24 March 2009

Circus in a Tux, Big Apple, NY -- Explorers Club Annual Dinner Weekend

Image: These are two of Brian Staples' rescued animals. These guys had been working the crowds all evening at ECAD and all day at the Explorers Club HQ. These two are tuckered out. Peter, the spider monkey (Brachyteles sp.), his quite attached to Chewy, the kinkajou (Potos flavus), and will not let him out of his sight. Both animals are common to the tropical dry and tropical forests from southern Mexico south into South America. In the wild, these two would not be friends; but in captivity they appear to be best of friends. Personally, I believe Chewy just tolerates him.

Image: It is customary at ECAD to have exotic appetizers. Here is a smattering of what was offered. Among the appetizers that I ate include marinated duck tongue, scorpions, crickets, and beetle larvae.

Granted I admit this tenuously fits under the typical content appearing in my blog. However, the Explorers Club Annual Dinner (aka ECAD) is always an adventure. You never know who you are going to meet, what you're going to see or what contacts you're going to make at this very festive event.

Image: Roasted American alligator at the Waldorf. I've had this twice now. I got there a bit late this year, and there was virtually nothing left. Does it taste like chicken? Well...almost.

Image: Hanging out with Peter and Chewy on Sunday at Explorers Club HQ. Credit: Brian Staples.

For example, when I attended ECAD in 2007 I met both Dan Aykroyd and Buzz Aldrin. It was a rather surreal night. I was speaking with Dan regarding how to attract bats to his farm. Later that night, Dr. Aldrin and I were discussing the potential for caves on Mars. Although this last trip was not quite as star-studded, I did make some new friends, and I had the honor of sharing the stage at the Waldorf=Astoria ballroom with preeminent ecologist Dr. E.O. Wilson, and Apollo VII commander Bill Anders. I was given the very distinct honor of returning an Explorers Club flag at the ECAD. In so doing, I was given the opportunity to speak to over 1000 people regarding the fragility and importance of cave biodiversity and ecosystems.

Image: Dr. Lynn Hicks and I at ECAD, Waldorf=Astoria, NYC. Lynn has been a part of my family for over 30 years, and has recently joined my family of expedition scientists. He served as our expedition doctor in the Atacama Desert last year, and will be joining us again this June for another expedition in the Atacama.

I also met and became good friends with Brian and David Staples. Brian and his son run Staples Safari. Brian is an accomplished wildlife ecologist, and he operates two exotic animal rescue facilities. His work is vitally important to conveying the importance of wildlife and wildlife conservation to the world. He is rather gifted in his ability to do this. Brian (and perhaps David) will likely be joining me on the Rapa Nui cave biodiversity expedition in June and July 2009.

Image: Wildlife conservationist and TV personality, Jim Fowler, discussing the importance of biodiveristy at ECAD. As an example, he is discussing the diversity of owls. Globally, there are 134 known species of this night hunter.

Jim has been coordinating the wildlife component of ECAD for decades. He is most effective at communicating the importance of our natural world to the general public. We are most fortunate to have him in the Club; but more importantly, the world is most fortunate for having him as an ambassador for the wild kingdom of animals.

I also have the privilege of giving a talk at Headquarters on Sunday. I spoke about the cave biodiversity of North Rim Grand Canyon and Rapa Nui. The talk was well-received. It was quite an honor to speak in that room. The room where I spoke holds over 100 years of history and tales of some of the most famous explorers who have ever lived. It was quite humbling to speak in that room.

Image: Bill Runyon and I posing with Explorers Club Flag #139. I returned this flag at ECAD. This flag was on expedition with Kyle Voyles and I last week. We were inventorying cave biodiversity on North Rim Grand Canyon. Bill is a good friend. He sponsored my application to be admitted into the Explorers Club.

