire contraption was about half-buried in the mud.  The jugs were almost full of water.  So much for watertight!  We hauled it out of the main stream, took some photos and left it there.  It was very heavy – we were not about to haul it out of the cave.

We arrived at Jerry’s Cairn in less than two hours.  Ben and I tied up the rescue cache using orange para cord.  There was a roll of closed-cell foam in the upper room which we left alone.  It is not tied down, so we were a bit surprised it was still there.  Further down the cave we found another roll of several pieces of foam which we brought back to the rescue cache.  The two rolls are just sitting there, so they might float away.

It did not take long to get to Horseshoe Falls.  Everyone was suitably impressed.  I think it is a nicer waterfall than Thunder Falls.  It is about the same height but much wider and more picturesque.  We took a bit of a wrong turn at DL7, but very quickly realized it was not the main passage.  We put an arrow of flagging tape on a rock to point the right way out.  The tape was removed when we went back past it.

The last part of the trip from DL7 to the Lake Room took longer than I expected.  It is very difficult caving with many spanky banks and lots of very soft, boot-sucking mud.  The last 100 feet or so is swimming depth.  We arrived at the Lake Room just about noon.

In order to avoid the worst of the silt plume following us down the stream, the divers immediately put on masks and started swimming out into the lake.  They had several hand-held sonar units for checking water depth.  The deepest spot found was about 45 feet deep.  They found several ledges about 10 or 15 feet below the surface which look like they might hide a drain.

The visibility was not as bad as we feared.  The flow velocity in the last few hundred feet is very low, so the silt plume did not ever really get out into the main part of the lake.  Ben reported pretty good visibility to about 10 or 15 feet, and milky beyond that.

Ben says there are mud pockets 2 or 3 feet below the surface of the lake.  That indicates that the lake goes down below where we found it.

Bob, Nathan and I stayed on the bank.  I did a basic sketch of the room with some markings for depth as the divers called them out.  Nathan handled some lights, and Bob did some video.  There are some very nice formations hanging from the ceiling.  We hope they came out reasonably good.  Tucker had a GoPro on his helmet and got some interesting video from in the water.

David and Laura found a blue drybag floating (barely!) in the lake.  Tucker brought it back to shore and opened it up.  It was about half-full of water, proving that dry bags are not watertight.  The contents included a sleeping bag, some food, a good titanium sterno stove and various other camping gear.  Several dry bags and ZipLocks inside the big dry bag were also half full of water.  We drained the water, squeezed the sleeping bag and carried it with us a short distance back from the lake.  Rather than spend the effort to carry it all the way out, we left it in a high spot just off the trail perhaps 600 or 800 feet from the Lake Room.  It is not tied down, so a major flood with take it out again.

We left the Lake Room intending to go a short distance and have lunch.  It turned into a full hour!  There is no suitable place for lunch that is close to the Lake Room.  The place we stopped at was not really great, but it worked.

After lunch the pace slowed down.  We were pretty worn out dealing with all the mud and the spanky banks.  We stopped for about 5 minutes at Black Rock Riffles to check the status of the biology tiles.  Nothing was found on any of the tiles.  I turned over a few rocks looking for isopods and found none.  We saw no salamanders or bats.

Over the course of the trip we saw about 20 cave fish.  We were not really looking for them, so there were probably more.  Tucker’s video showed one cave fish in the Lake Room that he estimates was 3 inches long.  He saw several other fish in the lake.

We reached the ladder about 7:15pm and were all out of the cave by 7:40pm.  I camped overnight, but everyone else left.

Sunday morning very early it started to sleet.  There were even a few peals of thunder.  Thundersnow is always a bit scary!  I drove down the hill at 6am.  The drive home was very slow, running about 25 to 30 mph most of the way.  I did not hit clear road until almost Belton.  Highway 7 between Clinton and Harrisonville was mostly snowpacked.  Normally the drive takes me about three hours and forty five minutes.  It took me almost five hours to get home.

Any dive trip to the Lake Room would be very challenging for logistics.  There are no good camp spots anywhere near.  Getting gear and people through the spanky banks and mud would be difficult.  Thunder River between Thunder Falls and Horseshoe Falls can be floated, except for a few hundred feet where it goes under a breakdown pile.  From there the river does not form a continuous trail.  Gear would have to be carried for about half of the distance.

It probably could not be done in a single trip.  Multiple trips would be required to stage gear, both to set up the dive and to bring everything out afterwards.  Scheduling people and gear would be very complex.

We were a group of strong cavers, yet the effort just to move ourselves and relatively light packs was draining.  All of us had sore muscles the next day.  I was about as worn out physically as I have ever been after a cave trip.

There is no obvious drain in the lake.  Give the way things silt up, it seems likely that the drain is either at the deepest point or is under the ledge.  There might be several drains!  There is a natural bridge on the far left side of the lake which has water flowing under it.  Ben looked at the pool beyond the bridge and thinks there is a drain in it.

I kept notes of our travel as we went past various landmarks.

7:35am – First people down the ladder.
8:00am – Started caving.
8:45am – Black Rock Riffles
9:00am – Start of The Forevers.  Found iron pipes and water jugs.
9:30am – Jerry’s Cairn.  Dropped off the rescue cache.
10:11am – Horseshoe Falls.
12:00 noon – Candy bar break.  This turned out to be just a few hundred feet from the Lake Room.
12:30pm – Lake Room.
1:30pm – Left Lake Room.
2:30pm to 3:20pm – Lunch break, somewhere downstream from the Liberty Bell.
4:40pm – Snack break at Horseshoe Falls.
6:00pm (approx) – Black Rock Riffles.
6:40pm – DR1.
7:15pm – Arrived at ladder.

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