Poem: “Coming of Age”

 Monday, January 2, 2012

As more caves are discovered and explored
  And as the days of “busting virgin passages” are coming to an end;
As spelunkers become cavers, and cavers become women and men,
  And we learn to treat these caves with the respect that they demand;
It becomes time to slow down, stop–even look around a little bit.
  There might be more to these old friends than just the thrill of it,
These capsules of time, with secrets written in stone and whispering magic sands.
  Getting to know one can be a lifelong undertaking
What with the mysterious forces that go into the natural making,
  And the slow tedious comprehensions of cannots and cans.
Maybe it’s the urge to settle down that tends to afflict old age;
  You know–a new perspective from the rocking-chair, or by turning a new page,
Or, perhaps, the heart is just catching up with the hand.

2nd Wednesday in December.

 I had a wonderful meeting with Roy Bergstrom (USFS), and he has guided me on the process of obtaining a Special Use Permit for the Cave Next Door project.  I believe there was encouragement in that direction from Vicki Schnitzler of the NPS ORCA.  So, from a world of boulder uncertainly and haphazardly wedged in plugged cave-passage that I had to put together into one solid wall that will conceivably even withstand an average earthquake, I go into a world of organizations, agencies, interest groups–both special and community–and try to gather as much interest and support as I can for the CND project.  My hope is to encourage the USFS to issue that Special Use Permit!  This is such an opportunity!  –To discover and explore an unknown pristine cave in real time with a WWW connection.  –To learn to apply 21st century technology to the process of cave discovery while maintaining the natural pristine environment of the cave for future generations.  –To teach and learn more about caves and how to care for them.My mind races with such possibilities.  If I can make a phone call from inside the cave, what other information can be sent from there too?  How fast?  Virtual tours made from 3-D lidar technology.  Temporary trails that are taken out when the video mapping is done.  Exhaustive inventory from the beginning of biota and minerals.  Careful observations from an undisturbed environment that might yield clues to the past.  The story of the caves history.And these are just general questions and goals!  What I’m thinking about are the actual physical processes and infrastructure necessary to achieve these aims.  Materials, power, safety, Procedures, timing, safety.  Absolutes, limitations, safety.  All the time with maximum respect for the cave, each foot downward into the unexplored carrying its own surprises and challenges…  Sounds like fun sitting here beside the fire, sipping on a hot buttered rum.


November 18, 2011 – The Rainy Season is Here.

Over two months later and the Mistress dig is stabilized. In fact, it never showed any signs of being unstable as the wall was being built down to dig level, but then the main plug boulder had always been securely cross-braced. As it turned out, the large boulder was sitting on another immoveable. This was apparent once it was possible to dig all loose dirt from around the boulders so I could cement them all together. It also turned out as I built the East wall down that there were three other half ton boulders buried beneath the talc from the north and wedged under the intrusive hanging wall on the south, making a total of six major boulders. These are all now concreted together with steel around them. When the wall-and-steps complex reached the dig level there were twelve steps descending a distance of 17 feet.

What do I remember about those weeks of digging? Every day after work, any day of the week. Working ’til dark, sitting around a little campfire to dry gloves and warm hands before driving down the mountain for a late dinner. Remove the collapsed clays back to rocks and boulders, often with airspace underneath where the collapsed material didn’t make it. Wash rocks, many coming back down from the surface. Measure for stee and wire it together. Lower buckets of mixed concrete and build wall and steps. Lower the scaffolding platform and begin again. As I lowered the scaffolding I washed the walls, exposing all the intricacies of the marble’s crystal structure and boxworks of chert and micro-intrusives (I believe).

I remember one night when Charlie and I were walking down our forest path on our way back to the truck, when we passed two giant Pacific Salamanders going the opposite direction! I almost stepped on one, then a few feet farther on the other one, not seeing them with my weak LEDs, but Charlie’s light showed them well, walking up the trail through the night, keeping a promise.

Day by day, the sun slowly moved behind the south ridge for the winter; the first snows came, probably to stay ’til spring. We kept concreting down until all exposed boulderage was cemented together down to the dig level. Interesting notes here: I mentioned above the air spaces under the rock piles. When the mud and clays from the collapsed sink are removed from the boulder pile there was always airspace, no airflow, underneath. This is due of course to the fact that the sinkhole formed from the inside out and the boulders were lying there in the void when the talc above them collapsed, covering but not totally penetrating the rock pile.

When I prepped for the last and lowest step, there was at least three feet of air space down between the boulders it was built on. Mud still filled the area to the south that led down. Along the South ceiling-wall a foot of airspace (slight airflow) led on down where the dig will eventually go. Very promising. I have started laying the stone floor around the top of the shaft, but it will take more dirt from the dig to finish it and my rock pile is now covered with snow. We keep the gate locked at the 30-foot level.

I have decided that from now on I will try to build the wall down before I dig. Darve out a channel in the mud, fill it with concrete, then dig down. I don’t know how this will wor with the dig wet. All my concrete work has been in a dry hole, whereas most of the actual digging was with the hole wet and the shoring was cedar beams. At this point I am very comfortable with the dig remaining stable throughout the wet season, although there is still concrete work that could be done even before more digging occurs, and I am anxious to finish up with the materials that have already been packed in.

