Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Salts Cave trip report - Bill Gort

On March 14th 2020 I went on a caving trip to Salts Cave near Mitchell Indiana. Since I live in Columbus Ohio, I had to plan my trip the day before. I went to the Whetstone branch of the Columbus library and printed out a waiver just before the library closed down for Covid-19. I packed my car and set my alarm for 3:30 a.m.The next morning I left Columbus by four and drove to Indiana while listening to the BBC on NPR. The stories were about disease and how Chinese companies are cutting down all the Rosewood trees in Senegal and shipping them out through Gambia.

After skirting around the southern edge of Indianapolis, I arrived at McDonalds, where I met our trip leader, Paul Uglum. We continued on to Mitchell where we met up with Kyle Hoyt, Timothy Trine, and Steve McQueen. Proceeding to the property the cave is located on, we parked in a field next to an old horse barn. By this time it had begun to rain. We used the shelter of the barn to change into caving gear, before heading across a field and into the woods to a sinkhole. At the bottom of the sinkhole, we ducked under a ledge and entered the cave.

The initial part of the cave was relatively dry walking passage. As we went further in, conditions got wetter and muddier. Eventually we dropped down and found ourselves walking in a stream passage in an upstream direction. This passage became narrower and turned into a canyon. We had to turn sideways to squeeze between the curvaceous undulating walls. In at least one place we saw blind crayfish in the stream. 

At the end of the narrows, the stream passage got wider and we began to negotiate a series of steep muddy climb ups and climb downs. Steps had been carved into the mud, but one had to be very careful so as not to go sliding down a slick slope and collide with a rock. Our efforts were ocasionally rewarded with views of formations including flowstone, draperies, and helicites. In the back of the cave, we found a room with a circular domed ceiling. The stream led to a short low crawl ending in a sump. In order to confirm that the passage sumped I got down on my belly and crawled in the water until I reached a spot where I could sit up and see the sump.

On the way back out of the cave, I decided to see how many of the treacherous muddy climbs I could
avoid by crawling in the stream. I was already wet so I didn't mind trying this. I found that almost all of the slippery exposed sections could be bypassed by crawling in water. After passing through the narrows and returning to the entrance we walked across the field and changed into dry clothes.

During the time we were in the cave, it had continued to rain and the ground became softer. After Paul left, we found that two of our remaining  cars were stuck in the mud. We found some shingles in the barn and tried placing them under the tires for traction, but this did not do much good. The two non-stuck cars were Subarus which have all wheel drive and consequently had no problems. I remembered that my car had a towing bolt which could be screwed into the bumper. I had never used this, but decided to give it a try. One of the other guys had a long piece of webbing. The towing bolt has a ring on the end, so we tied one end of the webbing through that, and the other end to the other vehicle (a van). To my suprise, this actually worked and I was able to tow the van out of the muddy field and down the driveway. The other Subaru driver then installed his towing bolt and used his Forrester to free the other stuck car.

After resolving the automotive issues, we bid each other farewell. I then drove to a coffee shop in Bedford where I rewarded myself with blueberry pancakes and coffee.

Editor:  All photos by Kyle Hoyt

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