History of the Fisher Ridge Cave System
The Fisher Ridge Cave System was discovered in January of 1981 by a group of Michigan cavers. A small blowing hole high on Fisher Ridge just below the sandstone contact was encountered. A little digging yielded the top of a small shaft complex and the entrance to the Fisher Ridge Cave System. By the summer a second entrance "Splash" was found (interestingly from the inside of the cave) and over five miles of passage had been mapped. By the end of the first year of exploration the cave was over 10 miles long and extended under both Fisher Ridge and Ice Cave Ridge to the north. The survey was going so well that the Michigan cavers decided to found the Detroit Urban Grotto who's primary purpose was to explore Fisher Ridge. In addition to the rapid pace of passage discoveries, exciting archaeological finds were discovered in passages just off of the main trunk passage Fisher Avenue. Footprints, cane torch remains, and an interesting scratch mark motif were found. Carbon dating of some of the finds placed the visitations back nearly 3000 years ago.
The primary explorers of the cave system has changed somewhat over the past twenty three years of exploration. Exploration trips into the cave usually consist of cavers who have been with the project for less than 10 years. The list of the top 20 cavers in order of long term survey productivity is as follows; Peter Quick, Keith Ortiz, Chip Hopper, Suzanne DeBlois, Larry Bean, Brian Davis, Mike Fitch, Bob Anderson, Joe Saunders (deceased), Dan Crowl, Steve Miller, Reid Beauchamp, Jeff Brummel, Pete Dickman, Jeff Zink, Jon Smith, Jonathan Schwer, Joe Oliphant, Ron Adams and Dennis Kendrick, nearly half of which have little involvement in present explorations. Many others have participated in the project. Attempting to briefly chronicle who made which discovery when, would prove to be confusing, simplistic and contentious, as every participants mapping and exploration efforts have been important for the progress of the project.
In the first four years of the project 28 miles of passage had been mapped. During this time a third entrance, Remington, was dug open which greatly facilitated further exploration. The dig was a fairly simple 15 foot deep dig which breached the top of a 40 foot high dome. At this point the cave could be broken into roughly four areas. 1) The Historic Section, 2) The Mofo Tube and the passages extending to Bob's Borehole, 3) Fisher Ave. and its logical extension under Ice Cave Ridge, Hunkey Dorey, and 4) The base level passage complex of Thunder River, Stinky River and the Detroit River. In the spring of 1984 there was a huge flood in the cave system and turned many of the previously dry passages into muck. It wasn't until the spring of 1985 that it was discovered that the flood had made some other dramatic changes in the cave system. The flood had washed out a mud plug at a bend in South Fisher Ave. near the Splash Entrance. The South Fisher Ave Extension was found. For the next two years much of the mapping in the cave system occurred in this area expanding the cave to over 40 miles of mapped passage and into Eudora Ridge to the south. The most impressive discoveries were the passages in the Big One area, an ancient high level trunk passage that correlates with the age of Collins Ave. in Crystal Cave (Mammoth Cave).
Late in 1987 attention turned from the southern end of the cave system to the northern end. In nearly back to back breakthroughs, breakdown piles that terminated trunk passages were penetrated and extended the cave to the northwest to the edge of Northtown Ridge with the discovery of Chartres Ave. and to the east with the discovery of the Larry's Borehole and Grand Ave. The discovery of Chartres Ave. helped define the major trend of the cave system from the southwest near Interstate 65 (between Horse Cave and Cave City) to the northwest all the way to the edge of Northtown Ridge. This trunk complex South Fisher Ave, Fisher Ave, Hunkey Dorey, Chartres Ave. is the defining conduit of the cave system. Virtually all of the passages in the cave system act as either feeders into this trunk passage or as overflow routes that were formed around diversions in this major flow path. At this point the speculation that the cave could be followed to its ultimate destination, the Green River a few miles away, seemed closer to reality. Unfortunately the promise of Chartres Ave. soon fizzled out with no good going leads discovered.
The discoveries in the eastern part of the cave turned out to be the logical northwestern continuation of Bob's Borehole. Bob's Borehole, Grand Ave and Larry's Borehole all trend to the northwest. This second major flow conduit runs about a half mile to the east and roughly parallel to the Fisher Ave Trunk Complex. This fragmented trunk complex predates the formation of the Fisher Ave. conduit and is about 50 feet higher in elevation. It suffers in many places from massive breakdown obstructions.
