A weekend of caving with my friends Holly Marcus and Jeremiah Knupp. Chris and I took them to West Virginia’s Greenbrier County. This day we did Lightner’s Entrance to McClung’s Cave. Holly stands next to some of the coolest formations I’ve seen . . . they’re melting off of the shelf!
We met for breakfast at the Gateway to greet at least 20 people who were there caving for the weekend. After a hardy breakfast, and Chris’ usual peanut butter pie, Aaron Moses and Abby Hohn joined Chris Coates and I for a day trip into MDC.
Our first destination was to rebolt and survey the Columbia Canyon connection to the LAC passage from the month before. Aaron went up first and made some redirects and rebelays. Abby and Chris started on finding an existing CC station to tie our survey into. They found one above the watering hole labeled X31. We started from there and designated our survey LAE. The drop into CC totaled 72 feet.
Aaron did an awesome job rebolting the traverse across the tight vertical crack of the connection!
Abby, Chris and I surveyed the very muddy connector room and tied it into the LAC12 station. Aaron left us to retrieve the rest of his rope left in Nebraska Canyon the month before. A handline is needed from LAC12 down the sloppy slope to the bottom of the connector room.
We then met up in the Bison Room for some lunch and to attack our next lead. We continued surveying the crawl that lead into the Bison Room. There was a TON of air flowing down the passage, which was trending northwest, into a pit. Aaron worked again on bolting the pit while the rest of us tied in the LAF survey to LAB1 station. (I know the powers that be on the MCD project like to keep one designation for the day, but with so many leads and so many different passages going all directions; it gets so confusing referencing a certain part of the cave without switching designations. Sorry, but for our sanity, this must be done.)
We dropped and surveyed the pit, which ended up being a 57-foot drop. At the bottom we surveyed the surrounding passages and stopped at a tight crawl where all the air was going in. Aaron named the pit Fasten Your Seatbelts.
Note: The 9.5 mm New England rope used on the connector drop will not last that long if heavily used. It should have a watchful eye on it at all times.
478 feet of survey
1 drop of 57 feet
1 drop of 72 feet
16 hours underground
11 bolts/hangers/biners used
On Saturday morning Abby Hohn, Aaron Moses, Peter Penczer and Pete Johnson joined Chris Coates and I for breakfast at the Gateway. It was an off weekend MDC trip lined up for us since we missed the normal GVKS weekend. We ate and then proceeded to the parking area where we suited up and got underground a little after 10 a.m.
Aaron and PeteJ went in first and the plan was to meet them at the window into Nebraska Canyon, where they would be bolting the drop. We signed the note from Harman’s crew, which was at the mouse hole, to ensure that all crews exited before locking the entrance. The rest of us went in at a steady pace, stopping to shoot video as PeteP saw fit.
We made the long crawl, with me showing PeteP where all the little pits were in the passage and made it to the Bison Room with much joy. Standing room is amazing! (However, I must note that the crawl is much like the Puppet Buster, it gets easier the more you do it.)
PeteP immediately started walking around, checking out the booming passages. He was in amazement and rather excited. Abby and I sat down and had a snack while Chris went to see where Aaron and PeteJ were. PeteP went to check out the LAC passage. Upon his return he claimed it was the prettiest passage of MDC! We packed up and decided to head to the window to see how the bolting was going.
When we arrived, Aaron was about half way through setting the bolts for the drop. We used Aaron’s 240-foot rope for the rigging. Chris was first to go down, then Abby. We started at LAB13 to tie in the survey. Chris had to make a station about 15 feet down due to a ledge in the drop. The drop is about 35 feet total, much shorter than we suspected.
Once we were down in Nebraska Canyon, we found out why we were duped. You rappel onto a breakdown pile that has a mud slope flowing into it from the left (the northwest). The right passage, which trends to the southeast, continues down the huge mud slope. Chris and Aaron both went down the slope to check it out on different occasions. They each went about 100 feet before deciding to turn back in fear of not being able to get back up the slope without the need of a hand line or carved steps. Aaron cut the remainder of the rope and left is stashed in the new section.
We pushed the northeast (up the slope). NC is much like the CC passage we have seen before, about 20-50 feet wide with a high ceiling, which varied from 70-90 feet. There was a vertical mud wall that Chris spent a lot of time carving out steps for us to climb up. Once up, the passage continued to the height of the ceiling and got thinner and was full of breakdown and mud.
In this upper section, there was a small space in a formation cluster in the ceiling that PeteJ noticed. He convinced Aaron to try to climb through the small hole. Aaron tried, but could not fit his chest through. Next it was PeteJ’s turn. He made it though only to find that it followed the passage the way we were going and then choked out in about 10 feet.
At the end of the upper passage (LAD10) the ceiling gave way to a little drainage dome about 30 feet high. This is a promising lead! At this point in the trip, it was pushing 8 p.m., and people were wanting to head back out. So the Petes headed out together. PeteJ took out Aaron’s extra bit, his wrench and hammer.
