West Virginia Trip 2008

June 13-17, 2008

Cavers: Liz, Ike, Alex, Dave, Rod, Safia, Christine, Sid

Day 1 and a little: Driving and Sharps Cave

By 8:15am, we were all gathered at the student center with our gear, except for Safia, who was missing. We knew she was getting a new gas cap at the Acura dealer, but she should have been back by then. We milled around sleepily, and around 9am, she showed up. "Hey guys, I couldn't find the acura dealer," she said. We decided to hit it up on the way out of town, so we piled in the cars. I looked behind me, and Alex's head was hitting the ceiling of my car. This was going to be a long drive.

Picture 4 people, 2 of them in excess of 6' tall and all of their camping and caving gear for 4 days stuffed into a Volkswagen beetle. Luckily, I own a Thule box, but it was still a tight fit. Rod, Alex, Dave and I were in my car, while Safia, Ike, Christine, and Sid were in Safia's car. "Sorry guys, all I have is the radio. Even the tape deck is broken." I said. Alex groaned. There would be no bad trance music on the ride this year.

We stopped for gas about 30 miles into the trip, and Alex jumped out of the car and ran into the gas station. He came back with an FM transmitter designed to be connected to laptops and iPods. "I couldn't take the radio any longer, " he said. The bad trance was saved!

Without much incident, 14 hours later we were parked accross the street from Sharp's cave. We geared up, and were entering the cave by 11:56pm, which was likely the record for earliest time we have ever entered Sharp's. Once we got inside, we all immediately went to sleep. This was the first year I was actually warmenough to sleep, likely because I mostly stole Dave's super-warm sleeping bag.

The next morning we woke up around 9, ate some food, and started exploring. We hit up the brain room first, and by the time we made it back to Crayfish hall, we were all over heating. Ike even jumped in the river. The water was so warm! We all decided that caving in June was much more pleasant than caving in March. We headed through Halloween hall to the junction room, and saw the mud sculptures. Then we decided to keep going back, because I'd never been to that part of the cave. Eventually, we ended up in the river in tall winding passages. It was really nifty, and we went all the way to the end. Finally, we headed back upstream for a dip in the waterfall, and then called it a day. We were out of the cave by 2:30pm and went to get some food for dinner.

As always, our cars exploded gear every time we tried to enter or leave a cave.

That night, we decided that we would attempt a through-trip of Simmons-Mingo the next morning. Simmons-Mingo has over 6 miles of mapped passages, and is very easy to get lost in. The through trip takes about 12 hours, and can be very strenuous. We all packed up our cave packs in anticipation of an early start. Everyone packed a minimum of 3 liters of water and 3500 calories with them in addition to their normal gear.

Day 2: Simmons Mingo

We started the day by dropping off Dave, Rod, Sid, Christine, and Ike by Dry branch with a GPS. "Ok guys, go find the Zarathustra entrance of Simmons-Mingo. We're going to drop off a car at the exit." Rod had entered the coordinates of Stan's Blowing Hole entrance into the GPS, and Zarathustra should have been right nearby. Alex and I got in my car, and Safia followed us around Mingo Knob to the other entrance of the cave. The drive took a surprisingly long time. As we drove, I couldn't help thinking that we would have to cave all that way.

When we got to the other side, we found that we couldn't get any closer than about 1km from the cave entrance, so we parked Safia's car on the side of the road after extracting it from an ill-placed ditch and started walking towards the nearest house.

"Are y'all cavers?" said a man with a mullet from the second story porch. We responded that we were, and we were planning on doing a though trip of Simmons-Mingo starting from the other side. "Well, last year we had some kids try to do that and they had to be rescued. Uncle Bob's got a book you sign in, but I don't reckon y'all need to do that if you're starting at the other end." We thanked him and jumped back in the car and headed towards the entrance.

We got back to dry branch road and no one was to be found. After yelling for them for awhile, we started gearing up for the cave. After about 15 minutes of silence, we heard Ike yelling in the distance. After a short walk up the river bed, we found the Zarathusta entrance. Or at least, what we thought was the Zarathustra entrance. We sent Dave in to check it out, and he yelled up that it wasn't passable without digging. Great. Since we didn't want to dig if we weren't sure it was the right entrance, we sent Alex to look around for other entrances nearby. I hopped into the cave, and stared hauling large rocks out of the way of the passage with Dave. Finally, there was only one rock remaining blocking the entrance chimney. The only problem was that it weighed 150 pounds. Dave and I wrapped some webbing around it, and after about 15 minutes of grunting, hauling, and pushing, we managed to slide it out of the way of the hole, up a a mudslope, and over a lip to where it couldn't fall back down again.

We looked down the chimney. "Holy crap that's scary," said Dave. "Well, let's hop back up to the surface and see if Alex has found the other entrance," I replied. Up on the surface, Alex told of a hole in the ground covered by a washing machine lid, which when removed blew cold air in his face: Stan's Blowing Rock entrance. It looked like Dave and I had been digging in Zarathustra after all. By that time, it was already 11 am, and we decided to jump in and get started.

