T.A.G. trip, January 13-16, 2012
Mystery Falls, Friday, January 13, 2012
The yearly trip on Presidents Day weekend started out with a bang. So many things happened this weekend, mostly good, some bad, but everyone learned a lot and everyone came home safe. The weekend started with Joe and Kris Nicolussi, Chris Doerhoff, Mike and Natalia Tennant all meeting at my house and car pooling down to Kimball, Tennessee. We got in around 1:30 a.m., driving through periods of sleet and snow.
We got up early and met Richard Young in the lobby then headed over to OnRope1 for some last minute gear items. Mystery Falls was our first stop. Richard and I were the only ones who had been here before, and Joe, Kris and Chris were the three who had never been to TAG before. Their deepest drop to date was the 127’ Echo Pit in Perry County, Missouri.
When coming to TAG there is a tradition that we have that someone always gets short roped, and someone’s radio always gets destroyed. Before that can happen, we have to get in the cave first. Richard took no time at all making the first memorable experience of the weekend. He stepped up to the dam and lost his footing. The next thing I heard was a loud splash. I looked around the corner from the dam and I noticed that Richard was lying in the water up to his chest, completely soaked. We all had a good laugh. We also noticed that the flow rate of the water was very high from the recent weather.
Mike rigged his rope on the long side of Mystery Falls and I rigged the waterfall. Mike went down the waterfall first and wouldn’t you know it, his rope was short rigged by 10 feet. After Natalia went down Chris and Joe pulled the long drop rope while Kris and I pulled the waterfall rope. I then rerigged both sides, making each rope available for rappelling safely. At least we have the short rope of the weekend out of the way, and at least no one was on it this time.
I rappelled down the long drop with Kris on the waterfall drop as she was, hysterical, for lack of a better descriptor. Once we were 30 or 40 feet down she spun around, away from the wall, and finally got to see the beauty of the waterfall pounding off of the walls of the cave. We spent a bit of time at the bottom trying to take photographs, but none really turned out due to the water vapor in the air. It was quite amazing.
The trip ended with Chris and I tandem climbing the high side, and Joe and Kris tandem climbing on the waterfall side. Kris’s pack was pulling her harness around her ankles so I retrieved it from her to lighten her load, literally. We derigged, got changed, and went to the hotel and relaxed for the evening. Our rooms were strung out with wet vertical gear, all over the place. Everyone had successfully bounced the deepest freefall pit in Tennessee. While at the hotel, Javier Sayago and Gary Resch arrived and hung out while we told stories about the days adventure in the hotel room. Edmund Tucker and Sarah Becker were scheduled to arrived late in the night.
Signal Light Pit, Saturday, January 14, 2012
With an early rise we all met in the lobby, loaded up gear and headed out for the first open air pit of the trip. Signal Light Pit was famous because of the civil war era signatures at the bottom of the 65’ pit. To get there you cross two sets of railroad tracks. Chris took this time to whip out some pink duct tape, some coins, and taped them to the tracks closest to the pit after a long debate about which track was best. While we were rigging a train came…….. on the tracks furthest from the pit. Strike one.
Three ropes were rigged, two on the high side and one on the shallow side, and everyone made their way down. Being open air, Kris was really getting worked up going in, but she was fine. At the bottom, Mike, Natalia, Javier, Edmund, Sarah and I made our way to the signature room where I took many photographs. Two different routes were taken. Natalia and I went the easy walking way, and the rest took a low crawl at the high side of the drop. I inspected this crawl but it was too muddy for my liking on a vertical weekend. Sarah on the other hand took the mud head on, literally. When she came into view in the signature room, her entire front side was caked with mud. I guess that’s why everyone else stayed dry? Others bounced the pit at this time and another train came……. On the tracks furthest from the pit. Strike two.
At this time Chris asked Joe to put some coins and tape on the other set of tracks, so that both train tracks were covered. Instead Joe moved everything to the tracks on the far side. As we climbed out and derigged the pit another train came……… on the tracks closest to the pit. Strike three, you’re out. We all laughed hard at how the odds played out. I told Joe to remind me never to take him to a casino with me.
