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Friday, June 07, 2013

POLE CREEEK CAVE, UTAH

Pole Creek Cave

Pole Creek Cave is located in Ashley National Forest in the Uintah Mountains about 30 miles north of Roosevelt, UT. The access to the cave requires a 4x4 vehicle or a truck with good road clearance. The GPS coordinates for the cave entrance are 40°36´24.28" N, 110°5´12.72" W. The 900´ dry portion of the cave is frequently visited by locals. The underwater portion and dry section on the other side of the first sump are currently being explored by our team. The primary source of water in the cave is a river that flows into Pole Creek Sink located approximately 1.5 miles north from the cave. Water temperatures range from 42F in the beginning of a "diving season" when flow from the cave stops to 48F later in the year.
The best time to visit this cave is August - October when the "dry" portion of the cave is dry and before snow makes the road impassable. Unfortunately, due to the complexity of logistics, including the need for a surface support team, the exploration of this cave is progressing very slowly.

Exploration Log

written by Konstantin Kovalenko

June 28th, 2008

Tibby, Konstantin and Richard returning from the dive
  • Konstantin Kovalenko, Tiberiu PetrescuExploration divers:
  • Richard LambSafety diver:
  • David Herron, Suzanne Capener, Al HinmanSurface support team:
Serious exploration of the underwater portion of Pole Creek Cave began in June, 2008. David Herron, the geologist from Ashley National Forest, was our guide and primary source of information about the cave. I first contacted David in the beginning of 2008 regarding another underwater cave in the area, Lazy River Cave, with which he had previous experience. At about the same time I learned about an attempt by a couple of divers from Vernal to dive the sump in Pole Creek Cave. Neither one was a trained cave diver and the attempt nearly ended in disaster. After getting more information about both caves, it began to look like Pole Creek Cave held more promise and was also easier to access than Lazy River Cave.
Lee Gibson and I first visited Pole Creek Cave in the end of May. We found the water flowing hard out of the cave and decided to postpone the dive until later in the year, when the flow goes down.
From David I found out that another group of cave divers from Salt Lake City area was on the same track and after a quick exchange of emails we decided to combine our efforts, which resulted in this expedition. Unfortunately, Lee Gibson, with whom I visited over fifty springs all around Utah in search of a diveable cave, was unavailable and couldn´t join us on this dive.
Upon our arrival at the cave, we found standing water about 20 feet from the entrance. This got our dive team excited, although it did complicate the logistics since we couldn´t have our surface support team assist with the gear beyond the cave entrance. The flooded area continued for about 200´ after which the dive team had to walk while wearing all their scuba equipment for another 700´.
Tiberiu Petrescu and I did the exploration dive with Richard Lamb remaining on the surface acting as safety diver. We were able to locate the downstream tunnel right away. Tibby ran a reel and we reached the 62´ depth mark before turning the dive. This depth at 8,000´ of elevation is equivalent to 95´ at the sea level and we did not want to have to perform decompression and then exert ourselves getting the gear out of the cave. We´ve secured the exploration line leading to the siphon and returned to the surface. Diving the siphon was not our primary goal - we were more interested in finding an upstream tunnel - but the gas supply was running low and we decided to leave the cave.

