Honey Creek in mid-May. The threat of Summer was looming, but it was cool still, with enough of a breeze to justify encircling the artificial campfire and sharing stories until midnight. That’s about the time I arrived Friday night, found Bill, and asked to see the big map. A group stood around the table, tracing our fingers over the line plot, and recounted the March trip to the BM11 lead where we planned to return in the morning. We had discovered a curious discrepancy between the survey and the actual passage in which we found ourselves. What was described as a small lead that went on for 20 meters, ending in a dig was, instead, an extensive mud tube, interspersed with domes, that we chased for close to 100 meters before running out of time. The lead deserved revisitation and now it was time to return.
The morning of May 14th was pleasant but hot enough to motivate us underground as we baked in our wetsuits, waiting for our turn down the shaft. At 10:20 AM, after reporting to our faithful shaft master, Team Booger Bear clipped in and took the 145-foot ride down the shaft to the stream passage. Andrea Croskey, Grace Borengasser, Patty Calabrese, and I made up the fearsome foursome. At 10:48 AM, With Patty leading, we pushed upstream, headed west toward the Boneyard. While we traveled, we tried to select a fitting team name but decided to remain nameless until inspiration struck. We had predicted a commute of little more than an hour and sure enough, noon found us wading up to the BM entrance. We stood about the left wall where it met the floor, peering down at a narrow mud constriction marked with a fresh, innocent piece of yellow flagging tape and one by one, prepared to slither in. Grace was the first to squeeze, and I followed behind. Sounds of objection, confusion, and bewilderment echoed out of the tube as she struggled her way up and over the first of many slick muddy slides. I tried to offer reassurance, but mostly I laughed. It is great fun to writhe through the BM passageway, which Andrea fittingly named the Otter Slides, but it is even more fun to watch somebody else squirm through.
The way is often not clear, and the floor rises and falls under a low ceiling, forming mud humps that must be crawled up, then squeezed through before sliding down the opposite side into a mud pool that rests in the trough between the mud hump you’ve just slid down and the next. Before long, Grace was mastering the unique set of moves that grant access to the BM passage. The two of us moved forward and Patty and Andrea entered behind us, ready to experience the same splendid obstacles. With everyone acquainted, we wriggled forward in a single file with comparative efficiency. Approximately 20 meters later we arrived at some flagging in a small dome room big enough for two to sit in. Andrea and Patty related the flagging to the survey notes and determined that we were at the final station of the previous survey.
That meant it was time to wash our hands and retrieve our instruments, a proposition that was easier said than done. Attempting to wash anything in BM was a fruitless endeavor. We did the best we could using the muddy stream puddles that collected between the otter slides, but it was ineffective. We tied in and surveyed from BM12 to 13 and as I went to rinse my hands to once again handle the instruments, I noticed something remarkable about the pool I was at. It continued under the next mud hump, and when I stuck my hands in to wash them off, they came out…clean! Or what amounted to clean by BM standards. What sorcery was at work I did not know, but we all seized the opportunity as we crawled by the sacred spring.
The rest of the puddles did not share the same magical quality, and the survey from here on was more vexing. My travel brochure had perhaps left out the finer details of how muddy and wormlike the BM passage was, and I think that was not lost on my teammates. Jokes were cracked, groans were issued, and the occasional lighthearted mutiny was proposed until eventually, Patty informed us that her coworker had a term for this kind of situation. Booger bear. With that, our team had a name. How did we know that we were experiencing a booger bear? To move meant to coat yourself in mud, with little recourse. The walls were mud, the floor was mud, and the ceiling was often mud. We were surveying in a Nutella jar. It was the worst for Andrea. She had the unenviable task of keeping the survey book clean, and was, as the sketcher, at the back of our single-file line. This meant that by the time she got to a puddle, it had already been thrice trampled into a state more akin to gravy than water. I can tell you from having seen the near immaculate book later, that she did rise to the occasion. That is why she was the sketcher, and I was plastering flagging tape to the walls with mud pies. Know your strengths.
It was slow going, but we were making progress. I set stations and occasionally read instruments or pulled tape when it was more practical from my position. Grace was on tape and backsight duty, Patty was on foresight duty, and Andrea brought up the rear of our column. If ever a passage did not want to be surveyed, this was a contender and despite their feedback, I was not setting stations with the intentional goal of making the instruments suffer. Most of our shots were 1 to 2 meters, but we did hit a home run between stations 16 and 17, shooting a whopping 5 meters! We rejoiced. Station 17 was bittersweet however since the farther in we went, the worse the air became. I am a poor canary, so fortunately Andrea had the good sense to bring it up and after a group morale check, it was decided that we would finish out the last two stations and turn back. The last two stations were a tremendous pain in the butt however, so much so that since Grace and I had already pushed our way in, the book would be passed forward,I would sketch the last bit. Grace headed back too and I was left there for a few minutes to admire Andrea’s extraordinary cleanliness up to that point.
For my part, I didn’t make it appreciably worse, which in my book is a victory. I wrapped up and rejoined Team Booger Bear in the main Boneyard passage. Clean water! We rejoiced once more. But, moments later, Patty discovered that she had been betrayed by a broken zipper and her pocket headlamp had been left behind. She was content to leave it for next time, but I hate to lose things, and I couldn’t pass up another ride on the Otter Slides, so I turned around and retraced our steps, combing my fingers through the muck as I went. I hit station 19 and turned back empty-handed and while rehearsing the best way to deliver that disappointment unto Patty, I saw the hint of a fabric strap and recovered the light out of the soup.
I backtracked and cleaned off, and the four of us set off for the entrance at 6:30 PM. After an hour of walking, crawling, swimming, dragging, and murky water shin busting we were back at the bottom of the shaft, gearing up for our imminent rapture. By 7:43 PM, Grace and I were topside, greeted by the dried-off members of our fellow teams, a plate of hot quesadillas, and David Ochel carrying a tray of cold beverages. Patty and Andrea followed shortly, and with that, the brave Booger Bears were all safely above ground, the last to leave and the muddiest of the day.