johnny June 2nd, 2009
One thing the east coast has that you don’t have much of on the west coast is a large number of caving conventions. There just aren’t very many conventions out here, even if the cavers are at least as active. As luck would have it, we stumbled across the Northwest Caving Association Regional. It’s a little coincidental actually, since it changes areas every year. Regardless of all the random factors that could have prevented it, we did find out about the NCAR in time and make it down to Trout Lake, Washington for Memorial Day weekend.
As with every caving convention we’ve been to, the people were awesome. You don’t meet nicer, more down to earth people than cavers. On Saturday, we bummed a ride with members of the Silver Sage Grotto (out of Idaho) where we had a rather massive trip through Butter and Stairwell. I think we had twenty-four people underground at one point, counting the infant strapped to his Dad’s chest.
There were still a few interesting ice formations lingering in Butter, but they won’t be around much longer with the weather warming up. The nice thing about ice formations is that they grow back the next year, even if people do damage them.
Stairwell was more of a sport cave. The same two dozen-ish people went in, but there were a couple of crossovers that kept us from being right on top of each other as we were inside of Butter. One interesting feature of Stairwell was the ‘bubble room’. This was an area where lava filled the room twice, resulting in an interesting texture to the walls as the original rock was melted down and smoothed out. It was a short squeeze to get into, but certainly worth the trouble to see such an interesting feature.
Due to a couple of the Silver Sage guys being last out of Stairwell, we ended up having a beer around the truck and talking with one of the locals after everyone had left. He gave us directions to Poacher’s cave and since none of us were caved out yet, we headed over and popped around the cave systems in that area. There were many, many entrances in the area and one large passage that went a half mile or more before we turned back with going passage ahead of us. All in all, we had a pretty full day and Jenn and I didn’t manage to stay up much past dark – missing the big party night.
Sunday, we had an interesting cave planned. We had a group of about ten people, which was much more manageable than the previous day and headed over to Dead Horse. Dead Horse is one of the larger lava tubes in the country and we’d had people trying to scare us away from it since Friday evening. It seems there was concern that the lower entrance was flooded and the upper entrance, or ‘Rat Hole’ was a tight, awkward squeeze that was even tougher to get out of than into.
The Rat Hole turned out to be easier than popular opinion had predicted. We did have one person unable to enter due to body size, but everyone else got in without too much trouble. We actually had a couple of first time cavers on the trip and ended up getting creative halfway through the cave. At one point, we realized we had someone without a headlamp who was carrying a maglite! Mid-cave, we did some impromptu outfitting and got him a head lamp and some clips to hold it on his helmet.
Towards the bottom of the cave, one of our group seemed to be getting mildly hypothermic. Understandable, as he was wearing a T-shirt and shorts and had been crawling across a rather damp floor in a cave that was a little chilly. Once again, the group managed to take care of itself. We improvised a thermal suit from a large garbage bag, got him something to put between butt and cold rocks and got some carbs in him before we turned back.
At the rat hole, everybody got out without too much trouble. Just in case, we’d sent a more experienced caver out first who was giving anyone that needed it a quick tug. At the end of the day, we were all out safe and sound with nothing more than a few scrapes and bruises. Even our new cavers were still raring to go, so we popped into Wicked cave for a few minutes since it was right across the road.
Overall, NCAR was a blast and we were happy to make a caving convention this summer. We’d been expecting to miss them all as there aren’t very many west coast conventions and we can’t be in Alaska and at all the east conventions at the same time. We made some new friends and now we’ll have a few more people we’ll have to pop in and visit when we want to go caving out west!
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