Monday, April 03, 2006

[trip] YTR / Bone-Norman

This past weekend was my first Young Timers' Reunion, and I had a really great time. Friday afternoon's weather was 72° and sunny, but as soon as Ryan Ellers, John Cunningham and I met up, the sky turned black and rain started pouring down. Mother nature didn't let up on us the entire drive down to Greenbriar County; the combination of foul weather and several stops along the way (including almost getting lost in the Tamarack parking lot) kept us from arriving at the campground until about 9:30pm. That night remained damp and dreary, but a nice fire kept everyone warm.

Saturday morning we woke up to a beautiful clear sky and sunshine, definitely a welcome sight after the previous evening's crappy weather. At around 10am, David C. of the VPI Grotto (and without shoes) led a large group of 15 ("no wait, how many people do we have?") cavers from WVU, VPI, JMU, and Maryland on a through-trip of the Bone-Norman Cave system.

The entrance to Bone Cave is on the face of this old quarry, obscured by trees. Note me in the bottom right for scale, and several other cave passages higher up along the limestone face.

The entrance to the Bone Cave side is at the ground level of an old, large limestone quarry. The first part of the cave is mostly large walking passage, then consists of a series of alternating low phreatic tunnels and smaller rooms. The Bone side is dry. Really, really dry. Its floor consists entirely of fine dust, so deep that it feels like you're walking on a beach. As you can probably imagine, with 15 people trudging through dust like this, and with wind whipping through the smaller tunnels, it wasn't long before everyone had filled their mouths, noses and eyes with cave grit.

Carrie Blankenship of VPI models her sweet new Howie's Harnesses cave pack in some Bone Cave canyon passage.

Eventually, Bone gets lower and lower, until you spend a lot of time on your belly. We made it to The Devil's Pinch, and everyone squeezed through the 7" slot without incident. After a bit more crawling, then down a large dusty slide, everyone dove headfirst through a slot 4' off the floor (except for a couple crazies who went feet-first).

From here, we headed left down a few dusty corridors and finally came to some deep, damp canyon passage - Norman Cave. This side definitely has a different character than does the Bone side - the former still feels live while the latter is dead and "bone dry". Our group got split in two after a bit of miscommunication, but with some sharp thinking and teamwork, everyone was quickly reunited and headed back on our way.

We generally followed a decent-sized meandering stream through the Norman side. Our path continually crossed back and forth over the stream, which occasionally ducked underground, leading us over a lot of extremely slippery silt banks and some very wide rooms. We next spent a lot of time climbing over a very long stretch of breakdown, which necessitated several rest stops. After more breakdown than I cared for, we headed into the stream for a very cool, very long watercourse. The ceiling was of stoop-height for a large part of it, and the swift water has cut some great potholes throughout the course - some were easily waist deep, thus making this an official "wet cave". The banks of the stream for a large part of this water passage are formed entirely of flowstone, and there are many sections where the limestone has been corroded to the density of a giant Swiss cheese.

Finally the watercourse leads you to a roaring waterfall that crashes down through the ceiling probably 40' or more. It's quite a sight, and was a treat after trudging through the not-quite-high-enough stream passage for so long. From there, a nuisance climb led to a waiting room, which led to a nuisance climb, which led to.. a real nuisance climb. I was the last one up, and I'm glad there was no one below to see my ungraceful ascent.

From here, we climbed up to an absolutely enormous room, floored by a massive breakdown hill. Some large, dead columns stared down from the top of this humbling room. Starting to really feel tired, I trudged up the underground hillside until I finally saw a tree root jutting up from the ground. I pondered this for entirely too long until a dim light bulb lit, and I quickly looked up to see a speck of moonlight at the very top of the room. Everyone bolted for the exit, hopped out of the mole-hole and we were greeted with a beautiful, clear, night sky full of stars - an excellent ending to an excellent cave trip.

I believe we made it back to camp around 9pm. In contrast to the previous night, Saturday night was excellent - warm weather, a clear sky, live guitar with upright bass, and lots of great people. Door prizes were handed out to everyone - I walked away with a VAR hat and a roll of primo duct tape. Most importantly, WVU spanked JMU and VPI by number of attendees, winning the trophy for a 2nd year in a row.

So, in not nearly as many words, YTR was excellent - thanks to everyone who made it great (you know who you are).

All photos by Brian Masney


Brian Masney said...

I thought I was going to become a permanent artifact in the cave at the 7" pinch. That squeeze was pretty tight on me.

cavinbenm said...

glad you mentioned the upright bass, that thing rocked!