By Chad McCain
Piggybacking off everyone else’s trip reports which were probably much more detailed, I will fast forward to the facts behind the trip that Michael Bradford, Isaac Smith, and myself did. We were the second team into the cave, behind Alex Litsch’s team. We split ways and I led the team to the Mountain Room. We wore our vertical gear all the way to the room, as its easier in my opinion to wear on the body, then to wear on the back, in a pack. We also had 120 feet of PMI 10mm Talon and 200 feet of 9mm Highlight rope to aid in rigging a traverse to safely get into the passage above the Mountain Room.
Our objective was easy, climb the wall to the left of the water passage leading to the entrance, access the top of the Mountain Room. Last but not least, the objective was to not die. Upon arrival, I was able to free climb the wall easily enough, with Isaac and Bradford spotting me in case I slipped. After that I rigged the 10mm rope to a large broken formation that was about 3 ft square, about 50 feet back in the passage. I then tied a double bowline on a bite, around a solid stalagmite at the top of the climb, which allowed the other two to climb up the rope safely.
Survey began with myself on point, Bradford sketching and Isaac doing front sites. After we got a station set where we could bounce it into the upper passage, I began the task of getting across the steeply sloping traverse, and onto more stable ground about 20 feet away. This required rappelling down the rope about 5 feet, then slowly making my way against the wall, while feeding rope out. I was basically on a one ended traverse line, where falling would result in a violent pendulum swing against the wall. I was able to see the foot holds dug by the original explorers, which were much higher than the route I was taking. I remember thinking they were insane if they did this without a rope as a fall from this point would be 25 feet to the first floor, which would inevitably result in rolling off the next drop off and bouncing down the wall, floor and making a splash in the river some 50 feet below.
Once I was in the passage, I noticed dead bats everywhere, as well as mountains of guano. I then began the task of finding something to rig the end of the rope to, to build a solid traverse line. I rigged to a flake on the wall, which was not tested but luckily no one took a fall and the survey continued. There were literally, thousands of bats on the floor, in the piles of guano, stuck to the walls, and a colony of 20-40 grey bats who were not happy to be disturbed.
Survey continued through the crouching passage, past the piles of guano and toward the end of the passage where a glass bottle was found in the mud, which I promptly stuck on a ledge in the middle of the passage. It reminded me of an old glass 1000 islands salad dressing bottle. Just around the corner, the floor got wet, many footprints were finally visible (the bat guano had buried any sign of any past explorers) and immediately after was a large formation cluster and a black void.
Mapping through the cluster put us out on a ledge only 25 feet above the breakdown slope in the large dome in the middle of the Mountain Room. From here I called Tony Schmitt over as he was busy with Corey Ellis and Josh Hafner, who were flying Josh’s drone around in another dome on the upstream end of the room. Tony came over and pointed out the tie in station to complete an upper-level loop back down to the floor in the room. A strand of pink flagging tape was left hanging into the dome which is visible from the breakdown slope of the dome. I noted a large 4-foot column that a rope could be rigged to, and we even toyed with the idea of rigging to it and rappelling out, but I wanted my ropes back. Any rope rigged here in the future would likely be on a crumbly wall and a crumbly lip that would require a lot of trail maintenance. A 70’+ rope could easily be rigged for access to the upper-level passage that would facilitate bat counts.
Leaving, we made our way across the traverse one at a time until it was my turn. Unfortunately, I did take a fall as I lost my footing with about 5 feet left to go, so I took the violent pendulum swing that I was worried about taking. Knuckle bloodied, ego bruised, we derigged and began our trek out of the cave without further incident. Since we seemed to be the first team out, we took a nice cold bath in the deep pools before Thunder Falls before exiting the climb.