Our day started early as we planned to depart from the Parkette at 8:30 in the morning. Al Quaman, Ian and Skyler Ellison, Erick Christy with nieces Alyx and Sammi Williford, Phillip and Ashlyn Ellison, Erin Thomas, Dan Ellison and Brandon Wilson met for a group breakfast.
The morning was quite cool with the temperature in the low 30’s when we arrived. It wasn’t much better when we finished eating and began our trip to the cave entrance. All in all the preparations were all good with the exception of a pair of overlooked boots still sitting in southern Illinois. A quick side trip to the local Walmart and a new pair of our favorite cave boots were in hand and the trip was ready to begin.
Al had developed a stomach issue and decided that it would be best if he stayed above ground. He none-the-less accompanied the troops to the cave site. Al stopped and checked in with the land owners while the rest of us began getting into our cave attire. We then grouped up for the above picture and then headed to the entrance.
We started trying to open the gate to the entrance at about 9:45. After several minutes of two different people trying to open the gate we decided that either the lock had been changed or we had accidentally been given the wrong key to the gate. Turns out it was a real good thing that Al came along and had his own key. We were able to compare and see that the two keys were in fact different. In short order the gate was open and we began to descend into the cave. One by one we wriggled our way down into the entrance and regrouped. Our new comers were immediately impressed with the size and content of the Cathedral Room. We discussed the importance of cave conservation how frail many cave formations are and the importance of watching where you walk and what you touch so as to minimize our impact on the cave during our visit.
We then descended to the stream bed of the Liberty Bell passage and proceeded towards the breakdown at the end of the passage. On the way we observed that the “Vibrating Pool” was completely dry. An obvious indicator of the severity of drought suffered in the area during the summer. We continued our way through this passage to the upper breakdown area. On the way Brandon mis-stepped and “tweaked” his right knee a bit. He felt that he would be able to continue and we did.
Having now observed everyone’s level of comfort and ability to stay on their feet in the slippery conditions we decided to take the Red Fork branch. We followed the meandering passage of 20+ foot ceilings back to the Fossil Passage junction. We continued up the Red Fork passage and visited the natural bridges and Iron “Blood” formation found there. True to its name it was beautiful and looked like it was bleeding. We carefully worked past it and continued a few hundred meters. Brandon was doing fine but we turned around here and went back to Fossil Passage. We followed it up to the 8 foot hole and 3 foot ceiling area where we decided to take a short break and then turn back towards Liberty Bell passage and the Cathedral Room where we planned to have some lunch.
After stopping to eat Brandon’s knee began to get stiffer and he, Phillip and Erin decided they would take advantage of our close proximity to the entrance and exit the cave. The remaining members of the group waited while they worked their way out and back to the surface. Once they acknowledged that they were all out we headed down and into the Rubble Room.
Here we worked our way into Black Corridor and did a bit of mud crawling back near K10. We returned to the Rubble Room and then visited the Stage Curtain Room. A very impressive site no matter how many times you see it. We really need to go in and spend some timing shooting photos in this area one day.
After looking around into many of the knooks and crannies here we returned to the stream bed and went downstream until we reached the Waterfall Room. Here we had reached our time limit and after a few hundred meters further we decided it was time to head out of the cave. We returned to the entrance right on time according to our time keeper and all were safely out of the cave around 4:30 PM. When we got out we found that Phillip, Erin, Brandon and Al were still there and had spent some time looking around the surface features with Al pointing out some of the above ground features and their relationship to the cave below.
Cave life was abundent with frogs, two different varieties of salamander, a tadpole, numerous insects, amphipods, white worms and bats all being observed.
Al, Erick, Alyx, Sammi and I returned to the Parkette. We all met up with Debbie Quaman had a bite to eat and signed out of the log, then headed home. A great trip with a good time had by all whom attended. Sammi Williford described the trip as “unexplainable”. I guess I have to agree.