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Beyond The END - Endless Cave

Endless Cave located in Cave River Valley is a very popular cave, visited by thousands of people a year. The cave passage is very large and great for beginner trips as this was the location for the POC Callout this year (2003). It's been surveyed several times over the years and it's current length is 6,903 feet long.

My first visit to the cave I got to what is said to be the end of the cave. I was immensely intrigued by the intense airflow and water flow blowing in from a very tight passage upstream. Could there be more cave? Cave beyond the current end? The potential appeared vast.

Returning with Sean Lewis, fellow explorer, we had made the decision to push the passage and find the impossible, more cave. Sean and I got to where the current map of Endless Cave ends, it says, "too low to continue". On our stomachs, helmets off, as it was too tight to leave a helmet on, we thought, here we go again, into the unknown. Here you belly crawl through cobbles for about 300 feet. You then pop into a room where there is a breakdown mountain on the left wall. Flowstone flows down a lot of the breakdown. You then find some pretty neat bacon and draperies along with some flowstone. I even commented on our way out that it looked nice (at that point in time we both were suffering from mild to severe hypothermia). We were shivering, our mental capacity was impaired and we were losing our coordination. Sean turned into the guy from Lord of the Rings (his name was "Gollum" or something like that); he was talking to himself and asking himself questions in an evil voice! Anyways, so past those formations is where you start to get wet. The water was much lower and we were able to keep our chests dry here but the water was fairly deep, maybe 2 feet deep. Here is where you enter the breakdown maze. This area of cave is not really defined well in terms of walls or ceilings, there is breakdown all over the place and you find yourself weaving up and under, through the breakdown following either air or water flow. This section of cave is probably only 800 feet long but we spent a good deal of time route finding and going around in circles. We then finally made it to a room. This room still had quite a bit of breakdown but it was more defined as a room than previously. Here we pushed a very interesting lead. It was blowing air, but it was like this really smooth limestone. Imagine an upside down ice cream cone and you were crawling around the bottom outside diameter of it. Sean said it got too tight to continue. We had to both back out then. I didn't want to go back in there and verify it was too tight (I always feel the need to verify these types of things for myself as most of the time it is possible to keep going). It seemed like it was probably too tight. I checked out another lead with some airflow but it didn't go anywhere. Spirits low and very cold we were running out of options to continue forward. There was something that appeared to be a sump but I had pointed out to Sean earlier that there was a lot of airflow coming from it (by letting out a big breath into my dive light beam and watching the airflow). Sean then went to check it out further. He said there was an insane bathtub with major airflow. He insisted I come check it out and feel the airflow. I must say, I was very impressed. Here you could not even do the breath test. You would blow into the lead and watch for your breath in the beam of light, the air was moving so fast it immediately carried it away. We were both extremely cold now, my dive light just went out, and we had this low airspace 55 degree full body soaker with howling airflow. We both went back to the room. I changed my batteries and we both did jumping jacks and push ups to warm up and prepare for the bathtub. Sean wasn't going to do it unless I did it first. The jumping jacks didn't help much. Knowing I would regret it later, I just HAD to do it. I went through and Sean was in just as quick. Here is where the cave passage gets defined. I told Sean I liked the way the passage was looking. Soon we were in a very nicely formed passage. Walls were a good 25 to 30 feet apart and the ceiling was not quite hands and knees. I only had my dive light as a source of light (I had left my pack way back at the "Too low to continue" because I knew if I left it there the cave would go, helmet with LED light source was back before the bathtub). We continued forward in this nicely shaped passage, real long shots like 60 footers. We had gotten around the stubborn sink and now back in well defined cave passage. It was hell though, it was too low to hands and knees crawl, occasionally it would let us hands and knees. This passage went like this for FOREVER, not once did it show any signs of getting smaller, pinching, etc. It was very odd. The water flow pretty much flows from wall to wall except for some cobble islands. The airflow is incredible in this 30' wide by 2' tall passage and definitely isn't a typical upstream passage of cave. Sean even bumped into a bat hanging out on the ceiling. A bat that far upstream is a very good indication that there is larger passage further ahead. There are large containers and such every now and then through the passage. It has everything going for it in terms of more cave. We kept thinking it was going to get bigger or go to a room or something. It never did, we turned around at extremely good going passage for the first time ever. It was an insult to our reputation and abilities. However, we did push farther than anyone else had ever done, but the end was no where in sight. We couldn't take the hypothermia, and pain of bellying any further. It was hell on the way out and thought we would never make it to the entrance. The mile+ of belly crawling through cobbles caused knee pains for months to follow.

Going beyond the end will eat you alive!

Old Comments:

Sean
commented:
Someday, we will find the end.
Nate commented:
Someday, I hope my knees heal!
Sam commented:
Was recently in Endless Cave with the Cincinnati Outdoors Group (www.cincinnatioutdoorsgroup.org) - thanks for posting this, I'm excited to go back and try to go deeper next time!
Nate commented:
As far as I know, no one has yet found the end...The topo overlay definitely suggests more cave, the only question is, does it open up again? 1.5 years later and knees still haven't healed :(
Nate commented:
Cavers that go caving a lot seem to have problems with knees. I was going to write an article on why I think this is, mainly improper knee pad configurations, email me for info...
bud rogers commented:
naw..i told you to stay off your knees... leroy vascoy and i never had problems
travis commented:
I went there tonight from 6:30 - 10:30 and have never been in that cave or have a map
Josh commented:
I went last week and found that the foot and hand-holds in the sheer wall down the mud hole had eroded away and was disappointed that i could not continue because my rope was inadequate. Better luck next time.  
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