Fissure Kingdom Discovery

McCafferty in Fissure Kingdom
McCafferty in Fissure Kingdom

NPS Photo by Ken Geu

1st Trip: On 2/9/08, Rod Horrocks led Roger Harris & Duff McCafferty on a trip to the WB survey in the Historic Section where they discovered the Fissure Kingdom area.

Trip Report: We went back to some leads left from a 2000 survey I had done off of the Frostwork Ledge area. Our dynamite recovery trip this last summer in that area sparked my interest in finishing up those leads. We started with a dome at TD46, where we found a Roy McDonald signature. Surveying up that dome, we reconnected at a couple points to the Ever Ending Room. We found that all of the 2000 survey tags in that area were completely unreadable. Apparently, we had used a bad Sharpie on that trip. We then went to DYNAMITE STOPE to finish surveying that room and see if we could climb the stope. We couldn't, so we surveyed a lead at F12M, where we found another excavated stope. We named that 28-foot high stope, RUBBLE STOPE. We now know of four of these excavated paleofill stopes (including Two Cent Stope and Plummers Pit). We surveyed a couple of other misc. leads and gave up on the area after 239 feet of survey and went to the WB survey, which is located below the stairs in the Fairgrounds.

After tying the hanging WB17 station into F11, we started down the WB looking for unsurveyed leads. Noticing a parallel canyon passage at WB16, we shot up to a fissure that was chocked with trail construction debris, presumably from the Fairgrounds Tour Route overhead. We then surveyed down a fissure pit in the floor, where we found passages radiating off in all directions 14-feet below the WB survey. We started by surveying into the largest passage, which headed SE. We found a 19th century candle and some string that was only marked by a black stain that snaked across the floor. This passage quickly connected into a large unnamed room that had been partially surveyed with the WH survey designation. Backtracking, we shot into a side passage heading NE. This ended after a couple of shots. We then shot into a parallel side passage that although virgin, looked unpromising. However, after three shots in a bellycrawl, it opened up. One passage reconnected back to the passage we started in via an unobvious bellycrawl and the other went NW.

The calcified floors and boxwork in this area tore us up. When the survey opened into a room with a fissure pit in the floor, we decided to name that room, the BOX CUTTER ROOM, after all of the spectacular boxwork and the sharp nature of the floors. Roger climbed down a 22-foot deep vertical slot in the floor and found the UN survey. We were able to connect to UN58, which was located in Big Mac Canyon. The fissure Roger climbed down into that canyon, was actually a lead I had noticed on one of my previous surveys, but hadn't gotten back to yet. Big Mac Canyon connects to the Union College Room along the Candlelight Tour Route. Continuing our survey in the Box Cutter Room, we shot into a crawl on the west side of the room that ended after a couple of shots. We then shot up to a small hole in the NE corner of the room that opened into another deep fissure. We left that lead for a later trip and shot into a floor-level crawl heading west. This looped down to the SW and headed towards the WH survey.

I decided to crawl back around the way we came and see if I was right about that potential connection. When I got back to the WH survey, I could barely hear Roger and Duff talking. Heading into the NW corner of the room, into a 4-foot high unsurveyed passage, I could hear them a little better. Going to the apparent end of that passage, I noticed that their voices were coming from a small hole at floor level. Pretty quickly we had made a light connection, but it was way too tight for humans. I then noticed that a fissure in the ceiling was parallel to their location, so I instructed them to backtrack and look in the ceiling for a fissure connection. They quickly found the other end of the tight fissure I was looking down, putting us just 20 feet from each other. After they surveyed the connection to WH8, we ate dinner in the unnamed room.

While Roger and Duff went back down the fissure to survey a room they named the TILLER ROOM, I started looking around for leads to survey off of the unnamed room. While searching, I found a gastrapod fossil in a boxwork vein in the ceiling of that room. This was one of only a handful of gastrapods I know of in the cave, so I had Roger take some pictures of it when he returned. During my poking around, I found the route the WH survey took and four additional unsurveyed fissures heading off of that room. I decided to name the room, FISSURE KINGDOM, after the multitude of fissures in the area. Once they had finished mapping the Tiller Room, which was named after a boxwork fin that resembled a tiller on a boat, we decided to call it a night. They told me that they had left four leads in the Tiller Room area, while we had left two leads in the Box Cutter Room and four leads in the Fissure Kingdom area. We knew we were having a good survey day, but we were surprised that our total for the day added up to 801 feet, my fifth longest survey ever in Wind Cave. We will definitely be back to the Fissure Kingdom area and the WB survey!


2nd Trip: On 3/22/08, Rod Horrocks led Roger Harris & Jeremy Cook on a trip back to the Fissure Kingdom area.

