Formation Choke

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Formation Choke

Postby Ralph E. Powers » Nov 13, 2007 5:16 pm

I was going to post this in the general discussion but realized that it is better on a conservation thread.
Hypothetical question.
You're going down a passage (walking, crawling, whatever!) and suddenly you come across a gorgeous area filled with mini-stals and lots of straws and lovely flowstone on the floor. As you peer in to admire the beauty there you see behind them all the passage continues to blackness and is blowing a nice strong breeze. You search for a way through, promising to be gentle as possible and having one of your caving buds behind you guiding your way to ensure nothing gets broken... however it turns out by doing that way... the passage becomes impassable. There are no other way/leads that could allow you to circumnavigate your way past the choke. What to do?

In pushing a new passage/cave and coming upon an obvious going lead does one sacrifice a few formations or just sigh and dream of what may lay beyond?

Your thoughts?

I've come across a few of these myself and have just left it well enough alone. It's maddening to see all that big black passage beyond and wondering if it continues for a couple hundred or a few thousand more feet. But those pretties... who'd want to hurt those pretties?
My friends and I were discussing this last night... we got to wondering.
This must be a delimma for cave diggers as well as surveyors.

Your thoughts?
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Postby graveleye » Nov 13, 2007 6:09 pm

This has been done before because I've seen it with my own eyes.

Ask me right now if I would break formations to find more passage and my answer would be "no". That might be another story if it was blowing strong, but only after a lot of consideration and probably consultation from other cavers that I know and respect, and the owner of the cave. I've got a place in a cave I like to go to a lot that has a small crawlway (1' high, 2' wide) with two small columns completely blocking the way. I can see a very small room through there with nothing really remarkable in it. BUT, there is no airflow whatsover. In this instance, I wouldn't consider it because it's not worth the destruction for 5 more feet of cave.

But if one were to determine that the formations in front of a heavy blowing lead needed to be removed, the landowner should be consulted before-hand. I've known archaeological digs where the felt it necessary to break through a flowstone floor in order to access the fossil record underneath. They contacted and received written permission before they did so. (It was a successful excavation too)

I'm willing to bet it occurs more often than not. Never done it myself, don't plan to, and I'm not recommending it at all, but I know it has been done.

This will be an interesting discussion I hope as it does raise certain ethical questions.
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Postby fuzzy-hair-man » Nov 13, 2007 7:36 pm

Been there,

I turned back, as it was I found out later this meant that I missed the continuation of the cave, Oh well that part of the cave is gated anyway and the area is attempting to recover so it's best left alone anyway.

In your situation I'd find out if your lead is known about if it's already known then I'd leave it alone. If it's unknown then I'd consider a return trip in order to push it further, probably I'd do a de-trog (change clothes boots etc) to help protect the area from walked in mud etc. If after that it doesn't go then let it be known that it doesn't go so that no one feels the need to tromp all over the crystal floor, a survey would help here but if the section is hard to find it might draw unwanted attention to the area. :hairpull:
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Postby wyandottecaver » Nov 13, 2007 8:54 pm

well, most people say they would leave it. and without a strong breeze or visible promising passage I think most would. On the other hand, I have seen very very few promising looking formation leads that hadn't been "pushed" but have seen and been through lots and lots of them that had. for me, the quality of the formation vs the quality of the lead would be key. personally, I agree that you have to decide if the formation vs exploration cost benefit ratio is good, then get permission, then go sleep on it. my guess is that in most areas where it is worth it, someone else has already done it!
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Postby Dawn Ryan » Nov 13, 2007 9:01 pm

There may be another way around. I've seen this before, when lacking reserve, someone blasted their way through some nice formations only to find another way around later. Sometimes things and places are better off just left alone. People seem to have a hard time doing that though.

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Postby Ron Fulcher » Nov 14, 2007 12:06 am

In a promising lead it is acceptable to remove just what is needed to proceed. I have difficulty with once this action is done those who follow may not be as careful with what was left behind and seek to continually enlarge the passable passage.


The fact is that new discoveries of caves and of continuing passage in already known caves may and do very often require that such measures are taken. If done carefully and with the permission and or assistance of the landowner, there should not be any PC stigma attached to the action.

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Postby MUD » Nov 14, 2007 2:33 am

Ron Fulcher wrote: The fact is that new discoveries of caves and of continuing passage in already known caves may and do very often require that such measures are taken. If done carefully and with the permission and or assistance of the landowner, there should not be any PC stigma attached to the action.


