New Mexico Geological Society Annual Spring Meeting & Ft. Stanton Cave Conference — Abstracts

Snowy River’s Second Decade: Chaos Prevails

John T. M. Lyles

PO Box 95, Los Alamos, NM, 87544,

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By 2012 the growing upstream Snowy River trend had doubled Fort Stanton Cave’s length with 15.58 miles of surveyed passages. It continued south following a general bearing of 220 degrees, and at eight miles from the entrance cavers encountered a lengthy difficult region covered in collapsed breakdown that was named Rough Country. This required changing from clean Snowy River attire into dirty gear. Finger Lake provided the first drinking water on Snowy River. Survey teams were vetted from experienced cavers with requisite stamina as they traveled these long distances with ultra-light gear, earning the moniker “strong and light” cavers. During a burst of activity from 2012-2014 they found a complex of passages off Snowy River. A major infeeder from the southeast was discovered at Midnight Junction, ten miles from the entrance. New chambers decorated with speleothems were found and names such as Harmony Hall, Velvet Underground, No Cave for Old Men, Red Velvet Passage, La Culebra Passage and Borderlands were added to the complex cave development near the southern frontier. This added 15.3 additional miles to the length of the cave. Just when the going was good, a multi-year flood began that prevented further upstream exploration. This allowed focus on other projects including digs at promising surface prospects as well as inside Fort Stanton Cave. A resurvey of much of the historic part of the cave was underway. By 2018 the timing of drier periods coincided with the summer and fall expeditions, but flooding remained further upstream. A team returned to Rough Country to discover Alchemy Canyon while establishing a second camp in the cave. A new interest in climbs out of middle Snowy River intersected upper paleo passages, essentially parallel routes trending NE to SW that intersect Snowy River. The longest of these, Bliss, rejoined Snowy River at Rough Country, three miles away from the starting climb. The last major breakout started in the same development of Bliss, but meandered the opposite direction towards the historic cave. Cavers found an astounding complex of passages starting with Gold Rush, followed by a tight crawl through Donner Pass to Cripple Creek, Scorched Earth and Capitan Caverns. Gypsum beards, directional aragonite bushes and significant dripstone were discovered in this series of boreholes. The terminus is only hundreds of feet beyond an airy breakdown pile in Lincoln Caverns in the historic part of the cave. This near connection resolved the mystery of this blowing passage. Teams continue to make significant discoveries, while survey trips have increased in difficulty. Camps are established in several locations to improve safety and productivity of exploration and survey, as the earlier ‘day’ trips had extended beyond 35 hours. The mapped cave of 42.3 miles has grown beyond the boundaries of the designated National Conservation Area and has even extended beyond the jurisdictional area of the Bureau of Land Management. Even at the ends of present exploration in multiple locations, going leads continue to tease our strong and light explorers with airflow heading into the unknown.


exploration, survey, caving

pp. 54

2022 New Mexico Geological Society Annual Spring Meeting & Ft. Stanton Cave Conference
April 7-9, 2022, Macey Center, Socorro, NM
Online ISSN: 2834-5800

Presentation Files

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FSC 2nd decade talk.pdf 128.13 MB 04/07/2022 02:53:53 AM