Friday, March 14, 2014

Pinnacle Cave, Mt. Potosi, NV.

Recently I was informed of a (relatively) new discovery in Thailand. This natural wonder was found only four years ago, and is now regarded as the largest cave currently surveyed and explored on our planet earth! Being a big fan of the great unknown, spontaneous discovery, and continuous adventure, I was pretty interested to hear more about this wonder. After doing some reading I found out that Sơn Đoòng cave or "Mountain River Cave" in Thailand is large enough to house it's own city, has a forest, and also a river. This all sounded so awesome to me, and shortly after hearing about this some friends and I started discussing all the caving in Southern Nevada. My good friend and climbing partner Andy mentioned that he knew of a cave up at Mt. Potosi just a 30-40 minute drive from the house. Although not the worlds largest, Pinnacle Cave is an adventurous limestone cave with several mind-bogling caverns that we could check out that day. Without much delay, we started driving Southwest of Las Vegas to see what this local cave was all about.

The view looking up after dropping into the cave.

This would be my first time caving, or what's also called "spelunking".  The only experience I've had that might resemble plunging into a cave is having done The Maze in Red Rock Canyon. This canyoneering route required some 22 rappels and many miles of hiking as well as swimming through narrow canyons with a pack and gear!  The two resemble each other mostly because you use rappelling as a means to get into places that would otherwise be too difficult to travel through.  They are also similar because both follow a route that was carved by water over an almost unfathomable amount of time.  This type of terrain appeals to me for the adventure and the unique way in which it makes you face the unknown constantly.  Generally once you start you can't exactly "give-up" and turn around. It is a process but generally the easiest path is the one you're already on, and it's gonna be an exciting ride. 

Vanessa and the rubber chicken about to take the maiden voyage. 
Looking down while rappelling in the dark abyss. 

Our crew for the day was a rowdy bunch.  Equipped primary with party shirts, vintage hemp ropes, and a rubber chicken, we forged ahead expecting almost certain death… or at least to loose a limb or two. Alright well maybe not exactly, but we did have some funky shirts and a rubber chicken.  It is true that only Andy and I had any extensive climbing/rappelling/ascending experience.  Next in line on the expert list was Vanessa, who first exploded onto the adventure scene after she mutlipitch-rappeled Solar Slab Gully by moonlight sometime last year.  Then there was Chris, who was likely the most intelligent individual of the group.  He was excited to take part despite never having ascended a rope (to get back out) before.  His attendance in the cave reassured us that this was indeed a good idea. Last but not least was our new house-mate Kristi, who was about to make her rappelling, ascending, and caving debut.  She likely had no idea what she was getting into, but her willingness to embrace the adventure was becoming inspirational.  

A no-flash look at the descent.
Ever try to shoot a photo in pitch black while hanging from a rope?

Caves are very dark places. Pitch black actually. It is funny how easy it is to forget this. The only bit of light that exists is at the very surface, or mouth, of the cave.  After you lose sight of that there is only darkness and silence.  Our team brought a good selection of lights including personal head lamps, small lantern style lights, and a large flash for my camera.  I made a point throughout the journey to turn off my personal light and take a look around using only the reflected light from other's lights.  I thought this helped put everything into perspective and made a larger impact of the remoteness and these spaces.  As I was rappelling down, I shot the funky-colored photo above.  My camera is set to 6400 ISO and still the image took some post-processing to present itself.  What you see above is Andy rappelling down, as the rest of group waits below.  I am hanging mid-descent and my shadow was faintly cast on the cave walls by the groups lights below.   Although it's a pretty grainy image, I was really excited by the unexpected results.

Handed over my camera so I could squeeze through the "Birth Canal".

Kristi preparing for the head-first exit of the "Birth Canal".

One of the most exciting moments of the cave is encountering the "Birth Canal".  This tight constriction seems quite improbable to pass, not to mention you've got to worm through about 10 feet of tightness to get through it.  The best, and probably only practical way to travel through is head first.  This way you can see where you're going, and hopefully not wedge yourself into the wrong hole.  To exit this section you have to semi-invert and walk on your hands for a second to get your feet back to the ground.  It was pretty radical.  The whole caving experience was enhanced by this tight and somewhat mentally challenging constriction.  I can only image being the first one to ever try and fit through! Talk about adventure...

The Music Room in all it's greatness. 

A rowdy bunch of cavers. 

The highlight of the day was hanging out in the "Music Room".  This cavern has the most aesthetic stalactites and it truly looks like something from Planet Earth the series.  I was super inspired by these formations and was really glad to have lugged my camera along with me.   I shot some photos and arranged the lights a few different ways to create some unique effects.  In the end I would love to revisit this room with more time and  also bring a tripod and some addition lighting.  Such a beautiful space really should be documented well, and I feel privileged to know about it and have the ability to record it.  Some of the features here are extremely delicate, so anyone entering this space needs to treat it with respect.  For those who are looking for an adventure and not afraid to get dirty, Pinnacle Cave has got it all.  For those who prefer not to get stuck in pitch black crevasses, I hope the photos help to share the experience. 


Unknown said...

Hey Matt! Any chance you'd share directions to the entrance?

Unknown said...

Not necessarily publicly--but it's a big mountain to explore in search of a hole, which is the plan I'm currently working with. Email me if you feel like throwing a
Thanks either way, great photos!

spelluker said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
David said...

Cave exploring is a great activity. Certainly you saw in Pinnacles Cave an amazing area with a fragile ecosystem. It looks like you had a great trip. If you, or your readers would like to learn more about caves, you should consider joining the National Speleological Society. There is a local caving organization in Las Vegas known as the Southern Nevada Grotto of the National Speleological Society. They meet at Boca Park REI Store, 710 S Rampart Boulevard, Las Vegas, NV, 3rd Saturday of every 3rd Month. You might contact Ron Davis (209)351-1809 When exploring caves, cavers wear a helmet with a chin strap, we use a headlamp and bring 2 additional sources of light. We bring food and water in a small pack. We wear work gloves and knee pads and sturdy boots. We always tell someone where we are going and what time to expect us out. We leave a contact to call if we don't return. It's very important to note for those reading your blog that we are careful not to disturb the cave environment. We take nothing but photos and leave nothing but footprints. Hopefully you enjoyed your caving experience and are interested in learning more about safe, environmentally sound cave exploring.

David said...

Giving out directions to caves, especially this cave is fraught with difficulties. To those not properly trained, a descent into this cave could be deadly. The access to this cave is always problematic. A fatality or major rescue could result in the cave being blasted shut or closed in some other manner. Personally, I would feel horrible if someone died trying to explore this cave knowing that I told them where it was. To those who are wanting to learn where caves are, consider contacting the National Speleological Society or the Southern Nevada Grotto as mentioned above. You can get proper training and learn about many other caves. Caving is an incredible activity. I've found major new passages in many caves. I've explored some of the longest caves in the world. I can tell you that organized caving is lots of fun. In 2016, about 1000 members of the National Speleological Society met for a week of caving in Ely, Nevada. It was a wonderful opportunity for Nevada to have learned about cave exploring. I hope that you will join in the fun.