:exactly:
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Postby tncaver » Nov 14, 2007 9:07 am

Almost always no. However, Blue Spring Cave (the longest cave
in Tennessee) has had some exceptions to the rule of not damaging
formations to get to more cave. Those exceptions were done with
landowner permission and yielded great discoveries to include a
new 2nd entrance and a large decorated extension with big pits and
lots of beautiful formations. The landowner is VERY conservation
minded and insists on a minimum of such activity. The exceptions
in Blue Spring Cave caused almost no damage because the
enlargements were done very carefully. Using modern digging
techniques it is now possible to very skillfully remove rock in a
formation area with minimal to no damage to the formations.
Generally speaking, if exceptionally rare or beautiful formations
would have to be sacrificed, then NO action should be taken.
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"formations" and "digging"

Postby Roppelcaver » Nov 14, 2007 3:48 pm

A skeptic I am -- I think there is a big difference between a hypothetical and real world scenarios. The good moral argument has been well made in this topic, but in the end I would say it really depends.

First off, I have been on both sides of this issue. In Roppel, we have manically pushed passages for new cave, including digging and other chemically-aided techniques, although the latter is a significant minority. The noble virtues being espoused in the thread often go out the window when one is off the living room chair and in the cave staring down a passage with blasting wind and potentially miles of cave beyond. I wonder if this is still a clear "do not proceed" situation. But in Roppel, I only speak for myself and a few others I cave with; after all, I don't dismiss that we could be in a minority (although I don't think so).

I have also turned around with formations ahead, for wanting to avoid damage, but in that case I considered the promise of new passage to be nominal. That would make me a hypocrite I think.

Is it okay to pop one formation? Or, is there a mininum number where it is not acceptable? Is three the right number? Is popcorn a formation? Does it have to be pretty? What if it is ugly and covered with mud? And so on.

This is all silly, really. The real question has nothing to do with bashing formations. The question should be is it okay to modify the cave to find more of it? That is not so easy. I would argue (successfully) that bashing corners off sharp bends in a small passage, flutes from a canyon wall, or smoothing the annoying popcorn from the wall of a crawl are transgressions on par with busting lily-white soda straws. The fact that the latter seems to be more morally suspect is purely the subjective nature that something is "pretty".

I knew one accomplished caver (now deceased) who argued that since formations were all secondary deposits in a cave, it was a sign that the cave was "dieing" and no scruples of bashing them should exist. Indeed, it was a self-serving statement, but it drove home the point that a cave is a cave and damage is damage regardless of our subjective opinion of what is pretty (or not)..

The concept of asking permission from the owner before hammering the formations is an interesting idea, too. It certainly can be used to validate our own subjective opinions to others, unless hammering an offending corner rises to the same bar. I think not. I am convinced that for an owner, I could spin it either direction to achieve the desired results (in most cases). I can see situations where one would be compelled to ask permission for such a thing, but I can think of many, many more where one would tend to not to. If we were faced with this moral dilemma in Roppel, I don't even know who we would ask (owner? Which one? All of them? The owner whose land we are under?). In this hypothetical example in Roppel, we fortunately have a self-policing organizational model that works pretty well. I have found that in the end we are all acting sensibly. And, no, we generally don't ask persmission, although we DID ask permission to dig or blast open our entrances. Of course we would do THAT.

I don't want to give everyone the wrong idea. At Roppel, we are actually fairly conservation minded, protecting pretty areas, sensitive biota, sleeping bats, and try to avoid making tracks where not necessary. But, we have dug and blasted on occassion. And likewise, we have had trips where we have established low-impact routes through the cave (flagging sensitive areas for example). I would like to say we are practical.

I don't know if confessing my "hypocrisy" makes me a lesser person or not, but I do believe that "in situ" the decisions are not nearly as clear cut as being portrayed in this thread, nor is the issue only about formations.

Again, it all depends; and most experienced cavers know the right thing to do when they see it.

Roppel caver

(If we had not blasted, Roppel Cave would be zero miles long, rather than 88 miles of Mammoth Cave. Some would say, "so be it". It would be hard to argue that point)
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Postby Squirrel Girl » Nov 14, 2007 6:43 pm

Good arguments, RC. I had similar thoughts, but no time to lay them all out.

I once pondered the difference between pushing sandy gravel out of the way to make it down a passage versus digging. Versus hammering.

And I agree about the subjectivity of "pretty."

