Tis the Season to Cave

Small History of Vertical Caving

Vertical (or pit) caving was pioneered by British geologist John Beaumont (and yes he is french) who gave an account of his descent into Lamb Leer Cavern in 1681. Then another french  (the french are always inventing new extreme was to die) caver Edouard-Alfred Martel was the first descent and exploration of the Gouffre de Padira, as early as 1889 and the first successful descent of a 110 m (360 ft) very wet vertical shaft in 1895. He developed his own techniques using ropes and metallic ladders (that would suck). In the 1930s, as caving became increasingly popular in France, several clubs in the Alps made vertical cave exploration into a recognized outdoor sport.

During World War II, a team composed by Pierre Chevalier, Fernand Petzl, Charles Petit-Didier (sound familiar) explored the Dent de Crolles cave system, France, which became the deepest known cave in the world (658 m (2,159 ft)) at that time. The lack of available technical equipment during the war forced Chevalier and his team to innovate and develop their own ( I love Petzl gear!!).

In the late 1950s, American caver Bill Cuddington, A.K.A. “Vertical Bill”, developed the single rope technique (SRT) in the US. In 1958, two Swiss alpinists, creating the first rope ascender known as the Jumar. In 1968, Bruno Dressler asked Petzl, who worked as a metals machinist, to build a rope-ascending tool, today known as the Petzl Croll ( I love mine), that he had developed by adapting the Jumar to the specificity of vertical caving. Pursuing these developments, in the 1970s Petzl started a small caving equipment manufacturing company, which is today a world leader in equipment for both caving, mountaineering and at-height safety in civil engineering.


Today, the deepest cave in the world is Krubera Cave in the country of Georgia. The difference in the altitude of the cave’s entrance and its deepest explored point is 2,197 ± 20 meters (7,208 ± 66 ft). It became the deepest-known cave in the world in 2001.

Caving is starting to explode with popularity and safety equipment.  Now is the time to learn more of whats under our very own feet.  There are plenty of caves to discover and explore.  Tis the season to CAVE ON!!!

Career In Caving?

Experienced cavers rarely or never hire a guide for the cave (only for the country they are traveling within) and that is even rare. I know a few cavers who organize trips to China or other parts of the world to cave and get to cave that way, but it doesn’t earn them a living. (Sure is fun though)

Careers that might involve some cave exploration, if you find the right job:

1. National Park Service hires cave specialists and they work at parks where there are caves in the park. One or two per park is probably all they hire. http://www.nps.gov/seki/naturescience/ca…

2. Hydrologists who specialize in karst hydrology may get to explore caves from time to time. These can be government employees (state) or consulting geologists who work on contract for government or companies that are regulated. http://hoffmanworld.org/dyetracing2/?pag…
also see

3. University professors who specialize in karst science, karst hydrology, geochemistry related to caves, biogeochemistry related to caves, or some other field of research that involves caves.


4. CIA. I am only guessing at this one (plausible denial is required) but I would suspect that CIA or some military branch has hired a few people to explore, map, and remove bombs from caves in places like Afghanistan. You might not live long in this career, but it would certainly be exciting.

Timpanogos Grotto

I invite all interested cavers to get involved with the Timpanogos Grotto (Of the National Speleological Society)

They offer opportunities to explore, map, dig, discover, clean, learn, and enjoy the caves of Utah. New cavers are usually fascinated with exploration, but this desire is quickly converted to desires for preservation of the precious natural resources (Purpose of this blog). At first the grotto members may seem like elitists trying to restrict non-members from accessing caves (which is true with a couple of specific members). The truth is that the Timpanogos Grotto strives to offer education to any groups or individuals so that the delicate cave features that have taken thousands and millions of years to form are not destroyed by the unaware.

Gated Caves: Yes, many of the caves in Utah are gated, but they are completely accessible to those willing to comply with the requirements of the cave’s management plan. This includes certain seasons of cave closure to protect the cave habitat, and limited group sizes to protect the cave features. Each cave has different managers and access requirements.

Red Barron Cave

This amazing cave in rock canyon is one of the most decorated caves in the state of Utah.

Red Baron Cave Utah

You need to anchor a rope to a tree that is split in half, rappel down 25 feet or so into the entrance deck.  Located in the back of the deck room, there is a small entrance that is gated.  It gets very tight right off the bat, but it opens up after about 20 feet.  Taking off your helmet at this point helps tremendously getting through. As there are hundreds of delicate formations throughout the cave, please step lightly and be very careful with your head, as that can break formations and hurt pretty bad if stabbed.

Red Baron Cave Utah

Some of the formations in the cave are calcified roots, stalactites, and helectites.

Red Baron Cave Utah

The most decorated passage is off limits for recreational trips. Red Baron Cave is quite cool year round, so long sleeves are recommended.  This is  very long and difficult hike, so be ready to give a good amount of time to hiking.

Red Baron Cave Utah

Professor Buss Cave

This cave is located just to the south of Y mountain and has many other small caves near by.

