Beneath the Black Hills

Part of the reason James and I have posted so sparsely lately is that we have both been traveling a lot. Right now I’m sitting in the Denver airport on my way back from a karst conference in Rapid City, South Dakota. I flew into Rapid City last Thursday and went on my first caving trip into Jewel Cave. Larry Shaffer led the trip. He’s a caver I met at last year’s NSS convention who shares a number of mutual caving friends.

The edge of Jewel Cave (the 3rd longest cave in the world at 142 miles) is getting very remote from the entrance, and exploration out at the edge requires camping trips. However, because it is a tough cave, and the trips are very remote, the park requires that one make a day trip half way to camp (to a chamber called Cloud Nine) before one is qualified to do an overnight trip. My main goal for the trip was to get qualified for a future camp trip. However, there is also lots of passage still to be explored in less remote parts of the cave. Thus we headed out to survey in some leads near Cloud Nine. This trip requires about 4 hours of fast caving to reach the survey area (traversing about 3 miles of cave). You also have to negotiate an infamous passage called The Miseries. This passage has a lot of tight spots and lots of crawling. There is also a huge amount of wind blowing through this part of the cave. Jewel Cave has large barometric winds that are caused by changes in air pressure on the surface. This area of the cave has place names like Hurricane Corner, The Humdinger, The Calorie Counter, Slim Chance, and Fat Chance. It was both a tough and rewarding trip. The cave is also full of manganese oxide which is a black coating that gets all over everything. You end up with it all over your skin, and it’s really hard to wash off. Our leads turned out to be pretty good and we got 640 feet of new survey, most of which was in pretty good-sized passage. We left a number of intriguing leads that we didn’t have time for as well. The trip was 16 and a half hours long and we got out at about 3:30 am. I can’t wait to return for more caving here. To save on space and weight I didn’t take my camera, but I did get this after shot.

After sleeping late I went into Rapid City for the beginning of the conference. The conference was also a lot of fun, and I learned a lot. Most of the well-known karst researchers in the US were there and many others from other countries. I got to spend a lot of time meeting karst researchers, discussing caves and karst, and making connections for my future as a karst scientist. It was a busy time though, and I’m looking forward to getting back home. Probably the highlight of the conference was a day-long field trip through the Black Hills, learning about the geology of the area.The field trip included tours in both Wind Cave and Jewel Cave. Here is a picture of some boxwork in Wind Cave, the type of formation that Wind is most famous for.

Here is a picture of a crystal-lined solution pocket in Jewel Cave. Much of Jewel Cave is covered in calcite crystals. The quality of these photos isn’t great as I didn’t have any off-camera flashes to use.

-Matt, the elder brother

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2 Responses to Beneath the Black Hills

  1. NoPockets says:

    It’s pretty cool now that you get to do these caving trips and actually count them as work-related instead of just as a hobby. Maybe someday I can figure out how to get Search and Rescue work to pay …

  2. Susan says:

    That’s sort of a scary picture, Matthew!

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