California Gold Country Caverns

April 18 2017

A few of us at are exploring a locations in the Sierra Nevada foothills in Jackson County, California - and sending the first Trident ROV off the production line deep into flooded caverns. First location is a flooded / abandoned gold mine. The second is a deep, expansive cave in the same region as the mine. The third location will be improvised.

Read background

April 18 2017


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Preparation Stage

We packed up our gear and did a full equipment test, made sure everything was charged on Thursday night, Apr 20. As we were driving to the dive location, and knew there wasn't going to be a huge amount of hiking involved, we had the luxury of packing excess.

Our packing list included the following (excluding camping gear and food, which was an afterthought):

  • Trident ROV
  • Laptop computer
  • Computer and ROV charger
  • Game controller
  • Lighing rigs (we built 4 of them using ROV battery tubes and external light cubes)
  • Multiple battery sets
  • Headlamps
  • Spool of string
  • Headlamps
  • Camera for still shots
  • Tripod
  • x2 GoPro cameras for video
  • Pelican case full of bleach-solution water (for cleaning equipment exposed to water with unknown qualities)
  • Glass vial (for taking a water sample / trophy)
  • Basic electronics tool kit (multimeter, battery-powered soldering iron, needle nose pliers)
  • Gloves and respirators
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Expedition Background

Who knows why we get the urge to explore, or why we perpetually expand upon what is accessible. The long-pondered allure of subterranean waterways came to mind once again, as it has for years.

On Friday, April 21- A small team of engineers, ROV enthusiasts and explorers are taking an OpenROV Trident to a flooded and shut down mine shaft in Jackson, California. Nobody on this trip has sent an ROV into a labyrinth of tunnels before. The excitement is childlike.

Located at the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mts, Kennedy Goldmine is tapped into the 'Mother Lode', a mineral-intense region from 1.5 to 6 kilometres (0.93 to 3.73 mi) wide and 190 kilometres (120 mi) long, extending from El Dorado County on the north, south to Mariposa County.

I called and talked to the operator of the historic landmark: It is currently flooded all the way up to its entryway, at ground level. Operational gold mine between 1848 and 1942. During wartime conservation the gov't mandated all single-ore mines shut down to conserve labor for more productive multi-ore mines. While it was running, they had to pump out 1,000 gallons per hour, 24/7 to keep the shafts from flooding. Maximum depth is 1500 meters. Nothing is known of its layout, there are no records available that would help us extrapolate what it is like inside. Total mine output was 1.7 million ounces of gold. Above the mine, they used to smelt gold ore into bars, that would be transported to San Francisco via Wells Fargo.

Using the ROV, we are going to try to get a good sense of the layout of the tunnels. The goal of this dive beyond scratching a curious itch is to learn how to best navigate in an underwater labyrinth environment. The tunnels are [assumed] very small, not always level or straight, with many forks and branches. This is going to be a good challenge. Using visual cues from the camera feed, depth and gyro position, we are going to employ our geospatial visualization skills to form an idea of a day in the life of the working mine.

This first excursion will likely only take up the first half of the day, leaving plenty of energy left to explore other caves in the region, of which there are plenty. One nearby cave with an underground lake, that had inspired a great deal of ambition and excitement around it, is run by a private tour company that requires we rent the entire premises to explore its waters, which is unfortunately beyond our means. It is part of the Calaveras cave network - Black Chasm Cave, California Cavern and Moaning Cavern.

As none of us on this trip are acquainted with the cavernous foothills, and non-commercial cave openings are not easy to find online, we may simply ask locals where we can find what we are looking for - which is a deep mysterious hole, preferably with water.

Part 1: Mine shaft -> Planned out very concisely, ready to execute.

Part 2: We don't know yet. We will most likely end up just taking a regular cave tour (which definitely won't suck) and hoping that they will let us carry that Pelican case in after all.

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