Coon Cave
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.

Kevin sets a bolt for backup. - copr. 2002, M. Frisina

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 hold
of the traverse line and attached my top safety ascender to it. I began to pull myself over but was struggling with the main line pulling on my roller for my ropewalker. I pulled off my roller. Bad mistake!

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.

A bat checks out Kevin - copr. 2002, M. Frisina

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
check out the lead to the left; it was a tight crawl to a small room. At the bottom of the room was a small hole in the corner. I got down to take a look. Air at 20 MPH hit me in the face. Lets dig here!

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 waited.

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.