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Helictite Cave, November 28th, 2009

Highland County Cave Survey
Report for
November 27 & 28, 2009

Rick Lambert’s Part:

The 27th and 28th were scheduled for the first of the clean up surveys for Helictite Cave.
Nathan Farrar and Chris Woodley had scheduled two days for the expected 12-hour trips.
I didn’t know if I could do two 12-hour trips on consecutive days but I would try one. On
the 29th Mark Minton was to do a bolt climb in April Shower’s Pit when we replaced the
dye trap in the cave for the Bullpasture Mountainside Cave dye trace.

Initially, enough people for three teams said they would be there but by the time Friday
morning arrived we were cut down to six people. We (Nathan Farrar, Rick Lambert,
Bill Murray, Rick Royer, Scott Wahlquist, and Chris Woodley) headed to the back of the
cave to start on the further most leads first. I hadn’t been in the back of Helictite Cave
in about 10 years. Phil and I took my oldest son back there right after he graduated from
airborne school and we walked his ass off. On the way out he “dropped” a new Estwing
hammer of mine that had never hit rock. Though several other teams passed by the
hammer on subsequent trips; no one would carry it out. One of my goals was to get my

I quickly realized that I was carrying too much gear for the trip. Going over it in my
mind I realized I was carrying more gear than I did for the 24-hour Hellhole trips. Plus, I
was 10 years older and 15 pounds heavier. The result was that I arrived at our work area
dead tired.

Nathan, Bill and I were to dig on the farther most lead while Rick, Scott and Chris back
tracked and checked a pit that needed a cable ladder to drop. Our lead was one I had laid
in ten years earlier, a sandy dry stream passageway that continued. Only now it was four
or five inches of brown pudding with an adhesive in it. Nathan squeezed through it and
beyond. He came back with a report that it did get slightly bigger but Bill and I would
not fit. I went in and started digging and found that the constriction was not mud or sand
but a rock. With a pry bar I broke the rock loose but could not pull it out of the mud.
Nathan and I switched places and he pulled it out and moved it back to me with his feet.

Crawling in the muddy adhesive was so difficult that I asked Nathan to check it out as far
as he could so we could determine what we needed to do. Nathan quickly disappeared.
He came back into voice range and said it went up through breakdown and into going

I told Bill that I did not think I physically had the strength to survey through the
passageway and come back. He said that he did not have the strength either. As
Nathan came back I watched him pause several times, I assumed to rest, and thought to
myself, “Holy shit!”

I appraised Nathan of Bill’s and my condition and he agreed to reorganize the teams.
About that time the other team came back to us because their lead died. Both Chris and
Scott agreed to replace us.

Rick, Bill and I surveyed two of our leads to terminal ends (the beginning of the B
survey). Then we started checking leads on the way out. (We also decided to carry the
cable ladder out and put it in my pack with Rick carrying my gear that it displaced. This
helped me tremendously.) Two more leads will require small people hammering on their
sides in wet concrete like mud. A fifth lead ended up being a 20’ climb in very cruddy
mud/rock. Our sixth lead we missed due to us misreading the map.

At that point we decided to head out. Rick did the route finding on the way out and did
an outstanding job. I don’t remember any wasted steps. About half way out I thought
I heard Scott burp and told Rick and Bill. A few minutes later we heard their voices.
When they caught up to us Scott chewed Bill and I up one side and down the other for
wimping out on the muddy crawl. Apparently they had just been on the caving trip from
hell. Plus, they looked the part. I informed them that with the gray in our hair Bill and
I also had acquired some wisdom. Plus, there weren’t any young women in the group to

The rest of the trip out was just a matter of enduring. The other team passed us.
Fortunately, they rested when I needed a rest. When we separated into two groups
obstacles would slow them down and allow us to catch up. We arrived outside to below
freezing temperatures. At home we had spaghetti, garlic bread and pumpkin pie with
Mark Minton and Yvonne Droms.

I’ve tried to think back over 50 years of caving and can’t remember a more difficult trip
though I’m sure there was a harder trip but memory is failing. The main contributor was
the weight of my pack. Next time I’m taking my smallest pack and only enough gear to
fit in it. I might also wear only a t-shirt, instead of poly-pro, in.

Nathan Farrar’s Part:

After reorganizing teams, so that I had Chris and Scott with myself, we headed back
down the mud crawl, aptly named La Fin du Monde (the end of the world, in French…
and the name of a decent beverage). I went in first, backwards, so that I could make the
stations for Scott to do double foreshots towards (the beginning of the C survey). As I
made my way to the first station, Scott reached station 1392, the last station in the back of
the cave, and realized that his compass case had come off and the compass had become
completely clogged with mud. He got the compass out of my bag and used it for the
remainder of the survey.

It was rough going – the mud was very sticky and the ceiling was very low (just over
a foot most of the way, some part’s tighter). The mud made it so that if you stopped
moving, it was very difficult to start moving again. It also made pulling a pack very

difficult – I found that rolling your pack worked best. On multiple occasions, we had to
lick the mud off of the compass or Disto. The mud also weighed us down for the trip out
of the cave. For the next trip, we will each be wearing PVC suits.

It took us five stations, and getting stuck a couple of times, to get out of La Fin du Monde
to where the crawlway intersects the 25’ by 4’ canyon that I discovered. The canyon
looks to be going in both directions, parallel the crawlway. The last station is on the floor
with the angle for a shot up through the large breakdown blocks into the passage. Another
passage was found directly above the crawlway we came had come through – it appears
to go as well.

By that fifth shot, the second compass had also become clogged with mud, and Scott
and Chris were both very cold, so we headed out of the cave. On the way out of the
crawlway, the weight of the mud and the tight crawling conditions brought Chris’ bottom
half of clothes right off himself, so that Scott and I had the pleasure of watching as he
crawled out of the crawlway with his bare ass showing. For me at least, getting up the
slope in the crawlway was easier than expected, but pulling the pack through could not
have been more difficult. We will pack as lightly as feasible when we go back.

We made good time, considering our condition, getting out of the cave, because we took
relatively few rest breaks, so that Chris and Scott wouldn’t get too cold again. Ironically,
it was snowing when we got out. We changed quickly (Chris in the cave itself), and sped
to Rick’s for a most amazing spaghetti dinner.

Overall, the trip was a success – a total of six leads were probed: one that would require
a climb, but there is not any quality rock for bolting; one that would be a dig in “wet
concrete” as the Ricks put it; two that ended; and the dig at the end of the cave that I
opened and which led to going cave (in three different directions!). Overall, we only
accrued around 200 ft of survey, but we at least have the promise of more!

We will be organizing another trip in the next two months.

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