I was again privileged to spend a week underground exploring Lechuguilla Cave in Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico. We went to the Far West branch of the cave, camping at the Deep Seas camp. While there we no major breakouts during the trip we explored and mapped a reasonable amount of new cave. The team was: Peter Bosted (leader), Derek Bristol, Heather Levy, Mark “Elvis” Andrich, Daniel Chailloux, Luc LeBlanc, James Wells, Max Wisshak, Thomas Schneider, and me (Simeon Warner). Below is a lightly edit version of my notes form the trip.
Thursday, 5 Dec 2013
Flights ITH->PHL->ORD->ELP. Got to El Paso significantly delayed, about 1am on Friday. Took room that Daniel had booked in Motel 6. James, Luc and Daniel had all arrived earlier. Spent quite some time on the phone with “Thrifty” arguing about the rental car price which they jacked up from ~$280 to ~$380 because flight was late and I missed pickup.
Friday, 6 Dec 2013
Picked up my rental car and then found that the rate was $380 again rather than the $280 expected and re-agreed the previous night. Spent an hour on hold waiting to speak to a supervisor before giving up. Peter and Heather both arrived just a smidge late but Peter’s checked bag was missing. Scheduled to arrive at ~2pm so we went to have lunch and then to do last minute shopping.
Peter’s bag did arrive on the 2pm flight so we headed north on rt180 to Carlsbad and the park. Beautiful weather from near El Paso turned to low cloud and freezing rain as we neared Whites City. Made it into the park before gate locked. Park socked in cloud and 1”+ hoar frost and rime ice on all the desert plants.
Saturday, 7 Dec 2013
Up at 6:30am to make 7:30am briefing with Stan and Shawn. On the way back to the hut from the briefing Daniel slipped on the icy path and cut his head open, obviously needing stitches. The temperature was about 15F and with a brisk wind, bitter. Headed off to E.R. in Carlsbad with Max driving. Daniel got 6 staples and was prescribed pain killers. We then went for lunch at Lucy’s and spent the afternoon at the Southwest Winter Tech meeting at the fancy new National Cave and Karst Research Institute building.
The other 5 went into Carlsbad Cavern to check leads, got 600’ of survey. Decision was that it was best to delay entry into Lechuguilla until Sunday which was forecast to be much warmer (50F). This was a good decision, I was quite worried about the prospect of everyone walking out to the cave in the bitter cold and wind, not to mention the icy trail.
Sunday, 8 Dec 2013
Up at 7am, sun trying to get through cloud. Turned into an amazingly beautiful morning with sun, blue skies and rime encrusted plants. Took lots of photos.
Ended up in the first group with Derek and Heather. Into cave at ~11:15am. to E-F junction for a rest about 12:30pm, and into camp at ~1:30pm (about 2.5h from airlock). Pack was 56lb at the hut with my gear + gas cannister + bolt kit (5lb?) + vertical (4lb?), so about 47lb climb weight. This felt very heavy and I was a bit slow at times (though overall time still fine).
After a rest we set off to fix bad loop at ECG8A in Red Seas, very pretty area. Back to camp by 4:00pm and all others were there except Elvis and Luc who arrive a little later. My right knee felt a bit delicate, decided I needed to watch it (though didn’t have any issues for rest of week).
Monday, 9 Dec 2013
Everybody up promptly at 6am, teams heading out by 7am. Left with James and Heather at about 7:15am. Out past water spot and though to the Western Borehole at ABC room, then along past “Three Amigos” and “Leaning Tower”. Off left to “Black and White” room then up through Southern Climes to Magnolia pit. Objective was to check leads off the pit. Found about 300’ and closed off all leads in the pit. A mix of dusty fissures and some corrosion residue in the higher pancakes. Lots and lots of loose rock that we had to work around, and a fair bit was send down to the “Romper Room” below.
Got ~300’ total and started back out to camp. At camp ~10pm, to bed at 11:15pm with alarm set for 7:30am.
Tuesday, 10 Dec 2013
Went up to Oz with Derek and Heather. Didn’t find much new passage but it was an awesome day and I learned the way.
Up at 8am, out of camp soon after 9am. Group all up to Oz soon after 12noon. Seven ropes from Emerald City up the Kansas Twister: 1st to rock bridge, 2nd similar length, 3rd short to good ledge. Climbing first 3 individually because of rock fall hazard. 4th rope is short angled pitch to good hang-out ledge. 5th is longest, followed by 6th and 7th each about 40;. Rigging is pretty good and the situation is great. Some chaffing at my ankle with my new shoes, maybe boots would have been better.