In addition to a weekend of festivities and meeting a lot of great folks, I still found time to work. Gaelin Rosenwaks of Global Ocean Exploration and I are preparing an expedition to study marine animals in sea caves. We met at Explorers Club HQ to push our preparations forward. We will launch this expedition in June of 2010.

Image: Working in the commons, Explorers Club HQ, NYC. Credit: Gaelin Rosenwaks.

14 March 2009

5th Place Overall -- 2nd Annual Kahtoola Agassiz Uphill Challenge

Image: Less than 10 feet from the finish line below Agassiz Peak! Credit: Neil Weintraub/ NATRA.

Today was a really good day. For a fella who has spent the last 10 days on travel and nine days being beaten up by a rugged canyon, I had an excellent race.

Image: One of my good buddies, David McKee, and I hanging out before the race. Credit: Neil Weintraub/ NATRA.

Kahtoola had extended their uphill course to a 3.2 mile race course starting at Hart Prairie and terminating at the upper chair lift at Agassiz. It was beautiful day. I finished in 50:50, placed fifth place overall, and forth in Men's. I have been racing since 2005 and this was my best race to date! I reckon I can safely say that we do improve with age!

Image: Warrior One pre-race warm up in Kahtoola Microspikes! Credit: Neil Weintraub/ NATRA.

I was strong and I pushed myself the entire race. This uphill climb really stuck it to me a couple of times. I did stop a few times to catch my breath. However, compression breathing, a trick that I learned while climbing volcanoes in the Altiplano, really helped.

I augmented compression breathing by treating the race as somewhat of a meditation. I was focusing on each foot placement, counting "one and one," and I was even chanting mantras during the race. This provided me with much clarity, and perhaps even gave me some inner strength.

I suspect there were additional variables at play here. I've been taking MAP, an amino acid cocktail avaiable through BodyHealth.com. Now, this isn't a shameless plug for a product. I'm not on their payroll and I'm getting nothing for this endorsement. World-renowned fitness guru and Flagstaff's very own Mountain Yogi, Steve Ilg, has been trying to convince me to take this for years. I finally relented, and I've seen huge changes in my performance. It assists me in quicker recoveries after both workouts and races. Also, Ilg has indicated that my yoga practice has improved considerably. I've been a stout practitioner of HP Yoga for over four years now. So, I suspect it is a combination of these two variables that likely led to my excellent performance in this race.

I also wonder because I climbed a 19,000 ft volcano in Chile back in November, if the San Francisco Peaks seem a little bit smaller to me now. Unlike my ascent of Volcan Aguas Calientes, I was actually able to climb and breath!

For all the race photos from this event, go to NATRA's Picasa site-Kahtoola Agassiz Uphill Challenge.

Image: Race start! I'm standing right behind the winner of this event, Eric Bohn (aka Greenbean). Credit: Neil Weintraub/ NATRA.

Congratulations to today's winners of this event -- Eric Bohn (41:38) and Sara Wagner (49:10)! For complete results of this race, go to Kahtoola in the News.

Special thanks to NATRA. Not only did they do a great job with doing time for the race, they are a beautiful group of people. I've always cherished my time running with this group. I look forward to more runs and more trails with the group!

12 March 2009

The 2009 Cactus Canyon Expedition was a Success!

11 March 2009 -- Drafted in the Holiday Inn, St. George and in FLG

Image: Core team flag photo. From left to right, Doc, me, Voyles and Spatta. Credit: Ty Spatta.

Today, we had four objectives, (1) pull traps from Cliff Cave, (2) retrieve AnaBat from Cliff Cave, (3) pull traps in River Styx Cave, and (4) make it back to civilization in safely.

Before we wrapped up the biodiversity work, we packed up most of our gear, and policed base camp to be sure we had everything. So, once we returned, we'd be ready to place the packs on our backs and get the heck out of Dodge.

Image: I'm jugging up to Cliff Cave. Credit: Ty Spatta.