South Pittsburg Pit
We ate lunch on the way to the pit and arrived at the park, noticing two vehicles with bat stickers. It ended up being some local cavers doing trail maintenance and one of them was on the team next to my team at bridge day. Small world.
Joe and Chris took their new 200’ ropes up the mountain as did Edmund and all three were rigged. Chris rigged his rope at the drop nearest the jagged boulder side, while I rigged Joe’s rope on the traditional drop and Edmund rigged his on the opposite side. We had to put a redirect on Chris’s rig point to get a free drop, and since the lip was sharp, we padded it 4 times with a wrap pad, my cave pack and 2 rope pads, but the drop was awesome! As we started rappelling into the cave, Emily and Eric Ferre and Mihai Lefticariu arrived at the parking lot and started hiking up. I took this time to rappel in and noticed a rebelay bolt on a ledge with a SCCI sign hanging from it. I left it for this trip but perhaps next time I will rig this drop.
At the bottom I looked around with the others who were at the bottom. By this time Richard was the only person on the surface so I immediately started climbing so he could come down and join the others, but before I did, something dangerous happened, dangerous, yet hilarious at the same time because no one was hurt. As I got on rope, Javier walked up to me and said “Are you going up and coming back down?” I said “Yeah, I am.” Javier then looked around and said in a low voice, “Do you think you could bring me my helmet when you come back down?” Mike and I looked at each other and started laughing pretty hard because he was only wearing a stocking cap. I told him to stand under the rock ledge and that I would send Richard down with his helmet. We got another good laugh out of the trip at this time.
At this time, I don’t remember exactly why Mike and I were standing at the redirect drop, but I do know that Chris was on rope and climbing about 50 or 60 feet down. I was hungry so I was getting a snack out to eat. I set an orange on the sloped boulder that the rope was rigged over and wouldn’t you know, it rolled off. It rolled off, hit the ground and rolled right into a hole that is just big enough for a slim body to fit through. A hole that was made from the ground and the large boulder the rope was rigged over. I looked at Mike and I yelled “ROCK!!!” A second later I then yelled “Orange!!!!!” Followed again by “Rock!!!!” We heard the orange bounce of the walls a few times followed by a loud THUD! After we heard that all was ok and no one got hit, everyone on the surface looked over and yelled “What happened!” I yelled back, “I just dropped an orange down the 168’ deep pit!” Everyone laughed.
At this time Eric Ferre was on rope, just below the lip and Edmund was on a safety just over the top. Eric looked up at Edmund, and in his French accent he said “Edmund, please do not drop any fruit on me while I am on rope, preferably coconuts.” Later on when we were all told this story we got a good laugh. Chris also said he saw the orange bouncing around like a pinball off the walls as it fell past him. Richard said that the orange landed a few feet away from him and exploded, spraying him with orange juice and sending the smell of citrus into the air. The orange then rolled down the breakdown slope and out of view at the bottom of the pit.
At this time Chris was then crossing the redirect drop lip and Mike and I noticed he had his radio tucked in between his ropewalker chest rolled, and his chest. After he got out of the drop it was no longer there. We didn’t see it on the ground and we were all confused as to where the radio disappeared to. I rappelled into the cave again and met up with Eric at the bottom and looked around for the radio but didn’t find it. Sarah joined me in looking but to no avail. At this time, Mihai was geared up and ready to go and began what Edmund called the slowest rappel in TAG history, on a Petzl Stop into the pit. I belayed him all the way within 30 to 35 feet of the ground, or I should say I had the rope clipped into an ascender so if there was a problem I could take off running and pull the rope taught.
Unfortunately, just when I thought things were safe, I let go of the rope and walked away. Somehow Mihai’s stop malfunctioned and he went into a speed rappel for the last 30 feet, just like Edmund and I sometimes do towards the bottom of a drop. Mihai landed hard as he didn’t slow down at the last few feet, but he was ok. He shook it off and got off rope. We then learned from Mike who is very familiar with the Stop, that a Stop isn’t a Stop at all. It’s a slip, and if it slips, you have to crank out on the handle and pull the bottom of the rope down to stop. The entire group learned from this near mishap.
