The 2006 "annual" caving club trip to West Virginia began on the evening of Friday, March 24th. ARound 6 pm, Alex (trip leader), Safia, Tucker, Zack, Ike, Jordan, and I (Liz) gathered in front of the student center and began shoving gear into Ike's tiny car and my slightly less tiny car. After about an hour, we were ready to hit the road, with Alex, Safia, and Tucker in my car, and Zack and Jordan in Ike's car. After cruising along at well above the speed limit for a short while, I got a phone call from Ike requesting that we stop at this great place for dinner which gives you a half-pickled pickle with your meal. So we stopped, grabbed some food to go, and started driving again. About a million hours later (approximately 6) we were still driving on 84 (I hate that road) and we ran out of good rock and roll to listen too. At this point it was about 2 am and Alex plugged his laptop into my stereo. At first, I think Alex's music is kind of cool, or at least interesting. But as the night wears on, I realize that the weird trance music is causing me to halucinate. Time to switch drivers.
I regain semi-consiousness and see huge looming windmills out the window or the car in the dark. They must be 100 meters tall. I pass out again. I wake up around 7 am and my car is sliding all over the road. I peer out the window and discover that West Virginia is covered in snow, and its still coming down hard. Behind us, Ike spins out and hits a guardrail. We take a break and stumble into a diner that looks like it was decorated by a 5 year-old girl and order breakfast. None of had really slept the previous night, and combined with the 8 hours of weird trance music, the diner feels like a dream. After breakfast, I vow to never let a Conneticut-bred yuppie drive my car in the snow again and hop behind the wheel. A few minutes later we are at Sharp's cave, the first stop on our trip.
After sleepily pulling on our caving gear and grabbing our sleeping bags, we start the trek through the snow to the cave. Our esteemed trip leader claims that everything wasn't covered in snow the last time he was here... the cave should be up here somewhere... We find the cave without too much trouble and slide down into the darkness. After sliding over rocks and hopping over 20 foot deep pits, we eventually start sliding down the slope which leads into Halloween Hall. Jordan drops her sleeping bag at the top of the slope and it tumbles down into oblivion (sort of), luckily it doesn't fall down any drops, and she recovers it. Soon, we are standing in a room bigger than anything I had ever seen before. It makes me never want to go caving in New England again. We all find comfortable spots on the mud flat and promptly pass out.
I wake up around 5 pm and realize two things. One, your sense of time completely dissapears when you are inside a cave. You can sleep all day in complete darkness. Two, sleeping naked, no matter how warm your sleeping bag is, is a terrible idea. I'm freezing. Everyong is up, except Ike, who looks like a giant mud-covered blue catepillar. He is so bundled up that you can't tell which end is up. Jordan and I kick him awake, and we eat a quick breakfast. Off to explore the cave!
We begin wandering through Halloween Hall, which as I mentioned, is HUGE. Alex sees a crack in the ground and decides that this is the way down to the lower level. He jumps down, and a few of us follow. We soon realize that this is not the way and drag ourselves out again, with much difficulty. Our first stop is the brain room, with a prize for the first one to find the brain, and certain death for anyone who steps on the brain (says Alex). We drag ourselves through a tight passage, which ends in a muddy puddle that we all inevitably splash into. Tucker and Safia find the brain, we all oogle at it, and then continue our exploration.
Next, we find a mud sculpture garden. There are many mud phalluses (how could there not be?) as well as some "sea monsters", trees, and boobies. Cavers are weird creatures. We slide down a mudslide and then begin treking accross a field of fallen boulders from above. After some side passage explorations, we decide to find sharps waterfall. We eventually find a hole in the floor which leads to the streambed below. We start walking through the leg-numbing water upstream until we find the waterfall. It looks vaugely like a miniature niagra falls. It has the same horseshoe shape, but with many terraces. Alex, Tucker, Safia, and I scale the wall of the cave to get out of the freezing water and climb around the waterfall. After a few minutes, those still standing in the river tell us to hurry up, and we trek back down the river. Alex informs us of another passage to the upper level, but we would have to belly-crawl upstream for a few hundred feet, and we all tell him to take a hike.