Professor Buss Cave Utah

The cave was originally named after Fred Buss, who was a geology professor at BYU from 1907 to 1927. He took his students up regularly to the cave as section of their class work.  A few years later when Nutty Putty Cave was discovered, most students lost interest in the long and difficult hike to Professor Buss Cave and started going to the more accessible Nutty Putty Cave. In the bottom of the cave there are signatures dating as far back as 1886. Because of the historical value of the cave, the Timpanogos Grotto is attempting to gate the cave. Access should be fairly easy to acquire once the gate is put in place.Professor Buss Cave Utah

Main Drain Cave

Main Drain Cave – Logan Canyon (Tony Grove) – WARNING!  EXPERT CAVERS ONLY!
During the summer season of 2005 mapping occurred in several “small” caves in the tony grove area. To aid in the effort, Brandon Kowallis led a cave mapping workshop to get new cavers the know-how in mapping caves. Over the season, 10 small caves were mapped. Brandon and Vern Bowden together produced 18 maps for most all of the small caves surveyed in 2005 and previous years. The heavy snowpack of 2005 created large concern and delays in the exploration efforts in Main Drain Cave. The initial trips started in mid-July with the entrance pit still heavily coated with ice and snow. At the end of July, the first trip to the bottom of the cave discovered the 2004 depth record’s 45-ft pit completely full of water and back flowing down the passage with waist deep water. By mid-August, the bottom push resumed with a crew of 6 cavers with about a dozen more begging to come along. Following the main lead, we found a large room where two streams flowed into a 15-ft diameter pool. The survey ended at the edge of this 25 to 30 foot deep pool. A new depth record of 1227 ft was reached.
With no other downstream leads, the project’s participation waned. All of the remaining leads continue upstream. However, the first upstream mapped lead led to a large breakdown room with 3 converging waterfalls.
Dave Shurtz led several other survey trips to clean up the leads in the middle depth of the cave. After several trips Dave is close to completing the survey of the upper section of the cave. These upper leads have shortened the 450-ft vertical gap between Lucifers Lair Cave and Main Drain Cave to 300 ft.
This weekend (February 2014) Divers are going to the bottom to dive the bottom pool to see if it is a sump or filled up to that point.  This could be a trip to break the top 5 deepest caves in the US. I will keep you update. Cave On!

Cave Photography for Dummies

3  Photography tips that will save time and money.

1.  Use a Flash

I’ll get the easiest solution out of the way first.  Of course using your built-in camera flash is the quickest fix.  Pop it up and you are good to go.  But, using light from a flash often ruins the photograph more than low light can. Using your flash lights your subject from the front, often washing it out, and it compresses the depth of field of your image making it look flat.  Ugh.  A quick way to soften the light from your built-in flash is to subdue it with a sheer white tissue that you can use to cover the flash.  This will diffuse the light and make it less harsh and can help you if you’re in a bind.  But, if you’re using a DSLR and you must use a flash then your best bet is to invest in an external flash, also known as a “hot shoe” flash, that you clip on to the top of your camera.  These flashes can be manipulated and turned to bounce off of a wall or the ceiling so you’re lighting your subject from the top or the side.

2.  Steady your camera

If you’re like me, you prefer to capture a moment using natural light, which does not exists in caves.  Yes, sometimes the use of a flash just can’t be avoided by using your headlamp out other lights you might have on hand, but if you get your camera on a steady surface, you can avoid the blur that inevitably spoils your perfectly set up photograph.  My choice would be to use a tripod.  Mount your camera on top of it, use your settings the way you normally would and then snap the shutter.  Ta da! But I don’t always have my tripod with me (a.k.a never) and sometimes it’s impractical to use one in a cave, so I improvise by setting my camera on a steady surface. Use a rock, a wall or the floor (if this makes sense for your picture), or even your leg if you’re sitting.  In low light, you simply cannot avoid the slight shake of your hands so just rest the camera on your knee. Even so, this sounds like an easy fix and not one that can always help because in a lot of cases, we are shooting objects in motion – Cavers moving, swinging on rope, bugs, whatever – what to do then?

3.  Open your aperture as wide as you can

A camera is basically a box that reads light and the aperture tells the camera how much light to allow in at any given time.  If you have a DSLR, or even a point and shoot that has some manual settings, then you can control your camera’s aperture.  So the larger the amount of light that is coming into your lens (the wider the aperture), the faster your shutter speed will be and the sharper your photos.  Lots of light and fast, good – low light and slow, bad.  Set your aperture to its widest setting, so that the most light available is entering your lens. To do this, choose the lowest f-number possible (the lowest that your particular lens allows) such as f/1.4 or f/1.8.  These 3 tips can help you capture the moment you desire to save, in order to share the story later with great photos.  Good luck and take nothing but pictures, and kill nothing but time and Cave On!


Spanish Moss Cave


Photography by Brandon Kowallis

Spanish Moss Cave – Utah County, The cave is gated.  Spanish Moss cave is very well decorated and is a great starting vertical cave.

The “Spanish moss” that it is named after, is located at the bottom of the subway passage where you sign your name in the registry. Spanish Moss is accessible pretty much year-round, and stays about the same temperature. It can get very slick in the main subway passage and requires a rope to get back up.  A 200ft rope can get you past the slick part.


Amazing formations and easy to get to compared to other caves in the area. Image