Somehow I talked my way into what was basically a Shurtz family trip for this event. It was the first time in quite a while that I felt like the slow person who was out of shape and slowing everyone else down. But it was an absolute blast!
We started out with an assignment to deal with some parts missing from the gate. There is a metal bar to keep people from having to negotiate the 90 degree corner while travelling both directions. It was rumored to be at the bottom of the shaft, so Dave arrived with materials to make do.
Dave showed us the basics of making a tripod in a few minutes. We added a few extra safety features, and tested it out. Partial slow motion failure ensued. We had a good laugh, and added a couple nails to keep the ropes from being able to slide along the smooth 2×4’s. If we would have started with anything with a rough surface the initial design would have been golden.
Everybody double checked gear, and made last surface stops. Around this time we found the “missing” bar stashed in some trees and bushes 100′ away. Since the tripod was already set up and ready to go, we went ahead and left the bar to deal with on our return.
We dropped down to cave level, and decided we would skip anything requiring further vertical gear for that day. We left some gear behind and began to travel pretty light, with basic necessities like water. A couple of them had spent considerable time in the cave over the years, so Dave took some time to point out some of the important features and junctions for those who hadn’t. There were a couple potential leads a couple of them wanted to check out, and Dave trailed along and humored my picture taking while pointing out the places to be extra careful. There are parts of this cave where you do your best to reuse the same footprints and handholds everyone before you have used, to avoid additional damage.
We eventually looped back to a part of the cave I was familiar with, coming up into it from below! I was starting to understand why there were requirements that you have been on several trips to the cave before you should be considered qualified to lead trips. It is rare that I have no idea how parts of a cave interconnect, but this was one of those times. It didn’t help my cause that everyone I was following either had levitation abilities, or a shorter genetic link to spider monkeys.
Our return to the surface was relatively uneventful. Once up top we took the tripod apart, and attached the bar back to the chains below the gate so it wouldn’t disappear again. I had a great time on the trip, and got a taste of what it is like to be the slow person holding the group up. That was a very different experience for me, since years of hiking had trained me to take lots of pictures to slow me down for others with shorter legs.