In 1990 speculation that the Larry's Borehole trunk passage complex continued to the northwest led to the exploration of an incredibly nasty crawl (The Chocolate Ice Hole) and its breakthrough into Ice Cave Ave. By the end of 1990, 52 miles of cave had been mapped.
For the next two years progress slowed to mop up mapping trips in various parts of the cave. A little over a mile was added to the length of the cave. In the fall of 1992 came another major breakthrough. This time beyond the end of Chartres Ave. and under the main body of Northtown Ridge. A very rugged series of crawls taking one through a downstream distributary maze was pushed over a series of months and finally led to a breakthrough into a major trunk passage complex. This series of crawls, the Cheese Grater, Chartres Maze and Penny Lane, takes about three hours to traverse. The main body of Northtown Ridge had finally been taken. The main trunk passage under Northtown Ridge was named Northtown Ave. and comes within 50 feet of the end of Chartres Ave. The continuation of the Fisher Ave. flow route had been found.
For over thirty years modern cavers have been speculating on the probability of a major cave under Northtown Ridge, but no entrances were found. Little did they know than entrance to Northtown Ridge would be made via the Fisher Ridge Cave System with entrances miles away. Despite the eight hour one way travel time to the new area and infrequent trips due to a key connecting passage (the 1000 Foot Crawl) periodically flooding shut, mapping racked up nearly 30 more miles of passages between 1993 and 1996. The difficulty of the trips into the new area of Northtown Ave. led to the establishment of a permanent base camp. A typical trip into the cave lasted three to four days.
In early 1996 five cavers were trapped in the Northtown Section of the cave for two days beyond their scheduled 3 day trip by flood waters in the 1000 foot crawl. During this trip a day before the trapping a major trunk passage, Park Avenue, was found that continued the caves ongoing trend to the northwest and to a water sumped passage within just 1000 feet of the Green River, the downstream end of the cave. There were a few more camp trips into the cave after the trapping, but in the late fall of 1996 another six cavers were trapped for three days by flood waters in the 1000 foot crawl. This effectively ceased exploration for the next 14 months. The explorers decided it wasn't worth the likely chance of getting trapped again.
On the last trip before the final trapping incident in 1996 a new trunk passage was found in the eastern parts of Northtown Ridge off the Eveready Canyon area. This new trunk passage, the Nebulous Borehole seems to be yet another component of the Bob's Borehole – Ice Cave Ave. flow path.
In the summer of 1996 Peter Quick bought a farm on Northtown Ridge after a series of cave radio location trips. Two radio locations were made in high level passages (KN Canyon and Lost Carbide Passage) as prospects for potential new entrance areas. Both were located on the same piece of property. A 50 acre farm was procured and digging started in the fall of 1996 above the end of the Lost Carbide Complex. By the end of 1997 a 55 foot deep shaft had been sunk that finally breached a small dome complex. A new entrance to the cave had been gained.
Exploration trips resumed at the beginning of 1998. Since then mapping trips have found a number of passages the most interesting being the extension of the Nebulous Borehole, the discoveries of the Over The Top Passage and the Quiet City Trunk and lastly the complex of passages in the Rough Route / Dose of Salts / U survey area. The discovery of the Dose of Salts area under the northern part of Northtown Ridge in May of 2001 was the key to reaching and surpassing 100 miles in mapped cave passage.
The passage geography of the cave system under Northtown Ridge and beyond can be roughly broken into five sections. 1) Furthest to the east is the Nebulous Borehole, Doubleready, Everready section. 2) Running much of the length of Northtown Ridge from the southeast to the northwest is the Doll’s Head and Northtown Trunk Passage. 3) The central part of Northtown Ridge which contains the bulk of the mapped passages on three different levels. 4) The northwestern section of the ridge containing the Otherworld, Rough Route and Dose of Salts. 5) Park Ave, a nearly two mile long trunk passage running under an un-named ridge to the west of Northtown Ridge, terminating at the Green River. Park Avenue is the logical downstream extension to Northtown Ave. which in turn extends with the occasional break in continuity and change in passage name all the way back to the southeastern reaches of Fisher Ridge and eastern Eudora Ridge some six or seven miles away. Truly the backbone of the entire cave system.
Many of the survey trips into the cave involve camping in the cave, typically two days of survey separated by sleep and two meals. This "mini-camp" technique has been found to maximize survey productivity. As of mid-year 2004 the length of the Fisher Ridge Cave System stands at 107 miles.
Many leads have yet to be checked and mapped. Much more passage will undoubtedly be found. Mapping continues in this and all other parts of the cave system.