Mapping the Gunbarrel Entrance
September 8, 2001
by Bob Robins
This was my second trip to Cassell Cave (not counting surface reconnoitering
during OTR). One of the highlights of this weekend was the radio-location
work by Brian Pease to better tie down the locations of the two main branches
of the cave. I thought perhaps I would help on the surface with the radio-location,
but after we arrived in Durbin it quickly became apparent that there was
already more than enough help for the surface crew.
While Cassell trips exhibit the same kind of mysterious Gangsta Mappers
'order out of chaos' effect I have seen in action at the Breathing Cave
surveys, the specifics are quite different. At Breathing things seem to
come together Saturday morning at the last minute, as the final cars roll
in to the campground. For the Cassell trips (at least the two I have seen),
most of the milling around and team formation seems to happen Friday night
as people trickle into the train depot in Durbin. Also I have noticed that
more people tend to arrive at Cassell with their own agendas, though they
all seem amenable to having their energies redirected by our all powerful
cartographer, Bob Zimmerman. Somehow in this process Bob got me hooked up
with Philip Balister and Sandy Knapp who were going to dig open and survey
the Gunbarrel Entrance of Cassell Cave.
Our objective was to uncover the entrance and survey from an existing
surface survey station, through the Gunbarrel Entrance, to a survey tie-in
point in the cave. The digging turned out to be a non-issue since there
was an obvious entrance--Dave West, who had come down with Stan Carts to
show us the surface survey tie in, scooted in with my flashlight and quickly
found the way down to the Gunbarrel. We returned to the cars to exchange
the digging gear for caving and survey gear and began our survey at the
entrance, located in the base of the cliff face above the resurgence. A
short crawl in was followed by a right turn into a fissure parallel to the
cliff face. This led to a short drop into a small chamber with a pool of
water on one side and the entrance to the Gunbarrel on the other. The pool
appeared to be several feet deep and at one point a small trout swam by to
check out the action.
The Gunbarrel itself is a horizontal tube, about a foot and a half in
diameter, slightly elongated at the top and bottom, which ran straight
into the hill for twenty feet before opening into a junction with a fissure
about four feet wide. The fissure went about twenty-five feet in each direction,
across a large pool to a high mud choke on the right and up into a mud
choke on the left. The Gunbarrel was bigger than our first impressions,
but still tight enough to require us to lie on our sides and proceed with
some vigorous wriggling. Our cave packs and helmets became obstacles as
we tried to push them ahead of us.
Sketch of Gunbarrel entrance passages
(Source: Bob Zimmerman)
From the end of the Gunbarrel we had a choice of continuing on at the
same level or doing about a seven foot climb to an upper-level passage.
The lower passage went for about fifty feet and ended in a small chamber
with a blowing lead that looks like an easy dig--unfortunately we had left
all our digging gear at the car and the packed mud resisted attempts to
remove more than the top couple of inches using hands and convenient rocks.
The lead is not shown as going on the old map, does not obviously connect
to the upper level passage, and is moving a significant amount of air so
I'm sure we will be back to clean up this lead. Another lead went off to
the right as a tight fissure that Sandy and I both tried and quickly gave
up on--it has an impressive echo, but we later determined it connects with
the upper level passage.
Rimstone at the lip of the upper passage provided a convenient handhold
for the short climb, but also held a shallow pool that we had to carefully
traverse for several feet. We continued on into to the next junction, directly
above the terminal room of the lower passage and turned right a short distance
to the next junction, which was one corner of a square--a fissure continued
straight (the same one we tried to get into from below), while the main
passage turned to the left and then right at the next corner. Both passages
met again at the opposite corner of the square, with the main passage continuing
down a mud slope to the sump. It appears that at times water comes up that
slope and may well fill the passage all the way out based on the many puddles
and debris found on the route.
The sump was not much more than a shallow pool and ducking under the
rock ledge at the sump was easier than expected due to a convenient gravel
bar on the left. We came out in a room with the passage continuing up to
the left. After four shots we were able to connect our survey to the tie-in
point Rick Royer had left on an earlier trip. Our last station was a bit
awkward as we had to lie on flowstone with a thin sheet of water flowing
over it, but at least it was the last station. I guess getting wet on the
last shot was not too high a price to pay for the 527 feet we managed to
survey--occasionally awkward but mostly dry.
With the survey completed, we went on a quick tourist trip to the bottom
of Cassell Pit where, as previously agreed, we left a note at the rope
to let everyone know that the Gunbarrel entrance was open. Our trip back
out was quick and we were out of the cave in little more than a half hour.
The Gunbarrel proved to be somewhat easier on the way out as I faced the
north wall rather than the south as I had on the way in. The packs were
still a pain, and I managed to drop mine into a water-filled hole near the
exit of the Gunbarrel. Rigging up a sling through the Gunbarrel to haul
gear seemed to be a good idea (unfortunately an afterthought) and the technique
was successfully used by the hardy souls who hauled out their batteries
and scaling pole through the Gunbarrel entrance after reading our note.
While the Gunbarrel does provide a horizontal alternative to the pit,
it isn't likely to become a regular alternative for most folks with vertical
experience. It would be nice if it could provide an alternative when the
waterfall is active at the pit, but the sump is likely to become an obstacle
on this route when the water levels are up. Still I found it to be an enjoyable
trip and recommend everyone try it at least once.