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2016-08-04  
2016-07-30  
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Silvertip Caving Expedition, MT
mini location map2016-07-30
79 by photographer avatarGrottoGirl
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Silvertip Caving Expedition, MT 
Silvertip Caving Expedition, MT
 
Backpack avatar Jul 30 2016
GrottoGirl
Backpack32.00 Miles 7,225 AEG
Backpack32.00 Miles8 Days         
7,225 ft AEG
 no routes
1st trip
Linked none no linked trail guides
Partners none no partners
I embarked on a new type of journey, a caving expedition to work on surveying the Silvertip cave system in the Bob Marshall Wilderness in Montana. Even more crazy, it was a backpack into the most remote wilderness in the US to go alpine caving trip with people I really didn't know. The trip's goal was to continue to resurvey the cave system with modern technology to create a complete map.

The hike in was a bit over 13 miles. We split it up over a couple of days. I hiked in with the cartographer who was also a high school science teacher and two of his students. I consider myself a pretty solid hiker, but these guys were capable of leaving me in the dust! The hike in was filled with creek sounds, glimpses of the limestone ridge line, and lots of berries making it really nice so I didn't mind walking by myself once in a while.

On the second day, we got off the main trail and on to a caver's route. From there we wandered over an amazing karst landscape with plenty of cracks and holes to peer into on our way to camp.

I picked a nice camp spot close to the 'kitchen' and others so that I wouldn't feel to exposed to any Grizzlies that might come along. The 'kitchen' was unlike any you can imagine. It was perched on the edge of a cliff where you could look down into the Silvertip drainage which stretched for miles all the way back to the car. Alongside our camp was the amazing ridge line that I had gazed at during the hike in.

After we were settled we had to hike back to where we left the trail. It just wasn't reasonable to carry in 8 days of food, cold weather caving clothes, and vertical gear without our typical backpacking gear. In addition, there was all the group survey gear that included 1500 feet of rope! A packer was dropping off the load of gear for us to shuttle back to camp. The route to camp wasn't horse/mule friendly. We loaded up our packs to the point of almost not being able to stand up. Then we headed back to camp.

The first night at the cavers' camp was good. We figured out our plans for the next day. We hung out watching the first of many fabulous sunsets.

The next morning around 4 AM I was awoken by noise. Rustling leaves, snapping branches, and rocks moving! At first I hoped it was one of the group waking up early but then I heard the noise move over to the other side of the camp and typically no one would wander around that much at 4 AM! All I could then think of was bear - Grizzly bear! Oh no, I had no bear spray! I listened and listened to the bear roam around camp. It seemed to me like it went everywhere! I laid for a long time like a coward in my sleeping bag hoping nothing bad happened. At some point I fell back to sleep.

In the morning, I heard others start to stir out in the kitchen. I heard talk about Frank, no one on our trip was named Frank. Soon I learned that a 5-point buck had visited during the night. He had been in attendance the year before so those who had been on last year's trip was already familiar with Frank. Whew, it wasn't a bear!

I was given an 'easy' assignment for my first day of alpine caving. My team and I were to survey from the entrance of a cave called Grossoderhole to where it connected into a survey that had started from another cave. I would sketch plan, the other two would do measurements using DistoX (a Leica laser device that had been modified for the needs of cavers) and one of them would sketch the profile. Plan is what you'd see if you looked down at the cave from above. Profile is the vertical depiction from the side. Both are drawn to scale and are used to help draft the map.

After a short hike, we found the entrance. Gearing up was miserable. It was sunny, with no clouds, blue sky, and probably around 80 degrees. How can that be miserable???? Imagine putting on gear to go out downhill skiing or snowmobiling under those conditions! I put on my fleecy ski base layer pants, a Patagonia Capilene 3 base layer top, a fleece pullover, balaclava, wool fingerless gloves liners, freezer gloves, and 5 mm neoprene socks. Then I pulled on fairly heavy cave suit and my Canyoneering boots. I was pretty excited to get started so I scrambled down a snow slope down into the mouth of the cave to watch the trip leader start to rig our first drop. After the rigging team had descended further to continue rigging we started to survey. The first several shots were on snow. Soon I noticed the cold coming through my cave suit. My bum was also getting wet from the melting of the snow. I was on rope partially hanging on my harness and partially perched on the top of a tall, steep snow/ice slope trying to sketch what I saw. Sketching what I saw was difficult - I've never seen snow and ice in a cave! It was mind blowing!!! At the bottom of the first rappel was an ice rink. However, unlike a normal ice rink it had a lot of texture so we didn't slip and slide. We continued to survey the room and I just kept getting colder and colder. Finally, the guys took me to warm up. Typically, you do a bit of exploring in the cave and by moving you get warm. Nope, I may well have been a solid lump of snow. I wasn't getting warm. The danger of making a mistake in this environment would be fatal due to hypothermia. With that in mind, I called it and we climbed the rope out of the cave where I stripped down to my skivvies to let the warm summer day to warm me and dry my long johns. After a lunch on top, I got brave enough to go back down into the bowels of the frigid cave. I modified my outfit by adding my rain jacket and pants inside of my cave suit.