Kyle and I went to Cliff Cave, while Ty went to River Styx by himself. We didn't like sending Ty into a cave by himself. However, we established a plan so we would know exactly where he was and when he would return to base camp. Ty has been in this cave numerous times. We knew exactly where he was going to be within this cave. He planned to be at River Styx for two hours, and would radio base camp once he was out of the cave. So, we knew that if we didn't hear back from him in 2.5hr, we would go find him.

Image: In the entrance of Cliff Cave. Credit: Kyle Voyles.

Kyle and I decided it would be best of Doc remained on stand-by at base camp -- just in case something went wrong at Cliff Cave. While Doc was on stand-by, he filtered enough water to get us through the day and out of the canyon.

Kyle and I headed up to Cliff Cave to pull traps and finish up the work up there. I still needed to inventory the ecology of the cave. This is a really neat cave. It has two main rooms, and two crawls that are too tight for normal humans to navigate. The first room is just beyond the entrance. There were quite a few critters in this first room. We encountered numerous springtails and beetle larvae in our traps. In the second room (which is connected to the first room via a tight crawl), we found crickets, tenebrionid beetles and a few beetle larvae. Interestingly, we didn't capture one springtail in this room. Also of interest, is that we did not encounter one predator during our site visit.

Image: Doc filtering water. Credit: Ty Spatta.

Also, the second room contained a considerable paleontological deposition. We encountered numerous large bones. At first, I thought a few of them may be human. However, we did not have a smoking gun, so to speak. We did not encounter human teeth or a jawbone with clearly distinguishable human tooth sockets. However, we did find some lithic material related to stone-tool making, as well as two small broken quartz rocks. While we cannot definitively state the bones were human, we can at least confidently state that Native Americans used this cave -- perhaps as a kill processing site. Oddly however, it must have been used tens of thousands of years ago, when the canyon was not as incised, or perhaps there was an entrance that no longer exists from above. In any event, it would be difficult, if not downright impossible, for folks to carry their kill up a 60 foot rock face and into a cave.

Image: Entering data from our traps. Credit: Kyle Voyles.

We state here that we did not disturb the subsurface. We searched and evaluated the bones and materials on the surface only. So, I'd suggest this cave still holds many secrets.

Ty was successful with his objectives as well. He pulled all 16 of our Madonna Cone traps. Interestingly, out of all the traps deployed, we captured only one Rhadine beetle. This perhaps further shores up my hypothesis that the entrance of River Styx cave is likely the only place to support arthropods.

Image: Ty collecting arthropods in River Styx Cave. He was by himself...so, is this a staged shot?! Credit: Ty Spatta.

This cave is massive and characterized by crystal clear pools and little observable nutrients on the cave floors and along the cave's numerous speleothems. The clarity of the water suggests there are no nutrients in the water, and thus it is unlikely there will be critters in these pools.

Image: An example of the low opacity of the pools in River Styx Cave. Credit: Ty Spatta.

I've sampled cave pools in Belize, the water was dark brown to black. It was loaded with nutrients and contained numerous aquatic organisms including several stygobites. Secondly, the lack of any observable detritus in other regions of the cave further supported my hypothesis.

Image: High cotton! We trapped 14 tenebrionid beetles in one trap within Cliff Cave. Credit: Kyle Voyles.

Kyle and I were the first to arrive back at base camp. Upon our arrival, I continued to pack my gear, and then Ty arrived. Kyle and Ty fixed lunch, while Doc and I were getting antsy to get the heck out of the canyon.

Image: Packing it up! Credit: Ty Spatta.

We then hiked out! However, we weren't "out of the cave" just yet.