Plus, I agree that it all depends. Most people I know would hesitate to do much passage modification and most of the time pay attention to not marring caves. But in a "good" lead, they'll do what needs to be done to continue.
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Postby wyandottecaver » Nov 14, 2007 7:36 pm

I couldn't resist a plug for a classic from the NSS ballad salons... Bangin' Bill by Dangerous Dick and the Duckunders in 2005. Thanks to Squirrelgirl for her work on making these available!

http://www.caves.org/committee/salons/b ... song.shtml
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Postby Ralph E. Powers » Nov 15, 2007 9:48 am

Well lets try this... a few times I've come across a tight lead that could be expanded with the aid of a few good blows with a hammer and/or with a chisel... but we're talking about solid flowstone on the sides and bottom and similar calcite formation growth on the top. Looking in (the hole(s)) were large enough to stick one's helmeted head through one could see large continuing passage... but again we're talking about formations and yes they were very pretty for their smoothness and color which complimented the rest of the room.
Same thing too... not all going leads have blowing air.
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Enlarging...

Postby Roppelcaver » Nov 15, 2007 10:42 am

Well, certainly what is "pretty" is subjective, and we still seem to be debating if it is okay to hammer a pretty flowstone to open a passage(Ralph's last scenario). I do agree that not all promising leads blow air, and if I thought the lead was promising enough, I would know what to do.

The other orthoganal discussion is that somehow the nature of the tools used is relevant. Squirrel Girl made the good point of asking whether scooping sand to the side is any better than digging in clay or bashing corners off a passage (or hammering "Smooth, pretty flowstone"). So, from a debate perspective, we have three factors in this thread:

1. How pretty is it?

2. How "aggressive" is the modifcation? (Scooping sand with our hands, or are we blasting major chunks of limestone or flowstone?

3. How promising is it?

Agreed, we are not all debating all these points, but they seem to be common to the thread, and are all very subjective. Anyone can find fault with any decision made that modifies the cave

Ironically (in the Roppel Cave area), we are currently faced with this scenario. It is no dilemma for us. On a recent trip in a new cave, the team found themselves walking downstream in a tall, glorious canyon blowing good air. A great lead. It heads into a large blank area on the map and is very promising for elading to many miles of cave. Far downstream, it bifurcates and (nearly) flowstones up. You can peer around the obstacle to see continuing canyon leading downstream, but you cannot get through. Maddenning. We want to get past that flowstone.

Fortunately, we are lazy slugs and we are not immediately running into the cave to pulverize the annoying obstacle (and, btw, we don't think it is "pretty" looking -- if that matters). Our currrent plan it to work some other good leads first (very promising), which will probably be a long-term distraction (as they are heading into a major chunk of Toohey Ridge, the opposite direction from the flowstone lead). Later, we will climb all over the tall canyon in the area of the flowstone to see if there is a bypass (I would like to say it is because we are conservationists, but, again, we are just lazy). We might get lucky and find a bypass, and then we can brag about what good conservationists we are...

The very nature of pretty formations seems to help their own cause. In the Mammoth Cave area, formations ahead are usually the death kneel for a passage -- the passage is heading out from beneath the ridge and is running into the hillside. Usually there is no point to pushing ahead. Therer are exceptions, and we know them when we see them and act accordingly and appropriately.

This is an interesting discussion.

RC.
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Postby mgmills » Nov 15, 2007 2:39 pm

tncaver wrote:The landowner is VERY conservation
minded and insists on a minimum of such activity. The exceptions
in Blue Spring Cave caused almost no damage because the
enlargements were done very carefully.


I was in Blue Spring this past weekend. The enlarged squeeze to the "rimstone room" that one passes through to the Cathedral Room was pretty well done. I know it was done so it is pretty obvious to me but others who I have taken there have not noticed that it was modified.

BTW, en route we saw some digging tools in a sandy crawlway. When I was returning the key I asked about the dig and was told it was your dig. Is it going anywhere?
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Postby tncaver » Nov 15, 2007 4:31 pm

Martha,
I helped with the dig you are referring to on one trip only,
but the dig is not mine. A fellow in the
Nashville Grotto was working it. I don't know if he is still working
on it or not. It has no airflow whatsoever. That does not mean it
won't go, but dramatically lowered my expectations when I saw it.
If Lonnie told you that dig is mine, he is mistaken.
If tools are still there, then someone must still be digging on it.
However, not I. If you are interested in that dig I can give you
the contact info for that fellow. Mark Joop also has a dig going
on in the cave and I think a trip is scheduled to go there soon.
Maybe this weekend.

I helped Mark Joop dig on the "Joop Loop" dig which did go.
It had only a very slight amount of airflow.
Most of my personal digs are surface digs. :grin:
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