By John Lyles

Starting in 1962 a dig in an airy dead-end passage continued on and off for 7 years, eventually opening Babb’s Burrow into the Lincoln Caverns passage of Fort Stanton Cave. This was the most remote place in the cave. At the far end of a large decorated trunk, a massive breakdown collapse called Engel Hill terminated the trend while air continued. A dig in the 1970s continued upward using screwed-together steel pipes to probe overhead breakdown, but dire conditions killed enthusiasm. It wasn’t until Snowy River (SR) was discovered in 2001 that the true nature of Fort Stanton Cave began to be realized in the south. In 2018 cavers pushed an upper level climb above SR into Gold Rush, a major breakout heading back towards the far side of Engel Hill but miles away. John Lyles led a reconnaissance trip in May 2019 with Ramon Armen and John Dunham to visit the old top dig and found it unworkable. They found a low crawl under a boulder, midway along the face of Engel Hill. They quickly advanced into Engel Hill 30 feet without even digging. Their new Midway dig began against a wall for a few hours. John returned in September with three local cavers and they progressed, reducing large boulders to rubble and advancing a body length. Returning to SR a month later, teams continued mapping the Gold Rush trend, breaking into extensive large passage (see the US Exploration talk) that they surveyed to add about 5.5 miles to the cave (now 40.1 miles). They even found the far side of the Engel Hill breakdown, after caving for 8.5 miles overnight. Capitan Gap is the remaining unopened distance through the breakdown. The dig remains important as it could provide an emergency route in case of flooding at SR.


  1. John, neat talk! Somewhere in your talk you showed an FS area topo map with orange blobs. Are those potentially cave passages? Not connected to anything known? I’m looking at your talk on an iPad mini, so I can’t see the detail very well. Rick Banning

Leave a Reply