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.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Short But Sweet: Lost Hollow

During the winter of 1975, I spent a great deal of time poring over topographical maps of the local caving region. Across the river, to the north, we knew of a number of large chambered caves, often with crumbling Saint Peter Sandstone ceilings and walls, but to our knowledge, none were extensive.

While closely examining the "X" quad, I noticed a large, multiple contour depression, tucked away in a corner of the map. It looked to be several hundred feet long and over 50 feet deep, hidden away in the pine forest. The map showed unpaved roads and trails to the sink.

With the goal of finding the recondite sink, Doña Cuevas and I took the ferry across the river on a cold January day in 1976. We got the best directions we could locally, but after driving down the stream valley and up a rougher ride onto the ridge flanks, we became turned around on the trail.

We had been traversing the base of a small sandstone mesa, but in the wrong direction. We soon realized our error, and set off in the other direction. This overgrown unpaved trail half circled the pine forested mountain. In fifteen minutes or less of easy hiking, we crested the low side of a large sink.

The sink is about 400 feet long by 125 feet wide, and with a depth of about 50 feet at the sandstone headwall.

There were at least 3 stream beds entering the sink, but only the left or northern one was active at the time. The water cascaded over the sandstone walls of the sink and sank into piles of boulders, debris and jammed logs. These hinted at the force of the water entering the sink in wet weather. Best of all is a 25 foot high, Gothic arched cave entrance under the headwall. Steamy air wafted out into the frosty January day.

We took small flashlights for a quick look inside. Although we expected little from caves in the St. Peter Sandstone, this seemed more promising.

We stepped inside, where the warmer moist air of the cave quickly fogged my glasses, and although my view was obscured, I knew that it was worth a detailed look with better lighting.

We loaded and fired our carbide lamps and entered again.

The entrance passage was easy walking on a rough gravel floor. After less than 100 feet, the ceiling briefly descended, but a short jog to the right, then left again led to a continuing passage of increasing ceiling height.

We abruptly came to a climbable drop down. This was about 6 feet and easily accomplished. A few yards beyond the foot of the climbdown, a narrow crack opened along the length of the floor. I dropped a rock and  a large splash resounded seconds later.

That was as far as we were able to go that day. We didn't feel confident in our abilities to drop this pit on our own. The vertical gear was back at the car, 3/4 mile away. Moreover, almost no one knew where we were.

Although the entrance passage had been visited by others, we knew of no one else who'd been down the pit. We were very excited by this find, and we made plans with our caving friends back in Springfield, MO to join us for a descent of the pit the next weekend.

We gathered a crew of cavers experienced in vertical work.
When we arrived at the crack in the floor, the rappel rope had to be rigged so that it would pass through a wider space in the crack. Even so, the crack was just big enough to slip through. (Later, we found other means of rigging that made an easier descent and ascent.)

Just below was a horizontal tube in which one could just stand before dropping the pit. Neil Lennon went first, The canyon drops 94 vertical feet and the waist deep pool at the base was avoidable by pendulum maneuvers on the rope.

I followed him, on the exhilarating rappel, and he pulled me over to the beach when I was 25 feet above the "lake". The others followed.

When we all were gathered on the shore, we began our exploration of the stream canyon of Lost Hollow Cave.

We scrambled over long blocks of slippery breakdown, under which the stream coursed. On that and other early visits, the lake and the stream were home to dozens of blind, white salamanders. Later they were not seen. That may be the result of pollution from camp litter nearby.

At first, the black walled canyon like passage was barren of speleothems. Then, at a point several hundred feet downstream, rock terraces led up into spectacular formation galleries. I have only one photo of the cave. It is of a huge "elephant ear" or "bacon" curtain in the upper terraces, some 30 to 40 feet above the stream course, if my memory serves me.

Kenrick Day photo of the author at the Elephant Ear
There were more glorious speleothems; glistening pagodas of calcite, sheets of flowstone and other curtain formations.

We had had great expectations for this cave. Unfortunately, they were not to be realized, for as the ceiling rose again to a great height, the rushing stream lazily swirled into an oval pool and vanished. The mysterious outlet of the pool seemed to be at the bottom, 13 feet below the surface. The dry passage ended in a very high wall seemingly closed with impenetrable sediments. Higher overhead, a crack in the ceiling could be dimly seen. To attempt to climb it would be a dauting experience

Later, the entire cave was surveyed to a total length of around 2,200 feet. I don't know the depth, but a guess might be 180 feet; not much on the world scale, but nevertheless impressive for Arkansas. It was short, sweet and memorable.

CAVERS! If you have any photos or maps of Lost Hollow Cave, I would be pleased to post a select few here. Credits will be given, and no locations will be revealed.