We continue to survey to the top of the second drop. The section after the ice rink was a hallway filled with a bit of breakdown and underneath the breakdown was a fissure so once in a while you got to peer down into the hallway below. Lucky, for me there was no snow or ice to lay in. Also, my final outfit seemed to be more or less alpine cave worthy!

Th next day, I insisted on continuing on the survey that we had started. I didn't want to be a quitter. The trip leader mentioned that compared to the other caves he rigged that it was probably the coldest. That made me feel better!

The next day, we were a team of two so I sketched plan and got the opportunity to use the DistoX for the first time. It was amazing to see firsthand how much faster it is to survey with laser technology to collect the distance, azimuth, and compass data! My team continue to survey the rest of the way to the survey tie-in. We had to do two rappels to finish it up. Along the way, I saw a lot of pretty sculptured walls but almost no formations. I learned later that the cold really retards the growth of the formations. I was really excited to accomplish what I should have the day before. I even was warm enough I could have surveyed more but my partner was done for the day.

The next day we had considered going for a hike but the weather was cloudy and rain threatened. It was a perfect caving day. After a bit longer of a hike then the previous day's, we arrived to our staging area. Getting dressed was pleasant! We were heading into another of the entrances of the cave system called Freezen. In total, there are currently 8 entrances that make up the Silvertip Cave System. As team of two, we were mopping up leads near the entrance. We finished the first one and for a break my partner took me for some adventure! We traveled through the cave to where it drops down into the main part of the cave system. We had to rappel and then travel along a tight fissure by stemming followed by another two rappels. I was sweating by the time we got to the bottom. I wanted to rip off all my clothes! I did remove my rain jacket. After a lunch break we climbed back up the ropes up to the top to continue surveying. I found it very cumbersome and slow to ascend the ropes with all the clothes.

Our next little cleanup was a crawling passage that we called too tight to continue due to a pretty ice column that was in the middle of the passage blocking further progress. We didn't want to destroy the pretty ice column since it had likely been there a long time. This passage had a section of ice floor that we had to lay on. After we finished it I was ready to warm up so we went up to see if the weather had changed - nope. Another team was finishing for the day so we were able to get a third person to go with us for the last lead. The last lead again was a crawling lead. We crawled along a very circuitous route that twisted and turned and went up and down. We reach a small, cold room and decided we were done for the day.

The next day was the girls' day off and hiked up Silvertip! You can read that triplog in it's own entry under Silvertip Mountain.

The next day my team of three went back to Grossoderhole to finish a lead that another team had started. It was fun to rappel down the drops that I had sketched. It's amazing how fast one can travel without having to survey! Soon we were at the spot where we were to continue surveying.

During our survey we saw evidence of surveys from years gone by. Several surveys had been started but no map had actually been finished. Back in the 1970s when the first survey took place carbide was often used to mark survey stations.

The passage was a small but nice walking passage. It took it's time winding its way to it's end in breakdown. Towards the end the wind coming through the breakdown was significant and cold! On the way out we popped into another lead just to see if it looked like it continued. In that passage we found what looked like a Packrat skeleton.

The last night we were treated to an amazing thundering and lightening show. Our kitchen looked out over the land and we had front row seats. It was a nice ending to our stay up in the cirque.

The next day, my team finished up our lead in Freezen tying into the main passage. We also found yet another lead.

After that we packed up adding some group gear to our already groaning packs. We weren't having the packer come back for gear. We headed out as a grumbling thunderstorm bid us farewell. The rain came down on us pretty steadily until we got back on the main trail. The wet ground presented many challenges with footing.

We camped about half way back to the cars near Silvertip creek. We enjoyed one last night as a group.

The next day we got out of camp pretty quick. From there we carried our heavy loads back to the cars.

Alpine caving was an eye-opener for me. Mentally and physically I wasn't prepared for it. After the first day I figured it out and was able to enjoy my time in the wonderful Bob Marshall Wilderness! I started out not knowing anyone and have left with life-time caving friends! Silvertip, I'll be back!

Separated out the Silvertip Peak trip so that I can post a separate album of photos of this amazing peak!
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