What came next was rather humorous as Edmund wanted Mihai to climb tandem with him out of the pit as Mihai was our newest vertical caver. Mihai was terrified of the rope breaking under his weight, something that I found hilarious, but I calmed him down with the facts of the breaking strength of the ropes. We got a good laugh out of it. I then frogged out of the pit on the rebelay rig and we derigged all ropes.
The evening ended with rounds of Budweiser’s at the Pizza Hut in Kimball. Stories about the day were told and many laughs were had.
Cagles Chasm, Sunday, January 15, 2012
We drove to the cave, geared up and took a ton of ropes up the mountain. We took my 334’ for the main shaft, Edmunds 260’ for the main shaft, Joe’s 200’ for Shallow Well, my 62’ for Shallow Well, Chris’ 200’ for Jeepside and my 122’ for the 2nd Jeepside drop into Cagles. Edmund rigged Shallow Well, while Chris and Joe rigged Jeepside, and I rigged my long rope in Cagles while Mike rigged Edmunds rope in the main Cagles drop as well. After this was done I went into Jeepside with Chris and rigged the Rebelay at the bottom of the 12 foot or so drop in jeepside for the main drop to the bottom, to avoid the flowstone.
Chris was in awe of the flowstone at the top of Jeepside, and we made our way to the next rope rig. I showed him the etiquette of the double figure 8 with a backtie on this drop and we made our way down next to the watery drop. Once I was down, Javier showed me the roaring waterfall at the bottom of Cagles, down through the breakdown and into the main drop area. I shot a couple video clips then climbed out of Jeepside to get to the surface. At this time, Edmund was trying to give Mihai a crash course on using a rack, but it was simply decided that this just wasn’t very smart and the decision was made that Mihia simply wasn’t ready to do any more drops.
The rest of the day at Cagles went off without a hitch and I got to see all three drops on the same day. It was pretty cool. We derigged all of the pits and left the cave and headed to Neversink, where Bil and Sherry Davis, Gary Resch and Julie Uselton were already at. We stopped for gas and food in Stevenson, AL, and we were off to the races. That was, after Edmunds episode in the bathroom which he decided to broadcast over his 2 way radio. A radio which I also had around my neck in the store, as did others. We were all laughing pretty hard. Use your imagination on what noises were coming over the airwaves. We were immediately met with horror, crossing the lake on the road heading west towards Neversink as the lake was filled with ducks. Unfortuately the road was covered with duck pancakes. Oops.
We arrived and parked at Neversink in the afternoon and crammed our vehicles into the parking area like sardines. We fit with ease, and we loaded up and headed out within a few minutes. We of course had Joe and Chris take their ropes just in case, even though Bil and Sherry had their ropes rigged already. Edmund got a couple minutes into the hike when he realized that he forgot to grab Gary’s camera. He promptly ran back down to his truck and tried running back up the trail to the cave. He didn’t make it very far running, but it was still funny to listen to on the radios.
Kris was wanting to stay in the jeep and save her energy for Valhalla, but I stressed that she needed to see this pit, and no matter how tired she was, she would still get out of Valhalla tomorrow. She made the hike and hung out on the surface. After I bounced the pit once and took a pretty photo at the bottom, I showed her the picture and it motivated her into going to the bottom to see it for herself. While I was taking that same photo however, Edmund and Sarah decided to walk around the back side of the waterfall at the bottom and got completely soaked in the process.
Most of the time at Neversink went off without a hitch; however, Sarah did have a bit of anxiety crossing the stair step lip when climbing out. Everyone else got in and out with no problems and we pulled the ropes as it began to get dark. We hiked off the mountain in the dark, changed clothes and hung around Javier’s van while he was changing.