Trip Report: We went back to the Fissure Kingdom area to continue pushing the leads we left from our last trip. We started at WB69 and surveyed into a fissure. The fissure turned out to be 55-feet deep and connected to the BG survey off of the Candlelight survey. At 23-feet down, I found a 2" diameter gastropod that was nearly twice the size of any gastropod I've seen in the cave before. In the same area there are a couple colonial corals and dozens of filamental burrows that stick out from the wall up to five inches. They are a couple of mm in diameter and came to a point. They were very interesting, so we took lots of pictures.

From there we dropped down the fissure, which we named the FILAMENTAL FISSURE, and connected to BG15 and then BG25 at different points. We left a crawl 10 feet from the top that connected to a parallel fissure as a lead for a future trip. Climbing back up, we started at WB69 again and surveyed to the NE into a belly crawl that looped around to the north side of the room. We left a tight crawl unsurveyed that was heading north. After shooting to the end of the room, we shot into a short pit on the eastern edge of the room that led into a middle level crawl with great boxwork. We left two leads that were too tight. Climbing back up to WB11, we surveyed into a crawl that headed SE and reconnected into the main WB survey near WE1. After shooting into a nearby deadend dome, we proceeded down the WK survey to WK2, where we found an unsurveyed lead. We shot into a small room and then into a bellycrawl in the floor that led to a virgin crawl that went in two directions. As the two boys were getting tired, we abandoned that survey after five shots. We surveyed 459 feet for the day and left numerous leads for a future trip.


3rd Trip: On 4/12/08, Rod Horrocks led Roger Harris & Duff McCafferty on a trip back to the Fissure Kingdom area.

Trip Report: We went back to the Fissure Kingdom area to continue pushing the known leads. We started by surveying a bellycrawl from the bottom of the fissure entrance drop into the area (WB28). We abandoned the NW trending survey after four shots since only one person on the trip could fit past that point. We then went back to our starting point and connected to WB35, where we found a bunch of fossils, including burrows, colonial corals, gastropods, and some small round fossils that I wasn't sure what they were. After a bunch of photos, we continued into a crawl heading north, where we connected with the Box Cutter Room after three shots. We then shot across the room and into our biggest lead. However, it got too tight after two shots. We then jumped over to WB43, where we shot down a fissure that connected to the Candlelight Tour Route. We left a station at the bottom of the lip where the fissure belled out into the ceiling of the Candlelight Tour Route, about 9-feet above the floor. We dropped a survey tag to help us find that point from below. We then shot into another bellycrawl that was heading west. This connected to the Tiller Room after four shots. Next, we shot into another fissure off of the Tiller Room, which also connected to the Candlelight Tour Route. Again, we left a tag at ceiling level at the bottom lip of the fissure.

Up to that point, our ~200 feet of survey was all in virgin cave. Going back to Fissure Kingdom, we found seven gastropods in the ceiling, a couple of which, were some of the best I've seen in Wind Cave. This discovery nearly doubled the number of known gastropods in Wind Cave. We then shot into a NW trending fissure that again dropped into the ceiling of the Candlelight Tour Route. We left another station at the bottom lip of the fissure at the point it opened into the lower room. Again we dropped a survey tag down to the Candlelight Tour Route. We then backed up and shot into two other parallel fissures, where we again left survey tags at the point they belled out into the Candlelight Tour Route.

The only lead left off of Fissure Kingdom at this point was heading to the SE. This connected to the WH survey after five shots. Shooting into a north-trending side passage we were temporally excited when we found an 8-foot deep pit that dropped down into a lower room. However, this lower room dead ended as far as we were concerned. There was a small fissure in the floor that dropped into a still lower room, but it was only 6" wide. With the Fissure Kingdom area completely surveyed (1,870 feet to date), we dropped down to the Candlelight Tour Route to see if we could find the tags we had dropped from the fissures. We easily found them and used our Disto laser to connect the four fissures to the nearest stations on the Candlelight Tour Route.

We had a blast doing these connections. I then noticed a wide unsurveyed bellycrawl near L27 that opened up after a short constriction. Roger crawled through and found UN17, a station I had surveyed a few years ago with some German students. Knowing where he was, Duff and I went around the long route and started a survey at UN17. We were able to connect to the bellycrawl after three shots. I was perplexed why I hadn't come back to survey this lead? This made me wonder if there are other leads off the UN that I haven't finished too. Maybe a later trip? We then shot up into a 15-foot high fissure above UN17A that opened into a virgin bellycrawl. We shot one shot to a point where it branched into three radiating passages and called it a night. We'll have to return another time to complete that lead and the other UN leads.


4th Trip: On 5/10/08, Rod Horrocks led Roger Harris on a trip back to the Fissure Kingdom area.

