Photography by Jon Lillestolen
On December 2nd, 2017 Roppel Cave got even longer. Extending the world’s longest by an additional 1,304 feet underwater and 376 feet dry cave.
This would not have been made possible without the tireless efforts of back up divers Brian Williams and Joshua Shouse as well as an all-star support team comprised of Mark Wenner, Stephanie Petri, Brian and Tiffany Buchanan, Kyle Moschell, Charles Walker, Britt Hardwick, Bill Walker, Ryan Olson, Joe Heinrich, Jay and Erin Young & Pat Kambesis.
After an initial day of logistics planning, gear hauling (18 bags + 80lbs lead) and set up. The dive team entered Sump 1 in intervals beginning with Jon Lilliestolen at 11:30 pm. Mike Young then entered on his cave adapted KISS Orca Spirit at 12:00 with Matt Vinzant entering on his KISS Orca Spirit (with custom cover) at 12:30 pm. While Sump 1 had already been explored during the team’s 2016 expedition – most of the focus was targeted upstream on pushing Sump 2.
Dive team member and photographer Jon Lillestolen set up a radio location beacon on Swicegood Avenue between Sump 1 and 2. This enabled the surface crew to successfully locate the beacon and verify the data provided.
The dive team was faced with low visibility as water conditions did not improve in Sump 2, maintaining a consistent 5 to 7 feet of visibility as seen above. “Mike Young was lead exploration diver adding 1300’ of new line in Sump 2 beginning with station S24 and broke into dry passage after 1300 ft. Matt followed and began the new survey at S25 (the last station from the 2015 dive). The new survey began with SS1 and continued with that naming convention. The team surfaced in one large air bell at SS8, just 379’ past the old end of line. This was a 20’ tall dome but no way to exit the water. Matt continued the survey and the team emerged in large dry passage. The passage continued underwater for a total of 1304’ in 32 stations from the 2015 EOL.” (Excerpt from Mark Wenner’s detailed trip report)
Many members of this team have been working on this project for over 10 years. Hard work and determination has certainly paid off for these explorers! Thank everyone who contributed to make this year's expedition such a great success. Special thanks to property owner Dave Weller for support and permission to work on this amazing site.