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Lost caves' rediscovered

BRANDON GAP The very name sounds forebodingMt. Horrid. But three intrepid spelunkers defied this Vermont peak with its morass of huge metamorphic boulders and dead trees to rediscover a complex of lost ice caves. The caves are located on the north side of Route 73 in Brandon Gap below the mountains 3,216 summit. Vermont spelunkers Peter Quick, John Keough and Rick Pingree set out to find the lost caves Sept. 20 as members of a Vermont Cavers Association (VCA) exploratory team. The rediscovery expedition was first reported in the October issue of the VCA Newsletter. Ice cavestechnically known as talus or tectonic caves are not formed like familiar solution caves found in limestone. Instead, they are the deep crevasses created between massive boulders. The boulders tumble down rock-strewn (talus) mountain slopes as the result of landslides triggered by frost or earthquake action and assisted by gravity. So-called ice caves can retain winter ice accumulations well into the spring or summer. Ground water seeps into the perpetually dark caves and then freezes. The Mt. Horrid caves were probably formed more than 10,000 years ago. The ice cave complex was last explored by spelunker Robert W. Carroll, Jr. beginning in the 1970s. Carroll is credited with naming the complex of caves: Mt. Horrid Ice Cave, Gargantua Cave, Slanting Cave, and Chiller Cave. The caves range from modest to large in size; they consist of narrow passage ways and extend up to several hundred feet in length. The (Mt. Horrid Ice) Cave has a main chamber with three entrances that really never get out of daylight, said Pingree, a member of the VCA team. Then there is a passage that takes you deep into total darkness with small rooms and short side passages. Unfortunately, I was unable to finish my mapping of it in September. According to Pingree, Carroll first mapped the cave interiors between 1979 and 1980, but his written record of the cave locations was vague. Carrolls notes were made in the days before GPS (Global Positioning System) units. Now cavers can use handheld GPS units, linked to Earth-orbiting navigation satellites, to accurately locate the latitude and longitude of cave entrances to within inches of accuracy. After Carroll, few cavers bothered to bushwhack and scale the massive boulder field below Mt. Horrid in order to locate the lost caves. Thus, the caves remained lost until VCA spelunkers reread Carrolls notes and set out to rediscover them. According to Pingree, the caves are located near Great Cliff, a popular day-hike destination off the Long Trail, within the Green Mountain National Forest in Brandon Gap. However, access to the cave area is difficult and requires considerable physical skill. Down at the base of the cliff, the talus boulders are huge with a lot of tree downfall, said Pingree. We had to work around with many dead end paths. The location and size of the caves are why they are not popular and virtually unknown. I am glad to have been invited by John and Peter to be part of this rediscovery effort.

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