Trip report by Tony Schmitt
Josh, Derik and I arrived at the backdoor entrance around 3:45pm. We immediately started rigging the hole.
Recently we have started rigging the hole a little different. Concern over the strength of the welds on the wall of the silo has lead us to start rigging with a figure eight on a bight with carabiner to the stainless hasp under the rescue hole. We then tie a butterfly with a large loop to the old eyelets welded to the wall. This allows for the rope to fall basically down the center of the shaft. We rappel in and climb out using our Croll on our frog systems as a safety while climbing the ladder. On camp trips such as these, we rig a pulley for hauling camp packs out at the end of a trip. We use a truck to slowly pull the camp packs up the hole. This works out very well, and is tremendously better than trying to haul heavy camp packs after several days under.
By the time we had the hole rigged and started suiting up, Jeremy pulled up. Our team was ready to go and we left the bottom of the hole with camp packs around 5:45pm. We went at a leisurely pace downstream pointing out various landmarks to Jeremy and Derik. This was Jeremy’s first trip into the cave and Derik’s first trip down Hells Canyon.
We got to Jerry’s Cairn around 8pm. We showed Derik and Jeremy around, picked out or various camping spots and set up our camps. Peeling off the wetsuits and changing into dry clothes for the night.
Dan and Joe arrived around 11:45pm. Joe had a major wetsuit malfunction at the beginning of the trip and arrived sewn into his wet suit top. Everyone was well asleep by 12:30am.
Waking up in cave always seems to take a bit to get going. We were all up and moving by 8am. Coffee, breakfast, and various other morning rituals had to be taking care of. We left camp around 10:40am. Heading for the South Fork of DL7. Along the way we pointed out various landmarks and relayed stories of previous trips. We stopped at Horseshoe Falls for quite a while to take pictures. After taking pictures we investigated a “lead” just downstream on the left. A high passage is visible in the ceiling here. The high passage would be extremely hard to get to. Everything is overhanging, and of course the rock is rotten Gasconade. While staring at this and trying to figure out a way up, Dan dropped to the river level and located a walking passage taking off in the same direction. Add it to the list of things to do. We decided to leave this passage as it could be done in a long day trip from the back door. Onward to DL7 and South Fork.
After passing through the Breakdown room and the large intersection of main and DL7, we headed into DL7 proper to the south fork. Everything was really slimy and recently coated in mud. It made going even more treacherous than usual. Finally reaching south fork we headed into the South Pole area. There were two leads here that we had marked on our original survey that needed checking. We found a parallel room/passage that had not been surveyed, and looked to be virgin. We decided at this point to break into two teams. Dan, Josh and Derik would survey this area, and take pictures. Joe, myself and Jeremy would head to the EOS in Grandpas Hall and continue the survey on. We bid our goodbyes, figuring that we would not see each other again for many hours. We split off from Dan’s group around 1:30pm at the South Pole.
My group took off for the EOS. It was a bit farther then we remembered. Our last rip out here was in 2014, so the memory was a little fuzzy. There are a couple of crawls, but for the most part it is the typical climbing over mud banks in between meanders of the stream. The final crawl, The “Howah Crawl” is a belly crawl several hundred feet in length. Surveying it was actually easier than just traveling through it. At least surveying you take your time. Just traveling through it your pack picks up an extra 20lbs of mud. After cussing the Howah, we popped into the Grandpas Hall section. This area is dry sand, biggish rooms, and easy traveling. We found our EOS from 2014 L2-85, and stopped to take a rest. We had traveled about 1 hour and 30 minutes from the South Pole. After a short break and dry tops. We broke out the Distos and got to work. Joe was doing book, Jeremy on lead, and I was doing fore shots. We had two Distos, so things went quick.
Picking up the survey at L2-85, we surveyed beyond a nice formation into a dry sandy room. From there we circled back around into a canyon crawl that lead off from L2-85. We ended up surveying a small loop here to help define the area. The crawl had been investigated on the last rip by Josh. He described going 50 feet or so to “a very well decorated dome with pure white formations”. We surveyed down the crawl taking several short shots. We then popped through a hole at ceiling level into “Josh’s Dome”. A pure white flowstone came from the ceiling about 50 feet away, the room was covered with formations from the ceiling on down to our location. Just enough room for two cavers to carefully stand and not trash anything. We looked hard up at the dome room and did not see anything to indicate that more passage was hiding up there. In order to fully scope it out, we would have had to tread on the pure white flowstone. We three decided that the potential was so low for passage up there that it was not worth the impact. It remains untouched.
Fortunately there was more to survey, as a body sized hole in the floor lead us back down to the stream and the canyon that we had been in. The canyon at this point had widened out into a full blown passage, about 10 feet wide by 4 feet tall. The stream at this point was only about a foot and a half wide and an inch or two deep. We followed along and the passage became more restricted. Sediment partially filling the passage, the stream flowing along the floor, the passage reduced to only a couple of feet wide. Ultimately ending in a sediment fill.
Backtracking a ways back into the bigger area just past the dome, breakdown covered the left wall. A squeezed up to take a closer look and could see into a room. We picked up a station and headed into the new room. Getting up into the room proved a bit awkward. You are traveling forward in a belly crawl position, and then must bend 90 backwards to access the room. My body doesn’t bend that way and a fair amount of cussing went into that maneuver. Having the Distos made surveying it a piece of cake. The room proved to be a dry upper level, with a sand and cobble floor. The room was about 30 feet in diameter and roughly 4 feet tall. The far corner had a body sized hole about 3 feet up on the wall. Squeezing through this brought you into another small room and the stream could be heard. To the left we encountered the stream. The stream at this point was falling out of a crack in the ceiling less than 6 inches round. It then fell through some breakdown into the passage we had just surveyed. We ended up call in the room “End Game” and the room with the stream coming out of the ceiling “Game Over”. This was the end of DL7 South Fork. A definitive end. No ambiguity, it was done. No leads remain. We headed back out to our first station. We had been surveying for roughly five hours. We took a break, ate some food and then started the long haul back to camp at around 8:15pm.
On the way out we found a note from Dan’s team at the South Pole indicated they had left around 7pm. We moved pretty good heading back to camp. We took a longish stop at Horseshoe Falls again to clean up a little bit and refill water bottles. We arrived back at camp around 10:30pm.
We changed into clean camp stuff, and settled in for our last night.
Sunday morning the typical morning rituals were taken care of. Then the packing for the haul out. Josh, Jeremy and myself headed out of camp upstream for the surface around 10:40am. Heading out at an easy pace we made the bottom of the ladder by 12:40. On the surface with our camp packs hauled out by 1:15. Dan, Joe and Derik then arrived. Joe and Dan climbed out and Derik stayed to attach the packs for hauling. Derik finally climbed out at about 2:45. Rope was derigged, locks put back on and the trip was over after 46 hours underground.
The trip was a big success. One arm of the cave is now complete. DL7 South Fork is done. Josh and Derik both hauled photo gear all the way back there. I am sure some fantastic pictures will result from their efforts.
Joe, Jeremy and Tony 341.5 feet
Dan, Josh, and Derik 177.7 feet and 679 photos.
Total footage for trip 519.2 feet
Submitted by Tony Schmitt 7/15/2019