Author: Dylan Chambers
Participants: Ellen Whittle, Ian Chechet, Benjamin Newman, Matthew Ulrich
September 16-18, Horsethief Project Weekend
The group motto of the weekend was:
“If you die, it probably isn’t worth it”
We started our trip out to the Armpit early Friday morning amidst the forecast of looming rain. We wanted to avoid that if at all possible for a pleasant morning drive up the mountain, and for pleasurable times exploring the surrounding area.
We arrived at the Armpit around 1pm and set up camp. After setting up camp, we were too eager to cave and did some phone flashlight poking around at the entrance to Horsethief, then went to Bighorn and ooo’d and ahhh’d. We then had a short travel to the rim of the canyon, where Matt and I scared the soul out of afraid-of-heights Ben.
That night we shook some hands with Armpit and NRMG legends alike and had one too many glasses of boxed pinot grigio to set us to bed. The night was still, and the air was cool, it felt like fall.
We slept like rocks and woke up the next morning, staggering to the Armpit to warm up, meal prep and eat breakfast. Our bags were packed from the night before and we were eager to get started. We met Ellen and Ian, our approved sketchers, and learned we were headed out to the L line.
We entered the cave at about 9:00 am and reached Denise’s crawl shortly thereafter. I was expecting it to not be a problem, as our cave house had already had a few experiences with sustained crawls, but alas, nothing was quite like this. Between this and the Canyon experience the day before, it was a wonder nobody mysteriously disappeared forever. After 45ish minutes or so of grunts and groans and catching up to Ian + Ellen, we reached the Gypsum Wall and sat down for a chance to pack down some calories and sugar, trying to recover from the torturous venture prior.
We headed down towards the L line and stopped for some additional ooo’s and ahhh’s on the way. The highlight formation for our group was a small piece of canyon passage, with a white floor that looked like spirals, creating the base for numerous formations of dripstone, flowstone, stalactites, and the likes, all covered in glorious shades of red, yellow, orange, and white. It was truly breath taking. Soon after, we arrived at the first survey marker, L1. It was a bit maze like going through the small dips, twists, cracks, and crawls to follow the survey markers up to the last one placed, and some wrong turns were made, all in good fun of course.
Upon arrival at the end of the surveyed L line, we divided out tasks. Ben on front sight, Matt on back sight, Ian on top-down sketch, and Ellen on profile. I was the drill man, and if you ask me it’s as badass as the name sounds. We spent around two hours surveying, including a 30 minute detour by Ben, Matt and I, where we found significant passage and strong airflow leading through sketchy 45 degree steep tunnel passage. Unfortunately, we did not feel confident to push that lead and continue the L line further, but we were feeling pretty stoked once Ian told us that that may possibly be the continuation of the L line, and that where we were surveying and where we were pushing was off the previous map, so cheers to that.
When all was said and done, jokes, drills, and ridiculous DistoX trickshots aside, we got around 200 or more feet surveyed, which was an accomplishment for us first time surveyors, plus Ian and Ellen since we were so damn far back into the cave.
We turned around at about 3:30 pm in order to have a leisurely stroll out of the cave, led by the three Cave House boys, who I might mention are not particularly accustomed to the maze-like qualities of the beauty that is Horsethief.
By some stroke of God, Ian and Ellen managed to get us lost for around 10 minutes, which made us three feel much better about ourselves and boosted our egos to astronomic heights. I am pretty sure that we are the best cavers ever.
After exiting, Ian and Ellen reaffirmed our beliefs that they are some of the best folks in this world, and supplied a few ice cold beers.
We slept the night away and awoke feeling like we were hit by a freight train, but couldn’t quite snap the smiles off our faces.
Ian and Ellen, thank you for being great leaders and great new friends. We cannot wait to see how far this rabbit hole of caving will take us.