By Mike Frisina
Friday night I left work ready for a great weekend of caving.
I had eaten a late Sushi lunch and was not hungry. The drive was white
knuckle with snow and ice on all the mountains. It took five hours to
the normal four to get up to the field house. Once there I could relax,
drink a beer, talk about promising passage, and find a project to help
on. All was well, two beers down, great conversation all of a sudden my
stomach starts to feel strange. I spent the next three hours adjusting
my tummy. I finally got to sleep at about 2 AM.
I woke up a little dazed and weak but my stomach felt fine
other than some sore abdominal muscles. Sushi I guess? Kevin had talked
about doing a short trip in Coon Cave. I did not feel like digging so
off to Coon with Kevin and Steve. We started to gear up at the truck; I
was then told we were shaving rock. Drill, battery, hammer, crow bar,
four ropes of different lengths, bolting equipment, and camera gear were
all being packed up. This was not going to be a short, easy trip. Might
as well make the best of it.
We entered Coon at about 12:30. The entrance has a 20 foot
climb down in a tight canyon. At the bottom is a crawl that leads to a
mastic nuisance drop. We rigged a cable ladder and a hand line for this
drop; the slope is only about 30 feet high. The ladder should make it
easy to climb out of all this thick mud. Next up was a traverse across
an exposed pit to the left; a hand line was in place. We set a bolt to
back up a bolt on this line as an extra safety precaution.
Next up another traverse, this one about the same exposure.
Another crawl and we were at the point of rigging the long drop of the
day at about 90 feet. We spent some time adding a bolt to back up a
formation rigging. The drop was against a wet, dripping wall that had
flowstone dripping from it as well.
The water was washing out the mud under the flowstone causing
the flowstone to randomly break off the wall. Half way down a large
piece broke off and hit both my legs. I kept my composure, and checked
my shins. Damage was minimum, on down to the bottom.
We all got to the bottom and decided to add a 50 foot rope to
the main line and continue down the final pit of about 40Ft. to see some
flowstone formations. We shot some pictures and poked around some
for leads. Time to climb back up to the window 1/3rd of the way up the
main drop. Kevin went first. He got to the window with a little grunting
and yelled off rope.
The climb started out with me nervous about falling flowstone.
Nothing came down this time. I got up to the traverse in to the window.
It was only 30 feet off to the side of the main line, if that. I got a
The safety pulled down due to slack in the traverse line, my
ascenders were now higher than the safety; this equals inverted on rope.
Now what? I tried to pull myself back into the main line and reattach
the roller, but my arms were failing fast. I could not get the roller
back on. I was slowly sinking upside down. My hands were interlocked
over my feet to keep my head upright but at this point I was having
difficulty hanging on.
I was only 20 feet from Kevin so I calmly proclaimed I was in
trouble, big trouble. I think I am going to die type trouble. Kevin was
great, he remained calm and tried to hand me down a hand line. Every
thing is covered in slick mud. I could not secure the line to me. I had
Kevin tie a loop in the end, I grabbed it, and got it around my wrist.
Kevin pulled up as much as he could 2 or 3 times. On the finale pull I
was able to stand upright on my ascenders and chimney up and over to the
window. I got over to the ledge and was shaking like never before.
I have been climbing for 15 years and have never had anything
like this happen before. Was I complacent? Maybe. Should I have gone on
a vertical trip after getting sick? Maybe not. Why did I remove the
roller? Not thinking? I have gone over it a thousand times in my head.
No one real contributing factor, just many little things.
I think that a frog system will be used in these muddy tight traverse laden WV treasures from this point forward. I will also be quicker to bail out of a trip if I am too tired or worn down by the days events. Thanks Kevin I owe you my life!
We took a long break after the rescue but soon we were back at
it, we got started on the first dig area. Kevin went in and started the
drilling. The passage was small, room for only one. Steve and I went to
We dug for a while; we needed a rock ledge removed. We hit
with a hammer several times. Nothing, we needed the drill and some help.
We went back to see how Kevin was doing. "Almost done", he yelled; we
After that we moved the operation to the new dig site. First
thing was to drill a hole for persuasion. The ledge was removed but a
large rock was lodged in with a point down in the mud. Three hours were
spent removing the rock.
With the rock out of the way you can look into the lead it; is
tight and will need more work. Exposed is the top of another canyon that
looks to be about 15 feet down but sloping away and down. The airflow is
huge, we are on to something big. We took a few hours to de- rig and
exit the cave. We made it back to the field house by 1AM.