Party: Just me… again.
(Originally posted here)
Disclaimer: It is considered unwise to cave alone. Some would say I was a little reckless.
I had heard about a number of caves around Las Vegas and some reading said that Pinnacle Cave was one of the classics. The only problem was locating the cave. Cavers are notoriously tight lipped, and for good reason considering how delicate caves can be, not to mention how complicated a cave rescue can be!
Nevertheless, I set about trying to find the entrance to the cave, reading everything I could, trying to piece any small clues together that I could find. I quickly worked out that it was on Mt Potosi, and that it was near Potosi Mine. The big clue after that was an image from near the entrance that had some of the peaks from the other side of the valley in the top left corner. Using Google Earth, I flew around the 3D hills until I found a match. I now had a relatively small area to search.
The day after returning from a canyoning trip in and around Black Canyon, I headed out to see if I could find the cave. My car overheated on the way, but after a break, I parked, packed my bag and headed up to look around the bases of the limestone cliffs.
I knew that the cave had a 100″ entrance pitch and that the hole was pretty much vertical and of substantial diameter so it should be hard to miss!
I followed an old road and soon located a trail heading up a ridge… soon I spotted blue marking tape tied to shrubs along the route. There were even rock steps. I was going the right way! This was going to be easy!
After about half an hour of walking I reached the base of the cliffs. I was surprised to find heaps of ropes hanging from the cliff… it was a climbing project! I don’t know why I hadn’t thought about that and felt a little silly for being fooled. There was a hammock in a bag hanging from a tree and small plants at the base of the wall had small rock barriers constructed around them. Some of the fallen rock had hangers bolted into them which was a little concerning.
Feeling a little duped, I continued along the cliff, searching its base for the entrance before moving onto the next cliff-line and then the next. I came across a small patch of snow, but in general it was pretty clear.
After no luck for another hour or so, I started to search a bit more cleverly. I had put a copy of the photo I had found on my camera, and using that worked out that I was too high. I then moved to a ridge and comparing the photo to what I saw, worked out I was too far left. Continuing like this I narrowed down the area to search and eventually… Bingo! There it was!
I didn’t waste any further time and constructed a Y-hang of some of the hangers making sure everything on the anchor was redundant. Dressing my Fusion knot I double checked I had water, a backup light, snacks, a pee bottle, ascending gear and my camera before dropping into the entrance.
It was about 90″ down to the bottom. This was the only pitch, so I left my harness and continued down a scree slope and a ~3m downclimb into a sizeable room with a log book. I signed it writing SUSS as my caving club (I consider it my local club despite being inactive with them over the last year).
Without further ado I was time for some caving! Pushing my bag in front of me, I dived into the Birth Canal and dropped onto another scree slope.
I left my pack and unencumbered, decided to first explore the cave and then to another lap to take photos. Heading to the right I climbed down into a blind pit. Climbing back out I noticed a trogged lead heading up and followed it where I found a small passage heading down. Squeezing though I encountered a number of other squeezes before a tricky downclimb dropped me into what might be called the Music Room(?). The cave went quite a ways further, but I think this was one of the nicest places. Climbing carefully over some empty rim pools I continued into the cave.
The passage that followed generally had a tight section followed by an open chamber. None of these really had any pretties, though it was still fun and there were several different ways you could go. One section had two crawling passages roughly on top of each other and you could drop into the lower one via a couple of different holes.
After a while, I emerged into quite a large room, at the end I explored a low lead before squirming back out, and then climbed up through a small hole into a decent size room with a person and some disproportionate tea cups made out of mud. I had been taught that you shouldn’t leave mud figurines, but I left them alone not wanting to upset anyone.
Continuing back the way I had come, I explored a number of tight side passages. Most required some delicate squeezing. One looked like it dropped down a considerable way, but I decided it was to risky to attempt by myself, just in case I got stuck.
Inspecting one hole I spotted some survey tape and figured it must go somewhere if they had bothered shooting a leg. Sure enough in dropped a ways before running parallel to the passage I had come in on. Whilst not decorated it had some nice rock pendants and pretty sculpturing.
Passing back through the decorated room I climbed back up through the squeezes to return to my pack. I had a drink and some almonds before checking out the other hole I hadn’t yet visited. It dropped to a level I would say was the same as the other large rooms, and at first I thought it was going to join up, but the passage got smaller and smaller. One of the squeezes didn’t comfortably fit my shoulders and was easier to negotiate if you put one arm through first. I got to do this several times trying to get a decent photo 😉
Squeezing through I turned around and returned to the decorated room via the original route I had taken. I took my time lighting the room, using as many of the tricks Alan had taught me that I could remember. For additional lighting I used my backup Zebra light, and was surprised at how well it worked as a caving light. I was further surprised at my camera: my previous camera had been an Lumix FT4 which had a manual mode allowing you to control exposure, ISO, F-stop… The one I now had didn’t let you do that (TG4) but it turns out it works quite well for caving. You could use the night setting but the Auto mode seems to default to this anyway. And so I photo pfaffed for a couple of hours.
Whilst taking photos, I found myself in a part of the cave I hadn’t been through on my last visit. Climbing up I found a room that was quite well decorated and even had a couple of crystal pools!
Eventually I decided that I had been underground for long enough. I wasn’t really sure how long it had been, but I was starting to get a little weary and if I left now it meant I wouldn’t have to use my bottle!
Returning to the entrance room, I was surprised to find no light making its way down. It must be dark outside and a bit later than I had thought. I put on my harness and ascended out of the cave, derigging and returning to the car with the continued aid of my headlamp.
It had been quite a fun trip, and now I could finally stop thinking about this cave – it had been tormenting me for weeks!