Trip Report: We went to the Fissure Kingdom area to continue pushing side leads. We started at station WE2 and surveyed a single shot into a dome above that station. We then moved to a hole in the floor 10 feet north of WE2. Roger climbed down first to see if it was a lead. After sliding under a ceiling ledge a few feet down, he found it opened into a fissure with a chockstone wedged at the top. He was able to easily lift the chockstone out of the fissure. We surveyed down this fissure to a landing 17 below the WK survey. This fissure continued tight to the SE a couple of shots but opened into a wide/high virgin fissure heading NW. We were amazed at this nice virgin discovery so close to a paved trail. To the NW, the fissure dropped 30 feet down to a survey station named PGB58. Continuing straight ahead, the main fissure ended after a single 50-foot shot, but a crawl continued at ceiling level up to the NW. We left that for someone else. We named this main fissure GYPSONG FISSURE, after the great gypsum crust scattered everywhere and the incredible delicate boxwork fins that stuck out from the walls that made interesting tones whenever we accidently touched them.

Surveying into a bellycrawl that headed NE, we intersected a parallel fissure that was narrower. We named this one GYPTHIN FISSURE, in keeping with the "gyp" theme. It also deadended to the SE. To the NW, it rose up to a crawl at ceiling level that headed SW. We shot one shot down this crawl before abandoning it due to its small size and the boxwork. The center of this fissure dropped 33 feet down to another PB station, PB34. We connected to that station from a very unobvious ceiling fissure in the PB passage. Continuing back up Gypthin, we then shot into another bellycrawl heading NE. This entered a small room with several radiating passages. To the SE, the passage entered the top of another parallel fissure. We named this one, GYPFANG FISSURE, after some incredible boxwork fins that resembled fangs. This opened into a deep fissure that we were unable to climb down. We then retreated to the room and shot into a couple of bellycrawls heading NE. These got really tight after a couple of shots. However, Roger could see that they might open up? By this point we had surveyed 400 feet of virgin passage in the area and I had had enough of climbing fissures, so we decided to call it quits and headed up to the WK survey. Continuing on to Omaha Avenue, we started surveying some scooped crawls. After 121 feet of that, we decided to call it a night. There were obviously lots of leads to survey in that area, but it is going to take a lot of effort to figure out what is going on. There is stuff going everywhere. Another day's project.


5th Trip: On 6/28/08, Rod Horrocks led Roger Harris, Ken Geu, and Duff McCafferty on a trip back to the Fissure Kingdom area.

Trip Report: We went to the WE survey to survey a lead that Ken had found on a previous trip that was not on the sketch of that area. We started by surveying into an alcove behind the lead. We noted that the cave opened up beyond a way too tight constriction at WE3B. We then backtracked and shot into the crawl under some breakdown blocks that Ken had found. However, we found a strip of orange flagging, so we knew we were not the first ones that had entered the lead. It immediately opened into a fissure that dropped down to the NW and eventually connected into the Gypthin Fissure at WK46, via a lead we had missed on our 5/10/08 trip. We then went back to the start of the lead and shot into a continuation of the fissure that slopped down to the SE. That one dropped down until it came out in the ceiling of the Candlelight Tour Route, right near the stairs that lead to the Pearly Gates area. Roger surprised a candlelight tour that happened to be under that point. After explaining what we were doing to the curious group, we took our 232 feet of survey and abandoned Ken's lead. This brought the total survey in the Fissure Kingdom area to 2,297 feet.

We then continued down the WK survey looking for unsurveyed side leads. At WK3, we found a crawl heading SW that we had missed on our last trip. We shot one shot into a small room that had some radiating leads that were all digs. We noticed some air movement. We then moved ahead to WK6, where we continued to mop up the confusing maze between WK5-6. We found some spectacular paleofill breccia and lots of delicate things to take pictures of. After surveying 187 feet in the maze, we jumped ahead to Omaha Avenue, where we climbed up into a big room that had a single survey shot into the pit in the middle of the room.

There was lots of historic newspaper scattered around the area and lots of broken popcorn and frostwork laying nearby. We started documenting the room by surveying up into a high dome on the eastern edge of the room. The large dome went up 45-vertical feet. At the top we found more newspaper. I was surprised that the 1890's folks had climbed that exposed climb!

After taking some pictures of some spectacular popcorn in the room at the top of the dome, we shot into the northern portion of the room. We decided to name the room, THE DENTAL PARLOUR, after a newspaper that had an ad for a New York Dental Parlour in it. After shooting down a fissure and connecting with WK8B, we dropped down into Omaha Avenue and surveyed to the east, where we found a bellycrawl lead that quickly ended. We then connected with WK8C before deciding to head down Omaha Avenue to look for more leads. At WK9, we found a lead that opened up into something large above. We surveyed a shot up the climb to the NW and left a point where another pit dropped back down to the WK survey around WK11. We then looked at a high dome that continued to the SE, above the entrance climb. However, we decided it was too exposed. Someone will have to return with aid protection. Dropping back down to WK10, we shot up a small dome and into a slot that then dropped back down into a low mudcracked floor room that connected back to the WK survey at WK11. After tying into the station that we had left at the end of the big dome, we decided to call it a night. There are lots of leads to return to in the area. We surveyed 701 feet for the day.

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Last updated: April 10, 2015

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