Note: With respect to the caving community…I have removed the photos and map of the Wind and Ice Cave that were once in this post.
My Memorial Day weekend was interrupted yesterday with a call-out for an overdue group from Utah who where believed to be attempting a through-trip of the Ice to Wind Cave in Darby Canyon.
On the drive over Teton Pass, I had plenty of time to wonder why someone would plan to do such a thing this time of year. For one, the water levels in the cave must be at their highest right now with all the run-off…and not very warm to say the least. Also, early in the season, a so-called ‘ice-plug’ forms in the cave…limiting the distance you are able to travel. Wading through ice cold, crotch deep water, in the dark….hmmm…not really my idea of a good time.
Cave rescues can be some of the most difficult, time consuming and resource intensive incidents we have on Teton County Search and Rescue, but luckily, it is pretty predictable where people might get stuck in the Wind and Ice Cave…assuming they haven’t been injured.
Typically when you do a through-trip in this cave system, you start at the Ice Cave and do about a 40′ rappel into a big room. If the cave is plugged further down, and you aren’t prepared to re-climb the ice…this is typically where you are found.
I was one of the first people to arrive at the staging area at the Darby Canyon trailhead, so it looked like I’d be going in. Response to the call-out was light (with the holiday weekend and all), and our recourses where going to be limited. We sent a call for some assistants from Teton Valley, Idaho, SAR and investigated our options while we waited for our response truck with most of the gear we needed to arrive.
I had my pack ready to go, and we were just deciding what ropes we’d need when two young men came running down the trail towards us. It was 2 of the 6 that where missing…and they were very apologetic for having inconvenienced us. Personally, I was just glad they were okay and I wasn’t going to have to spend the rest of the day (and maybe night) underground.
Turns out things went as predicted. The group was attempting a through trip and rappelled into the Ice Cave. They arrived at an ‘ice-plug’ and knew they were screwed. They said they spent some time chopping at the blob of ice with rocks, but it was taking forever, and they really didn’t know which direction to focus in either. As night arrived (like it even mattered in the cave) they decided to go to sleep and see what they could figure out in the morning.
Lucky for them, some spelunkers came from the other direction in the morning, and their lights helped them know what direction to focus the chipping. Also, the group coming from the opposite direction was a bit more prepared and had some ice axes that really helped speed the process. Upon finally exiting the cave, the group ran into some people on horseback that informed them that a SAR operation had been initiated in their behalf…so two of them ran down to the trailhead to inform us they were okay…and we are very thankful for that.