Return to the Milky Way
It had been close to a year since the last survey trip to the Milky Way-an upstream lead. From this area, caver’s exit Rand’s Return River Ride, a 1700-foot long water crawl that was the key link in the discovery of the immense new Wild Wild West section of the Binkley cave system.
On Sunday August 3rd, Brad Barcom organized a trip to continue the survey from where he stopped on the last trip in a low wide crawl over cobble. He was joined by his fiancée, Goni Iskali, Chris Parks, an Indiana cave diver who joined the project just this summer, and Seth Gower, a young local Harrison County caver.
While the actual travel distance to the Milky Way isn’t excessive, it is almost all crawling. Part was dry and other areas were very wet. Wet suits are a necessity to stay warm; yet everyone gets really hot traversing the dry 1200-foot crawlway leading from just inside the Miller’s entrance.
After an early breakfast at Frederick’s, it was off to the cave. Not far in, Seth’s light crapped out leaving him stranded in the dark behind the others. He yelled ahead and Goni backtracked to help. He decided to abort his trip as the rugged, wet conditions necessitated having a strong dependable light. The other three continued onward and experienced no further difficulties in reaching the Milky Way.
This trip requires more crawling than any other trip in the entire cave system. Brad estimated after the trip that they were in crawlway about 95% of the time – much of it in water. The trip is definitely hard on the knees, shoulders and the human psyche. Hour after hour in a prone position can challenge even strong cavers.
It took them about three hours to reach the frontier and get ready to begin their survey. They had been surveying for about two and a half hours when the cave started to open up and they reached a “Y”. Unfortunately, to the left the passage quickly ended in a silt fill and to the right the water flowed out from under a ledge beyond which was a low airspace bathtub.
Both Brad and Chris took a quick look at the bathtub. Brad sucked up a gulp of water and neither made it far. Chris then traded lights with Brad, since he didn’t feel he could trust his, and headed back in for a second look. This time he glided forward with his nose to the ceiling for about 50 feet where the bathtub opened back up to a low wide passage the same size as they had been surveying in. There was strong airflow through the low airspace indicating lots more cave lay ahead. However being alone, Chris didn’t dare go much further.
It was time to head out. No one even contemplated surveying through the bathtub on this trip. It took them about three and a half hours to reach the entrance. Their trip had been only nine hours, but over eight hours were spent on their belly or elbows and knees. When the survey notes were plotted, they had added 733.3 feet of new survey and it had turned northeast up the strike in the limestone rock. The bathtub was located right where the cave passage crossed under a ravine on the surface.
The passage appears to be heading directly under the center of a large ridge to the northeast. Could the airflow be coming from a large borehole under this hill? There would have to be more trips to the Milky Way.
They had accomplished their main goal for the trip. The 733 feet of survey had increased the length of the Binkley cave system to 40.83 miles, moving Binkley up into 8th position on the US long cave list! The cave currently in seventh place is less than a mile ahead.
The next big trip is planned for September 6th to survey downstream in the newly discovered McLain River passage.
All the ISS cavers are really excited about the possibilities that lie there.