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Trip Report: El Malpais, Big Skylight Cave

NMT Caving Club

Trip leaders: David Hunter, Tyler, and Eshani

Attending: Reece, and Evelyn

Sadly, the NMT Caving Club hasn't been very active since my graduation and departure. However, I was able to make it back there to help lead another beginners trip. Once again, we journeyed to El Malpais National Monument.

We started out with the usual visit to the caving club storage area.

Eshani in the club storage area.

Tyler drove his suburban, which was a nice change from taking my Jeep or VW everywhere. And Tyler got to learn why I tend to call the area "The Malpais Mudpits." The roads have numerous slimy mud holes when the area is wet. When it is wet, don't try driving to the big tubes area if you don't know what you are doing.

The group ready to go, standing next to Tyler's rather muddy suburban.

We followed our trained tracker out toward the cave. He promptly went off-trail and got lost. At least, he couldn't pinpoint exactly where we were - which a certain fictional character defines as what lost means...

Once David pointed the group in the correct direction, we made it to the old collapsed lava tube that forms the cave.

The collapsed lava tube.

Big Skylight cave is part of a much larger lava tube, most of which collapsed. What remains makes a cool (if short) cave. And a couple of natural bridges. As usual, the group enjoyed the natural bridge created by the collapsed lava tube.

The group on a natural arch over the collapsed lava tube.

An early-spring lizard was out and about!

A lizard on the black rocks.

Situational awarness is crucial when caving. Make sure not to back off the cliff while photographing a lizard.

Another view of the lizard

The National Monument recently installed a sign to mark the main cave access route! I guess they heard about our trained tracker's navigational abilities...

Eshani hiding near the cave access route sign.

The main access route is an easy climb down into the collapsed lava tube.

A caver headed down the climb into the collapsed lava tube.

The cave is a cold sink. During the winter, cool air pools in the deep, shady, depressions. There isn't enough sun to warm it up during the day. As a result, snow and ice tend to accumulate, especially during the winter. But, being New Mexico, it is not like they get much snow. Just enough to make things slick on our way in. Some cavers tried to keep their feet out of the snow on the way in...

Snow at the entry to Big Skylight Cave.

Reece enjoyed the short traverse over the snow.

Traversing around/over the edge of the snow.

Most of the cave was dry, but there were some cool ice sheets around.

Ice covering a sloping wall in the cave.

Eshani, being from Sri Lanka, is especially fond of the ice (until she gets too cold).

Eshani by an ice formation)

We kept off the moss, but the snow didn't.

Snow-covered moss underneath the big skylight.

The large passage is a nice intro for new cavers.

The large passage in Big Skylight cave

There is a 2-level smaller passage in the back of the cave. It makes a couple loops, perfect for getting new cavers turned around. But short enough that it isn't hard to find your way back out.

The group in the upper passage, on a ledge above the lower passage.

Toward the back of the cave, Eshani noticed a flashlight and a knife dropped in a hole, out of the former owner's reach. Being a Sri-Lanken Micro Caver, she promptly dived in after them.

Eshani headed down into the rocks.

There were two flashlights, one nice and one OK. But the knife was disappointing.

Eshani holding the plastic kids knife that she found.

Toward the back of the cave there is another way out. There is a short climb to get up to it. And this time it was full of ice. We didn't try crawling out that way.

Looking up through the ice-lined alternate exit.

After a good day of caving everybody headed back. And this time they didn't get lost!

Headed back across the lava flows

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