Neff’s Canyon Cave – 2001

| June 24, 2018

When I first heard of Neff’s cave in about 2000, it was considered one of the deepest caves in North America.  Since then, I think deeper caves have been discovered in the US, but at 1,165′ deep, Neff’s is definitely still an adventure.

Bombs away….  Mark Holbrook at the gate and in the first few feet of the cave.  Right away, you have to slither past a section of sharp fins that would be impossible to haul an injured person through.

This was the first big cave I had ever done and one of the harder parts was just finding the entrance to it, which took a group of us about three days to ferret out.  The cave rightfully has a gate and lock on it and getting the key required a capabilities interview from the key holder, but aside from that, there was no other information on it.  The secrecy seemed like overkill before we went down in the cave, but afterwards it made good sense – a serious injury, like a broken leg, would be close to impossible to extricate as the passages are so narrow and twisty.

Hydration is an important part of caving.

Unlike some of the big, spectacular caves you see pictures of in National Geographic with Gothic stalactites and stalagmites,  Neff’s is more like an underground version of something like the Y-Couloir.  Most of it trends downward at about a 45 degree angle with lots of 20-50′ drops and one spectacular 100′ plus drop right through the center of a domed roof into Goodro’s Pit.  Much of the cave involves scrambling over muddy bolders, squeezing through narrow slots or downclimbing in corners.  The easy part is getting down and getting out requires solid jumaring (rope ascender) skills.

Petra Pirc on her way down.  She isn’t completely covered in mud yet, so this must have been early on.

I ended up doing the cave twice over a period of a couple of years.  Each time we had about six people and it took roughly 14 or so hours round trip.  You know you have reached the bottom as the cave constricts and ends at a roaring underground creek which would be one of the most graphic and horrifying deaths imaginable to get sucked into.  And like summit registers on mountain tops, caves have “plummet registers” which are the same idea – a sealed container where you can sign in.  Not that many people had signed the Neff’s register and I think nobody had done it in the intervening years between our first and second outing.

Mike Elgren, aka Elmo.  If you’ve ever dealt with Black Diamond Warranty, you probably know this guy.

For gear, we brought along at least twelve 60m rock climbing ropes, some nuts & cams, plus lots of slings.  For the most part, boulders can be slung for anchors and a series of small raps can all be strung together off of one rope.  As caving novices, we didn’t strategize our exit very well, so the last person out, me, ended up carrying most of the ropes, which was a complete cluster.  Eventually we figured out how to pass them forward, so the front people could take some of the load and bulk.  On our second journey into the cave, one team set all of the ropes and anchors, then climbed out and left them for a second team, which descended, then cleaned the gear on the way out.  This seemed like a good way to go as it was much faster and funner for both groups.

Jugging out with a wad of ropes.

Like ice climbing, spelunking takes a special breed of person to enjoy it.  I did a few other caves in Utah but the true motherlode is in places like Slovenia, a country which was described to me as being made of of Swiss Cheese.  Whereas Neffs is kind of cold, wet and muddy, the Slovenian caves are beautiful limestone and much more photogenic.

Mandatory butt shot.  Judging by the amount of mud, this must have been on the way up.  Caving is hard on clothing.

Neffs was first discovered around 1950 and was explored in sections over a number of years by a variety of people.  According to the Utah Grottos chapter of the National Speleological Society, the cave is 1,165 feet deep, 4,122 feet long and a chilly and damp 39 degrees Fahrenheit.

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Category: Trip Reports

About the Author ()

Andrew McLean lives in Park City, Utah and is a gear designer, writer, photographer, ski mountaineer, climber and Mountain Unicycle rider. He and Polly Samuels McLean are the parents of two very loud little girls.

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