Aaron, Abby, Chris and I went last, with me making some final notes to the book. Aaron wanted to see the LAC passage to see if it needed some holes drilled for future bolting. Upon pushing the passage, Aaron and Chris found a connection to CC, just like Aaron suspected!
We decided to go that way out, instead of going through the long, grueling crawl. Aaron had to bolt across a vertical crack without tightening the bolts. After the crack, which turned out to be quite treacherous even with the help of a traverse, you were atop CC. I estimate the bottom of this rappel is about 200 feet east from the little stream before you get to Harman’s bolt climb.
We did not survey the connection, due to the lateness. It took considerable more time going out, with most of us being really tired. I cannot wait to see the video that PeteP shot during the trip. Also, on a side note: My new Crawdaddies from IMO are awesome…. No more swollen knees for me!
322.5 feet of survey
1 drop of 35 feet
1 drop unknown feet
17 hours underground
John Harman makes his way across a horizontal traverse, about 100 feet up in the air, to access Solstice Skyway in Cass Cave during a survey trip. Our team: Bob Zimmerman sketched, I recorded numbers, John Harman and Pete Johnson ran the instruments. It was a 15 hour trip.
As per Harman’s trip report —
“We quickly surveyed to a 15-foot climb up over a flowstone waterfall. I easily free climbed the drop and rigged a piece of Pete’s webbing to aid the ascent and to make the descent easier on the way out. Just after the climb there was another 10-foot waterfall climb. Pete took an alternate route around a huge chockstone while I climbed it. We met up on the other side and determined that my route was easier so we headed back down and surveyed to the top of the climb.
The passage here was floored with large sandstone cobbles. Just after the climb, the passage split and we debated on which way to go. Bob suggested we survey the left hand fork that appeared to go to a tight canyon. The canyon ended after only a few shots at SSB15. We retreated and surveyed the right hand passage. This passage was obviously the continuation of the main canyon. The height had decreased to about 8’ but generally remained about 10’ wide. We surveyed up a very slick, gently sloping mud floor that we dubbed the Ice Rink. Just after the Ice Rink, the passage split again and again, we surveyed the left hand fork first. This passage ended after only two shots as sediment choke. There were many beautiful formations and helictites in this area and we even found a double helix stalactite!
Next, we surveyed the right hand lead which jogged around the corner and opened back up into the main stream passage. This yielded two more shots to a 7” bedrock squeeze with great air. Pete was the only one who could fit and he reported scooping 50’ in going passage with several leads. After Pete returned, we decided to call it a day and head back out of the cave.
In total I believe we surveyed about 780’ of wonderful virgin passage! ”
So we found our campsite by a tiny little sign on the side of the road, in the dark. We were tired after a day of the desert sun, made camp quickly and passed out. Unaware of our surroundings in the night, we awoke to this sight. A mere 10 feet away from the tent and we could have walked off the top to the valley below.
We made our way to Santa Fe, on a gravel backroad that sometimes acted like it was going to consume my Nissan in the +foot-high depths. We drove thru the Valles Caldera National Preserve and into the back door of the famous Los Alamos. In Santa Fe, we found a local restaurant to taste the local flair and plan our attack. Chris and I both had to be back at work Monday. It was Thursday afternoon. We said “fuck it” and decided to drive the entire 24-hour ride back home without stopping. It hurt us to be in Tennessee, driving by all these great caves, without stopping!
Then we paid for a guided tour of Balcony House (below). It was a very exposed hike to get there and I was surprised at all the fat, out-of-shape people that were on it. I was thinking the whole time that it would suck to be a ranger doing the tours, as you’d be fearful all the time of someone slipping and falling to their death.
So we had to leave since we could only get a campsite for one night. So we packed up in the evening and mushed on towards a campsite I found in my Don Wright’s Guide to Free Campgrounds, western edition, for the night. We had to travel about 60 miles south to a $5 BLM campsite, no running water, of course.
En route from Capitol Reef, Utah, to Mesa Verde, Colorado. Made a few stops along the way, like this view looking down at the Grand Gulch from atop the mountain. Next stop: the Navajo Rez to show Chris the impressive Monument Valley.
The last time I was in Monument Valley was in 2002 (click here to see my old Visual Journal post). And man, shit has changed!! They built a fucking air conditioned monstrosity and a huge paved lot where the old campground used to be!!! I was saddened to see this vulgar display of “progress.” But I guess if the Navajo Nation wanted to develop their tourism, it’s their right. But my heart was truly broken to see it like this.
So our pal Kelton Russenberger took us to Capitol Reef National Park for some hiking and camping on his day off from Bryce Canyon National Park. This was one of the many beautiful view while driving into the park on the gravel road towards Cedar Mesa.
So this hidden treasure that many overlook for the sexier nearby parks (like Zion, Bryce, etc.) is pretty neat. Being a geology and geography nerd, I was simply astonished to be in a waterpocket fold, which is a geologic monocline (a wrinkle on the earth), that extends almost 100 miles in the park!