Moments later Javier’s van doors started opening and closing automatically. In a panic he started saying that someone was stepping on his keys and hitting the buttons and making the doors open. Javier was freaking out to say the least, and the rest of us thought it was kind of funny. Moments later we noticed that Mike was sitting in the woods by himself, with his light off, with a huge smile on his face. I poked Edmund and pointed it out and we immediately realized that Mike was messing with Javier. After the joke was sprung, we all had a huge laugh at Javier’s expense. He was really getting worked up about it.
Edmund, Sarah and Mihai then piled up into the Subaru, while I took Mike and Natalia in my Tahoe to Valhalla. We showed Joe, Kris and Chris where the turnoff to the cave was, as they were going back to the hotel, to get up early to come out before daylight. Javier and Richard also went to the hotel to go home, Bil, Sherry, Gary and Julie all took off before the mini van door episode and weren’t coming to Valhalla either.
The road was wet and I was worried about my 2x4 Tahoe but all was well and the only casualty was some plastic on the front of Edmunds car getting ripped off. Our vehicles were muddy and Edmunds entire front end went under water up to the windshield. Steam was rolling out of our engine bays after we parked at the campsite. It was getting cold and we got the fire started, food cooking, tents were set up and then Gary rolled into camp. We immediately planned on going to Valhalla in a couple hours towards midnight as Edmunds Birthday was on Sunday.
Mihai slept in Edmunds car, Mike and Natalia went to bed in their tent and I set up camp in the back of my Tahoe. As it got later and later we decided to head to Valhalla and do the drop. Edmund went down first, followed by me, then Gary finished up the trio. We immediately decided to head to the Megadome, a 200’ high dome canyon 30 minutes from the entrance. The route was a bit confusing but it went along pretty fast once we found the entrance route that Gary remembered. After that he led us without a flaw to the dome and what an amazing site. We laid on the ground looking straight up for 10 or 15 minutes before heading out of the cave. It took us only 25 minutes to get back to the pit. Gary climbed out first then I climbed out tandem with Edmund. No one wanted to be at the bottom at night, haunted pit! By this time it was officially Edmunds birthday, #32.
Valhalla, Monday, January 16, 2012
As Edmund, Gary and I got to bed around 2:00 a.m., Joe, Chris and Kris showed up around 6:00 a.m. and got the fire roaring for everyone, but I was too tired to wake up. I finally got out of bed around 8:15 a.m. when Mike and Natalia were up at the pit rigging the drop which we left padded. We could hear them yelling on and off rope from the campsite and we all started getting our stuff together and heading up to the pit. I rigged my 334’ rope next to Mike’s 300’ on the main Valhalla rigging tree. A few pads later and folks were ready to drop the pit on two ropes. Gary had already gone to the bottom and after I finished up padding the rope I continued down with my half ass, jump off the wall and swing under the undercut type rappel. It was an epic fail and Edmund yelled “Baby’s first Valhalla!” We got a good laugh.
After I touched down, Kris came down on my rope and Joe was next to her on Mikes rope. Apparently she had very little “public” anxiety on this drop and she did great, a much different Kris than a few days ago in Mystery Falls or at Signal Light Pit. Chris followed them down shortly thereafter so Edmund and Sarah could do the drop together.
Mike and Natalia then tandem climbed out on his rope while I climbed out on mine. I stayed at the large tree by the lip to help watch Sarah go over the lip while Edmund went down next to her. Unfortunately, anxiety got the best of her at the lip and she decided that she didn’t want to do it so she went back to the top, but not before I snapped a few photos of them both at the lip of Valhalla. After Edmund rappelled into the pit I hiked up to the high side and clipped into a tree for safety and took several photos of the pit from another angle.
As the trip winded down, and the crew climbed out, I spent the last few minutes before they came out of the lip, by myself, perched high above the entrance to Valhalla reflecting on the amazing weekend. It was a shame to see it end, but a more important life was waiting for all of us when we got home. We took one last group photo at the top of Valhalla before leaving on the muddy and rocky road back to civilization. What a crazy weekend.
By the time the weekend was over, I had done the following rappels and climbs, 260, 260, 65, 65, 165, 165, 185, 185, 185, 65, 165, 165, 227, 227, for 2,384’ total. Give or take a few feet.