October 12, 2016
LEVIATHAN CAVE, NEVADA
|Adam Haydock in a calcite crystal room in Leviathan Cave, Nevada|
We picked a great time of the year to go as the window of opportunity is small, yet the hike over a mountain gives this cave a "right of passage" upon entering this system.
Laura and I left early on Saturday since we knew that the heat would not be to overbearing on us with a high of 70 degrees. It took us around three hours to get to the trailhead but it was an expedition in itself to get to the Worthington Mountain Range and Leviathan Cave trail.
First off, we had to travel around 30 miles on dirt roads, pretty nice dirt roads, but nevertheless, they were dusty dirt roads. We crossed through saddles that rose to expansive and vast basins where visibility was 20-30 miles to the next range in some directions.
We continued down the diminishing dirt road to another road that appeared to be more of a high clearance off - road dirt trail than a road but the jeep ate it up and we progressed without any issues.
The "Road" continued to diminish as we went over a wash and steadily climbed up with large rocks obstructing our way to the parking lot. Eventually a clearing opened up with a sign and a register marking the TH to Leviathan cave, we made it!! Can a 2WD high clearance car make it? .. .It should not be a problem, but watch the weather and, if possible, have at least two cars with you in case one gets stuck.
We geared up and noticed the mountain that we must to summit before we made our final approach to the entrance of Leviathan cave and it did not seem like it was too much to ask for but since we had a plan to camp, photo, and enjoy the cave a bit more than what a day trip would allow us to enjoy, our packs grew in size and weight. So by around 30lb. to 50lb. later, we set out for the 2000ft. ascent up to an upper saddle in-between two tall spurs standing like guardsman, side by side, testing the will of each visitor with a .50 mile scramble up a 45-55 degree angle. Being sick on top of this endeavor added a bit of insult to the demand but it wasn't that bad.
We followed some waypoints that I set up so we would not get disoriented and we took our time scrambling up the scree and talus slopes while grabbing holds as we ascended higher to the upper saddle summit, we were treated to cool 50 degree temps as the sun was not privileged to burn away given the direction of the rock face. Finally, after gaining an altitude of 8000ft., we made it to the upper saddle and accomplished the crux of the hike.
We were rewarded with absolutely amazing views on both sides of the Worthington Mountain Range. To the north and the south of us were massive playa basins that must have been 30 miles by 30 miles in each direction. Massif and distant ranges were abound but we were higher than a lot of the mountains we could see so our views were that much more breathtaking.
After taking a bit of a break, we started our hike down to the entrance of Leviathan cave. We switched back a bit around juniper pines and not long after, we walked up right to the massive 120ft by 60ft entrance of Leviathan cave. At 7600ft of elevation, we made it!
The first impression was the jaw dropping entrance with the massive basin backdrop and mountains in the foreground. I rigged the high side with a 250ft rope which was the right amount of rope to include anchoring and back up anchoring ( if you choose to do so). A couple decades ago, a hiker fell into this cave after taking a break and standing back up so be careful around the entrance of the cave.
Once that was all rigged, we headed down to the low side where we rigged a second rope down a 15-20ft drop into the entrance.
Once we got to the bottom and actually entered the cave, three hours have gone by from car to in-cave which is pretty good knowing we portered around 100lbs. of food, gear, clothing, and water into the cave for our overnight stay in the cave.
Not only does this cave have a massive entrance, but there appears to be a desert micro system going on at the bottom of the sinkhole where the sun and weather can help sustain life. But the Flora was a bit different down there.
There were grass fields, a couple pinion trees with "larger than normal" thick trunks, and a type of tree that had very small but sharp thorny leaves that had the ability to poke through light clothing and even a bit of skin.
Once we got inside and under the 100 plus foot ceiling, we realized that the distance to the top of the breakdown magnified a bit making this cave even larger than expected. We took and break just to get our bearing and enjoy the massive from the bottom of the entrance while cooking up a bit of lunch.
Afterwards, we headed out to take some photos and worked our way down to the bottom of the entrance which was more like a small mountain of breakdown than just a hill. Once at the bottom, the sun light casted a golden color that made the walls glow as the bats flew to and from their habitats in the walls of the entrance.
There was no need for artificial lighting, the sun was able to do it all for us and the beauty of this alpine desert cave was unlike anything we have seen anywhere out west.
After we enjoyed the light show that the sun and the cave put on for us, we entered the first of three main passages in this cave.
|Adam Haydock and Laura Sangaila in the first Room with a sun glare at the entrance in Leviathan cave, Nevada|
Other than some sections of popcorn and flowstone on the walls, this passage did not have much of any formations, but where it lacked in formations, the crystals picked up the slack with a sparkle and shimmer on the ground and on the walls throughout this whole room. There were some sections of the cave where small piles of pink quartz were found and other crystals were spread around the floor.
