From 0 to 80 in 24 Hours

March 10-11, 2007

The best laid plans are still subject to nature’s whims. Dave Duguid had assembled two teams of experienced surveyors willing to brave the Funnel Tunnel in Hancock Cave for the expected booty on the far side. Our December survey had indicated that we’d have lots of leads to survey through major maziness. Such was not our fate.

Bob Alderson, Gordon Bolt, and Matt Jenkins formed one team while Dave and Joe Fortuna joined me. The six of us arrived at the Funnel Tunnel to find water pouring from it. There was no air space at all in the low part. After some stream clearage there may have been an inch of air at the lowest part. It hadn’t rained or snowed all week, but the Funnel Tunnel flowed full charge. Gordon speculated that some of the Funnel Tunnel’s flooding likely reflects seasonal changes rather than just weather changes. Maybe winter snowmelt had finally thawed and trickled down Walker Mountain from near the top.

This left me with the difficult task of figuring out what else the teams could do. My team had vertical gear in the cars with them, but the others did not. My survey notes for the near side of the Funnel Tunnel had been left at Tanya’s house in Marion. I sat down and concocted a plan that avoided letting Gordon and Matt leave the cave to see the pretty weather outside.

Bob, Gordon, and Matt headed for Not-in-the-Face and You-Don’t-Know-Jack Pits, places where vertical gear can be more of a hindrance than an aid. They had digging tools, a bag of assorted vertical supplies, and two leads to survey. Dave, Joe, and I chose to exit the cave, retrieve vertical gear and a cable ladder for the others, despoil my first rope, and head for Hickory Dickory Pit.

Dave and I descended the pit while Joe listened to our gruntings. The pit drop is more a series of lips than any free pit. At the bottom of the drop, we found a mud wall that I dug my way up to get into the passage. I had never been down there before, and I finally understood why Linda Andrews had sketched the passages down there in such a strange way: they all overlap one another. It was very pretty and remained pristine, so I worked hard to avoid making muddy tracks across the formations. I was able to determine that the area really had no remaining leads, a fact that I was pretty sure about but unable to totally discern from the three-dimensional nature of the sketch. I applaud the survey efforts by that group through twisty, muddy passages with undisturbed formations.

The climb over all of the Hickory Dickory lips with a stiff, muddy rope was a real challenge for me and my ropewalker. When I reached the top, the steam I generated became so thick that Joe and Dave lost visual contact just ten feet apart.

Our next hurdle was the Whine Cellar. Dave yo-yoed it three times until he convinced himself that the right way was definitely that tight hole where the rope naturally dropped. When Dave got to the bottom, Joe was sure that he heard Dave’s voice from the direction of the Toilet Bowls. Joe found Dave below him in that four-inch crack that only Linda Waters will fit through. Not even Joe could climb down that, and so we knocked those off as potential leads. No new survey but useful notes to help complete the map.

The other team managed to survey one of the leads at the base of Not-in-the-Face Pit during that time. Sixty grueling feet down an additional pit. We found them giggling about the connection over to their other lead. Matt and Gordon seemed unwilling/unable to make the connection. Eventually their team joined us outside.

The next day took us to Rowland Springs Cave. Tanya McLaughlin, Dave Duguid, and I surveyed beginning at the upper entrance to the cave while the underground screech owl surveyed us from his perch. He was quite safe halfway up the wall, among the thirty-foot high flowstone formations. I was surprised to see such a well decorated dolomite cave.

The survey began easy, until we discovered passage beneath formations. We surveyed past many rimstone dams and the dolomitic stalactites, marked by their stubbiness. We Sunday-surveyed 336 feet in just over four hours, roughly 80 feet per hour. Meanwhile, Joe had generously watched the stream launder my vertical gear and new rope. Returning to Raleigh with clean gear is always a plus.