By John Lyles and Garrett Jorgensen

Through most of 2019, as typical of recent years, Snowy River (SR) was flooded, preventing exploration due to closed sumps. By late summer it began drying out to produce a refreshed hard calcite floor and October was deemed the optimal time for exploration. A year earlier, a climb above SR had broken out into a new upper passage, Gold Rush. The first October 2019 expedition continued at one of the significant unexplored leads at Tetlin Junction. Survey continued heading northwest, then gradually turning northeast. The passage developed into interlaced upper and lower levels, both large walking passages. The team spent 2 days in the cave, sleeping to allow for a productive second day. They added 12,400 feet of significant passage, and named it Capitan Caverns [1]. The next weekend a team pushed Capitan Caverns for another 4,777 feet in a very decorated upper level passage that paralleled the earlier work.

In another 2‑day expedition, cavers definitively established that they had reached the far side of the breakdown blockage at Engel Hill, in the historic Lincoln Caverns part of the cave. Their final point was 8.5 miles from the entrance, but only about 2 miles direct distance, if Engel Hill wasn’t blocked. The third weekend was planned for a 2‑day mop up of side passages including completion of a massive upper level trunk overlying Capitan Caverns. They were not disappointed with the leads remaining, and surveyed another 11,700 feet in some of the largest decorated passage in the cave. These three weekend trips added 5.46 miles of amazing new passage to Fort Stanton Cave, now at 40.15 miles in length.

[1] A. Weaver, G. Jorgensen, D. Wolfe, The Discovery of Capitan Caverns, NSS News, May 2020, pp. 18–25.

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