From top of ropes we went up a bit more though a scramble and then through the “curtain” to the bottom of the big room - “Oz”. Up talus to enormous “Munchkinland” (so called because one feels like a Munchkin) and a formation call “The Wizard”. Derek did two climbs and we got a little survey. Second lead was at the very top of the cave and had a going lead, but it was awkward mix of deep corrosion residue and pure white calcite. Decided to leave for later trip.
Great fun coming back down ropes in the Kansas Twister quite easy out from there. Back at camp at ~10pm.
Wednesday, 11 Dec 2013
Alarms at 8am, everyone up a bit slowly and much indecision about who was going where. Finally agreed that Derek, Peter, James, Max and Thomas would go on the planned photo trip to Oz, and that Elvis, Heather and I would go to leads past the Outpost hammer lead opened by Peter and others the day before, and named “Terra Cotta”.
Left camp at 10:45am, just after the Oz crew. Turned off from the Borehole just a little past the Southwinds Junction and seat rock. Route goes up left over and under talus to the Planetarium and then up ropes. Got to survey at about 1:45pm and worked until 8pm. No leads left past the hammer point, sadly nothing goes. Took photos at EWYQ14 and at EWYQ38 to document.
Trip out seemed quite easy and we took it at a very leisurely pace. Back in camp at ~11pm. Oz trip was still not back at 12:30am so we started to wonder whether something had gone?
Changed onto 3rd 2-cell Li ion battery around the middle of the day. This is 2 batteries for 3 full days using light generously. Have six for trip so will be fine without rationing light.
Thursday, 12 Dec 2013
Woke around 8:30am but no movement from the masses until 10am because of late return from Oz. More indecision about who should go where. Some off to the Adobe Room; Derek, Elvis and me off to leads in the Far Planetarium and Outpost where I was yesterday.
Got only a small amount of survey (~150’) near the Outpost, around EYWF8. Beautiful flowstone rift though it had been scooped before. Back into camp at about 9:30pm. To sleep shortly after 11pm with alarms set for 8am for another Oz trip.
Friday, 13 Dec 2013
Alarms at 8am, left camp around 10am with Derek, Heather and Elvis. Team was a bit slow up to Oz but eventually all up and into the borehole. At end of borehole we split - Heather and Elvis went to lead from Derek’s climb on Tuesday; Derek and I went to climbing leads past the formations. Turned out to free climbable leads up steep slopes with some calcite. First branch from EKT100 went three shots before being choked at red sandstone/silt roof. Second went further with initial 109’ shot, then and exposed traverse and into continuing horizontal passage. All very well decorated and a lovely end to the trip. Heather and Elvis’s lead was not so good and in mucky passage, but they got some footage.
Took a few photos on the way back. Lots of time chatting on the rock in ABS room and back to camp a little before midnight.
Saturday, 14 Dec 2013
Team started to get up early - “exit fever” had set in. I ended up staying to wait for Elvis and exit last with him. Spent some time playing with photos around Lake Louise, would have been fun to have tripod and slide-bar for 3d setup. Headed out fairly slowly with good breaks at Great White Way and E-F Junction. I felt a bit overloaded - pack too big and too heavy - I was seduced into bring a bit too much for an easy “West” trip as opposed to the “Far East” trips I’m used to. When we got to base of Boulder Falls, Luc was on rope. I found Heather’s Pantin on the rock where she had forgotten it and decided to try it out. Found that with the big pack I wasn’t really able to frogwalk and whatever I did I kept kicking it off the rope. Once I even kicked it off the main rope and onto my pack tether - not very helpful. Ended up taking 13mins to climb, very much slower than usual. Need to either practice with the pantin or stick to frog!
Relaxing trip out, blue skies and milder weather. Found Daniel and Luc waiting at Elvis’s truck. Group dinner at Lucy’s, good cheer!
- Bring either low boots or full boots instead of shoes to avoid foot loop chaffing at front of ankle. Oboz brand were good and comfortable however.
- One of my pairs of shorts were too short and annoyingly rucked up in harness. Suggest something with 8” or more inside leg and tougher too. Side pockets would be nice for instruments.
- Day water - need 3l capacity for longer day trips
- Should bring my own sketchbook. Check that we have enough cover pages etc.
- Foil for poop is good but maybe slightly larger (12” x 24”) would be ideal
- Brought too much food: take 8-12oz jerky and not 1lb, fewer hard candies, just 1 tortilla per day
- Bring 1x32oz gatorade + 2x1l platypus for water. Don’t use nalgene for water anymore
- Light system worked well. Used 4 2-cell packs for the week while not being frugal
- Consider getting a pair of Five-Fingers instead of Aquasocks. The five-fingers are lighter and much better for climbing. Downsides are that they are expensive and slow to get on and off. The do come in versions with light colored soles.