BY MIKE GORDON
PHOTOS BY DAN AND ANNETTE BRINTON
When Sean mentioned the University was looking for volunteers to trap albino crayfish from some of the lesser traveled water passages I could see the excitement in Kitty’s eyes. With a degree in biology this was an opportunity to combine her caving skills and scientific education.
About six years ago, while caving with Kitty in “Lemonwood” (her very first cave), I squeezed into a new area where I had to straddle water in a lower chamber. At the time I estimated the water depth at 20ft. We remembered this area and thought it might produce a crayfish or two.
After telling Dan and Annette of our intent they agreed to join us. Not having seen the water room before, they were interested, so we met at the location at a predetermined time.
In we went, minnow trap, cat food, and monofilament line all in tow. While Dan and Annette peered into the depth of the water room, Kitty busied herself with baiting the trap and securing the line. Without a lot of elbow room for everyone back there I decided to check on the little hobbit hole to the right. Holy Cow, right there in the bottom of the small circular pool just an arm and shoulder length away sat three albino crayfish. I was able to snag two of them. Kitty’s excitement over this discovery was amusing to us all. We hadn’t even set the trap and we’re two up already. Upon further inspection by Kitty both specimens were female and we needed reproductive males, so those to lucky girls went right back where I caught them.
Slowly Kitty lowered the trap into the deep part of the well. We agreed on Sunday night being the best time to check on our project. All went well so far. On the way out Annette spotted a bat as it flew through the tunnel landing on first me then Dan before wisping off into the dark behind us (luckily we had our helmets on so it couldn’t lay eggs in our hair).
Sunday rolled around, time to check our trap. The four of us entered, this time with elbow and knee pads covering our cuts and bruises from the last trip. After contorting just the right way I was again able to straddle the water in the small room. Locating the filament line was easy but lifting the trap proved difficult as the line was cut by the sharp underwater formations leaving us unable to bring it up. We tied off a submersible light and lowered it to locate the trap on the bottom. Dan and Annette were each able to negotiate the squeeze and verify the depth at 14ft 3 inches.
Leaving the cave was bitter sweet. At the bottom of the well room some underwater passage was evident; however, losing the trap was on everyone’s mind. On the drive home I believe we all devised a way to return the next day and retrieve it. After a brief discussion we agreed on Dan’s plan to try.
We met with high hopes and the right equipment. A tank, regulator, mask, guide rope, weights and a camera were all carefully set in position. After getting into the well room we passed Dan the gear he needed. Annette snapped picture as Dan descended being extra careful not to disturb the silt on the ledges. After a nail biting amount of time he returned to the surface with excitement in his voice and our crayfish trap in his hand. “I’ve never seen more crayfish in one room before in my life” he called up to the rest of us. The trap was crawling with strange milky white critters.
The final count was twenty in the trap, three males and seventeen females. We selected two viable males to transport out and the rest we returned to the area we got them. After securing the equipment and some cave chat it was time to depart with are little captives.
The success of this trip was apparent to each of us. The trap left uncollected could have collected crayfish for years, potentially wiping out a colony. Without Dan and Annette’s knowledge and skill of underwater passage and Kitty’s gritty determination none of this would have been possible. I thank all three and was proud to be a part of the challenge. While the numbers of caves that legitimate cavers have access too dwindles each year, perhaps now is the time to focus on some of the less impressive more familiar locations.
Caving, whether in virgin passage or known terrain can be equally fulfilling if done with the right attitude and adventurous caving buddies.