Another item of note: At last my own and Steve Knutsen’s persistence with the NPS and the Forest Service has resulted in these wonderful, helpful giants taking notice of the project (my “passion”, to quote another individual familar with the dig), and I am earnestly and anxiously hoping that they are taking us seriously and even will help us and work with us in any capacity they can. Some kind of memorandum of understanding with our administrative friends might go far in helping us achieve our goal of discovering this cave in real time with an internet connection. I will soon have the opportunity to meet with Roy Bergstrom of the Wild Rivers Ranger District and find out after over 10 years of talking with them where I and the Cave Next Door dig stand.

September 16th.

A Saturday morning.  Hot languid August is sobering up after summer’s careless dissolution and pure laziness (boy, was she ever stingy with tomatoes this year!), and I am realizing that it’s the middle of September! 

Oh my gosh!  I think that was a shiver running down my spine…Off with the green dress of Summer and on with the yellow and brown cloak!  Personally, I hope she goofs off a little more.  She came late to the party and ought to be the last to leave.  I say phooey on sober Autumn and let’s all celebrate and encourage a fickle pretentious Summer (easy to say if you’ve got a large pile of firewood).  And there is nothing like a tinder-dry, leaf-crackly hunting season to hone the skills of the hunter who can always use more patience.  Be patient, Summer.

I am digging and building wall as fast as I can.  Most of the dirt was removed this winter, but it still takes 30 buckets of dirt out to prep for the next wall section.  This work will be impossible once the rainy season comes as the water soaks the talc. 

In the past 12 days we have extended the concrete wall we are building down another two feet, making six feet in all, plus another step on the North wall.  We have also built a two-foot high secvtion of wall on the West side.  This wall completes the concrete work done last winter under a hanging rock and brings that earlier wall down to where it sits on immoveables and is joined to two steps cemented to the same.

Last night I worked until dark, prepping these steps for cement work this afternoon when Charlie is available.  I surely am thankful for Charlie.  He has been the best helper I’ve had.  He has been my sole surface support and second man on the dig for the last year.

Last year at this time we had not even begun installing the upper half of the culvert.  I was still building its rock foundation at the 30 foot level.  Now we are just two feet from the top with backfilling.  Electrical conduit with 110V, 12V, and 2 camera lines are installed with lights.  We have the capability of recording everything digitally onto a laptop.  Now we are ust a dozen or so digs short of having everything shored up down to almost 80 feet deep.  One thousand buckets out this year.  That’s 200 climbs up the shaft for me and almost three miles of lifting buckets for Charlie. 

We got a real treat last Sunday when a young fellow James from the Cascade Grotto (he was down helping Hester Mallone with some cave restoration she is doing fo the Park Service) gave us a helping hand.  Boy, was it ever nice to have young blood escorting buckets up and down the shaft while these two old boys do our work.  I ust built wall, didn’t have to climb for buckets.  Those buckets go up nicely, but not down without help. 

A construction note:  The East wall, five feet down from the present cedar shoring–that is, five feet below the ledge–is cemented to and around a quite large boulder that was behind the muds.  There was air space behind it against the South wall and the mud looked to be what was washed in there during the Veteran’s Day slump, three years back.  This boulder seemed not to have moved during the slumping but had muds flow past it.  Seems though, like I said, the same thing about some other rocks ten feet below that I have yet to deal finally with!  You know, maybe the big jam-up at the pinch point…

September 4, 2011.

 A good dig yesterday — Saturday.  I got there early and got started with the last prep work.  Charlie was picking up free food in Grants Pass for food give-aways and churches in the Valley.  We got started with the actual mixing, moving, and construction after 5pm and worked until after 10pm.  There was twice as much wall to build and the wall on the north needed two steps on it.  Thinking about it now, after they are built, I wonder why I didn’t make them wider, so I would still have room to work back on the East Wall.  I’m having a hard time visualizing what I’m doing now (building a concrete wall) — or I should say, visualizing the effect that the work I’m doing now is going to have when I get down to the depth of that compromising boulder.  You know, that one that hangs over you like a sinister plotting Lord, trying to figure out when it would be most to its advantage to crush you like a bug.  Yes, that one.  The one I can’t dig under until it is either broken up and hauled out of the hole in pieces or securely cemented into a permanent trail wall.The other possibility I need to keep in mind is the chance that the way into the cave is over towards the East, and that I am currently digging down alongside the cave and will come in at the floor level.  Think about the air coming out of the dissolved joint fractures in the marble in the side tunnel (the adit) almost twenty feet above my current position — twenty feet above the deepest I’ve dug.  Or Chamber A that had been ten feet from the shaft for years and wasn’t found until we dug down and found a break in its intrusive walls and looked upwards into it.To the east is where I’ve never found bedrock.  Chamber A was found behind the bedrock (igneous) wall of the SW corner.  The South wall being igneous plutonic I believe and the North some kind of talc and the West an igneous basalt or very altered and mixed chert.  I have felt bedrock by probing to the East from 60 feet down, but what is a wall at 60 feet might be a ceiling at 70 feet.  Once I’m cemented out, though, it would be hard to go back and look.  My tendency is to follow the mud down, and the water that comes in from the NE corner.