Thursday, April 27, 2017

Deep Cave, New Mexico

Will Boekel in the side alcove of Deep Cave.  Behind him is the 40ft diameter column.  New Years Day 2017.


           Deep Cave is, by all accounts, one of the great caves of the Guadalupe Mountains.  Located in a remote valley in the far southern end of Carlsbad Caverns National Park, it is also one of the most isolated and inaccessible caves.  Access is via a long stretch of dirt road through the nearby Lincoln National Forest.  Following several miles, and several stream crossings, most are stopped at the Dark Canyon Lookout Fire Tower.  Beyond here the road gets really rough for most vehicles.  Parking at the Tower involves a hike of about five miles across the top of a ridge-line in the high Guads.  Assuming one has a vehicle capable of the road, they can drive all the way to the trailhead of the Ussery Trail.  The Ussery Trail is faint and drops down into the valley where Deep Cave is located via a sequence of switchbacks.  The entrance to Deep Cave is very large, well over 40ft in diameter.  The sink and alcove around it is very noticeable from the trail.  Use caution approaching from above as a fall from above would put one all the way down the entrance pit.

Hope Brooks at the entrance to Deep Cave.  The leafless tree to the right is the rig point.  New Years Day, 2017.
           Deep Cave's entrance is a 400ft drop broken into two pits.  The first is the entrance itself, a 100ft very steep slope covered in loose rock.  At the bottom of this is a major ledge with a large boulder and single stalagmite.  To the right is the final 300ft of pit.  Rigging the first drop with a 150ft rope on the tree in the entrance allows the rope to reach as a handline across to the rig for the big pit.  The handline is needed for the less-comfortable.  I frequently walked around on the ledge with no handline.  BUT the rope IS needed to access the main drop.

Tony Canike at the top of the main drop.  The big ledge and rock is on the left. 
           Rigging the main drop requires a minimum 350ft rope.  We rigged to the stalagmite.  The rock hasn't moved, ever, but it also is not attached to anything.  The drop begins as about 90ft of almost sheer slope to a sizeable ledge almost flat enough and big enough to get off rope on.  The ledge then slopes into the final drop.  Roughly 40ft of slope leads to a final free drop of over 150ft into the single large room that makes up Deep Cave.  The final free drop is really rather spectacular, the room is well over 200ft across and several hundred feet long.  In the distance is a grove of columns the size of sequoia trees.  Paralleling the rope down the pit is a cable ladder installed by Jim White well over a hundred years ago.  Because of this the rope can not be thrown down the pit, it will tangle with the ladder.  The first one down must take the rope down either coiled or in a rope bag.  With a 350ft rope, the drop can be rigged with a minimalist rig at the top.  About ten feet of rope was on the ground for us. Also, loose rock is plenty at the entrance and it can and will roll all the way down the drop.  Do not have more than one person on the two ropes at a time.

Hope Brooks next to the cable ladder at the lip of the final 150ft free drop.  Eric Pelkey can be seen below. 
           The drop ends at the top of a large talus cone.  This is loose rock kicked in from above.  A flagged trail leads down and around the cone and begins to snake around the large formations.  A small alcove near the drop has an area heavily decorated in very tall broomstick stalagmites.  A formation near the alcove is fully 40ft in diameter and 60ft tall.

Wayne Perkins by broomsticks in the side alcove of Deep Cave.
           The main room of Deep Cave is filled with gigantic formations, broomsticks, and shields.  Stay on the trails, take care, and have fun.  Deep Cave is one of the gems of the underground United States.

Self portrait around the massive formations in Deep Cave.
Tony Canike by broomsticks in the lower areas of Deep Cave.
Eric Pelkey wanders among gigantic dripstone formations at a trail junction in Deep Cave.


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