I just got back from Sonora, California after a fun weekend of caving and partying at the NSS Western Regional. It is an annual meeting of all the grottos on the west coast... mostly from California. I had a great time and met some really cool people. I took a bunch of pictures from our trip to Crystal Palace cave. The gallery can be found here in its entirety.
Here are some pictures...
New Melones Lake
A Rodent's Stash and Helictites, which are gravity defying speleothems that are created through hydrostatic and capillary pressure... they are my favorite formations.
Columns and shields
Eecue, the man, the myth, the helmeted geek
Jiggy Caver Steez
Crystal Palace Cave is one of the best caves in the Mother Lode area. To reach the entrance requires a 1.5 mile hike that drops you down about 1,700 feet, which isn't so bad on the way down, but on the way up is quite a hike. The cave is said to be a beginner level cave with an advanced level hike. I think it would be much easier if you started with an ascent and finished with a descent, but that's not the way it works.
Mark Bowers, whom I had just met, led our group of 10 cavers on the tour. Mark is the NCRC Western coordinator and he will be running the NCRC Western Region Cave Rescue Operations and Management Seminar which i will be attending in a couple of weeks. He was a good trip leader and took us through 90% of the cave on our 5 hour trip. We started out at the old entrance and climbed down some old stone steps that are reminders of the time Crystal Palace was a show cave in the late 19th century.
We climbed up into the Crystal Palace Chimney and then worked out way through the Hall of Nightmares and down to the Lake passage where I looked up and saw the most beautiful Helictites I had ever seen (see photos above). We then headed back through the Marshmellow Room and though a squeeze into the Blister Passage. We then took another wider squeeze into the Little Shield room and from there we passed the Tilted Stalagmite and entered the Big Shield Room, a highly decorated area with more than a dozen shields. After taking some pictures we dropped down through the Snow Crawl into the Lower Stream Passage in which the water level was extremely low so we didn't get wet (I was hoping to get wet). We took that to it's end where there are some nice formations (see the Elephant Trunk and Dogs Teeth). I also noticed some tiny cave pearls on the floor.
We rested for a minute and Greg, the 13 year old on the trip with us, went in to the Coathanger Room. Penelope also tried but her helmet got stuck and she opted to try again some other day, she made a valiant effort though.
After i took a short nap we turned back and pushed our way through a long crawl called the Bleeding Stalactite Passage which contained the highlight for me known as the Family Extractor, which is a tight squeeze that doesn't quite look big enough for me, but I went for it and made it without any problems. We then exited through the Dug Entrance and walked a hundred feet around to the Old Entrance where I went back in and signed the registry.
We then hydrated ourselves and hiked up the 1,700 foot vertical gain 1.5 mile death march... I had to stop a few times to rest but I made it and it was worth it. Crystal Palace is truly a beautiful cave with a good mixture of formations and squeezes, if you are in the area I whole heartedly recommend it.