Horsethief Cave: Surveying for Pancakes (Horsethief Resurvey Project)

Date: 10/16/2021
Author: Ellen Whittle
Participants: Lots of people!

A truckload of southern Wyoming cavers including David Worthington, Isaac Lass, Ian Chechet and me, made the long trek up to Armpit City to join the monthly Bighorn/Horsethief Resurvey Project in October. We arrived late Friday evening after an adventurous time busting through some sloppy mud and snowdrifts, and dodging the swarms of opening season hunters. We said hello to everyone (just short of twenty in total) and hung out at the cabin for a while, but this was a crowd serious about caving: everyone was in bed by around 10 (Hans Bodenhamer would be so proud!)

The next day, everyone split into teams and project manager Will handed out well-organized kits to each team lead. Brian Gindling was to be the captain (aka Captain Beans) of our little team, which was assigned to the U line heading toward the “Pancake Universe” part of the cave. I spent the day running instruments, installing permanent survey stations, and taking inventory, while Ian shot backsights and sketched profile, and Brian sketched the plan view of the cave. We could have used an extra two or four hands each, so it was somewhat slow going. There isn’t an inch of Horsethief Cave that doesn’t have some interesting nook or cranny to look at, whether intricate gypsum needles and flowers, or impressive quantities of fossils embedded in the walls. Most importantly, we surveyed through a larger room featuring a big chunk of conglomerate rock in the middle, which we affectionately titled the Tower of Beans. I wasn’t sure if we had officially entered the Pancake Universe or not, so I decided that we were in Bean World, for no real reason.

The day flew by, and we finished eleven survey stations before retreating back through Denise’s Crawl and emerging on the surface by 6:30 PM. W were just in time to pose for a group photo with everyone to celebrate reaching the first official mile of resurvey.

The next day, Ian and Doug Warner practiced electronic sketching with a tablet and DistoX2s. Via a Bluetooth connection, the DistoX2s directly upload data from each shot for the sketcher to guide their drawing.  Everyone who gathered for the demonstration was sufficiently impressed. Although there is somewhat of a learning curve, the benefits were clear: improved accuracy, faster and more efficient survey/relay of information, and most importantly, no running out of room on the sketcher’s page!

I look forward to returning to the Horsethief survey on future trips, and encourage anyone with an interest in caving to get involved.

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