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.
Thanks for the TR Steve. I was mowing the lawn and missed the page but scrambled once I saw the messages. I had just pulled into Victor when the stand down came through which was nice since I didn’t particularly want to spend the night in there either. Glad they were able to chip through the ice.
Me too…X 100!!
Just a thought….that is a very detailed map of the cave locations. It might not be to hard for someone locate them using it. That could cause more traffic to the cave (rescues).
I found the link to your site when a member of the NSS Discussion Board (www.cavechat.org) posted the link to your report. We had to remove to link due to the fact that it violated the TOS regarding giving out or linking to cave locations.
BTW: a great report and web site! 🙂
Thanks for the comments Tim.
I will think about removing the map from the post. I hesitiate because I think it is just a copy of the ‘quad’ for that area. I will double check.
There has always been an unwritten agreement among Teton cavers not to publicize caves or caving in the area for too many reasons to mention here. I am not quite sure why you published this story and to make things worst you even included a map and a picture of the cave.
Great report am glad the party is well!
Also I agree with Tim and Sava (too a point) that it is not a good idea to publicize caves and maps of caves in the area. It is too easy for the inexperienced to get into serious trouble in the Tetons.
I’m the guide of that group. We were in quite a fix, but for the record I’m not overly inexperienced. I had been through the ice caves a couple of times (I’m actually a caving guide, but in Washington state), but through it all had never heard about the plug. The water was actually at the lowest I’d ever seen it, thankfully. Now, this is not in defense of my position at all–I should’ve enquired more. I’d like to thank everyone that came out that day, it’s good to know you’re there for those of us that make those (really) dumb mistakes. Thank you.
On a side note, the two that found us in the caves were from Jackson hole, and a month later when I was guiding another group throgh the cave I found them just after the 40 ft ice rappell. I was able to show them the way out, as they had already spent four hours in the cave. Count my lucky stars.
My name is Ray Keeler and I am the editor of American Caving Accidents, a National Speleological Society (NSS) publication. If you get this could you send me an email so I can gather more complete information than what was in the report.
I can also be reached by phone in New Mexico at 623-523-1760.
The incident reports are compiled to help everyone in enjoying safe caving and do not place blame.
good luck in your efforts.
American Caving Accidents Editor
I think it is sad that map of the cave has been removed from the report. I understand there are safety concerns, and we do not want inexperienced people getting hurt in the caves. It is ironic though, a map it the best way to know what you are up against and properly prepare. I think there is more danger in not making the map available. I have tried several times to make the trip through the cave from the Darby side, but because of the groups I have gone with we always have to turn back after about 2 hours underground.
Would you please contact me to tell me who I could go to for more complete information on traversing the cave, and what permits might be needed.
Sorry Bryan. I didn’t think it was a big deal either since it’s labeled on the quad. We had a rescue in the ice cave about a month ago…the through trip was still blocked with ice!
I’m on of the ones who first met the search and rescue. To add to Joe’s comment. Yes we should have researched more, but other than that we had not clue about the “plug”. Joe is very experienced and a very good guide. With the exception of ice axes(which weren’t necessary anyways) we had all necessary equipment to get through the cave. We got throught the entire cave just fine, no problems or injuries, we didnt even get lost for a second because of the great skills of Joe and another friend Brandon. The plug was unexpected. We didnt know it would be there, we had a large knife, and the others, who’s light showed us the right direction to chop through the ice, were not “better prepared” they had no ice axes, all they had was headlamps and backpacks. So at this time I would like to repremand the writer of this blog, and let him know the mistakes in his report.
So I’m planning on going through thte Darby Wind Cave this weekend, we have a map and people who have been through the cave before. But I was wondering on the status of the ice cap, does anyone know if it is possible to make it all the way through?
joe…i would bet just about everything i own that you can’t go all the way through right now. meaning..it is probably still iced over.
Why remove the maps? Last weekend myself and two others went from ice to wind and a map would have greatly improved out confidence at moments. I would certainly still like a map if available, for future attempts.
well dewayne…from what i have learned…sharing maps of caves is kinda of poor ethics in the caving community. and the map that was on here…only showed where the entrance to the cave was…not the internal sections…so i don’t think it was that useful anyway.
What months are good to get through from the Darby ice cave side? When is the plug not there?
eva…late july, aug, sept…are probably the best months.