Phantom Springs - 2013

In 1999 Members of the Maverick Grotto of the National Speleological Society, including Bruce Tipps, Bill Tucker, Jon Drake, Todd Tucker, and Shelby Martin, who originally explored the cave, completed a line plot of Phantom Ranch Cave. In addition, Dan Lins added and surveyed an additional portion of line upstream. However, the map never progressed beyond a line plot, which was enough to give an idea of where the cave was headed underground, but gave no indication of the dimensions or configuration of the cave passage. The goal of the survey team was to increase the accuracy from a Grade 3 survey, completed by counting knotted line, to a Grade 4 survey, using a fiberglass tape to measure between stations, in preparation for completing a sketch of the cave, with the ultimate goal of completing a map with floor details, cross sections and profile views.

Early divers in Phantom Cave.

Early divers in Phantom Cave.

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With only 7 days to complete the work, and competing with video and exploration teams for clear visibility in the cave to finish sketching, the survey team would have to be in the water every day to get as much done as possible. Mike Poucher made the 1400 mile drive from Ocala Florida, and Jason and Chrissy Richards drove from Clarksville, Tennessee through a heavy snow in western Texas to begin diving as soon as possible. Rebreathers would be the diving tool of choice to maximize the time in the water, with Jason diving a heavily modified rEvo rebreather, and Mike diving a Dive Rite Optima rebreather, both carrying open circuit bailout sufficient for exiting the cave.

Photo: Andy Pitkin

Photo: Andy Pitkin

The 2013 Exploration Team, Photos: Becky Kagan Schott

The 2013 Exploration Team, Photos: Becky Kagan Schott

Diving began on Saturday the 5th of January 2013, with Mike and Jason carrying safety bottles to place in the cave for use by the exploration and survey teams, while Brett and Andy carried decompression bottles for their continued exploration. Beginning just before Bill's Room and working out, Jason and Mike began the tape survey, completing 1600 feet of taped survey, and exited after four hours in the water. On the 6th, with 4.1 more hours in the water, Mike and Jason surveyed another 2700 feet of line working from the entrance in. On the 7th, Mike stayed out of the water due to blisters on the inside of his mouth from a new rebreather mouthpiece, and Jason was able to sketch all of the taped survey from the day before with the assistance of Joel Clark running lights. On Tuesday the 8th, while Brett and Andy made their deep exploration dive, Jason and Mike scootered out to the 2700 foot safety bottle drop and taped the remaining section of survey. Once back at the entrance, Jason and Chrissy talk the film crew into helping with the dry survey of the front 900 feet of side passages in the cave. With Mike and Chrissy running instruments and Jason on book, the film crew float around lighting the large passages and generally play in the mud.

The 2013 Survey Team, Jason Richards (left), Mike Poucher (right) and Chrissy Richards (center, back) Photos: Becky Kagan Schott

The 2013 Survey Team, Jason Richards (left), Mike Poucher (right) and Chrissy Richards (center, back) Photos: Becky Kagan Schott

On the Wednesday the 9th, it is raining hard in the morning and there is little motivation to go to the site, but eventually everyone made it to the cave, and after pumping and boosting tanks, Jason and Mike get in the water with the film crew to stage some survey shots and generally pretend to be surveying. Even pretending takes a long time, with three more hours in the water. On Thursday the 10th, the weather turns nice, and Mike and Jason plan to go to the back of the cave and survey a section from  the end of the survey near Bill's room down to a depth of 100 feet. After surveying about 325 feet of cave, Jason began having troubles clearing and turned the dive.

Jason (front) and Mike, faking the funk.

Jason (front) and Mike, faking the funk.

The 2013 video team, Photos: Becky Kagan Schott, Curt Bowen

The 2013 video team, Photos: Becky Kagan Schott, Curt Bowen

The 2013 Biology team, Photos: Becky Kagan Schott

The 2013 Biology team, Photos: Becky Kagan Schott

Brett recounts their exploration, (from the KUR website):

A year later, in January 2013, they were back again. After a dive to place bailout gas in the cave, Brett tied his reel in where Andy had tied of the year before and they scootered down a steeply sloping passage which eventually leveled off at about 320 ffw. This was within the safety envelope of their dive plan so they explored about 200 feet of horizontal passage about 20 feet wide and 6-10 feet high. This passage terminated in the top of a large room formed by a transverse fissure which was at least 50 feet deeper than the passage that they had entered by. With no obvious continuation visible, and mindful of their bailout limits, Brett tied off in the ceiling of the fissure and they scootered out. After more bailout gas was placed for decompression in the event of a CCR loop failure, they scootered out into the fissure looking for the way on, which proved to be underneath them with a large opening in the wall of the fissure cutting back underneath the entrance passage. 

