This past May, The Explorer and I took a trip to Dillon, MT for a caving trip to Argenta Cave. This was our third or fourth caving trip this year and I was pumped. My first cave ever was Ape Cave on Mt. St. Helens in November 2011, my second cave was Lick Creek Cave, and we had been on an Asparagus Cavers trip recently as well. Still very, very new to caving, but more excited about it than I had been before. My first couple of trips I had to make myself calm down and not freak out about being unground and oh my gosh, what if this collapses, and oh my god, we could DIE down here and no one would know and aaaaaaahhhhh. My third and fourth trips were so much more fun because I ceased being scared and started enjoying myself.
Argenta Cave is located not far off a gravel road west of Dillon, home of The University of Montana Western. The cave entrance is surrounded by a corral, as is typical when the area is used for cows. I wonder how many cows a farmer must lose before he goes out and finds the hole?
Argenta has a 40ft drop at the entrance, which in May, was practically an ice waterfall. This was only my second time on rope and I really wanted Daryl to go first, but he wasn’t going to have me go down second and not be able to double check my gear before I went. And so I went first.
I was able to “walk” down the snow and ice for a bit, but then somehow I ended up sort of wedged between the rock wall and the ice. I had a momentary internal melt down where I wanted to beg Daryl to pull me back up but I knew that wouldn’t happen and I could do this. After a minute or two, I got myself together and continued to rappel the last 20ft or so.
Daryl came down after me and got sucked into the same wedge, though not nearly as far in as I had. We then took off our vertical gear, stashed it off the ground, and went off to explore.
Argenta is not a huge cave, so it didn’t take us very long to reach the back. It’s not a very decorated cave, but there is some pretty flowstone and several of these tall ice formations. In the back of the main passage there are a few crawls and climbs that might go a bit farther. The climb has been done before, though it is not properly bolted. In fact, there are two or three railway ties hammered into the rock that someone has used to climb up!
Instead of climbing out using the Frog System (please, click the link and enjoy the awesome 1990s photos), we decided to walk our way up around the side of the entrance. Daryl was a little wary, but I was (and still am) too unexperienced to be afraid of the situation, so I led us out. We attached our crolls and hand ascenders to the rope and inched our way up the mossy and icy ledge. The Explorer was terrified for me the whole time, which thankfully I was blissfully unaware of at the time. I trusted the equipment and my ability to stay balanced (thank you, 20+ years of dance class!), and I climbed out. Daryl came after me and called up “You are a BAMF! You are so awesome!”.
I guess the climb out was harder than I realized?
It was still day light when we both emerged from the cave (which was the first time in my caving experience), so we took our time packing up the rope and walking back to the car (which we could actually see from the cave!). I was so jazzed from how excited Daryl was by my ability to get out of the cave! We drove back to Missoula through Bannack State Park and stayed the night at Jackson Hot Springs (both of which we can’t wait to get back to!).