July 13, 2005

Vertical Feet Climbed With Frog SystemTally

Lessee...

I estimate 60 ft. for Sheldon.
Another 60 ft. for the climbing tower at SERA.
80 ft. for Sherwood Mtn. Pot.
120 ft. for O'Shaughnessy Pit.
TOTAL: 320 ft. as of 7-13-05.


30 ft. in Fern Cave on 11-12-05
So it's 350 ft. now.

July 10, 2005

Sinking Cove Pulldown - July 3rd 2005

Howdy. I did something for the first time July 2nd, a Saturday night - a thru trip in a cave with 4 rappels en route. This is called the 'pulldown trip' in a cave in TN named Sinking Cove. However it isn't really a pulldown, because the drops are pre-rigged. Thus, we didn't have to carry rope, and descend down it doubled, and then pull the ropes down after us. Still... it was a hardcore trip.

We started to the entrance around 7 pm. I was told to wear as little as possible because the hike to the entrance is uphill, and the top half of the cave is warm. Thus I wore polypro pants, my cordura caving bibs, a NRS neoprene bra, and my kneepads.
I asked if I should wear my elbow pads, and was told by a guy named Shane that they weren't necessary. This is the last time, ever, that I am going to be talked out of wearing knee or elbow pads. My arms were bare during the entire trip, and this morning they are cut, scraped, and bruised. Very attractive. My family was appalled yesterday when I showed up for my brother's bbq. It looks like I was in a fight, which I badly lost.
Our group was Shane, David the trip leader, me, a man whose name I can't remember, and his two teenaged sons. The boys were cocky at first but by the end of the trip they were rather subdued in their demeanor. I think the fact that they were in shortie wetsuits with no elbow OR knee pads might have contributed. We also had a guy with us who I think is named Alan, who routed back to camp once he got to the entrance. He had changed his mind for whatever reason. I know he had done the trip before.

The first part of the trip involves four drops. The second part involves a low-air water crawl, and some swimming, so I brought my shorty wetsuit to change into after the drops.

After a steep 20 minute walk up a trail to the entrance, we had to climb down into it. This was kind of dicey. You have to hug a boulder and slide around it, above around a 15 ft. drop. I didn't like it.

Then we went down through some breakdown rocks, and through a little hole, to the first rope. It was a 56 ft. drop, very pretty. Then we went through a water carved passage that curved and dipped and was lovely. The walls are smooth from torrents of water coursing through over time.
My rappelling device is a BMS micro-rack. In fact all of us on the trip used micro-racks except one of the boys who used a figure-8. That is only the second time I've seen a caver use a figure-8.
The other three drops were also easy, and progressively shorter; the only 'interesting' moment was having to descend down a canyon by means of wedging yourself in the canyon itself and sort of controling your fall with the friction of your body. My elbow pads were sorely missed here.
The canyon appears to be around 20 ft. deep, but there is a hole nearby that goes another 60 ft.; I was advised not to drop my gear pack here because it was never to be found again.
After the last rigged drop I changed out of my climbing harness and bibs and into the shorty wetsuit. I had to carry my harness and bibs out in my cave pack, and since it is not a drybag closure I had to drain water out of it repeatedly because it would get ridiculously heavy. Now I know better for next time.
Anyway, right there we had to go through a tight crawl. This crawl is a filter for bigger persons who wisely opt not to do the pulldown trip due to the crawl. It was not too long, but it was very unpleasant. The floor of the crawl is rough, and I really tore up my arms in the crawl.
The secret to such crawls is to be patient and go slow. It is a real test of one's tendency towards claustrophobia. Well, I passed the test, again, but was helped by Shane's insistence on talking through the whole thing. Helped keep my mind off of the unpleasantness of it all. Shane, who had told me I didn't need my elbow pads, apologized over and over for telling me that. I kept telling him, "Wow, this really sucks; it would be soooo much nicer if I had my elbow pads"... got to really give him some shit... Anyway, we got through that, and to a little sandbar that you could sit up in. The stream bed passes by right there so what you do is take off your helmet, push it ahead of you, and use the wetsuit buoyancy to sort of float you, lay down in the water, and push along the stream passage with your - you guessed it - arms. However the floor of the stream passage was not as rough as the previous crawl. And it would have been easier in some ways if the water wasn't so low. When the water is up you can really just float. You take your helmet off because there is not room for your head above water with a helmet on. In the midst of this stream passage is an 'ear dip' - your only option is to turn your head so your nose stays out of the water, and crawl forward. During 'normal' water levels I was told it's a 'suck the ceiling' kind of experience. I decided during this part that my battery belt was catching on everything so I reached down and unclasped it from my waist - it drifted off and unhooked from my head light and was gone. I yelled back that I had lost my Tag-light battery belt and right then it floated right into Shane's face so he snagged it. I was stuck with using my backup, a UK 1w LED flashlight (that thing rocks, btw) but had another snafu. Prior to our trip I was attaching my gear together and I had run out of duck tape, so I had tried to secure the flashlight to my helmet grommet holes with paracord, and my knots came undone, so I ended up holding the flashlight with my right hand, my helmet with my left hand, and scooting through in the water with my arms.
I think this water passage went on for about 200 ft. After I got out of the water our guide David re-affixed my flashlight with some better knots, Shane came up with my big light's battery belt, and we went on.
There was one more 10ft. climbdown that, if it wasn't such a pain in the ass to put on all of that climbing gear again, and if we had had a rope, it would be appropriate to rig. There is a handline there which was more than useless. I found out how useless because I put all my weight on the handline and it just zipped through my gloves. I landed on my left ankle and was worried I had twisted it, but it's fine. Shane told us someone had broken his back there, so it's named after this person as, 'So and So's Downfall'. I have even thought that the next time I do this trip I'll bring an etrier to leave at that spot. It'd be my donation... the rigging ropes on the four drops are donated and replaced every year, btw.

Anyway, from there to the exit is an hour's worth of sloshing through water, and climbing on breakdown, but it's big borehole passage. Nearing the lower entrance the water gets progressively deeper until at the very end you must swim. Nice, because the water is very cold (not as cold as the Nantahala IMHO, in my wetsuit and polypro pants it was fine) and then you're out in the July heat.
This trip took us around 3 hours total.

Today I'm heading to the NSS convention in Hunstville. It's nice that it is only 2 hours or less away from my home, so I can come home and rest if I need to.
I tried to take pictures of Sinking Cove cave but being a wet cave it was very humid, so they didn't come out. Oh well.

This whole trip illustrated how much difference proper gear can make to a trip. Don't forget your elbow pads!