Phantom Lake Discovery

Caver descending pit above Phantom Lake
Phantom Lake

NPS Photo

1st Trip: On January 23, 1999, Marc Ohms led Rene Rogers and Paul Burger to the boundary between the Historic and Colorado Grotto Zones where they discovered Phantom Lake.

Trip Report: We surveyed leads left from our last trip on the 1st (HO survey). We found low muddy passages with flood debris consisting of small pieces of wood and pine needles that led to a 20-foot high canyon with a large lake! Paul and I pushed beyond the lake which was up to our belly buttons- and cold!! Much passage beyond!! Paul found a set of footprints in the mud coming from a different direction from where we came from?? The lake was about 200-feet long, 10-feet wide, and up to 8-feet deep. We named this Phantom Lake after the mysterious footprints. In hindsight, we think the footprints may be Alvin McDonald's footprints and the lake "Wind River," which he talked about in his journal. Everybody always dismissed his Wind River as fiction. Because it is so long, I could see how it would look like a river to Alvin. We surveyed 500 feet.


2nd Trip: On 4/17/1999, Marc Ohms led Rene Rogers, Mike Wiles, and Paul Burger back to Phantom Lake.

Trip Report: We returned to Phantom Lake to survey the lead heading west that we left on the last trip. It started out as a small crawl, then into a mazy area of crawls, then into a large, muddy, north-trending canyon. Eventually that ended in a small passage that only Rene could fit in, so we backtracked checking leads as we went. I climbed up into a high lead and after a few hundred feet and a bellycrawl, I popped out in the Assembly Room on the Natural Entrance Tour Route!! We surveyed a total of 658 feet and left many leads.


3rd Trip: On 4/25/1999, Marc Ohms led Kelly Mathis back to Phantom Lake.

Trip Report: We went to the Flood Plains area on the HO survey to mop-up some crawls remaining above Rene's Plunge. We retrieved the webbing handline on Rene Plunge, since it is no longer needed. We surveyed 130 feet of low, mud-covered crawls. Finishing those leads, we went to the AD survey and surveyed 87 more feet. We left one nasty lead.


4th Trip: On 7/19/1999, Marc Ohms led Rene Rogers, Courtney Harlan, and Erik Sikora back to Phantom Lake.

Trip Report: We mopped up four side leads along the HO survey. A lead heading off to the southwest had airflow but pinched to four inches high, not big enough even for Rene. In a parallel canyon to the main passage, we discovered a pool of water in the bottom that had not been present when the passage was discovered a few months prior. We surveyed 275 feet.

5th Trip: On 9/11/1999, Marc Ohms led Rene Roger, back to Phantom Lake.

Trip Report: Today we took it easy and did not get in the cave until late morning. Our main mission was to tie the HO survey from Phantom Lake tied into a survey around the Assembly Room. We started our survey at the last HO survey station and surveyed out into the Assembly Room and tied into an old survey. We then found several unsurveyed passages and surveyed them for a total of 350 feet. We even found a little virgin cave within shouting distance of the tour route!


6th Trip: On 8/11/2000, Marc Ohms led Joel Despain & Merrilee Proffitt back to Phantom Lake.

Trip Report: This trip was to mop up the remaining leads in the Phantom Lake area. However, we were unsuccessful, because Phantom Lake had mysteriously risen five feet, the first recorded lake level rise since the lakes discovery.

7th Trip: On 12/3/2010, Marc Ohms led Kelly Mathis & Maike Norpoth back to Phantom Lake.

Trip Report: We surveyed three leads along the HO survey that were under water when we first discovered the area in 1999. Now that the lake has disappeared, the leads were enterable. Very muddy! We named two passages Fudge Alley and Wonkey Way. We surveyed 296 feet and left a few leads.

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Last updated: December 29, 2017

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