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Wishing Well, May 1st, 2011

Sunday May 1st, 2011

Retirement Celebration (RC) Survey

Nathan Farrar (writing), Gregg Clemmer, and Bill Murray


I met Bill Murray at his house in Charlottesville at 8:30am, 12 hours after having left the surprise retirement part his wife put on at the house. We tossed his things in my car and headed to Gregg Clemmer’s parents’ house outside of Staunton. I tossed Gregg’s stuff into my car too, met his father, and then we were off!

We got to the Cove half an hour before Phil Lucas expected us at his house, so we drove down to Aqua, and slowly, to take in the destruction from the previous two floods. Parts of the road between Emory and Aqua springs were missing asphault, and woody debris was caught up in tree branches and fences well above the river level (which was still quite high). And believe it or not, it started to rain again! We then drove up to the Homestead driveway, seeing a lot of gravel alluvial deposits along the stream banks and a mudslide down a farmed flank of Jack Mountain. The first hill of the driveway to the Homestead looked to be in bad shape, and we couldn’t see the larger hill beyond. We arrived at Phil’s just after 11am.

We chatted for a while about the recent floods, especially in regard to the Water Sinks, and then moved our discussion to the day’s plans. We decided to haul the drill past the webbing drop to the end of the Tick Tock Survey, where the passage was left continuing high, but filled with mud below - requiring a climb. Not wanting to make this a vertical cave, Phil thought it would be best to make a rebar staircase of sorts up the canyon, with pegs on each side of the canyon. If the passage continued, we’d also set a bolt and rig a rope for belay up the climb. Phil offered me his pack, large enough to fit the drill, rope, and my personal gear, and we headed over to the Landrum’s (again, leaving behind the printed out scans of the previous survey’s notes).

Frank Marks and Phil drove their manly golf carts over to the Landrum’s to see us off. Bill, Gregg, and I got ready, and then stood around chatting for a while, this time about how much people enjoy, or do not enjoy, getting long trip reports with pictures for most of our trips. By 12:45pm, we made it into the cave. We checked for signs of flooding – Scrappy Creek was barely up and hadn’t erased our previous muddying of cobbles, but the pool at the northern end of Sugar Run had risen about 20 feet, silting up our past tracks and moving survey station tape. Also, at the base of Echo Junction, some of our footprints had been erased.

Two and a half hours after entering the cave, we were at our climb. Gregg and Bill sat for a bite to eat, and I started drilling. The holes drilled fine, but my dinky nail hammer was pathetic – Phil had warned me that the decreased weight of my hammer may not be worth the increased time and effort it took to put in the rebar – he was right! After using a dozen of our twenty rebar rods, I was most of the way up the climb, but needed to get further down the passage. Unfortunately at that point, the canyon widened to an awkward straddle length, giving me leg cramps. So I came down and let Bill have a turn. He put another few rebar lengths in, but also felt awkward straddling the wider canyon, so we switched again. Greggo rooted us on the whole time! I got up to where Bill had gotten us and decided that I could probably safely get up the rest of the climb on my own, especially with a couple dug steps. I got up the mud bank and found the passage plugged to the ceiling – bummer! Odd how it had still echoed so well from below. On to plan B!

               On the Hickory Dickory Dock survey, Mark Minton and Yvonne Droms had poked their heads into what appeared to be a break-down jungle gym off of the Rotunda, right by the pit into going canyon. I hoped that by climbing down through this breakdown, we could find a way to the bottom of the pit. Gregg set stations, Bill read instruments, and I sketched… all of two shots before we learned the breakdown maze was filled with mud, and that no continuation, or much potential for one, existed. Bummer. On to Plan C.

               We headed to the branch off of the Rotunda from which the window overlooks the room to start surveying another lead Mark had looked into. We got all of one shot there before it got too tight. However, it very clearly opens up immediately ahead to a hands and knees crawl, so it’ll be worth popping open in the future. On to plan D!

               Since we weren’t going to be able to make our way down through the breakdown to the bottom of the pit, and since we had the drill handy, I installed two bolts at the top of the pit, with hangers and quicklinks. While I did this, Gregg and Bill poked their heads around at the other side of the Rotunda, re-checking out a breakdown dig that Mark had looked into and a muddy crawlway that Mark said looked like it went and Phil said didn’t – they concluded that the latter probably did go, but wouldn’t be pleasant at all. We decided it was about time to head out, very disappointed with our 30 feet in the book (a record for a WW survey trip, I believe). At the entrance to the Oinking Canaries section by Frank’s well, I headed back to the pit there to drill a couple holes for eventual rigging. There was almost no good rock, and the drill bit wasn’t having a good time – the steel had worn down beyond the carbide, causing the drill filings to clog the drilling and cause a lot of excess heat. I got a hole and a half before the battery wore down. We’ll need to finish that second hole and probably place a third. It’s not going to be a fun pit to drop – lots of weathered rock and chert ledges to deal with. Since we’d need the rope I had brought in within the next couple trips, I left it in Sugar Run, right in the path, right at that entrance to the Oinking Canaries.

               I picked up the water bottle that Phil had left in the cave for himself and finished it off, since I had depleted my water. I’ll replace it next trip! We made it out of the cave around midnight, changed, and headed over to Phil’s. I tried to make it sound at first as if we had scooped a lot of booty, putting the notes in Phil’s hand and telling him to check them out! But something about just two sheets doesn’t give off an aura of success J However bummed we were, the news Phil shared of Osama’s death immediately cheered us back up! Although it had been a pitiful day for us in the cave, and certainly not the celebration our survey name would suggest, it definitely had been a great day for America!