For the UTG, March’s Honey Creek trip was smaller in scale than our previous visit in January. Our two teams lost their respective trip leaders in the days leading up to the trip, which resulted in us combining to form one team that needed something to do. Holly Klein, Bailey Ohlson, Ian Sullivan, and myself—the Blue Bandicoots—studied the map the night before. We chose three Boneyard leads that had previously been discussed and turned in for the night. The next morning we suited up and waited for our turn down the shaft. Ian and Bailey went first and then Holly and I rode down with Bennett Lee. We bid him farewell and headed upstream at 11:10AM. I estimated that our leads were an hour-and-a-half away and since it was the other three’s first time in the cave, I led the way. The group seemed pleasantly surprised that the water wasn’t as cold as they had feared, and soon we were on our way to the Boneyard. In an hour and thirty-five minutes we reached our first lead, after some stops for photos.
In the right wall of the passage we found BS15, a tall, narrow thing that zig-zagged back for several
meters. Ian squeezed in and scouted until he found the remnants of a survey station. He reported back and we decided to visit the other nearby leads before committing to the first one.
We set off for BM11, described as a 1m diameter mud tube. We apparently overshot it and passed not only that lead, but also our next lead because we hit the T intersection at the end of the Boneyard. We took our bearings, consulted the map, and turned around. The Bandicoots stopped at BF167 on our way back and investigated.
This lead, a 4’ tall narrow slot on the right wall was landmarked by an eye-catching drapery on the opposite wall. Ian, once again, headed in as a probe. Inside of the narrow mud slot was an 8” by 2’ passage obscured by a mud hump. Barely visible beyond was a space 8’ long, 4’ wide, and 2’ tall that he said would need more than hand tools to continue. We flagged the lead’s entrance and resumed our hunt for BM11.
I crammed myself into every hole in the walls, floor, and ceiling but found no 1m diameter mud tubes. Finally, we found our target. BM11 was indeed a 1m mud tube, but it turned immediately and a natural bridge further obscured its shape. I clawed out a cubic foot of mud, bashed rock, and headed in.
It had previously been large enough to enter but the modification made it easier and made the entrance more obvious. Ian followed me into the narrow tunnel and Bailey and Holly recorded what we were reporting. I was under the impression that they were following and therefore didn’t establish an expectation of how long we would be pushing the lead. More on that later. BM11 was supposed to be a short passage that ended in a dig, per the line plot. Instead, Ian and I encountered an undulating mud tube, periodically interrupted by 15’ domes that carried on seemingly without end.
As Ian followed, I repeatedly shouted back in disbelief that it kept going.
we chased the end of the passage past mud banks marked with scrapes and shoe prints from prior explorers and finally reached three flagging strips.
We took this to mean we had reached the end of the survey, but the caver tracks and the passage kept going in front of me. We estimated that we had traveled between 2-300’ and Ian decided to stay put so we could stay in contact with the girls. We agreed that I would give it another 20 feet and turn around. I reached the end of the tracks and was met with a constriction where the mud bank met the opposite wall and ceiling and the cave stream trickled out of a gap in the floor. I peeled the bank back and made it me-sized. When I popped through I found myself staring at the continuing 1-2m passage heading off around a corner. I yelled back to Ian to ask if the girls wanted to survey and he doubled back for an answer.
A few minutes later he replied, “They weren’t following, they didn’t know if we were okay, and they’re not happy.” Oof. We flew back through the passage, sliding as fast as we could. In about ten minutes we emerged from the crooked mouth of BM11, thoroughly slimed. Sure enough, they were not happy, rightfully so. I normally fancy myself very coordinated with call out times and team safety, but I got mesmerized by the endless mud tube and was operating on the inaccurate assumption that they were following Ian. We talked it out, apologized in what I hope was the sufficient amount, and learned that Bailey and Holly had stayed put, eventually got worried, attempted to follow, shouted for us as loud as they could, and then began discussing contingency plans. We had not heard so much as a peep. As soon as blood pressures returned to normal, we backtracked to BS15, and briefly discussed surveying. Understandably, spending a half-hour wondering if half your party had perished in a mudhole has an unsavory effect on morale. We regrouped and headed out. All in, we flagged and described all of our leads, and I intend to return to survey them. We reached the exit at 6:50PM, exactly an hour after departing BS15. We reached the surface just in time to peel off our wetsuits in the warmth of the setting sun, and as we sat down to talk with the surface crew, Drew and Patty drove up with margaritas. All told, this weekend we got three more cavers invested in the Honey Creek project, and we’re all eager to return.