This is the saying that I have on expedition. "We're not out of the cave, until we're out of the cave." I learned this back in 2007 while Kyle and I were working in a cave on the Arizona Strip. This cave is one of the loci for our new millipede genus. Kyle and I were there to collect copepods from sulfur pools at the back of this cave. This was the last task we had to do on our trip. Once done, I was headed back to Flagstaff. So, as I was walking and belly-crawling through this cave I started thinking..."I'm going to see my girlfriend, have a hot shower, sleep in my bed, and have a real meal." I was already out of the cave and in Flagstaff. I came to the end of the crawl, stood up full force and hit my head on the ceiling so hard that I almost knocked myself out. The brim of my helmet actually cut the bridge of my nose. Kyle quickly approached and I could hear him speaking but it was all mumbling...about a minute passed, and then I heard, "Dude! Are you okay?!" Looking back on it, it was rather funny, but it wasn't funny when it happened.

So, hence forth, I never consider an expedition to be over until we return to civilization. At which time, we are "out of the cave." For us, this meant once we see the city skyline of Mesquite, Nevada, we are "out of the cave."

We still had to hike out, which may take up to two hours, and then we have to drive back to Mesquite. Reaching civilization will take us another three hours. So, we were at least five hours from getting out of the cave.

Image: Sorting all arthropod specimens and entering data. Credit: Ty Spatta.

Fortunately, we hiked out of the canyon safely and we arrived back to civilization in one piece. We made it home safe and sound. The mission was a success! All mission critical objectives were met. We sampled cave-dwelling arthropods at five caves, collected AnaBat data at five caves, and mapped two caves.

Image: Kyle and I processing the specimens collected from this expedition. Credit: Ty Spatta.

There is another aspect of this project that Kyle and I really liked. Once we arrived back in St. George, I spent two days there with Kyle wrapping up all the loose ends. Ty helped us sort all the arthropods and prepare them for shipment. We also entered all the arthropod data into a spreadsheet. Kyle uploaded and organized all the microclimate data. So, everything was done. On 16 March, the bugs will be sent to our taxonomic specialists for species-level identifications.

This was a great project. Kyle and I both learned a lot, and we feel our team did as well. Everyone seemed to really enjoy the trip, and we've heard back from several team members indicating they had a lot of fun. So, we are very pleased with these results.

Image: Out of the cave, and feasting on prime rib and NY strip at the Casa Blanca Casino steak house. We were all desperately needing a shower, but none of us cared. The food was awesome. However, we've been "just adding water" to our food for the past nine days -- so a properly cooked shoe may have been a gormet meal to us. Credit: our waiter.

Bat Cave and our Descent to Base Camp

10 March 2009

Image: Pseudoscorpion collected in Bat Cave. You could fit four to five of these tiny arachnids on top of your thumb nail. This tiny predators have venom sacks in their pinchers, and they hunt psocopterans, collembolans and other tiny soil-dwelling arthropods.

Today, we have four objectives, (1) pull traps from the cave where we slept, (2) retrieve the Anabat from Babylon Cave, (3) canyoneer our way out of the side canyon safely, and (4) jug up a 60 ft rope to a cave to deploy the Anabat.

Image: Kyle and I discussing the plan of attack for the day. Credit: Ty Spatta.

I didn’t sleep too well last night. This cave also has a long history of bat use, and thus has a rather acrid smell of guano once you get about 30 feet into the cave – this was the only place that contained an unoccupied sleeping platform. While I actually like the smell of bat guano, I didn’t think it would be good for me to breath it all night, so I opted to sleep near the entrance. Consequently, the only place to sleep was on an incline – so, throughout the night, I slept and slipped towards the entrance. I’d wake up, move my bag and bed roll back up slope, fall asleep, wake up and then do it all over again…

Image: Some "trick" photography in Bat Cave. Using a slave flash with a timed delay, Kyle was able to trigger the flash held in front of him. As a result, you see more of the passage. This helps to best depict the scale of this large cave. Credit: Ty Spatta and Kyle Voyles.

Everything went well today. We woke up around 0730hr, made breakfast, chatted about what needed to be done, and then we started the day.

Image: Voyles on his sampling station, and removing arthropods from the trap. Credit: Ty Spatta.

