Series: Inside Earth – NPS Cave & Karst News – Summer 2017

Cave Volunteer Activities and Welcome to Erin Lynch

Submitted by Rod Horrocks, Cave Specialist and Erin Lynch, Physical Science Technician
for Inside Earth Newsletter, Summer 2017
Lechuguilla Cave water and rock formations
Lechuguilla Cave, Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico. Photo by Dale Pate
Cave Exploration, Survey & Cartography Lechuguilla Cave
There have been numerous expeditions to Lechuguilla Cave since the last issue of Inside Earth. In January of 2017, Hazel Barton led an expedition to mop up leads in the Voids and Lake Castrovalva areas of the Southwest Branch of the cave. The team completely resurveyed Lake Castrovalva, using a sterilized Packraft and sterilized string to pull the raft across the lake. Beyond the lake they left a promising climbing lead for a future expedition. The totals for the week were 2,198.56 feet of resurvey, 988.32 feet of new survey, and 174.51 feet of redundant survey, for a total length of 3,361.39 feet of survey for the expedition.

In February, John Lyles led a day trip to the Ghost Town area to start resurvey of the H survey. After a long day of surveying the team reached H15, at which point they realized that a second trip would be needed with a complete change of clean clothes, knee pads, packs, and shoes.

March began with an expedition to the Western Branch led by Derek Bristol and focused on survey in the Red Lakes/Oasis, Oz, Keel Hall/Long Haul, and Wild Wild West areas. A technical climb completed on the first day of exploration led to the discovery of a large new room they named Zion. Zion is a significant breakout on the southern edge of the Western Branch that climbs nearly 500 feet above the Western Borehole. The main room in Zion is 600-feet long and 175-feet wide, with spectacular 80-foot columns throughout and numerous leads. Additionally, a re-sketch of Oasis on the first survey day revealed an extensive boneyard maze under this large room that occupied teams for several days with many leads left to explore. The results of the expedition included 6,160.7 feet of total survey; 5,887.5 feet of new survey, 230.7 feet of resurvey, and 42.5 feet of excluded or redundant survey. The expedition added 1.12 miles to the length of Lechuguilla Cave, increasing the length of the cave survey to 141.94 miles.

Later in March, John Lyles led a two-day expedition to the Rift and North Rift areas which surveyed 1,334 feet, including 122 feet of resurvey and 1,112 feet of new survey.
In May, Hazel Barton’s Chandelier Graveyard expedition surveyed 27 leads, many of which went farther than expected. They also completed most of the climbing leads that had been identified as objectives for the trip. The expedition surveyed a total of 3,130 feet, including 918 feet of resurvey and 2,212 feet of new survey.

Art Fortini led an expedition to the Never Never Land in June. Never Never Land is located at the top of the 500-foot high, multi-pitch climb known as the Treehouse in the Western Branch. This unique area is unusually flat and dips slightly to the southeast at 9 degrees. The room and pillar maze, which is covered with corrosion residue, averages 3–4 feet high and is 60–100 feet wide. One station is now within 40 feet northwest of and essentially at the same elevation as the eastern edge of Oz. Although it is tantalizingly close, and there is air in several too-tight holes, the notes show only one “too low” lead that heads towards Oz. The farthest west station in Never Never Land is still 366 feet to the northeast and 65 feet lower than the top of the PhD Room in Chandelier Graveyard, which makes the lead in the dome above the PhD Room one of the better climbing leads in the cave. The farthest east station in Never Never Land is a going lead which certainly has potential for extending Never Never Land eastward. The party surveyed 4,812.4 feet of new survey during the expedition. The vast majority of the survey was in Never-Never Land, but they also surveyed about 200 feet in the FUBAR area.

Carlsbad Cavern
The Cave Research Foundation fielded three survey expeditions to Carlsbad Cavern in June. Ed Klausner led a six-day expedition to Lower Cave which mopped up 37 leads for a total of 597 feet of new survey. Eighteen of their leads ended immediately and just required a sketching update. Ed estimates that two more expeditions will be needed to finish all the non-bolting leads in Lower Cave.

An expedition led by Dave West worked on the section map for the Music Room area, leaving numerous leads for a future expedition. They resurveyed 694 feet of problem surveys, and 471 feet of new survey brought the length of Carlsbad Cavern up to 32.59 miles.

Dwight Livingston’s expedition worked on the Mystery Room section map, resurveying 2,258 feet of problem surveys and leaving a couple of leads for a future expedition.

Slaughter Canyon Cave
Dave West recently completed the resurvey of Slaughter Canyon Cave which was started by Mike Lace. Slaughter now has a surveyed length to 3.78 miles (6.08km) and the map is available for sale in the Visitor Center’s bookstore.

Cave Restoration
During the past twelve months, nearly 24 pounds of lint have been removed from the Main Corridor trail in Carlsbad Cavern by 13 groups of lint pickers, including Boy and Girl Scout troops, youth conservation groups, cavers, and individuals. Starting in the Lunch Room, lint picking has progressed all the way to Devils Den with the aim of completing the Main Corridor trail by the end of the year.

Several CRF restoration camps led by William Tucker made good progress in Carlsbad Cavern. Over Presidents Day weekend they removed 13 buckets of tracked mud from the trail in Billing Dove Tunnel and foreign materials from a pool at Top of the Cross. In June, a week-long field camp restored the 450-gallon pool near Top of the Cross. They pumped clear water from the pool into vinyl swimming pools and murky water into buckets. After cleaning the pool basin, the team returned the clear water and then murky water after letting it settle. They also cleaned the bridges in Lower Cave. Over Memorial Day weekend, the group continued the project in Billing Dove Tunnel and cleaned lint along the trails in the Main Corridor.

Cave Research Activities
After completing the new LED lighting system in Carlsbad Cavern, the park contracted with Dr. George Veni, from the National Cave and Karst Research Institute, to study algae growth and the new LED lights. George subcontracted with Dr. Tom Kieft at NM Tech in a study to determine the optimal color temperature and intensity for the new lights, while looking at varying substrates and varying amounts of water. Dr. Kieft’s graduate student, Zoe Havalena, has now taken the study on as a two-year Master’s Thesis project.

Cave Resources Office Staffing Changes
Erin Lynch accepted a position as a Physical Science Technician and started on May 15th. After spending 16 years working on caves and karst in China, she brings a wealth of experience to the cave management staff at the park.