The first room had a mosaic of color on the walls with a pastel combination of reds, yellows, and a cream color array. Next, we scrambled up to an opening at the top of this room and another room with even more vibrant color on the ceiling and walls appeared.
|a Hypogenic mosaic of mineral fusion with a sandstone and limestone morphology in a unmapped room in Leviathan cave, Nevada|
We spent some time photo documenting the swirling crystal formations and appreciated the hypogenic qualities as this cave continued to change the higher we got on the breakdown pile to the top of the ceiling.
Laura in the bubble room before the formation room in Leviathan cave, Nevada.
PHOTO BY : Laura Sangaila
Afterwards, we slowly headed out of the cave and headed over to the next room stopping along the way to photograph this surprisingly outstanding cave.
We continued to head over to the next passage directly across from the first passage we just came out of with a breakdown mound separating us between the two passages. The sun was starting to set but a massive amount of light was still blazing the ceiling walls which must have been 150ft to the ceiling and 75 feet across.
The next room we went into was amazing in itself. The first room had these interesting semi-circular bulb like formations on the ceiling. Laura noticed these bulbs in the ceiling as she came into the cave after snapping a few photos before the sun set. I already came through into the entrance of the passage which has a crawling restriction and waited for her in the room. I noticed that this room has formations and all kinds of popcorn on the walls.
I waited for Laura and as soon as she came into the cave, we started to explore the rest of the room as it was a climb up higher into three other rooms, all with different kinds of formations.
The room that we came into had some beautiful and colorful columns, stalagmite, and stalactite formations with color infused flowstone on the walls. Laura also noticed the tabletop rim stone dams and pools which were in a corner. I did not notice any calcified bones but I may not have looked hard enough in the pool to see.
We continued up to another level in the formation room and found some nice formations on one side but on the other side of the room there was a beautifully ribboned drapery formation which was one of the largest and longest ribboned drapery formations we have ever seen. Laura got some amazing photos of this area and I photographed her in this area taking photos.
Next, we got to the top of the room and there was more passage that continued on to another room! This was not on the map and quite interesting to see. Laura stayed back as I proceeded into the rocky passage and entered a room similar to the first room we were in but a bit smaller. There were two passages beyond this room, one passage that went left and another passage that continued straight and down. wow this cave keeps going!!
I came back to the formation room and we took more photos of the formations and crystal mosaic colors in the walls which was absolutely amazing.
After a while we headed out of this room and back into the main coliseum corridor but the light has just all about disappeared and the night sky started to sparkle through the massive entrance. The stars were abound and a faint shadow of the moon even popped into the entrance of the cave. It was quiet as a ear ringing tinnitus episode. The dry air dropped a few degrees and our jackets started coming out as the jet boil boiled water for a much needed dinner.
Shortly afterwards, I snapped a few night shots as the bats started flying around and the night sky casted a dark electric blue into Leviathan Cave.
We crawled into the tent and went to bed only to realize that I also got to sleep next to a rock that didn't expose itself when I originally set up the tent, it must have moved its way over to where it could conduct heat away from my body which was like an hourly awakening throughout the night.
The Following day we got up early to snap a few photos from a different perspective with the sun beaming its way into the cave entrance. This cave just doesn't quit showing its beauty and these moments with arriving at the cave, sleeping in a beautifully echoed amphitheater like entrance, and waking up to echoing birds chirping with a cool and crisp feeling in the dry air is just a spectacular experience.
Laura and I cooked up some breakfast and headed over to the final passage which is closest to the entrance.
These entrances reminded me of some of the entrances into the larger caves in Puerto Rico which make me wonder if there might be similar occurrences happening on this range as they are in Puerto Rico with larger systems fragmenting into shorter systems. This piece took us down into a cold sink and a 100ft plus dome room that appeared to have a slopping tier of flow stone draping down the drop like a frozen waterfall.
We considered aid climbing this dome but the damage that it might cause might not be worth the effort but there is another hold in the ceiling that might have some potential to consider.
We took some photos of the area and noticed a few slabs of rock that pealed off the walls exposing the mineral components and another large mosaic designs of crystal lining the walls like a massive gift store rock necklace.
Leviathan cave is a system with some absolutely fascinating hypogenic morphology working in cohort with the solutional properties that a limestone cave can provide with pockets of limestone and other sandstone layers all at different heights locations in the cave.
Our hike out was ideal with a cool breeze and a descent down the couloir to the wash where the car was parked at the trailhead.
Our expectations were blown away with this cave and we are not only looking forward to coming back next year but we want to increase awareness on how important it is to keep this cave system in pristine condition for the protection of the bats, flora, and the geological importance this cave can offer with continuing study on hypogenic caves in the Nevada Region.
Best map of Leviathan cave.
A survey and photo trip is being planned to return to Leviathan cave in the near future. Please reach out to us for more information or to participate in the trip.