Ethan Brodsky collects data at survey station 12 in Morgan Big Spring.
Several years ago, while running canoe trips down the Osage Fork of the Gasconade River, Micki Feakes brought along her SCUBA gear to look at a small spring she had noticed. To her surprise, the small spring, known locally as Wabiwakema, gave way to a hidden cave system. It was apparent that a diver had been there before, but after asking around, nobody knew who had conducted the initial exploration and no map was available.
On her initial trip to the spring, she noticed some interesting isopods (small white critters) living on the ceiling. She discussed her find with a cave biologist from the Natural History Division of the Missouri Department of Conservation, and he requested that she collect some samples of the lifeforms for further investigation. Her finds are believed to be a unique specimen of Caecidotea and were recorded in the Missouri Biospeleogical Database.
With several new members to our group, we had been looking for a small cave in which to practice survey techniques and develop an effective methodology to apply to our larger ongoing projects. As Micki believed Morgan Big Spring to be about 200-300 feet in length, we thought it would be a good choice, especially considering its shallow depth and biological significance.
On the way out of Madison, we made several stops to pick up supplies. Midland Plastics supplied the bulk plastic sheet for our survey slates, and Recreational Equipment Incorporated provided Brunton survey compasses. Just before getting out of town, we realized we had forgotten the jig-saw to cut the slates, so we had to run back to the shop and pick it up.
After a ten hour drive to Falcon, Missouri, we immediately set to work making our slates. Here Tami lays out a grid for data collection, while Ethan works on the laptop outlining procedures for the survey (actually I'm looking at pictures from a recent trip to Florida).
We used a sandbar near the spring as our staging area to suit up and prepare
for the dive. After a final briefing, we swam across the river to start our
dive. We did a quick photo shoot in the cavern before we began laying our survey
Missouri spring water has a year-round temperature of 58 degrees, necessitating drysuits, thick gloves and hoods for the hour plus bottom times anticipated in our project. All divers used sidemount configuration, as it was most suited to the cave. Visibility in this particular cave ranged from 5 feet to 20 feet. We began with Tami installing the survey line. We quickly realized that we were in for more than we planned, as Tami counted more than 30 knots (spaced precisely at ten foot intervals) just in the main passage. Additionally, a side passage believed to be a short stub, turned out to run 280 feet from the T intersection. With nearly 600 feet of sidemount passage to document and penetration exceeding 500 feet, this was not as small a cave as we originally believed.
Micki and Ethan followed Tami and set up survey stations along the line, immediately taking Depth/Azimuth/Distance readings at each station. Most of the cave consisted of passages 3-5 feet high and 3-20 feet wide. There was a major restriction about 240 feet in on the main tunnel, where the passage narrows to allow only one diver to work at a time. About 40 feet further on, the main passage ends at the "Cul du Sac." We pushed a very small slit in the corner and extended the line another forty feet, culminating in the "Leave It For Mike" Room, which has three small spring vents and one siphon, all of which are less than one foot high and may only be persued by no-mount exploration.
The side tunnel, which Micki had not fully explored prior to our survey, rose over a breakdown plateau, roller-coastered and dropped through a major restriction into an area of fine sand we called "Micki's Endless Beach." Even a skilled diver cannot avoid completely wiping out the visibility in this room. Bubbles percolate into the ceiling, causing silt to rain down, and suprised fish spastically circle around, banging into diver, floor, and walls alike. Surveying in here was very challenging, requiring a great deal of patience and perserverence. After this section, the cave ends in a room which is a less bit less silty and more spacious and allows the diver to regroup. There are two smaller leads that we left for later no-mount exploration.
Later dives retraced the line to take left/right/up/down data at each station and
sketch selected cross-section and plan views. Extra care was taken detailing
the cavern section, as it is one of the more picturesque sections of the cave. On a
final dive, we removed our survey line from the cave, so there would not be multiple
Below is one of our preliminary maps, showing what we can produce shortly after
getting out of the water. We are in the process of applying all of the cross sectional
data and detailed drawings to generate a final map for publication and archival.
While it is fairly easy to generate a quick line drawing from raw data, making
an asthetically pleasing map that gives an accurate understanding of the cave is
both an art and a science. It takes a great of skill and practice to create the
maps you see published in cave diving journals.