| Goliath’s Cave: The Rubicon
Passage lives up to its name. Feb. 2008
Many cavers have heard of Goliath’s Cave but few have
visited it. This cave (including a few other smaller caves) is located
in a forested blind valley on the outskirts of Cherry Grove, a tiny Fillmore
County “town”. It was reported that S.E. Minnesota cavers first entered
the cave in the mid 1950’s and explored portions of it. Shortly afterwards
however, the prominent cave entrance became blocked by a massive talus
During the next 20 years cave explorers, including Ron
Spong, a charter member of the MSS, would occasionally attempt to remove
enough of the talus pile to gain entry to the cave. Finally in 1980, after
a 7 inch rain, Ron managed to access the cave. After negotiating his way
through the 2 near-sumps, located just inside the cave, he hiked through
the upper level of the cave before retreating due to another immanent
In the 1980’s MSS President Jim Magnuson and fellow cavers
focused their efforts on this cave. They explored and surveyed the upper
and lower level passages and quickly realized Goliath’s Cave was an important
and extensive cave system. In 1986 the cave owner, Tom Kappers, gave Jim
permission to create a safe man-made entrance into the cave. Unfortunately
during this process several cavers almost lost their lives. One was airlifted
to Rochester’s Mayo Clinic; thankfully both made a complete recovery.
In 1988 Tom Kappers banned all cavers from the property.
Ten years later (even though his wife referred to the wooded parcel as
a “sacred special place”) the Kappers applied for a Conditional Use Permit
to turn the woods and caves into a gravel quarry. Since the water flowing
through this cave system exits the Big Spring in Forestville State Park,
the DNR was understandably concerned, and in 1999 purchased the property.
(I had made Kappers a generous offer for the property but the DNR trumped
me on this one because they had promised that if the Kappers sold them
the property they would locate a suitable quarry site for them). The DNR/SNA
(Scientific Natural Area) promptly gated the cave and banned all access.
In 2004, after waiting 5 years for a policy change, I
(The Minnesota Cave Preserve) purchased several surface acres, along
with 358 acres of underground cave rights, directly across the road from
the DNR/SNA parcel and created a safe man-made entrance into the cave.
Even though I had only visited the upper portion of the cave one time
I was positive that given a chance I could expand and identify the true
As the DNR/SNA’s new neighbor, I did not receive the usual welcome basket,
but instead received a terse formal letter advising me not to trespass
under their portion of the cave.
Our new entrance was appropriately named “David’s Entrance” and once again,
after more than 16 years, survey and exploration work resumed. In Feb.
2005 John Preston and I dove through a dangerous convoluted sump at the
end of a side passage near David’s Entrance. After successfully groping
along the boulder choked lower level we rose straight up 20 feet to the
base of a thundering waterfall. After surveying one third mile of tall
walking passages that we named the “Iconoclast Section”, it was learned
that this section may indeed lie under the DNR/SNA land. (Unfortunately
the DNR/SNA cannot access this new cave segment unless they trespass under
the Cave Preserve portion of the cave and conduct their own sump dive).
Also in 2005 an entire dry upper level, including several
lower level segments, was discovered by the “Iconoclast team”. This team
included Clay Kraus, Dave Gerboth and Charles Graling. Any other caver
that showed up with the right qualifications was knighted with a crow
bar on the spot and inducted into the team.
Again, these upper and lower level discoveries that occurred near the
David’s Entrance region of the cave were determined to possibly lie below
DNR/SNA land. Some hinted that the DNR/SNA was not appreciative of the
gifts we had presented them. “But hey”, I wondered, “How can you protect
and study something you don’t know exists”? Even though I felt that I
should receive some sort of cheap plastic Made in China plaque of recognition,
what I received instead was an intercepted copy of a “classified” e-mail
that declared “HE MUST BE STOPPED”!
After we were satisfied we had investigated all viable leads near the
vicinity of David’s Entrance, the Iconoclast Team decided to focus on
passages located well under the Minnesota Cave Preserve’s property. Besides,
it would be less controversial exploring under land you are positive you
After walking a short distance downstream from David’s Entrance the towering
Rubicon Passage is encountered. It is a spectacular borehole trunk line
that stretches 2000 feet before dropping into blackness. Eventually a
classic waterfall, with a deep splash pool at its base, is encountered.
A short distance beyond, the ceiling suddenly drops and the stream passage
width becomes very wide. In Feb. 2005, after sliding several hundred feet
along this stretch of passage with my chin above water I noticed a narrow
watercourse off to one side. I followed the passage a short distance and
entered a dry dome with a steep mud bank on one side. About 20 feet up,
along one wall, I spotted what I thought could be an enterable opening.
Our team did not have the gear to investigate the lead that day but listed
it as a high priority. Later that same day we conducted a radio location
at an expansive nearby lake and determined that Venita Sikkink’s home
(She is the landowner that sold me the property) was located over 130
feet directly above the site.
The following year, March 2006, Clay, myself, and others returned to the
dome lead. After repeated attempts, I managed to toss Clay’s grappling
hook up into the hole and wedge it securely. (Even though the grappling
hook would typically crash down and hit Clay on the head, it did not compare
with last years incident when I slid down the steep mud embankment and
landed directly on top of him while he was steadying the misc. electronic
cave radio components along the waters edge). When I reached the top of
the grappling hook I glanced ahead and was astonished to see a large void.