We exit the cave around 11 pm, tired, wet, and muddy. For those of us who had never been caving in West Virginia before, Sharp's cave had been an epic experience. We strip off our muddy clothes by the side of the road and shove them into garbage bags. This wouldn't be too bad, except there is a foot of snow and it is freezing out. Our muddy clothes get a little crunchy, and we all shiver until we can get in the car to blast the heat. Soon, we are on our way to Elk River Inn, where we settle into our farmhouse, huddle around the heater for awhile, ingest calories, and then pass out.
At the ungodly hour of 11 am, Alex starts pounding on my door telling Tucker and I to get our asses out of bed. We get up, realize we are sore everywhere, and then wander into the kitchen for breakfast. It appears that Ike and Alex were p early, and had gone to the grocery store. This is good, because caving makes you ravenous. A short while later, we grab our still muddy caving clothes and head out to My Cave, a short drive away. At the top of the mountain we were crossing, Alex tells me to put my car in neutral and we roll almost all the way to the cave. We are thwarted by the last little incline in the several mile road which my car refused to go over.
We all pull on our muddy clothes from the night before, and Alex runs off into the woods. We go to follow, but Jordan slips on the snowy bank and tears apart her hands. Luckily, we happen to have a great first-aid kit and cover her in bandages. Soon, despite the blood, we are on our way again. Alex informs us that the cave is on the side of the river we are on, and that it is somewhere in the general vicinity. After a bit, we split up to search, and after an hour we still haven't found it, and Alex is missing. A while later, he shows up and informs us that we will have to ford the river twice to get to the cave. We grudginly oblidge, and jump into the 33 degree water. Twice. And then we scramble up a steep (cliff-like) slippery, snow covered slope to the entrance of the cave.
We are all cold and tired, but we realize that the cave will be warmer than it is out here, so we jump into the cave and slide down a slope to the floor of a large room. Once again, the size of the cave is mind-blowing. I look at the map and realize that the room I am in is only the entrance hall, and it gets much larger from here. We climb over rocks and up muddly slopes, with "stairs" (deep footprints) kicked into the mud from previous cavers. The cave continues upwards, and narrows into a small passage which we must crawl through. Alex is at the front, and stops at the top of a steep muddy slope. I look at the map, which is labeled "Danger: Do not proceed down this slope. You WILL die."
Alex and I rig up our rope, and Safia and Tucker help everyone get on their rappelling gear. At the bottom of this slope, there is a 70 foot drop to the cave floor below. Alex goes first (to test the rigging), and I go last to ensure that no one suicide rigs their rack. It takes over an hour for everyone to go, and by the time I go I am shaking from sitting still in a cold cave for that long. I begin the descent on the muddy slope, which gets progressively steeper until the rope drops through a sharp V in the cliff face, at which point I drop down and begin rappelling over the air. At the bottom, there is a river and a waterfall, and everyone is eating lunch. Alex ties the rope bag to the bottom of the rope, and we pack up to begin our exploration. I mention briefly to Alex that the rope bag might get caught in the V in the rock when we try to pull the rope up later, but he says it will be fine.
We walk along the river for awhile, and climb across narrow ridges of mud with sharp drops on either side. At one point I have to drag myself along on my belly to keep from falling over the edge. We get so spread out that you can only see people's lights bobbing up an down in the distance and hear the rushing of water going by. Finally, Alex stops and we regroup. It appears that we have reached the end of the line. Ahead there is nothing but the rock wall of the cave. To our right, the river goes deeper underground, with only the prospect of belly crawling. To our left, there is a steep slope of mud that ascends roughly 200 feet. Alex says, ok, we're going up, and points to the left. We all turn and look up, but none of us can see the top.