October 1st, 2008

Konstantin and Lee getting ready for a dive
  • Lee Gibson, Konstantin KovalenkoExploration divers:
  • David Herron, Mark WakefieldSurface support team:
We came back to Pole Creek Cave a few months later to continue diving the first sump in hope of finding the upstream tunnel. This time most of the cave was dry all the way to the staging area near the sump with the exception of a small, 50´ long, waist-deep section at the beginning. It took over an hour to get all necessary equipment to the staging area by all four team members before we could start preparing for the dive.
Lee Gibson went in first to look for an upstream passage in the sump. After several dives and almost being sucked in into the siphon, he emerged and announced that he found the upstream and laid about 200´ of line. It was my turn to dive. As I followed Lee´s line, the visibility ranged from zero to about a foot for the most of the way, the depth reached 25´ and then the passage started to go up. The visibility suddenly improved to over 5´ due to the inflow of clear water and I realized that I was at the end of the sump. I was out of the water and saw a large room about 20´ wide with ceiling over 30´ high. The shallow (a few inches deep) river was flowing along the bottom of the tunnel. Unable to swim in the shallow water, I continued to walk, in full gear, and run the line along the wall for another 100´ before encountering a fork in the tunnel. There was a dry passage continuing to the left but the high and steep mud bank was too much of an obstacle for a diver loaded with a pair 100cf cylinders. The passage to the right, where all of the water was coming from, started to go down and it was possible to swim now. After another 50´ the tunnel became too narrow to continue using sidemounted cylinders and I decided to tie off the line and turn the dive. I really can´t describe the feeling I experienced being where no other human has ever been before!
At David´s request, I relocated both the downstream and upstream lines so that they would start under the water in the sump to avoid drawing attention from the locals visiting the cave.

August 26th, 2009

  • Konstantin Kovalenko, Lee GibsonExploration divers:
  • David Herron, Michael RichardsSurface support team:
The plan for this dive was to use small, 40 cf cylinders as a bail-out and a single aluminum 80 cf cylinder to cross the sump, remove all cylinders on the other side and explore the dry passage. I also brought a helmet camera to make a video of the dry section.
This cave really needs a larger support team. It took us at least four trips to get all gear to the staging area and by that time we were quite exhausted. Nevertheless, we proceeded with the dive.
Lee and I went in at the same time. After surfacing on the other side of the sump, we realized that the shallow river that I had to wade on our last exploration is now at least 6´ deep and the guide line is now under water where it is supposed to be. We continued to follow the line into the cave to the fork in the tunnel. The 6´ high mud bank that I noticed on the previous dive was now completely under water. That allowed us an easy access to the dry tunnel. I tied off a new line to my old line and ran it into the dry section. After leaving all cylinders in the "Hobbit Hole", we proceeded deeper into the cave. Almost immediately we realized that the oxygen was lower in this part of the cave and we had to take breaks every hundred feet to catch our breath. After about 500´ of dry tunnel we came to the next sump. Feeling exhausted from our previous effort getting gear into the cave and the lack of oxygen we decided to save a second sump exploration for another day.
The next day we visited Lazy River Cave, I did a dive and discovered that my helmet cam stopped responding. All video was lost.

August 5th - 6th, 2010

Michael in the Hobbit Hole
  • Lee Gibson, Konstantin Kovalenko, Michael RichardsExploration divers:
  • David Herron, Michael Richards, Brian Leavitt, Cory Wagstaff, George SerranoSurface support team:
  • Stephen Serrano, Jared Smith, David Smith, Garrett Stokes, Chris Merrick, Neil Giles 
Learning the lessons of our previous visits to Pole Creek Cave, we decided to bring a large surface support team to save the energy needed for exploration of the low oxygen tunnels on the other side of the first sump. The support team did a great job, taking less than fifteen minutes to carry the gear from where we parked the vehicles to the staging area near the fist sump. Once their job was done, the crew enjoyed exploring the dry portion of the cave, listened to a lecture on cave geology by David Herron and visited Pole Creek Sink.
Lee and I dove the first sump, crossed the first dry section and did a dive each, taking turns, in the second sump. We found several dead ends but currently no going passage. We are by no means are done with this sump yet and will attempt to dive it on our next visit. We also discovered that the "duck under" at the 25´ depth in the first sump became wider and taller.
Michael in the Hobbit Hole On a second day Michael Richards joined Lee and me on the dive. We decided to have Lee follow my original line in the submerged passage to see if he could negotiate the restriction where the line ends or see another way around. Michael´s assignment was to make an HD video of the dry section and mine was to be a safety diver. Lee confirmed that the restriction that stopped me requires using a no-mount configuration and he was unable to see any alternative routes yet.
The Pole Creek Cave "no video curse" struck again when the latch on Michael´s camera housing failed and the camera was flooded. Michael is currently trying to recover the video from his camera´s hard drive.
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