I pulled myself into the expanse, stood up, and secured a climbing rope
around a rock projection. After Clay joined me he used his infra red measuring
tape to determine that the ceiling rose a whopping 42 feet above us. We
were even more elated to see a 6 foot tall walking passage stretching
off into the distance. After following it for 52 feet we were stopped
by huge rock slabs. I could see blackness beyond. If only I had a rock
Now it is a geological fact that the DNR/SNA portion of Goliath’s Cave
cannot and will not lend itself to many more surprises. This cave system
trends east-northeast, right under David’s Entrance and under the 358
acres we have subterranean rights to. In fact, dye traces have shown that
the Rubicon trunk line is just a small gateway leading into what has yet
to be discovered. In 2005, cave diver John Preston inspected the wide
flooded downstream portion of the Rubicon passage, and after spotting
a large fish, he decided he had a fair chance of following the nearly
sumped passage until breaking out into the main system that surely exists.
The Grappling Hook dome is located in the same vicinity.
Two years had slipped by since Clay and I were stopped by those rock slabs.
Numerous amazing discoveries in other caves had been occupying our time,
and yet that rock in Goliath’s Cave was still etched vividly in my mind.
In spite of our hiatus Goliath’s Cave was still buzzing with activity.
Dr. Calvin Alexander and his associates had assembled data logging equipment
and performed an accurate survey of the cave, downstream from David’s
Entrance. Even the DNR/SNA jumped in and suddenly began surveying their
portion of the cave. Although it was rumored that the sole purpose of
their ambitious survey was to define their underground boundaries to prevent
social inferiors from trespassing, we can only hope they have more of
an interest in science than in personal vendettas.
Finally on Feb. 23, 2008, John Preston arranged to push the downstream
portion of Goliath’s Cave. Unfortunately, due to circumstances beyond
his control, he had to cancel the trip. With spring snow melt right around
the corner, the Iconoclast Team realized the window of opportunity to
explore deep into the cave was slipping by every day. In light of this,
the decision was made to visit the downstream portion of the cave anyway,
and extend the survey as far as humanly possible. Oh, this time we would
bring a rock hammer to Grappling Dome.
After climbing out of the water and into the dry Grappling Dome, Clay
began to assemble a newer modified version of the grappling hook. This
unit was made from an expensive aluminum alloy and appeared as though
it could fly on its own, right up to the opening. After securing the grappling
hook up through the window, I made the exhausting climb up in my full
wet suit. Soon thereafter Clay joined me topside as Dave and Charlie (who
elected to remain below) readied our gear to be hoisted up. They were
amazed to see our lights so far above them.
After beating on the offending rock that was blocking
our forward progress, it abruptly fell from the ceiling where it had been
attached. Instead of crashing to the ground, it became lodged between
the walls, about 8 inches from the ceiling. This rock, which could crush
our legs like a pretzel if it fell down on us, was still blocking our
way forward! Clay and I took turns trying to whack it into submission
with no luck. I even laid on Clay’s back while trying to move the rock
with my feet. Because I was in a full wetsuit I felt like the Energizer
Battery Bunny on sleeping pills. This rock was zapping my strength. We
began to make plans to come back with the drill during another trip, but
remained persistent. Finally, in mid afternoon, Clay provided the final
blow that dropped it to the ground. After Clay looked ahead to verify
there was open blackness ahead, we sat down, rested, and had lunch. As
usual, Clay asked me if I was eating a raison bread sandwich with peanut
butter and strawberry jelly.
As we reached the boulder pile Clay carefully removed and folded his rubber
gloves, placed them on a ledge, methodically cleaned his glasses, opened
his bright yellow survey book and hung the compass around his neck. As
he pointed forward, I took the cue, grabbed the tape measure and slid
over the rocks. I stood up, and looked around while remaining totally
silent. You know, kind of like when a baby gets a shot at the doctor’s
office. There is that delay time until the baby realizes something profound
I didn’t know it was possible to do 2 cartwheels and
one back flip in a full wetsuit but that that is exactly what I did after
climbing up a few feet into a major upper level thoroughfare!
Meanwhile, Clay remained on station and politely and calmly
asked that once my uncontrolled antics were over if a small amount of
composure could be regained so that an accurate survey may be conducted.
“Stunned” would be an understatement. Clay and I began to survey the spacious
easterly trending passage, with ceiling heights from 6-20 feet tall and
wondered out loud if we were dreaming. We found ourselves in yet another
level above the Grappling Dome room and shouted the news down to Dave
and Charlie as we ventured forward. As Clay and I placed our survey stations
100 feet apart I began to seriously wonder if this trunk line passage
was going to intersect the major subway sized passage that surely exists
along the Canfield Creek corridor. It was amazing that we were in a spacious
dry cave passage so far above the main stream passage. Could this dry
cave segment bypass the need for John Preston’s lower level exploratory
As we made our way along unknown territory Clay and I noted that organic
debris and bits of plastic could be seen all the way to the ceiling. No
place in Goliath’s Cave, even up here, is safe from flood events. By early
evening the main east trending passage that we had been exploring finally
narrowed down. We were reasonably certain that Dave and Charlie had left
Clay and I had surveyed almost ¼ mile of stupendous cave passages and
were still in awe.
We made our way back to the beginning of the survey, where the sounds
of the main waterfall could be heard. I followed the passage in a westerly
direction and eventually found that I could see the waterfall a considerable
distance down through a crack in the floor. The unsurveyed passage continued
ahead, out of sight.
Our top priority will be to hang a ladder from the upper level in the
Rubicon Passage so that we can explore this new section of the cave in
It may be up there, around the next corner, where hidden
secrets are waiting for us.