Showing the Missouri Boys    

Showing the Missouri Boys

Written for the SCAG newsletter around October 2001.

If you made it to the June, July or August meeting, or if you read the September issue of the NSS News and paid attention to the photos, you should know that SCAG was vastly over represented at Roger Brucker's Speleology class, which was held at Mammoth Cave last June. With about 15 students in the class, the SCAG contingent accounted for 20%. Someday you may be fortunate enough to read a trip report about that trip. This is a report of a trip that was organized by somebody else who was in Roger's class. That trip had 5 cavers from Missouri, several cavers from Maryland, and a bunch from Virginia and Washington, D.C. SCAG was not well represented on this trip, even though you were all invited. Fortunately, since the details of that trip might otherwise eventually be completely lost in the mists of time, I went.

During Roger's class there was naturally plenty of discussion about the caves the students had visited, and there were many offers for people to go visit other people and go caving with them. Since most of the students are from the eastern half of the country, most of the offers revolved around trips to caves that are close enough that such trips might actually happen, and as it turns out, that's exactly how the trip that this report is about came to be. Besides the SCAG group, one of the other students has been to Organ Cave, and developed an obsess, er, interest in it. Since that person isn't overly familiar with Organ Cave and didn't feel quite up to actually playing trip leader, he set about recruiting a couple of people who are familiar with the cave to be the actual trip leaders, while he took care of the logistics. So it was that I found myself in Organ Cave with five Missouri cavers who said they were members of the Ozarks' highest grotto.

Organizing the Missouri contingent was Bob Stratford, who among other things is the owner and operator of Stratford's Chigger and Tick Ranch, in Ava, Missouri. Really. I forget the details, but Bob was once in the military, and there was some sort of financial benefit to owning a farm, so Bob figured he should own a farm. Being new to farming he didn't have any preconceived notions about what to raise, nor did he have much experience. Being ignorant of farming techniques, but not stupid, Bob decided he should raise something that would flourish despite his lack of expertise. In a moment of brilliance he decided that he should raise chiggers and ticks, which, of course, practically raise themselves, thus leaving Bob to enjoy vastly more leisure time. It was this extra free time that allowed Bob to plan the grotto's annual "super trip", which included two days in Scott Hollow, the trip to Organ Cave, and an as yet unspecified Sunday outing after the Organ trip, plus about 2000 miles of driving. Having already been surprised to discover just how far it was from their home area to Organ Cave, I was again surprised to learn that they could have gone caving in Arizona for the same amount of driving, but of course there are no caves to speak of in Arizona.

Having met the group at Shoney's, where they were just finishing breakfast, we drove to the commercial entrance of Organ Cave where those going on the trip I wasn't leading had to fill out waivers, since they were doing a through trip from the Lipps Entrance to the Organ Entrance. Since my group wouldn't be reaching the commercial part of the cave, we headed on over to the parking area by the Lipps Entrance to get ready. Since the ten people in the other group would also be going in Lipps we wanted to make sure we stayed ahead of them in order to avoid any serious bottlenecks. We had barely finished suiting up when the others arrived, already dressed for caving. Luckily they decided they needed some group photos, so we headed off to the entrance with a small head start. Arriving at the entrance we found another group almost ready to enter. Managing to get in ahead of that group as well, we fired up our lamps, started downstream in the Lipps Passage, and in short order reached the Lipps Crawl. Shortly after the first bit of belly crawling Bob called for a short rest and asked if I normally caved at the pace I was setting. Well, yeah, I probably do. I told him I was keeping it a bit brisk since I wanted to make sure we stayed ahead of the other groups, but said that as long as we were the ones in front we could go a bit slower. That's when I found out about the "super trip" they were on, and that they had just spent two long grueling days in Scott Hollow. Having had my own ass kicked fairly well in Scott Hollow only a month earlier I was very much able to sympathize. I'm sure it also helped that we were almost done with crawling for a while.

Leaving the Lipps Crawl through the Rehajo Connector we started through the Lipps Maze, being careful to take note of the small hole through which we entered. There is about a mile of passage in the Lipps Maze, but since I haven't (yet?) been lost I've only seen the several hundred feet that lie between the Rehajo Connector and Skid Row. Well, that's not entirely true. I have made a couple of minor mistakes which have allowed me to see a couple of hundred feet of passage I didn't need to see, and I've also taken slightly alternate routes a few times. Someday I should make a point of spending some time exploring the Lipps Maze. Having uneventfully found our way through the maze we worked our way down Skid Row to Jones Canyon. Jones Canyon used to drain a substantial portion of the cave, and is about 20 feet wide and 15 to 20 feet high, making this our first big passage of the trip. Continuing upstream in Jones Canyon for about a hundred yards, we reached the turn for the Pendulum, the Breezeway, and the Treasure Passage. Reaching the Pendulum we decided that we would skip the Treasure Passage for right now, still considering that one of the other groups might catch up to us. The Breezeway is home to the lowest belly crawl of our planned trip, and the effects of the Scott Hollow trips were evident as the Missouri cavers slithered along, trundling their packs ahead of them. Fortunately the Breezeway opens on to the Left Hand Passage, another large passage, and we had easy caving ahead of us for the next twenty minutes. Following the Left Hand Passage we came to the Handley Room where we went to have a look at the overlook into the Flack Room, and the Flack-Handley Turnpike, the exposed traverse that connects the two rooms. Like most sensible people, the Missouri group thought that the traverse looked rather dangerous, and since a couple of them weren't comfortable with climbing we opted to skip the minor side trip through the Flack and Fun Rooms and up Octopus Alley. Climbing down through Handley's Silo we entered Ascending Way, through which we descended to the Sand Room. Continuing out the other side of the Sand Room, we dropped down and followed a short canyon to the Upper Stream Passage, one of the main streams in the cave. Following the USP for a bit over 1/4 mile we reached the Waterfall Room, which is the biggest room in Organ Cave.

At one time the Waterfall Room was the end of the line unless you had gone to the trouble of bringing along vertical gear, but in the early 90's WVACS (the West Virginia Association for Cave Studies) sponsored a dig project through the breakdown at the southern end of the room. That dig now allows for easy access to the Big Canyon area of the cave. Working our way up and across the breakdown, we reached the top of the bypass route and descended to the head of Big Canyon at the base of Bowen Drop. Organ Cave is not generally known for its formations, but there are several areas that are very well decorated, and the Big Canyon area is one of them. The short stretch of passage between the bottom of the bypass and the base of Bowen Drop has many calcite formations and considerable gypsum deposits, but it is Bowen Drop that is the real introduction to the best decorations. The drop is about 110 feet high, and runs down alongside a massive flowstone formation for most of that height. At its base, the flowstone spreads out to a maximum width of about 50 feet.

Wading downstream in Big Canyon we passed numerous formations, both small and large, many reaching as much as 40 feet above stream level. The passage is typically 3 to 5 feet wide, and ranges up to 70 feet in height. A sump is reached after 4000 feet, but since some of the group was already a bit tired we chose to simply continue to one of the more impressive formations, a curtain of white to light beige stalactites, about 1000 feet downstream. Reaching this point we turned around and had an uneventful trip out.