2023 October 29 – Stark Caverns lead push

Stark Caverns Trip Report – 29 October 2023

Participants – Bill Gee
Mike Kovacs
Candace Kovacs
Jack Rufener
Amy Hargroves

Time in = 9:30am
Time out = 2:15pm

There were three goals for this trip. The first was to get some better photography of an overlook just off the west end of the Onyx Circle. The second was to check out some tight leads and blowing air at the far end of the Rugged Canyon. Third was to run an endoscope camera into a very tight hole at the Half-Way Room to see if it was worth trying to dig it out a bit. We accomplished all three goals.

Originally there were seven people signed up for the trip. One decided to take himself out and the other never showed up. Our team of five entered the cave at 9:30. The first stop was the west end of the Onyx Circle. There is an overlook just off the tour trail which cannot be seen from below. The last trip we tried to get photographs of it, but they did not turn out very well.

When we got there, Jack, Amy and I went up the hill and through the first squeeze. Around the corner and out to the end is the overlook. We managed to get all three of us where our faces were showing. Candace took several photos. She pronounced them as “good to go”.

From there we went over to the Rugged Canyon. I dropped off the air quality monitor near the tour trail for later pickup. As it turns out, the data was scrambled and unusable. Most likely the battery got too low and the system could not get a clean write.

Getting through Rugged Canyon is always a struggle because the passage is narrow and very jagged. It took us about half an hour to get to the Half-Way Room. Candace got out her endoscope camera and taped it to the end of a selfie stick. She added a small flashlight to help illuminate things.

I reached the camera into the hole as far as I could while Candace watched on her smartphone. It was hard to tell which way the camera was oriented and exactly what we were looking at. I pulled back the camera. We taped it in a slightly different position. Jack was able to get it a bit farther into the hole than I could. There are some interesting features back there, though it is not clear if the passage actually goes anywhere useful.

We discussed the findings with Amy and got permission to try a dig project on a future trip. Candace brought along a folding camp shovel which we left at the hole for future trips.

From there we continued farther down the Rugged Canyon. After dropping down a hole and crawling around a corner, it becomes walking passage for a hundred feet or so. We stopped at the waterfall. Amy had heard it existed but had never seen it. The water was not flowing very much, just a bit over a trickle.

The pond at the waterfall had quite a bit of life in it. We saw about a dozen pickerel frogs, some of them rather small. There were several crayfish as well, but no salamanders.

We crossed over the floor formations of stromatolite to a nice sitting room where we had lunch. After lunch it was time for the final crawl out to the end of the survey. The cave splits into two passages out there. Two months ago the left branch was noticibly blowing air.

This time the left passage was not blowing any noticible air. I crawled into it about 20 feet and could not get any farther. The passage takes a right turn, remaining 8 to 12 feet wide but is only 6 inches high. I could see about 30 feet farther down the passage. There probably is cave out there, but it is not human passable.

I also took a look at the right passage. It is a narrow stream channel with very low banks on either side. I would have had to crawl with one shoulder/arm/leg in the stream and the other shoulder/arm/leg on the back. Too tight for me.

Jack Rufener gave both passages a try. He got a little further than I did in the left passage, maybe another 3 or 4 feet. In the right passage he managed to wiggle 25 feet into it before declaring it a no-go. Mike Kovacs also took a stab at the left passage, getting a body length into it before backing out.

We chatted and rested for a few minutes, then began the return trip. With all tasks accomplished, the only thing left to do was get out of the cave. It took us most of an hour to get back to the tour trail. We chatted with a small tour group for a few minutes, then left the cave about 2:30pm. It was cold and raining outside. I made a beeline for the camper and got into warm, dry and clean clothes.

I chatted with Amy for a few minutes at the visitor center. We discussed a possible ridge-walking trip to see if there are any other caves on her property. I will set something up for January or February.

Mike, Candace and I had dinner at Si SeƱors in Eldon, then went on home.

Bill Gee crawling into the left-hand lead at the end of Stark Caverns. This goes only 20 feet or so before getting too tight. Photo by Candace Kovacs.
Stark Caverns owner Amy Hargroves at the far end of the Rugged Canyon. Photo by Candace Kovacs.
This overlook in Stark Caverns is just off the tour trail at the west end of the Onyx Circle. Left to right – Bill Gee, Amy Hargroves, Jack Rufener. Photo by Candace Kovacs.
A long shot from the tour trail in the Onyx Circle showing where the overlook comes out. Photo by Candace Kovacs.
This overlook in Stark Caverns is just off the tour trail at the west end of the Onyx Circle. Left to right – Bill Gee, Amy Hargroves, Jack Rufener. Photo by Candace Kovacs.

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