Kyle and I went out onto the bench to discuss where and how to establish a traverse line across a rather exposed section of our route. As I've probably mentioned enumerable times in blog entries about this expedition, this bench has some precarious sections to it. A seemingly rather benign fall in the wrong place could spell a 1130ft free-fall to the canyon floor. Without a parashute, I think I'll pass.

Image: Trying to sleep on an incline. Credit: Ty Spatta.

First, we had to knock out Bat Cave. It took us about 2.5 hrs to conduct our searches, and check and pull arthropod traps. We continued our "divide and conquer" approach. Ty and Kyle conducted the work in the side passages, and Doc and I did the work in the main trunk passage.

Image: Our descent out of the side canyon. This was a 15 foot drop that required a rappel and portage of backpacks down below. Credit: Ty Spatta.

Once done, we returned to the entrance. Ty still needed to pack, and we were all ready for lunch. On the way off the bench, we stopped by Babylon Cave to retrieve the AnaBat detector.

We headed down the side canyon in record time. Given all of the equipment we were hauling down, we still managed to get back to base camp in under two hours.

Image: Clipped into webbing and leading the lowering of backpacks. Credit: Ty Spatta.

Ty and I quickly geared up for the jug up to Cliff Cave. I needed to deploy the AnaBat, and Ty wanted to see the cave. It was work for me, but a sight-seeing trip for Ty.

Image: Deploying the AnaBat detector at the entrance of Cliff Cave. I'm clipped in because there is a 60 ft drop less than four feet behind me. Credit: Ty Spatta.

Back up on the Bench

09 March 2009

Image: Settling in for the night in Bat Cave. Yes, I know. This is quite a romantic setting for Ty and Kyle. Credit: Jon Kalman.

This morning we hiked back into the canyon, and then up to the bench caves. Our plan was to (1) find the bolts that were set to assist in our ascent through the side canyon, (2) pull traps from two caves, and (3) deploy the Anabat at one cave.

Image: This is a rather common scenario on this trip. We move gear up canyon, then down canyon, and then we do it again. Credit: Ty Spatta.

All of our objectives for the day were met, and we were able to get done relatively early. Kyle and Ty banged out Babylon Cave and Doc and I completed Packrat Cave. Thus far, we have found these caves to be rather depauperate of cave-dwelling arthropods. This is not surprising given the low nutrient input these caves receive, as well as the aridity of these features.

Image: Collecting arthropods. Credit: Ty Spatta.

We were able to make it to our camping cave for the evening. While two days ago, we slept in a cave that Kyle and others slept in prior, tonight we will sleep in Bat Cave. This cave has not been occupied since the Native Americans used it. This cave had cleared sleeping platforms that were supported with dry-laid stone walls, and contained several pieces of yucca cordage and contained remnants of a yucca-fiber sandal. It was rather humbling and even somewhat eerie to sleep in this cave.

Image: Critter-proofing our bag of food before we make the climb up the side canyon. Credit: Ty Spatta.

Image: Setting a safety anchor in front of Bat Cave. We were on this safety while using the bathroom at night. From this entrance, there is a steeply sloping bench approximately 25 feet wide -- below this is the canyon floor approximately 1100 feet down. Credit: Ty Spatta.

We say Farewell to Three of our Team Members

08 March 2009 -- Composed from the back of my F250 truck

Image: The jug up to Cliff Cave. Michael is leading and Kyle is the belay. Credit: John Cassidy.

Tama, Ty and I went to River Styx Cave for the morning. Ty's objective was to pull microclimate data, opportunistic collecting and deploying traps. Tama and I split up in the cave and searched for arthropods. This is a massive cave (with over 3000 foot of passage). Based upon our baseline work in this cave, I am tentatively suggesting that life in this cave will be restricted to around the entrance. I also deployed 16 volcano traps. We are testing a new sampling technique for this cave. Because this cave is prestine and lacks a friable strata, we had to come up with an alternative for deploying traps. The volcano traps seem to be the best way to do this. We'll see how this goes.