After we all slid down the chimney, we arrived in a large room with a pit of death off to the left, and a slick mudslope traversing around it. The pit of death was under Egider's Dome, and the way on seemed to be crossing a narrow mud bridge with death on either side. After crossing this bridge and scaling yet another mud slope, we found ourselves in Egider's passage. On the way up, there was a decorated pot lid nestled in the rocks, which seemed slightly out of place.

Ediger's passage was slightly taller than me for most of it, and had a nice sandy floor. There were various crevices on either side of the passage as we travelled down it, including one with a few pieces of orange tape. At first, we passed this crevice and continued down the large passage, only to find that it eventually dead-ended. We turned around and decided to try the crevice. It was a short, but quite tight chimney that ended in a fork. We took the left fork and crawled through some passage with a muddy and rocky floor to a small breakdown room. There didn't seem to be any exit from this room, but after looking for awhile I found a slot between two rock walls in the entrance passage to the breakdown room. I crawled along the passage until I found a reflector. This must be the way!

We crawled up some breakdown at the end of the passage and found a rope with loops tied in it leading downwards. Alex and I climbed all the way to the bottom of it, only to find ourselves at the shore of a deep, cold lake. We weren't terribly excited about jumping into the lake at the beginning of what was sure to be a long day, so we sent Safia onwards from the top of the rope that we went down. She found another short rope with loops tied in it leading down onto an exposed ledge, and then another leading up into a muddy crawling passage. From the description in the 2000 NSS convention guidebook, we seemed to be bypassing the second sump, in what they described as "an unpleasant crawl." After exiting the crawl, we were in a tall passage with some big breakdown, many levels of ledges to travel on, and occasional breakdown to navigate through. We started to notice that there were crystals of a white substance all over the walls, ceilings, and floors of the cave. It was really pretty and distrated us more than once.

Eventually, we came to another scary climbdown which would have been impossible without the rope with loops in it that someone had left. At this point we crossed a stream, and climbed back up with aid of another old handline on the other side. After going for awhile in a tall passage with occasional breakdown, I found a climbdown that seemed to terminate in freespace with an old hardware store rope with loops tied in it for protection. I was not excited about this. I sent Alex first, and he found that there were in fact ledges that we could stand on on the way down, so we all followed.

We seemed to be staying high and dry up to this point, which we were all thankful for. When we started forward again, we could hear water running. After a short while, we were in a tall "slot canyon" type passage with the stream running along the floor. Luckily, the stream depth never got much above our knees, and we were able to navigate this passage quite quickly. At one point there were a bbunch of tiny waterfall, one after another, or "cascades" that we got to climb up. Finally, we left the stream and it's awesome passage, and headed up again. After more navigation of breakdown and walking through big passages, we came to the base of a cable ladder.

Tree != cable ladder. But Ike still found one to climb on this trip.

At the top of the cable ladder, Ike replaced the single, worn, non-locking biner which waws holding the ladder up with a nice sturdy locking biner. We found ourselves in a passage covered in the white crystals, ending with a tight squeeze that reminded many of us of an anus. After squeezing everyone though this passage, we were in a breakdown room with no obvious way on. I slid down the far side, which didn't look promising until I poked my head through a small hole and saw an arrow. Sweet! I got everyone to follow me and soon I found more and more arrows to follow.

After a long time crawling through breakdown and along long, winding, low passages, we found some arrows indicating that we should crawl up through some breakdown. With the exception of the passage right after the cable ladder, the whole path was very well travelled and not too hard to follow. We crawled up through the breakdown, which had a lot of vertical, and found ourselves at register rock. We were almost free!

From register rock, we began following reflectors and tape. We crossed a large open room with tons of breakdown, and then found ourselves crawling down through increasingly tight passages. But there was so much tape. I yelled at Alex and Ike, who were leading the way, that this all felt very wrong to me. Finally, they stopped and we consulted the map. I thought that we had simply gone the wrong way at register rock, and were now deep in the Attic room. They agreed to turn around, and when we got back to the main part of the Attic room, half of our group was exhausted. Rod pulled out his compass, and confirmed that we had indeed been travelling in the direction opposite of the entrance. At this point, we had been in the cave for greated than 12 hours, and despite the fact that we were all warm and well fed and watered, everyone was tired.

We started following the reflectors backwards, and eventually got back to an area that we recognized easily. We decided to send Ike and Rod along the reflector trail in the opposite direction to see if they could find the exit, while the rest of us would go as far as register rock and then wait. There was only one problem. We couldn't find register rock. We were confused, but we just wanted to get out, so we kept following the reflector trail until it seemed to end at the base of an enormous breakdown slope. The guidebok said that the entrance to the cave was a 25 foot deep pit that ended on the top of a 100 ft. high breakdown slope. We sat for a few minutes, not wanting to kill those in the group who were really exhausted, when we heard Ike yelling that he had found the exit.

