|Fulford Weekend, part 1|
by Stormy on June 22, 2007
For most spending a few days in the wilderness is a way to get away from the rigors of everyday life. For a marmot, on the other hand, it's a weekend "at home", exploring nature where marmots tend to hang out.
I was extended an invitation to accompany some outdoorsy folks into the Holy Cross Wilderness of Colorado, on the edge of the White River National Forest. It's been a few weeks since I got the invitation and as the date approached, I grew more and more excited about the trip. The weekend was quickly filling up with people, pets and a group of marmots.
We were to meet in Yeoman Park on U.S. Forest Service property in Eagle County, Colorado. This is a rather remote place, some 6 miles from electricity and phone service, about 15 miles from a restaurant and a gas station. It's a fairly popular place, but one that's off the beaten path.
Looking at the calendar I realized that June 21 was the Summer Solstice and by default the longest day of the year in the northern hemisphere. That longest day thing sure came true. As I sat with my gear packed, waiting for the trip, the day drug on and on. And even though the night was supposed to be the shortest of the year, it sure seemed to drag on as well. Then morning came. I was all set to go!
I caravanned to the camping area together with Star and Swindy. The drive out to Eagle is pretty lengthy, but well worth the anticipation. On the way there we went through Sylvan Lake State Park and paused to check out their gift shop and use the facilities. Someone kept saying, "You're in the forest. Go like bears go."
After arriving at our camp site and meeting up with other attendees of the trip, we decided to tag along on a small expedition into the forest. It turns out that the cavers in the group were given a tip by another caver about the potential existence of a previously unknown cave. The caver who first found it the weekend before didn't carry any equipment to explore the opening on his own and, being wise and erring on the side of caution, he gave up his first scooping rights to those who would be out in the wilderness with their gear the following week.
We drove about five miles further into the wilderness, then hiked about a mile, getting lost a few times as interpretation of directions did not come easily. Eventually, we did come to the area described. It was a perfect match. A lower opening with a strong resurgence and an upper opening that appeared to overflow when the lower one exceeded capacity. We watched as the cavers geared up, explored the karst cliff face and then tried to enter the mysterious upper entrance of a cave that has not been recorded in any known publications.
The first caver in didn't go very far. Dark and small, the opening was deceitful about the passage it had hidden. A lot of times you go through a hole that's two feet wide and a foot high and make a major discovery. And a lot of times you go into an opening the same size and discover a cramped hole that leads nowhere. This was the case here. It was a small muddy alcove that clearly flooded on a regular basis. It was hard to say if the water came up from the muddy floor, but it was certain that it did not backfill by flooding from the outside. The slope was simply too steep to accommodate that theory.
The cave turned out to be about ten feet long, opening a little wider as you get further in. It was slick and muddy and rather icky. And the gushing water of the lower entrance hinted that there was an underground water filled passage on the other side. How long it was, how wide it was, how far it traveled was all unknown and it was not possible to go into the rock enclosed opening, but this was, without a doubt, a cave not previously documented. The cavers surveyed it and marked its coordinates to revisit on a different day. A few tried to ridge walk and explore the karst above the cave to see if there was a nearby intake point for the stream, but none was identified. It's a karst rich area. Anything can happen here!
We returned to camp, made dinner and welcomed late arriving campers for a fun filled weekend to come!