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Punkin Cave Survey Expedition #15, 18-20 March 2011

reported by Jim “Crash” Kennedy, expedition leader

Introduction: Punkin Cave lies near the tiny community of Carta Valley in Edwards County, Texas, and is currently the 9th longest cave in the state.  It is rapidly growing due to the dedicated efforts of a fairly small group of cavers.  We estimate that at least 1km passages remain unsurveyed, which, when eventually completed, will place the cave firmly in the top 10 list of longest caves in Texas.  That is not bad for a long-neglected cave previously thought to just be a large entrance room and some crawls!  Following is a brief report of the most recent trip.

After the wildly successful multi-day survey trip this past winter (28 December through 1 January), it was clear to me that the massive 5-6 team survey expeditions were no longer as effective as smaller trips with people intimately familiar with certain parts of the cave.  I planned this trip for a maximum of 12 surveyors, but in the end only had 10.  This worked out fine, with three teams tackling different areas of the cave, mopping up leads, and surveying into virgin passage.  I would still like to plan another multi-day expedition, and am currently looking at the Easter weekend.  The March expedition was made up of 5 Punkin Cave veterans and 5 cavers new to the project, a nice mix.  We saw 3 species of bats hibernating in the cave, tri-colored bats (Perimyotis subflavus), cave myotis (Myotis velifer), and Townsends big-eared bat (Corynorhinus townsendii).  I estimate probably 400-500 cave myotis, a few dozen big-eared bats, and upwards of a thousand or so trikes in the entire cave during the winter months.

As everyone was arriving Friday evening, I led a short trip to Deep Cave to the Forest of Columns and Helictite Room.  We got there right at dusk, and briefly admired the bat emergence before rushing through the cave.  We got to see at least one tri-colored bat and a black scorpion up close before exiting.  Joining me were Yaz Avila, Lydia Hernandez, and Aubri Jenson.  The next morning we got up, had a fabulous breakfast, and broke into survey teams.

The first team, TEAM SUPERSTITION, went back to some leads left since 2006 near the beginning of Superstition Maze.  Some of these were obvious leads, unsurveyed and passed up by many teams over the years heading deeper into the cave.  Matt Zappitello, a veteran of many Superstition surveys, ably led the team to various leads, interpreting the old survey notes and setting stations.  David Ochel admirably sketched this complicated section, and Aubri Jenson logged time with the Suuntos.  There are still more leads to map in this area, and everyone on the team indicated that they want to return some day.  They put in an eight-hour day, and made 21 survey shots, gaining an additional 61.11m of passage (average of 2.91m per shot).

The second team, TEAM WEST MAZE, headed off to the large and growing section of cave on the western side of the Entrance Room.  Team leader Lee Jay Graves has been working in this part of the cave for about 4 trips now, and continues to discover large rooms and a butt-load of passages.  This time he was assisted by Justin Shaw in his first time at keeping survey book in Punkin, and Galen Falgout and Angela Edwards scouting and setting stations.  It was the first Punkin survey trip for all three.  They placed 23 stations in a remarkable 10 hour trip, adding 72.38m to the length of the cave.  This is an average of 3.15m per shot.  They extended the survey downwards a lot, to the new fourth deepest point in the cave.  There is a heck of lot more to do in this area, and everyone is fired up for the next trip.

The third team, TEAM AREA 51, consisted of trip leader Crash and veterans Yazmin Avila and Lydia Hernandez.  They began their survey slowly, mopping up a couple of small leads left from the December surveys off of Superstition Maze.  They connected back to the room near the Woost Woom (now named the Widdle Woom) and another room east of that one (now called the West Woom).  Finally stopped by too-tight leads and the lack of a hammer, they went back through the Widdle Woom to finish another lead left by Jim, Tone Garot, Jen Foote, and Lydia in December.  It quickly connected back to previously surveyed portions of Superstition Maze.  Poking around this section, they soon found large unsurveyed virgin leads.  They took a 45 minute break to retrieve the Disto which was accidentally dropped down an impenetrable fissure (enlarged by pounding on it with big rocks), then cranked up the MP3 player and started reeling out long shots.  The survey took them way out into a complex multi-level area of previously unknown cave heading southwest, although it was not apparent at the time.  They soon heard voices from other surveyors.  Thinking it was Team Superstition, they were totally surprised to learn it was Team West Maze!  A major connection was made, crossing under the floor of the Entrance Room.  The connection was made to station WM51, and the inclination of that shot was +51°, so the new section has now been named Area 51.  Mopping up some more leads (and gaining more footage) resulted in another connection being made, this time near WM43.  Lots and lots of leads are left in this area, filling in a large blank spot on the map and making the plan view even more complicated that it was before.  117.76m was surveyed in a whopping 33 shots, for an average of 3.57m per shot.

Altogether, the three teams made 77 survey shots, averaging 3.26m per shot, and increased the length of the cave by 251.25m making Punkin Cave the 9th longest cave in Texas, with a current surveyed length of 3,554.48m.  The depth has not changed since the discovery of Fifty Fathoms (62.4m, 28th deepest in Texas), but downtrending leads in the West Maze give us hope for greater depth.  The people on this trip were awesome, hardworking, and a lot of fun to be around.  We had Movie Night on Friday, and ate very well, despite the power company having a region-wide blackout on Saturday afternoon, forcing us to cook an entire meal over the charcoal grill.  Nevertheless, it turned out great!  Don Arburn and Gill Ediger stayed at the cabin the entire weekend working on the plumbing, and they were able to have the showers running for us by the time we exited the cave, even if they were cold and the pump was powered by the generator on Don’s welder!  Thanks to all who attended, and I hope to see you back on the next trip.

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