Image: The volcano traps (aka Madonna Cone traps) deployed in River Styx Cave. Image: Kyle Voyles.

Once we were done with this cave, I deployed the Anabat in the entrance and we hiked back to base camp.

Image: Deploying the Madonna Cone traps in River Styx Cave. Credit: Ty Spatta.

We learned another valuable lesson about fieldwork. Alcohol (as well as water) and electronics don’t mix. Tama accidentally broke a specimen vial filled with alcohol in a bag that contained a hand-held radio. From now on, standard operating procedures will dictate that we will not mix water/ alcohol vials with electronics. If these are contained within the same bag, all electronics will have to be in waterproof bags and/ or pelican cases.

Image: Just one of the thousands of "pretties" from River Styx Cave. Credit: Ty Spatta.

Kyle led Michael and John Cassidy up to Cliff Cave. This involves jugging 60 ft up a rope to get to the entrance. They met their objectives for the day. They mapped the cave, and deployed pitfall traps and searched for arthropods.

Image: Tama posing for a photo between hunting for cave bugs. Credit: Ty Spatta.

Once the team was done, Michael and the Cassidy’s departed and returned to civilization. They were very helpful and greatly assisted in the success of this project thus far. They have been a lot of fun in the field.

Kyle, Ty and I were out of food. So, the core team hiked back to the truck. We went through all of the gear and identified everything that was no longer needed in the field. We packed up all our non-essential gear and hiked it out. We made good time getting out of the canyon.

Image: Kyle and I discussing the day. Credit: Ty Spatta.

I was really looking forward to the climb up the big spine to get back to the trucks. I asked the team if they minded if I plowed forward, and I hiked the spine fast. I treated it as a meditation and with 50 lbs on my back I made really good time. It felt great to breath hard, feel the heart beating fast and the blood coursing through my veins. However, if felt even better to wash my hair and sponge down. Four days without a shower and living in very dusty conditions can often leave a lot to be desired.

Image: Rather old bat skeleton from River Styx Cave.

Sleeping in a Cave

07 March 2009 -- comprised from my field notes

Image: Hiking out of the side canyon at night. Credit: Jon Kalman.

Last night we slept in a cave. It was quite a surreal experience. I realized with the exception of two other people, there haven’t been folks sleeping in this cave since the Native Americans. There was a yucca cord protruding from the ground less than 20 feet from where we were sleeping. This yucca chord was placed here hundreds if not thousands of years ago.

Image: Starting the day with a majestic view. Michael, Jon and I eating breakfast. Credit: John Cassidy.

Sleeping in the cave was peaceful to say the least. We had planned to sleep under the stars again last night, but the clouds moved in and we thought it may rain. The winds also picked up. So, we opted to sleep in the cave.

Today, we have one cave left to trap. Today, we worked this cave using two smaller teams, Doc and Cassidy and Michael and I worked together. This was the largest of the three caves on the bench. It was over 1800 ft. in length.

Image: Loxosceles sp. from Packrat's Cave.

Last year, Kyle, Luke Hanna (an NAU undergraduate that I am working with) and I went to these caves. We encountered a maternity roost of Myotis bats in this cave. As a result, we prompted left the cave. Upon our return to this cave, it was amazing to see the extent of bat use in this cave. Bats have been using this cave extensively for quite a while – perhaps hundreds of years. Guano was found in thick deposition throughout the main truck passage of this cave and the acrid smell of guano was overpowering. However, oddly enough, I really like this smell. For the cave scientist, the smell is that of life. Bat guano can serve the life blood of a cave ecosystem. So, this smell tells me there could be a lot of critters using this cave.

Image: Ringtail cat. This image was poached from the following website: http://www.abilenetx.com/Zoo/Ringtail.htm

I also observed scat, which I believe to be ringtail (Bassariscus astutus) scat. Ringtails often enter caves to hunt bats. Given this cave is extensively used by bats, periodic visits from a hungry ringtail is not unlikely.