We start attacking the slope, making it up only a few feet before sliding back down. Some of us try using rocks to dig into the mud, but at no avail. It would have been easier with ice axes. However, after a bit I got the hang of it and raced up to the top. It was steep and slippery, but I made it, and at the top I found a large screw which looked like it was meant to be put in the mud to rig a line to assist with climbing. After a few minutes, Alex joined me at the top. Much later, Tucker appeared, with Safia close behind. Safia crawled over to Alex and proclaimed his certain death for forcing us to climb the slope. Eventually, everyone made it up, some with the help of webbing, Alex pointed out some cave life, and then we continued on.
At the top of a shorter, and less hellish muddy slope, there was a room with some stalactites, and another "do not proceed, you will die" cliff. This one was not marked on the map, but it was cliff-like enough for us to not attempt it. Perhaps next time we shall bring a rope. Onward!
After paritally sliding down the long hellish muddy slope, and a lot more walking, we ended up in a room with a river running below. The other two exits to the cave were accessed from this room, but we were not yet done exploring. We climbed up some crazy slopes, crawled around boulders, and shimmied up into holes in the wall. Eventually we all ended up in a room with a hole in the floor which looked down onto the room we had just been in. On the other side of the room, There was a really neat dry riverbed which snaked its way through the rock. We followed it and discovered that it looked down onto the hellish muddy slope. This was my favorite part of the cave because of the way the water had carved out the rock. Once back in the upper room, we began searching for the way we had come up. It was a maze, but after half an hour or so, we found the way down. Once back in the big room, we decided that it was time to head out.
Alex pointed the way along the river, and soon we were belly crawling through frigid water. After a few hundred feet, Alex determined that this wasn't the way, and we all turned around. We decided to wait in the big room while Alex and Ike explored another fork in the passage. While they were gone, I noticed a reflective rectangle about a square inch up on the rock wall. I investigated and found a small passage which it appeared that many cavers had been through. When Alex and Ike got back, we decided to try that passage, and it led to the exit! (It turns out that the way Alex was going would eventually lead to an exit, but not for a VERY long time.) We crawled out and trekked back to the car in the dark.
Back at the car, it was determined that Alex and I would go get the rope which we had left in the cave. We ford the river twice more, and drug our tired bodies up to the cave, while everyone else went home to warm up (grrr). We find the rope, and begin to pull it up. Suddenly, it gets very hard and Alex and I pulling toether can't even get it up the slope. The rope bag was stuck in the V in the cliff face. Cursing our stupidity in hanging the rope bag from the end of the rope, I rappell down to free the rope bag and then ascend up carrying it. We finally leave the cave exhausted, ford the river twice more, then head home. When we get there, everyone else had made dinner for us. (yay!)
This morning, we had to drive through Virginia, and then back into West Virginia to get to the cave. After missing the access road several times, we finally managed to find what appeared to be the right trial to the cave. After a bit of walking, Alex pointed up a steep mountain and said, its up there. We all slowly began climbing, except for Jordan who ran up the whole thing, past the cave, andto the top. When she returned, we prepared to enter Site's Cave.
Alex rigged the rope to a nearby tree, and we all put on vertical gear for the ~200ft. rappell. I was the last on in, and as I descended into the pitch black, I saw the last sliver of daylight slip away. The walls of the entrance shaft had been carved away by water and looked like waterfalls themselves. When I got to the bottom, I found myself in a room with more formations than I had seen in any of the previous caves. Everyone was waiting, and after removing my vertical gear, we were on our way.
First, we went left, through some well traveled passageways past many formations, mostly stalctites and stalagmites. As we entered a tight 45 degree angle horizontal sqeeze, I began to notice the bats. This cave had more bats than any of the previous ones. In fact, there were thousands and thousands of them. In all of the other caves we had only seen one or two near each other every once in awhile. Eventually, we found that this direction was a dead end, and we turned around.
