A Snowy Visit to Leviathan Cave in the Worthington Mountains

  • Updated: December 15, 2013
  • Post By: Matthew Hengst

December 14th, 2013
Leviathan Cave, Basin and Range National Monument

While I spend a good portion of my time running up and down peaks I have a fascination with caves and mines that I don't get to exercise very often.

So when I happened across this trip report mentioning a rather neat cave requiring a 30 ft rappel / rope ascent sitting on the side of a 3rd/4th class peak in Nevada it was something I was eager to make happen.

As of 2015 this is now a part of the newly created Basin & Range National Monument.

The plan was for a 2 day long haul trip to grab Meeker Peak and Leviathan Cave Saturday and nearby Worthington Peak Sunday before driving home.  The stats were reasonable and the hardest part of the trip (other than the technical bits getting us in/out of the cave) was just going to be the drive out past Hiko.

Three vehicles left Orange County early Friday afternoon and eventually converged at the end of a surprisingly excellent dirt road north of Alamo Nevada.  We probably could have made it to where we parked even without high clearance.  We stopped about half a mile short of the trailhead largely due to the amount of snow on the road.

We'd been able to see a fair amount in the surrounding mountains ever since leaving 93 and there seemed to be quite a bit more once we were over the last pass and in the basin below the peak.

It was in the mid teens when we hopped out of the Jeep and said hello the others.  There was an impressive meter shower going on so Kristen and I stayed up a little while watching until the cold drove us into our bags.

The next morning it was still damn cold and many of the water jugs had partially frozen.

Our peak was visible to the west.

Meeker is the highpoint on the left.  Leviathan Cave is on the far side of the ridge roughly in the middle of the picture.  The two routes that were written up involved traversing around the cliff face on the skyline ridge towards the right of the picture or going into the chute to the left of that (the shadowed one behind the cliff face with the large band on it.)

We got moving up the road by 7:30 am.

Sure enough there was a lot more snow than I'd expected.  At times drifts were up to mid calf and several of us were in lighter boots with no gaiters.  Fun!

We reached the ridge without major difficulty and proceeded to scramble over a few rocks and across a loose chute or two until we were directly under the large cliff face.

We'd initially thought to take the traverse route along the backside since the cave was down there anyway and we thought there might be a bit less snow there than in the chute.  (Turns out I should have read the trip reports a bit closer but we didn't find that out until later.)

We could see the notch on the far side that we'd need to hit but it looked like we'd have to drop down quite a ways to get over there and looking over towards the chute there was a much more promising route.

One person decided to turn back at this point due to the snow while the rest of us gingerly traversed over to the chute and started to climb.

Fortunately while the chute had snow it was passable if not overly pleasant.  The waypoints I had from the trip report I'd found were pretty much useless since they stuck to the center of the drainage and quite obviously hadn't been done in snow like this.  Instead we stuck to the right side of the chute and managed a passable route through the snow that took us rather far up the right hand wall at times.

This did have the advantage of bringing us across a small cave with a natural bridge in front of it.

In the hight of creativity we named it Natural Bridge Cave.  We didn't see any footprints so I'm guessing anyone climbing this during the summer walked right on past it below.  It did serve as a brief break from the rather chilly wind we'd been hit with off and on.

The last few hundred feet of the chute were steep and snowy.  One section in particular I was pretty sure we'd have to rope up to get down but for now we managed to get everyone up.

The far side looked much more promising and those of us in lighter boots were able to get our feet warm again much to our relief.

We dropped down the far side making a beeline for the coordinates of Leviathan.

Dropping down the far side we soon found what we were really after (it was already obvious Meeker wasn't going to happen with how long it was taking to negotiate the snow thus far)

This would be Leviathan Cave.  The entrance is rather huge but we couldn't see it until we were practically on top

We climbed down carefully to the entry point where we found a solar powered doohickey we still aren't quite sure the purpose of.  We did take a shine to the large rock it was wedged into and went about setting up a webbing anchor.  (There are other options in the area including several trees if you go further back)

It's about a 30 ft rappel to get inside and I went down first.

There was snow inside the entrance so again those of us in light boots were slightly less than dry / warm.  Looking around once I was down I immediately saw an easier option off to the left that looked like you could all but scramble out if you didn't mind risking a bit of a nasty fall during the last 9 feet or so.

