Survey Section

The largest and longest-lasting project of WUSS is the effort to survey (map) all known caves in Carter Caves State Resort Park. Currently WUSS has mapped over sixty caves in the park and there is year round work on numerous open surveys. In addition, WUSS has many Ohio surveys open as part of a joint project with Ohio Department of Natural Resources. Jump to Open Survey Projects for information on existing surveys.

What is Cave Surveying?

Cave surveying is the process of gathering data to create an accurate, useful map. As a science-driven grotto, WUSS does a lot of survey work. Here's how it works:

The Basic Idea

Think about telling someone how to get from one place to another. To do this, you need to give them two things: a distance and a direction. The idea is the same in cave surveying. We pick a starting point (A), and then measure distance and direction to a convenient stopping point (B). However, caves have an additional dimension to consider - depth. So, we also measure inclination, which shows how far apart A and B are vertically. To make sure measurements are accurate, cavers check themselves by working in both directions, from A to B and from B to A. With the distance, direction, and inclination of all the points in a cave, we can create a basic map.

Survey Equipment

WUSS's survey kit

The Survey Team

A survey team is made of three or four cavers. Usually, anyone is welcome (encouraged!) to come on a survey trip, but sometimes the lead surveyor will ask for certain types of people to fit the cave. For example, people who get cold easily would not be the best choice for a long trip, and taller people would not be good for surveying a small, bendy passage. However many people come, the tasks remain the same.

Front Instrument
  • Picks the next point
  • Takes back shots to the previous point with a compass and inclinometer
  • Holds the front end of the measuring tape, or provides a surface that a laser reach
Back Instrument
  • Takes front shots to the new point with a compass and inclinometer
  • Takes measuring tape or laser distance readings to next point, ceiling, floor, and left/right
  • Makes scaled, accurate top-view and cross-section drawings
  • Notes key features of the passage, including formations, water, and side passages
Book / Palm Pilot
  • Records important survey information (cave name, location, time in/out, names of surveyors)
  • Records compass and inclinometer measurements
  • Records distance between stations, as well as wall measurements
  • Checks that front and back shots are within one degree of each other

Though WUSS uses a laser and Palm Pilot, we introduce new surveyors to the tape and traditional book (so they know how good they've got it!).

Survey and Cartography Articles
  • Surveying with a PDA - a short article from Pholeos Vol 25(1) that discusses the use of a personal data assistant (PDA) to aid in cave mapping while in the field.
  • Cartography by Computer - an article from Pholeos Vol. 27(1,2) designed to be an introduction to drafting a cave map on the computer with Adobe Illustrator.
Survey Links

    Open Survey Projects

    In an effort to prevent the spread of White Nose Syndrome, Carter Caves SRP has been closed to cavers. Because of this, all of the caves have been closed. However, WUSS does have a conditional permit to allow us to continue surveys in Boundary Cave, Cascade Cave, and Hidden Cave so long as proper decontamination protocols are strictly followed. Any trips into these caves must be led by a WUSS familiar with these procedures and must be for scientific research or survey.

    Boundary Cave System

    Line plot of Boundary Cave system

    A long-known system located in the park with a recently surveyed connection and lots of potential cave additions. This cave system has five known entrances, including two pit entrances. The survey started in early 2007 and already the cave has reached over 1500 meters in length with the potential to be one of the longest wild caves in the park. The cave can be extremely wet, depending on the weather, so caution should be used on long survey trips. For more information or to find out when the next survey trip for the Boundary Cave System is, please contact the officers.

    Cascade Cave System

    Line plot of Cascade Cave system

    This cave is most well known as being a tourist cave, though the average tourist only sees a small fraction of the real cave. In actuality, the cave is over 3400 meters long with 10 known entrances. A large portion of the cave is walking passage but those parts are separated by wet, sometimes small, sections making it a weather specific cave to survey. The survey was started over a decade ago but survey work continues mostly in the winter and early spring months. For more information or to find our when the next survey trip for the Cascade Cave System is, please contact the officers.

    Canyon Cave

    Though not actually in the park, this survey was started over a decade ago, however deteriorating land owner relations have caused the survey to cease. The survey has reached a length of more than 3500 meters, making it one of the longest known caves in the county. Canyon is an extremely challenging cave with three in cave rope required drops and every conceivable type of passage. There are no survey trips planned for the foreseeable future but if you want more information on Canyon Cave, please contact Dr. Horton Hobbs III.

    Hidden Cave

    Hidden Cave line plot

    This is a small cave located just inside the park boundary, it has three known entrances. The survey was started in the summer of 2006 but due to the highly specific weather conditions needed to finish the survey, it is ongoing. The cave is mostly hands and knees crawling and belly crawling through water so an extended period of draught is necessary to finish the survey, which has reached a length of over 200 meters. There is about another 100 meters of survey left. For more information or to find out when the next survey trip for Hidden Cave is, please contact the officers.

    On top of these open surveys, WUSS is always surveying several of the hundreds of small caves located within the park. These make great practice caves for beginner surveyors or a fun day trips for more experienced ones.