Who is Don Cuevas?

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My blog name has nothing to do with my history of underground activity. It's a quirk of geographic coincidence.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Janus Pit, Part 4. Scooping

"You are at one end of a vast hall stretching forward out of sight to
the west.  There are openings to either side.  Nearby, a wide stone
staircase leads downward."

From Adventure, the caving game, by Will Crowther and successors.

Janus Pit, Part 4
May 14, 1978 
In our previous episode, 3 cavers, Larry Houston, R.C. Schroeder and myself were poised to make a lustful scooping trip into the newly discovered Odyssey Series of Janus. Robert Handford, who’d actually made the breakthrough the previous weekend, was in Austin, TX and could not join us. Our intentions were honorable, but our lust for virgin cave took over our feeble consciences and we were captives.

With recent experience, we made short work of passing the Hassle and Baffle, curled our bodies over and around the Curling Iron, and soon stood in the Cyclops’ Cave. The gaping hole in the floor was alluring, but we had no equipment with which to drop into it.

We turned or attention to the even larger downstream section. At the time, I was in a mood for wetter, lower level passages. They are cooler and easier to walk through than large, dry, breakdown strewn upper rooms. Route findng tends to be easier.

The clean washed canyon zigged followed joints for a short distance beyond my previous stopping point. A mass of breakdown plugged the stream passage. Although it was possible to climb up into the upper level, we preferred to stay low.

R.C. has a special talent for ferreting out the way on. He climbed 6 feet off the floor, traversed to the right across the plug, slid into a small hole and told us to follow.

The entire blockage was less than 10 feet through to the other side, where it gradually opened back into a walking stream passage.

I suggested we take a break, which we did, hoping to prolong the delicious anticipation of what we would find. We were babbling, in a virgin cave induced high.

(Cave food note: at the time, I was using polyethylene squeeze tubes from Gerry Mountaineering. The flavor that day was strawberry jam and peanut butter.)

Ahead, the stream now cut down into shale beds, leaving picturesque black erosional sculptures. More ceiling height was gained, as we passed over small, orange colored travertine dams. Small cascades riffled down the travertine. Just for fun, we straddled over pools of increasing depth. We were already nearly totally wet, so a bit more wouldn’t have mattered.

Suddenly, with surgical swiftness, the stream entered a narrow crack to the left, with chest deep water. Gee. What a drag. No, it was the Razor. It was a viable but unnecessary route, for 6 feet above the floor to the right, an angling, clean-washed, scalloped tube borehole bypass awaited our first steps. The 7 foot high tube has a bedrock floor with a few puddles, remnant of higher waters. This is among my most favorite passages in Janus. Unfortunately, it’s only 187 feet long. But the brevity of the tube is compensated for just ahead.

We maneuvered past a couple of smaller obstructing blocks over a crack down to the stream and emerged into a tall canyon, taller than any seen before in the cave. The ceiling was obscured in distant darkness. Some breakdown bridges spanned the lower to middle canyon, giving hope of reaching the uppermost back spaces above. 

But for now we continued at stream level. As we left the tall canyon, we were surprised to continue on hands and knees at stream level. What was this??? In about 60 feet, a small joint opened in the ceiling, giving us some easier passage. We could hold our heads up in the opening, shaped like a spade on a playing card, and zip right along for well over 100 feet. Sounds of our passage were picked up by the peculiar, echoing acoustics of the tube, echoing and roaring as we crouch walked along.

This passage, later named The Ace of Spades, made for a novel sound and light presentation. Suddenly, the long straightaway ended. But the fun passage continued with adequate walking height, first zigging left, then zagging abruptly right, with an angle approaching 180º. A small hole pierced the partition wall, just big enough to stick in a set of wiggling, ghostly fingers. 

Fun in Caveland. What more could we ask for?
More cave, that's what we wanted. But even as the ceiling rose, our hopes soon sank as we came to a deep pool stretching some 15 or more feet ahead. Its depth was well over our heads, and above it further progress was blocked by a total collapse of breakdown. This was the "omega" of the Odyssey. The epic had reached a conclusion, at least for the present.

But times and techniques change, and attitudes towards what was "impossible" become "feasible". We will delve into that subject in another chapter.

That day in 1978, the scoopers were disappointed in finding the Omega Lake sump, but  they still held a good card, back upstream, beyond the ZigZags.


There was still the vast, black, overhead space we'd passed on our way to the sump. When we stood below the mighty blackness arching overhead, we abandoned all pretense of "saving some for Robert."

R.C. quickly found an easily climbable route up among breakdown blocks. Now, some 15 to 20 feet above the canyon floor, a massive pillar could be dimly seen. A 15 foot barrier wall separated us from the actual base of the room.

But the gods were good to us! A keyhole arched through the barrier wall, giving easy access to the bottom of the steep slopes.

At last we could see the pillar. It almost divides the room equally in two. A couple of holes tunnel through its base. Sediment slopes went more than 50 feet higher, to where we could walk around the back of the pillar.
This column is the greatest bedrock pillar we'd ever seen. Its presence is mystical. So they were named: Prometheus' Pillar; and the huge room, The Pantheon.

The space was several hundreds of feet long, with a ceiling height of over 100 feet at the start, over the canyon, 55 -60 feet at the Pillar, and gradually diminishing toward the back, as the sediment mounted higher.

The Pantheon and Prometheus' Pillar were the culmination of a fantastic day of caving scooping. It was also for me the culmination of big discoveries in Janus Pit. Yes; other connecting routes and a couple more upper rooms between the Cyclops' Cave and the Pantheon were found.
 In recent years, other modest discoveries have been made. A connection to Flitterin' Pit and eventually to Cave River Cave, the system's resurgence, eluded us. It continues to do so, despite some daring underwater probes from three access points.
More on those, coming soon.


Anonymous said...

Odyssey series is Arkansas caving at its best. Really sporting-fun stream passage with beautifully scalloped blue-gray Plattin limestone, big breakdown rooms with clay banks, and borehole passage, all of which tantalize and tease one into thinking that it will go for miles. It's a really nice cave.

Don Cuevas said...

I agree, Robert. But it ends too soon.

Don Cuevas