The breakdown slope was not 100 ft. high. It seemed like it went on forever. We eventually got to the top, and found Rod gearing up in the one set of vertical gear we had brought. There was a climbing rope hanging down the 25ft. pit which he was going to ascend and then send down the gear to the next person. This was going to take forever. Alex scaled a wall on the right side of the pit, and then we heard a whoop, "I'm FREE!!!!" I decided that if Alex could climb it, I could climb it, and soon enough our whole group was sitting outside in the moonlight. It was 1:30am. We had been in the cave for 13.5 hours, we were exhausted, and it was a 1km walk to the car, but we were all happy. We made it through Simmons-Mingo alive!

When we got to the car, those with dry clothes in Safia's car changed, and she drove my car full of people back to the other entrance of the cave, where my car was waiting. The drive took a little over 30 minutes during which Ike, Christine, and Sid were probably freezing their asses off waiting for Safia to get back. My car drove straight back to the cabin, where I made two enormous pots of Cheddar-beer soup. Both were completely demolished by the time we left for My cave the next morning.

Day 3: My Cave

By the time I rolled out of bed around 11 am almost everyone was awake, but everyone still looked half asleep. We cooked some breakfast, and then I proclaimed "we're rolling out in 25 minutes. Get ready." Everyone stared at me, and someone said, "You mean we're actually going caving today?" It seems that there were some folks who were still exhausted from the day before. I won't lie. I was sore as hell. But since we were in WV, it was time for caving!

45 minutes later, we were all in the car on our way to My Cave. This time, I actually managed to get my car to roll all the way to the parking lot in neutral (the parking lot was right next to where we parked for Simmons Mingo, which I failed to roll to the day before). We headed out and prepared to ford the frigid Elk river. Except, when we got to the river, there was no water in it. I guess there is only a raging river in the spring when there is snow melt. We walked along the riverbed, which was covered in fallen trees, until we reached the Cave entrance, where oddly enough there was a bit of water running. We figured that this must be the area where the river sinks to the underground Elk River.

We entered the cave, where it was nice and cool, and walked back to the rappell site. Alex and I rigged, and I went down the rope first. There was just barely enough rope (again this year), and we all managed to rappell down with amazing speed. I think we all made it down in a little over an hour. It was pretty sweet to watch people come over the edge 150ft. above me. As soon as Ike came down, he took a swim in crayfish pool, which was way warmer than it usually is when we come in the spring.

After the trek over to the mudslope, we prepared for entertainment as people attempted to climb up the slippery 200ft slope of mud. But it wasn't very entertaining. Everyone made it up without too much trouble, and we had a snack at the top. We explored the rest of the cave fairly quickly, as everyone was anxious to get out of the cave after the caving extravaganza of the day before. After checking out the waterfall below the junction room, we quickly found the dry branch exit and headed out. It seems that no one really wanted to find the Broken Nothing Entrance, despite how dry the cave was this year.

We got out of the cave really fast--I don't think we've ever done My cave so quickly--and one car headed home to make dinner. Alex and I went back up the riverbed to retrieve the rope. Now, Alex is a pretty quiet guy, so we got about halfway up the riverbed before he said anything, when he said, "I wonder how many of these leaves know that their tree is f***ed?" Some of the fallen trees still had leaves growing on them. I didn't really know what to say to that, so most of the rest of the trip was in silence.

We got out of the cave fast. Alex approves.

We got the rope, headed back to the car, and drove home to a delicious dinner. It was good to be out of the cave. After dinner, we all took a trip to the hot tub, which felt absolutely amazing.

Day 4: Sinks of Gandy and La Tolteca

We woke up early and as soon as we were fed began cleaning up the muddy disorganized cabin. Amazingly, within about 45 minutes the place was clean, the cars were packed, and we were on our way to the Sinks of Gandy. The Sinks of Gandy is a big, popular, walking cave situated in the middle of big rolling fields. It looked a lot like vermont. The cave entrance is super-easy to find. Just walk downstream until the river goes into a cave. The water got deep at a few sections, but the only dicey part of the cave was when Alex narrowly avoided stepping on a copperhead snake.

The cave took a little less than an hour to do, and the last 200 feet or so is swimming through cave passage. You can't touch the bottom and there isn't really a place to hang onto the walls. It's a good thing we could all swim. The real problem was that the water was cold enough that your chest got constricted and it was hard to breathe while you were swimming. We all made it out though, and made the trek back to the cars across cow fields.

We stripped off our wet clothes, and then someone declared that we would run to the top of the mountain next to us. I claimed that we would do it in 16 minutes and 27 seconds. Most of us took off running, and 21 minutes later I was at the top. The view from the top was gorgeous, and we all stood there for awhile panting from the run. After admiring the surrounding countryside, we headed back to the cars and set off for Boston.

Alex reached the top of the hill before the rest of us. He is checking for zombie-sheep on the fields below.

After too many hours of driving, we made it to La Tolteca, and had delicious delicious mexican food for dinner. Then once again we set off for Boston. Long story short, the drive took forever and we got back to Boston at ass-o'clock in the morning. But we did make it. Another successful WV trip!

~Liz (outgoing fearless leader)

Horray for an awesome trip!

More photos of this trip can be found here.