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August 7th, 2010

Foltz Cave
By Jeff Jahn

Page County survey took place on Sunday August 7th. This even allowed Nathan
to make it back in time from convention to be part of the group that included
Bill, Callie and Lauren, the newbie surveyor for the day. The only one missing in
action was Janet who called promptly at 9 to inform us that she had to bail at last
minute. That gave me a slight pause as I was banking on her leading the way
to Foltz Cave, the next project on the agenda. Oh well, where’s the adventure in
knowing where you are going anyways.

So, off we went, down the road, thinking I was going in the right direction and
after about 10 miles or so, gaining confidence of where I was just as I blew by the
left hand turn we needed to make. No problem, just went down to a public pull
out, pointed out to the group a cliff side where the caves were located across the
river a ways and then headed back up to the property. Our friendly neighbor was
home, greeted us in stocking feet, and told us no problem to park in the detached
garage driveway.

As we were getting our gear ready for the trek to the cave the group did a double
take as I pulled out a machete. Hey, I did this hike before and it’s a jungle out
there! Because of the heat, we elected to suit up at the cave entrance. Trek to
the cave includes crossing rolling fields with sinks galore and down a ridge to the
river bank. I’m bushwhacking along with my machete thinking how stupid it would
look to fall and stab myself so by the time I reached the river bank, the machete
was put back in its sheath! Soon after going up stream a short ways, the ridge
comes in close to the river with steep almost vertical crags towering above us.
Finally, we come to a wash out draw that steeply leads up to the cave entrance.
The cool air can be felt as you ascend the ridge.

We got into the lower cave entrance about 10:30. I took on sketching duties
while Callie set stations and Lauren starts learning the ropes on doing foresights.
Nathan and Bill scoped out the cave. Cave passage starts as hand and knee
crawl before entering the entrance room where the ceiling just goes and goes.
Nathan found a nice black obsidian arrowhead along the crawlway; probably
washed in from who knows where based on the rock debris littering the floor
from stream flow during rain events. Chatter up ahead got excited from a source
of blowing air at the back end of the main passage. The soft clay floor just
screamed “dig site” and no doubt future trips will push this lead. At one point,
we were all in the entrance room kibitzing away until I asked what’s next at
which point everyone burst out laughing as everyone was thinking I’m waiting on
someone else.

A couple of upper passages take off from main room, one of which winds around
to a second cave entrance. We decided to survey the other lead first. A rope is
permanently rigged to help the climb up to this passage. Probably been there
forever and it is quite a sight to see sort of suspended in mid air with a foot loop
and rope going in different directions. Hmmmm, what is this anchored to? A
useful assist none the less, except for Nathan who scampered up the wall like he
had Velcro on.

After surveying an upper passage straight a way the cave takes a distinctive
change where a deep fissure crack develops and must be climbed down to
access the lower passages. The discussion/need for webbing was kicked around
and a hand line was set above the drop. Turns out it was unnecessary as around
the corner from the drop a winding passage over and through and under the
fissure crack was established and dubbed the “spiral staircase” passage. I had
been to the pit before but not down the drop and when I got to that point, the pit
looked twice as deep as I remembered it!

Down, down we went to another level with some formations. The surveying crew
was trading off duties and worked great together. At one point, I got right in the
line of fire thinking this was great until I kept having to turn off my headlamp while
shots were being made…not a good position for the sketcher to be! Down we
went again through a tight 12 foot drop to a lower passage that serpentines along
until it enters a room Bill named the Stegosaurus room based on a hanging fin of
limestone that looked ever bit like the back plate of the Stegosaurus. Lauren was
getting the hang of surveying by now and seemed real comfortable with it. So
maybe two survey crews will be a reality soon!

I was starting to get hungry and realized it was already 2PM so I suggested a
break to eat and turns out most had already done so given that the crew of five
had ample time to fit this in…that is for everyone except the sketcher! I needed
to change batteries anyway so it was a good time to take a breather. Speaking
of breather, as the afternoon was winding down; Callie was just hanging out and
decided to head to the surface for some nice R and R!

Well, it was obvious, Foltz cave was not getting done this day and as there were
passages still requiring closure and then Nathan spied a top lead from the bottom
passage that looked interesting. After a dicey chimney climb, Nathan came back
initially saying the cave just goes and goes and probably doubles the passage in
the cave? Wow, but after reflection he dropped the footage to maybe 100 feet or
so?! Guess we will find out next month when we return but regardless the twisty
fissure passages keep providing us with surprises so who knows what we will

We exited the cave around 5PM found Callie greatly refreshed from a snooze
and started the trek back to the cars. If someone had suggested taking a dip
in the river on the way back I’m sure I would joined in. Come to think of it,
accessing this cave from the river makes sense as it would be an easy put in just
upstream from the cave.