As they scootered down into this opening, it opened up into a large room with a flat floor covered with grey silt. Ahead of them, the only potential tie-off point was a brown formation, either chert or fossilized coral, protruding from the silt. As they approached it a strange but loud noise occurred. Andy immediately stopped, thinking some part of his equipment had imploded, but after checking everything it all seemed to be functional so he continued on to the formation where he tied the line off. Looking up, he could see a dark passage leading invitingly ahead about 30 feet wide and 12 feet high. With the depth already over 450 feet, it was clear that further horizontal exploration at that depth would be logistically impossible to accomplish safely with the equipment they had available at this time, so they decided to exit. As Andy reached out to pick up his Submerge Magnus DPV, he noticed a stream of bubbles emanating from the aft o-ring seal. Not surprisingly it was too heavy to lift, and with Brett shouting "Leave it!" into his mouthpiece Andy reluctantly abandoned his $6000 scooter and Brett towed him up to their first decompression stop. They had left a spare scooter in Bill's Room for just this eventuality so after an uneventful decompression they reached the cave entrance some seven hours after going in.

Meanwhile Jason Richards and Mike Poucher, along with Chrissie Richards, Becky Kagan Schott, Joel Clark and Corey Mearns, proceeded to survey the remainder of the known cave passage. Andy Pitkin was able to add a small amount of exploration to the downstream passage, which is a strong syphon and which remains smaller and shallower than the upstream passage.

The whole crew for 2013

The whole crew for 2013

Cave Without A Name

While living in Texas for a short bit, I had the opportunity to meet the great manager and owner at Cave Without A Name (CWAN). I did a little diving in the first sump upstream, and eventually dove the second sump upstream. There was a little cartography done, but I don’t seem to have any of it left. Here are a few pictures from those trips.

One of the formation walls in the commercial part of the cave.

One of the formation walls in the commercial part of the cave.


The manager at the time, who wanted to come upstream and check out the cave. He would later dive with me through the first sump, though he was not a cave diver, and end up panicking, spitting out a regulator. I would have to pull him through the sump to the closest air- which happened to be IN the cave. This later became my first experience with bringing a person who was not a cave diver through a sump as a rescue, though the argument can be fairly made that it was my fault, for allowing him to dive there in the first place. He would later die in another sump downstream in the same cave, presumably doing the same thing.

The manager at the time, who wanted to come upstream and check out the cave. He would later dive with me through the first sump, though he was not a cave diver, and end up panicking, spitting out a regulator. I would have to pull him through the sump to the closest air- which happened to be IN the cave. This later became my first experience with bringing a person who was not a cave diver through a sump as a rescue, though the argument can be fairly made that it was my fault, for allowing him to dive there in the first place. He would later die in another sump downstream in the same cave, presumably doing the same thing.


Jerry Fant, resting between Sump 1 and Sump 2. The gear shown indicates just how new we were to sump diving, and the passage beyond, an uncomfortably long stoopway, was just terribly carrying steel tanks without bags. What should have been a fairly moderate trip, turned into an epic workout.

Jerry Fant, resting between Sump 1 and Sump 2. The gear shown indicates just how new we were to sump diving, and the passage beyond, an uncomfortably long stoopway, was just terribly carrying steel tanks without bags. What should have been a fairly moderate trip, turned into an epic workout.

What I believe to be the owner, as we talk about sump diving upstream. I was there so frequently (it was an escape from work) that I would travel through the cave alone and could turn all the lights on or off as required. Having a couple of lights on and the rest of the huge tunnel that is the commercial part of the cave in the dark was always beautiful.

What I believe to be the owner, as we talk about sump diving upstream. I was there so frequently (it was an escape from work) that I would travel through the cave alone and could turn all the lights on or off as required. Having a couple of lights on and the rest of the huge tunnel that is the commercial part of the cave in the dark was always beautiful.