Horsethief Cave: Horsethief Cave Survey Weekend May 20-22

Date: 05/21/2022
Author: Lukas Eddy
Participants: Will Boekel, Bryan Gindling, Caitlin Rex, Jeff, Fain, John, Adrian Ballard, Aaron McBride, David Gianforte, Colin, Suhei Eddy, Lukas Eddy

If you’re not already familiar with Horsetheif Cave, it’s something like 20 miles long and likely not fully explored. A previous map exists but is incomplete and inaccurate. So, NRMG cavers and other cavers are undertaking a 7-10 year project to re-survey and fully explore the cave.
This weekend yielded around a dozen hungry cavers. We all arrived in between snow squalls, and planned our weekend over ramen in the legendary Armpit Cabin. There would be three teams: photo, Lidar, and survey.
All of us woke up early Saturday morning, crawling out of iced-over tents and fogged-up trucks to go caving. It was windy and below freezing.
Horsethief has an hour-long entrance crawl series where you only stand up a few times. This entrance is quite dusty, and we donned masks and headed in. After the crawl, everyone split up into teams: Will took a photo team to the Mind Bender section of cave. David took a Lidar team along the D-line. Bryan took a survey team to the end of the U-Line.
Will got some kick-arse photos. David scanned some nice passage. But Bryan’s Distos were just not feeling the team spirit. Two hours into the cave, we tried to calibrate the Distos, but they kept giving the error message of ‘Too many iterations’. None of us had seen this message before. We tried multiple times, in multiple rooms, to no effect.
After an hour, we gave up and attempted to reach Pancake Universe, supposedly one of the most beautiful and remote parts of the cave. We didn’t reach, as the existing map, for all the efforts of its cartographers, is not really easy to use for navigation in this part of the cave. Nevertheless, there were incredible gypsum flowers, inspiring Monty Python quotes, and a long conversation about the mating habitats of sea otters and platypuses.
About 10 hours after entering, all teams had exited the cave. We again huddled in Armpit cabin, ate copious amounts of ramen, and passed out for the night.
On Sunday Bryan and Will called some senior cavers about the Disto error message of ‘Too many iterations.’ We also watched some Derek Bristol videos to troubleshoot. Eventually, Bryan discovered that the message means something like ‘Memory full’, as deleting previous calibrations freed up space and allowed us to calibrate them.
By this point, already midday, the Lidar team was scanning the U-Line. Bryan took a team to better explore the entrance area, and likely found the concrete plug, buried with rocks and metal, that connects to Bighorn Cave.
Will, myself and Suhei again went to the far reaches of the U-line, about 2 hours travel time, and sketched a whopping two pages – four stations – before running out of time and turning back. We exited the cave to a beautiful spring day and a thunderstorm forming over distant snow-capped peaks.
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