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Sat, Oct 25, 2014 08:39 AM
Issue of October 22, 2014
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July 23, 2014 | 10:00 AM

Thanks to the hard work, dedication and a little craziness from a group of explorers, the Binkley Cave system — already the longest in Indiana — now has been pushed above the 40-mile mark.

"It was about a 1/2-mile, a mile round trip, of crawling," Rand Heazlitt, an Indiana Speleological Survey caver, said. "But once we got back there, it opened up to a river passage and mountain room, one of the largest in the entire 40-mile system."

The surveying trip, which ended Sunday morning, July 13, took 17 hours to complete. The survey was in a large "bore hole" passage that no human had ever set foot in, Carol Groves, marketing and communications director of Indiana Caverns, said.

Indiana Caverns, a show cave that opened early last summer, is a part of the Binkley Cave system. It features a 35-foot waterfall, ice-age bones and an underground boat ride.

The expansion excursion included 11 individuals in four teams.

The new passage was named the McLain River in honor of ISS caver Tim McLain, who died of a heart attack last year in the Binkley Cave system.

"Cavers followed a booming passage teeming with cave fish and crayfish onward through two large rooms to the rise of the McLain River, a beautiful blue pool," Groves said. "Here, the river flows up and out of a water-filled conduit that will require high specialized caving diving to continue exploration in this direction."

Heazlitt said the cavers saw several large, unexplored side passages.

"Members all agreed that there is much more cave to be discovered and surveyed," Groves said.

Heazlitt said he thinks there's at least 100 miles worth of cave, which would put it in the top five longest caves in the world.

"We know it's there; it's just a matter of surveying it," he said.

He said he doesn't think any of the newly found areas will ever be open to the public.

"Indiana Caverns is such a small fraction of this massive system, Heazlitt said. "It further indicates what a world-class system this is."

Groves said it could become one of the truly great caves of the world.

It is currently the ninth longest in the United States and the 40th longest in the world. Only about 200 feet is needed to move it up to eighth in the U.S.

"That undoubtedly will occur on their next trip," Groves said.

Binkley Cave has grown rapidly since long-time ISS caver Gary Roberson published a history of the cave's exploration, "Fifty Years Under the Sinkhole Plain," in 2009. At the time of publication, Binkley Cave was just more than 22 miles in length. Now, it has almost doubled that size.

"Major breakthroughs and breathtaking discoveries have come almost one after the other over this five-year span," Groves said.

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