Saturday, January 19, 2008

[trip] Chilly Tucker County Survey

On Saturday, January 19 2008, the Tucker County Speleological Survey returned to MR Cave for the first time in over a year. With five people present, we split into two teams: Doug McCarty and Doug Bell would re-survey a side-lead towards the front of the cave, while John Harman, Cullen Hencke, and myself - Dave Riggs - would push one mile into the cave to continue the survey of the main cave passage.

After meeting for breakfast in Parsons, we headed to the cave and suited up as snow fell on our heads. We entered the cave at approximately 10AM, rigged the waterfall drop with a webbing handline and quickly crawled past the dripping water into the cave's main stream passage.

Several-hundred feet up the main passage, we reached Doug and Doug's side lead. Our groups parted, and this was the last that we saw of each other. They surveyed 275 feet of passage and were back on the surface by 4PM.

John, Cullen, and I continued on to the Swimming Pool, where we got soaked nearly to our waists. 1000-grueling-feet further, we stopped for water and John discovered that the tight Tucker County passage had cracked and broken his water bottle. We would have to share 2 liters of water between three people over the course of a long survey trip.

Another 1000-feet-or-two later and we were at our destination... and exhausted! One mile of Tucker County cave typically means thousands of feet of crawling or duck-walking in narrow stream passage, and MR Cave is a fine example of Tucker County's best. John and Cullen changed into dry clothes and ate, while I pushed ahead in the main passage to determine where our survey should head: the main route went low as a very-wet stream crawl, or high as a tight stooping passage with sketchy, gypsum-wedged breakdown, while a side lead followed an infeeder canyon coming in at a right angle. Surprisingly, I found carbide graffiti in the low main passage: "π 69" - meaning that the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity from WVU had been all the way back here in 1969. Had they come in all this way from the main entrance, or had they come in some rear entrance that we've not yet found?

We decided to survey the side-lead first, to knock it off the lead list, and expecting it to pinch out within 100 feet or so, as all the other known infeeders do. John and Cullen were on instrument, and I was trying my hand at keeping book and sketching. We slowly worked our way upstream, choosing the easiest route through up-to-three levels of meandering canyon. At times the passage was 4 feet high, at times it was 25 feet from stream to ceiling. We found a few nice formations along the way and the remains of some sort of small mammal. Eventually, the ceiling came down to meet the stream and the cave continued as a 2-foot-high crawl with a small upper passage, with definite air movement. We wound up surveying 502 feet in a passage that we didn't expect to continue.

After heading back to the junction, eating a much-needed meal, and gulping down our rations of water, we started the trek back out of the cave. The trip out took much less time than the trip in, perhaps because it was downhill and downstream, perhaps because we were so intent on getting out of the cave. As we came closer and closer to the entrance, the frigid wind blowing in our faces felt colder and colder.

Completely soaking wet, we exited the cave at 1:15AM, after 15 hours underground. The ground was covered with snow and ice, the temperature was 5°F - our coveralls immediately started to freeze, our wet hands and feet went instantly numb, we could feel ice crystals forming in our noses as we ran approximately 1/4 mile to the car. John arrived first and started it up, Cullen and I went the long, uphill way and both dove to the warm exhaust to thaw out our hands. We changed as quickly as possible, left a note at Kevin K's house, and then drove to Germany Valley, finally getting some sleep at around 4AM. MR Cave is now 7357 feet (1.4 miles) long.

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