We elected to stick with what we had and the rest of the group rappelled down behind me.

Opposite where we rappelled in we found a register with a convenient map.  And a horseshoe for some reason.

I was anxious to start exploring and we decided to pick the shorter side first and headed for a room labeled "Cold Room"

It wasn't much of a drop.  The interesting feature was the dirt inside which was so fine it looked like ash.

We quickly hit a dead end and and were initially unimpressed until we looked up.

There were a number of bats dotting the wall above us and some vertical bits streched up past where we could make out.  Still as far as this branch this was the end of the line.  We took a few pictures and headed back the way we'd come.

The other side dropped down a bit before splitting into left and right entrances.

Anyone reading this before doing the cave I'd recommend taking the right branch first.  It's more vertical than the other branches and while it isn't overly impressive we had fun crawling around some of the smaller side tunnels.

But I was impatient and wanted to see the thing marked as Pendant Room so we went left.

And promptly encountered a fun little squeeze.

It was narrow enough I had to back off and take my harness off before trying again.  Going both ways we found it easier to have feet pointing toward the cave entrance and it had me really wishing I'd brought kneepads.

On the other side things got really impressive.  (Apologies for crimes against low light photography but all I had was my little Sony point and shoot outdoor camera and a rather powerful headlamp...)

Beyond the Pendant Room was another chamber or two but they were less impressive.  We spent a bit crawling under and around small side tunnels barely big enough for one person to get through (again knee pads would have been nice) and then started backtracking.

Reversing the squeeze was a little less elegant (if that was possible) but we all made it without incident.

We were running out of daylight but I wasn't about to leave one of the branches unexplored.  As I said the last branch was much more vertical and rather less impressive than the Pendant Room had been but still sometime that would have had me giddy had we run across it elsewhere.

After poking around a bit it was time to get out and as far back to the cars as we could before it got dark.

Getting out we had to climb up the rope.  Doing this with prusik looks can be a bit finicky but I had two Petzl ascenders along to streamline things.

One went to the belt loop while another had a double length sling and served as a foot loop.

The ascenders proved to me a major timesaver based on my past experience with people trying to rig prusiks.

We had about an hour of light left once everyone was out.  After a brief discussion we decided to try the traversal route instead of climbing back up and down the chute.  The assumption was based on what we'd seen there would be less snow and since we were already a ways below the ridge.

A logical decision but as it turned out not a good one.

We crossed two drainages quickly and then we were looking across at the notch we'd been sitting on hours ago.  And we had just enough light to see the low route was't very promising requiring an even further descent but I found several ducks pointing towards some promising looking ledges higher up.

With a bit of additional scouting we careful picked our way across the drainage breaking trail through a fair amount of snow again.

And just when I thought we had made it Rod went ahead to check the end of the current ledge and said we'd cliffed out.  I went up.  We looked low.  We looked high.

90 feet.  We were 90 ft from where we needed to be and cliffed out hard.

Looking back at another trip report I can see that what I went out on must be the route.

Looking back at the original trip report he actually mentioned this is a loose and exposed route.  The yellow circle is my best bet as far as where we turned back.  I went a bit farther only to get out on some really exposed stuff and decide this wasn't going to work.

We talked it over and decided that trying to descend even further and make our way across in the dark probably wasn't the best call.  Reluctantly we backtracked almost to Leviathan and climbed back up and over into the chute we'd taken up.

The amount of snow actually made it easier in some of the steeper sections and we made decent time.  We did rope up at one particular point by slinging a tree with a cordelette and dulfersitzing down.

Sadly no pictures of this part as it was dark, somewhat precarious, and I was busy running around below trying to see if we needed to set another anchor.  *sigh*

That aside we made much better time down the chute than I'd feared though it still took us until 11:45 pm or so to get back to the vehicles.

By then everyone was rather exhausted and slightly soggy and pretty much no one was in the mood for Worthington the following day.  Not to mention several of us woke up the following morning with our soaking wet boots frozen solid.

So no peaks but Leviathan was well worth the drive.  The initial plan of two peaks + the cave should have actually worked if we didn't have to deal with the snow so I'm sure I'll be back at some point.

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