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The Gangsta Mapper Way of Picking Survey Teams

by Bob Zimmerman

Milling about
Gangstas in the act of milling.
When I first arrived in the DC area (after many years of caving in the New York/Pennsylvania region), I had never heard of the Gangsta Mappers. Then, at the 1999 OTR, Ralph Hartley mentioned that this strangely named group of cave surveyors was just finishing up the mapping of Bowden Cave, and was thinking of mapping Cassell Cave as one of their next projects. The problem, Ralph explained, was that they didn't yet have a cartographer.

"I'd be willing to do it," I said, "as long as I don't have to make any arrangements having to do with schedule, camping, or team organization." I had been cartographer on several past projects, and the part I always hated the most was managing the whole thing.

"No need to worry," Ralph said reassuringly, explaining that among the Gangstas these tasks were kept to an absolute minimum, and were widely distributed among many people. "You won't have to handle any of that."

Though I couldn't see how this was possible, he wasn't the only one who told me so. Bob Hoke said the same thing. So did Devon Kouts, Miles Drake, Rick Royer, and others. In fact, everyone I met from the DC/Baltimore area insisted that the Gangstas were experts in keeping the non-caving management to a minimum, and that if I volunteered to draw the map that would be all I'd have to worry about.

Though I still had my doubts, I agreed to draw the map. I was between cave projects, and couldn't resist the chance of drawing a new cave map. From the beginning, however, I insisted that I would not organize the survey teams. I simply did not know the cavers in the DC area that well, and besides, I hated doing these management tasks. Don't worry, everyone said again. The teams would organize themselves, no problem.

By January 2000 the dates for the two new Gangsta Mapper projects had been set, with the Cassell Cave survey beginning on April 15, 2000. As this date loomed closer and closer, my worries kept increasing. Miles Drake, who was handling the cabin rental for the Cassell weekend in the town of Cass, had a list of almost 30 cavers who said they would be there. In addition, most of these cavers had never been in Cassell before, or if they had, they had only seen a small part of the cave.

In fact, I had begun to get phonecalls and emails from some cavers, asking who was organizing the teams and where in the cave they were going to survey. Oh no! I thought. The last thing I wanted was the job of managing this horde of cavers.

I called Bob Hoke. "I won't organize teams," I insisted. Bob nonchalently said, "Don't worry, you won't have to, it won't be a problem."

Despite his assurances, I insisted that he be listed on the Gangsta Mappers webpage as the person to call for team organization. He agreed, but I got the distinct feeling that he felt this listing was completely irrelevant.

Finally, the April 15th weekend arrived. To my amazement, almost thirty cavers magically organized themselves into eight teams, and were all in the cave by 11 am. (Well, not all, since Ralph Hartley's team had a car accident, and ended up doing a surface survey instead.)

How this was accomplished seems to me beyond description. However, the next month, at the first Breathing Cave survey weekend, I watched the Gangstas do it again, in an even more amazing manner.

In the case of the Breathing Cave project, no one had arranged any central housing. Some camped out. Some stayed at people's homes. Some came from the PSC fieldhouse. Some even drove up on Saturday morning. As late as 9:30 am on Saturday no one had any idea how many surveyors, sketchers, instruments, or even beginners would be there. In fact, Bob Alderson, the cartographer, had not even arrived!

So at 9:45 am, with over twenty cavers milling about in confusion, Bob Hoke and Bob Gulden were chosen to get things organized. (The decision on picking these two Bobs was made solely because they both were holding clipboards, and therefore looked like they knew what they were doing.) With Bob Gulden writing the numbers down, Bob Hoke proceeded to shout the following:

Question 1 "Who has survey instruments?" Hands went up. Bob Gulden wrote the number down.

Question 2 "Who has surveyed before?" More hands went up. More scribbling by Bob Gulden.

Question 3 "Who has never surveyed before?" More hands. More scribbling.

Question 4 Now Bob Hoke took full command. "All sketchers line up." We meekly did so. "Which sketchers need instruments?" More hands. More scribbling.

Now things began happening faster than I can describe. First there was heavy negotiating over who would be on what team. Negotiations begin

Then, more negotiations over who gets what instruments. My team, with only one set, was offered an old Army surplus Brunton as a second compass. Since practically none of the Gangstas, including myself, had ever used one, I cordially declined the offer. More negotiations
"You want me to use what?"

At this moment, with the teams almost completely set, Bob Alderson finally arrived with the maps of the cave! More negotiations, as the various teams tried to figure out where in the cave they would go to survey. Perusing the map

Nor were the negotiations finished. With teams picked, we then milled about discussing who would go in what car (as a courtesy to the landowners, we did not want to drive more vehicles to the cave entrance than necessary). Vehicle negotiations

Finally, at 10:15 am (that's right, only 30 minutes after we had started!) we climbed into our cars and headed to Breathing Cave. Despite having more than twenty cavers and no one in charge, the Gangstas had somehow gotten seven survey teams organized and on their way in less time than it normally takes most people to eat lunch. Even now I find this performance (which I have witnessed twice more since May) truly astonishing.

And we're off...

And yes, that's right, both the pick-up truck and the mini-van are carrying Gangstas to the cave. How, traveling in opposite directions, they both arrived and were in the cave by 11 am is equally beyond my comprehenision.

Leaving Earth book cover Genesis book cover Last updated: August 1, 2000
Written by Bob Zimmerman, who is always reachable at Check out my other books and magazine articles at

Thanks to Gordon Birkhimer for providing me with two of the above photographs.

This webpage was created using Xywrite 3.55, a word processing program so good it even makes me look smart.