We had also collected AnaBat data at this cave last night. Because it is still rather early in the season, we suspect there may not be much bat activity in these caves yet. However, we did observe bats while eating dinner last night, so we shall see.

Image: I'm just about to negotiate Mammillary Drop. This is a 20 ft deep pit with additional passage below. One has to chimney down to get to the lower passage. Credit: Jon Kalman.

We didn’t collect many arthropods in this cave. Michael and I collected several spiders and a cricket, but that was about it. Doc and Cassidy didn’t collect anything at this cave.

This cave was also extensively used by Native Americans. We found dry laid stone walls and cleared sleeping platforms in the entrance, and there were numerous torches, reeds and yucca cord throughout this cave. There are also the remnants of a yucca sandal within this cave. Additionally, Michael found a bone that looks really old. I think it may be part of a human scapula.

Image: Old bone fragment. This fragment may be part of a scapula or pelvis. We're not certain if it is human or not.

Once we finished this cave, we went back to our camping cave to grab the rest of our gear. It was time to hike off the bench and back down base camp. With several routes now bolted, it should be much easier, safer (and quicker) for us to get down. We started our descent at 1700hr.

Image: This old pine cone was found near the back of Bat Cave. Due to the extensive human activity in this cave, it is likely humans brought this into the cave. However, there is also evidence of a rather long occupation by packrats. So, either vector for deposition is possible. There are no longer pine trees within a ~50 mile radius of this cave. So, this pine cone is rather old.

However, we had difficulties in locating several of the bolts along this route. So, Michael and I had to improvise to get the team down safely.

Image: Cartographer Bob Richards mapping River Styx Cave. Credit: Ty Spatta.

We had to traverse the edge of a dry fall with an exposed area that dropped approximately 50 feet. If anyone fell there, they wouldn’t make it home at the end of the day. So, it took us a while to rig this route. Michael traversed the route, and I belayed him with Cassidy as a back-up anchor. We got him across safely, and then Michael found a rock to anchor off of and then he belayed us across. I went across twice because I ported Doc’s backpack across this route. We then had to rig and belay the team down another steep incline before we could start hiking down canyon.

Image: Kyle staring contemplatively into the abyss of River Styx Cave. Credit: Ty Spatta.

Once we lowered packs and got the team down safely we could start hiking down canyon. Then we got to a really cool section, which involved a rappel. We were a able to find the anchor for this route. It was a 15 foot gently sloping wall. Michael went down first. I remained up top to get the other two guys down. I lowered packs down, and then Michael brought Doc and Cassidy down via a fireman’s belay. Once down, I rapped down the wall. Michael then pointed out that I left a sling and carabineer on our anchor, so I had to go back up to get it. Because it was a gently sloping wall, I did a “batman climb” up the wall. It was a lot of fun and took me less than 10 seconds to get back to the anchor. I then pulled the gear, treaded the rope through the anchor and double-rope rappelled back down.

Image: Michael and Doc having dinner after the descent out of the side canyon. Credit: Ty Spatta.

By this time it was getting dark, we still had two technical sections to traverse before we were out of the canyon. We did these in the dark. Canyoneering at night and caving are the same. You're traversing rock exposures via the illumination of your headlamp. It was a lot of fun canyoneering at night. I realized my team was getting tired, so I had to be extra vigilant for everyone. Ultimately, it took us quite a while to get down. We didn’t get out of the side canyon until 2030hr. We took 3.5hr to hike out of this side canyon.

Kyle’s team did really well today. They finished mapping the big cave. This cave is over 3000 feet in length. We plan to trap it tomorrow.

Sleeping in the main canyon would be cold tonight, but it was nice to finally get down off the bench. However, we return in two days to start pulling the traps.

Image: Doc and I preparing dinner and filtering water after our safe return from the bench caves. Credit: Ty Spatta.