Friday, February 19, 2016

2016 Lehman Cave Lint Camp

Not many people visit Lehman Cave in the winter. That makes it a great time to clean the cave! About 25 volunteers gathered for a weekend in January for the annual lint camp. Lint refers to the particles that fall off our clothes (you know, what you find in the dryer lint trap). Lint is constantly falling off our clothes, including when we're in the cave. But in the cave, there's little wind to blow it away, so it just drifts onto the cave formations and over time makes them look duller. It also provides an unnatural food source for cave biota and can even change how speleothems (cave formations) form.

Along with lint, lots of hair, dirt from shoes, and other assorted things get left behind in the cave. Armed with simple tools like forceps and paintbrushes, we started dusting down the cave, using dust pans and plastic bags to capture the lint and other debris. It is an amazingly soothing and fulfilling activity, which might help explain why everyone doing it seems to have smiles on their faces! (Or they were happy to pose for the camera.)

Katie came from Crystal Cave in Sequoia National Park so she could learn how to put on lint camps there. She found a high ledge that had quite a coating of lint and dust. Below you can see the line between what she's cleaned and hasn't cleaned.

Some places are very difficult to clean, like in between popcorn. Tiny brushes and forceps work best here.

During this lint camp, an old hot cocoa mix was found in the cave. Who would have brought it in? And how long ago?
Fungi and springtails were still deriving some nourishment from it. A tiny gray springtail is in the photo below, inside the blue O.

We also lucked out and found a larger cave creature, a pseudoscorpion. This one is endemic to the South Snake Range. It's a predator, at the top of the invertebrate food chain in the cave. But it's only about an inch long.

Families regularly come to the lint camp, and it's neat to see how they all work together. In addition to cleaning lint, another big job during the weekend is restoration. That means removing old trail debris to find the natural cave floor. Buckets are quickly filled up and it's cool to find popcorn or rimstone dams under the sand.

Even the ceilings need to be dusted! It's not as easy as at home, though, due to all the soda straws and stalactites.

We had a group of kids who worked really well together. Plus they are so close to the floor that it's easy for them to see things adults might not.

On Saturday afternoon we gathered for a group photo. We were waiting for a few people, so I decided to have some camera fun. I told everyone to move their lights around during a long exposure.

Then I was reminded of what we had done during a Batblitz--some writing in the night. We assigned letters, did some practice shots, and ended up with this:

Then it was time for the official photo:

Next up was a reward for all the hard work, a tour of the Talus Room, an area of the cave that's usually off limits. It's a humongous room, more than a football field long and with the ceiling more than 100 feet tall in places.

The next day it was back to work, but for some folks in a different area of the cave. People often get attached to a particular spot they're working on, and if they don't finish it, want it saved for them for the next lint camp. The amount of dedication is amazing.

The work can be tedious, but it is rewarding.

Here are some newly uncovered rimstone dams in the Gothic Palace. They had been covered up for decades, and now everyone can enjoy them.
Lint camp kind of turns cleaning on its head--in the cave it's a fun thing to do!

Update: Here's a great article in The Ely Times by Ross Johnson about lint camp.

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