We returned to the entrance camber and this time went left. The path was well traveled for awhile, but then became steep and slippery. At this point there were stagmites as tall as me and almost as big around. We were about to turn back, but then I decided to slide down one last hole, and found that the path continued into a large room. Everyone followed, and soon there was enough headlamps in the room that we noticed the flowstone. One entire wall was all flowstone to the point that it looked like a waterfall cascading over the rocks in white, orange, and yellow.
We ventured to the edge of the room, and then Safia and I got distracted and decided to try going down. We followed slid down tunnels through progressively muddier passages until we ended in a tiny room with a pool of muddy water at the bottom. We decided we should turn around, only to realize that the way up was much harder than the way down. The mudslides down were to slippery to get good footing, and we ended up shoving each other up many of the sections. Finally, we reached the top, with thick mud suctioned to most of our bodies. The extra mud added about 50 pounds to the weight of our clothes.
We exited the waterfall chamber and proceeded back to the entrance. We started putting on ascending gear for the way up, hoping that it would be as epic as the way down. Unfourtunatly, noone figured out how to reverse gravity while we were caving, so we had to haul our tired sore bodies up the 200 feet of rop ourselves. The first person up got to see the approaching daylight as they ascended. But 2 hours later, by the time I went up, I could only see a faint patch of stars. I have never felt better coming out of a cave than I did that night. There is something about being 200 feet underground and knowing that your only escape is a thin rope that makes the night air that much sweeter.
We returned to the car and settled in for a long drive back to the condo. When we arrived, we ate some food, and I hit up the hot tub for the first time. Everyone looked like zombies sitting around the hot tub, and with my stiff muscles, I sure did feel like one. After a few minutes, coupled with a Mike's lemonade, the hot tub turned my body to gel.
When we were packing up to leave in the morning, we noticed that among the seven of us, we had failed to finish 3 six-packs on a 4-day trip. We kicked ourselves for being bad college students, and then continued sweeping piles of dried mud out the door. Finally, the place was clean and we headed off to Tubb's cave.
We arrived at the 'parking lot' for the cave, which was really just a bend in the road where it was wide enough to park on the side at around 11 am. We put all our gear on and started walking up the road. On the way up we ran into some road workers who pointed to a small (me-sized) hole in the side of the road and asked us if it was a cave. Alex confirmed that it was indeed, and that the name of the cave was 'roadside pit.' He told them not to go poking around down there because there was a 70 foot drop. We continued on and eventually dove into the forrest. We climbed over a riverbed that was full of moss covered rocks, and then over a fence. Then Alex said, ok, we are looking for a big sinkhole. the cave is at the bottom.
We split off and started looking. After awhile, Alex yelled that he had found it and we headed over. None of us had realized until then that the sinkhole was over 200 feet deep. We slid down the muddy slope to the bottom and then entered a large cave, which was essentially just one big room. The condensation on the ceiling made it twinkle like it was covered in glitter. To the right, the river ran into the wall, and a few of us twisted down the small passage until we determined it didn't go far. To the left was a small passage which led around to a smaller room that was full of flowstone. In the center there was a waterfall from the ceiling which had left splashed deposits all over the rocks below. Around the edges of the cave, there were large patches of sandy mud next to the river, like beaches.
We explored the cave until we had determined that we had seen everything, and then decided to call it a day. We headed out and treked back to the cars, where we prepared for the long journey home. After a few hours of driving, we spotted the looming windfarm in the distance. I got a phone call from Ike requesting that we stop so he could check out the huge mills. We pulled over, jumped the 'no trespassing' fence, and proceeded to run over to the huge windmills and hug them. Well, at least the hippies among us did... Then we continued driving. Forever. At some point I noticed that all the signs on the side of the road are doing the matrix bendy thing where they bend in towards the car. I switched off with Alex and passed out until we reached MIT at 4 am.
The next week, we had a gear return night, where we thanked Alex for leading the trip, and to express our gratitude for all the wonderful torment he dragged us through, we tied him up and hung him from the ceiling. We all had a great trip, and at least some of us are looking forward to next year.
End extensive trip report.