We would arrive in Fayetteville, WV late Thursday night (it was actually more like early Friday morning). Friday, our team had to be at a mandatory safety meeting and check-in at 5:00 p.m. That left a good portion of the day available to us to do whatever we wanted to do. Originally we thought we might rock climb the beautiful New River Gorge, but the rain put an end to that idea. Our adventure would entail driving 80 miles east to visit 2 wild caves.
Members of our Bridge Day Rappel Team, “Good to the Last Drop”, rolled into “Passages to Adventure” all throughout the night. In order to pull off visiting these two caves and being back in time for the mandatory meeting, we would have to force ourselves to get up and be on the road by 6:30 a.m. I was the first person up and started going around scratching on peoples tents. It was funny listening to people’s excuses for not wanting to get up. I quickly rounded up a good portion of our team and we were headed off to the caves.
We quickly passed over the New River Gorge Bridge and got a good feel for just how tall it was. Couldn’t even see the bottom! What were we getting ourselves into! The drive there involved steep grade winding roads. According to the GPS, we had arrived at our first cave, but we didn’t see it. The cave was Roadside Pit and was supposed to be located 4 feet off the road, how convenient! We parked and started looking for it. Jake found it first, and it was definitely roadside, couldn’t have been any closer or it would have been on the road.
The map showed there were several pits and climbs to get to where we wanted to go, which was a big formation room. We took in about 6 ropes, webbing or handlines to make sure we would reach our destination. I had a feeling that most of the pits were free climbable. The cave was about 1 mile in length and 166 feet deep.
The entrance to this pit was a 1’ X 3’ crack which opened up a bit as you rappelled further into it. The bigger boys in the group had some fun trying to squeeze down into the tight entrance crack while on rope. While Jake was on rope, I had secretly raked a pile of leaves and we all grabbed a handful and dumped them into the pit on top of Jake. Somehow a rock had gotten in the pile and hit him on the head. Jake wasn’t happy about that!
As we all made our way down the entrance drop, we all made our way deeper into the cave, somewhat solo. This was quicker since we were short on time and that way people could rig any drops as they came to them and not have to wait around for others to catch up. As I suspected, most of the drops were free climbable. The cave was very vertical; there wasn’t really much of a strolling horizontal passage. It was more like constant climbing up and down. The passage was a good 60 feet tall and 15 feet wide for most of it.
I caught up to some of our group where they were rigging a rope for a non free climbable 25 foot drop. At the bottom of this, was a passage heading off to the right from the main passage. That leads to the big formation room. In the formation room we saw the typical display of soda straws, stalactites and stalagmites. We headed back to the surface from here and made good time on the way out.
We had plenty of time left to walk over and see the second, BIG cave. The cave was about a 15 minute walk. The GPS was leading me in ziz-zags and everyone started looking for the cave and wondering if I knew what I was doing. I knew I had found it when I came across a MASSIVE sink. I can’t describe in words how large it was, but on the topo map it even looked large. At the bottom was the entrance. Nobody else was anywhere near me so I yelled out 3 loud “bows” to let everyone know the entrance had been found and to start heading my way. Everyone quickly made there way to the entrance. Just inside was some HUGE cave passage. It was 200 feet wide and 40 feet tall! We found some neat formations, a couple streams and a waterfall. We headed out and back to Fayetteville with plenty of time before the meeting.
Bridge Day (By: Matt Clifton):
Bridge day is the one day a year that the New River Gorge bridge in WV is closed for one day. On this day, it is legal to BASE jump and rappel off the bridge. The bridge is 876 feet from the catwalk to the water, and about 900 feet from the road to the water. Being somewhat sane, we decided to do the rappel and watch the crazy people BASE jump.
We started by getting registered at Passages to Adventure (the company that was in charge of the rappelling for bridge day). For $100, you got a photo ID for security, a t-shirt and a pen! Following registration, we picked out a campsite that seemed to be less muddy. You see, it had rained all day on Thursday and had rained almost all day on Friday as well. The forecast for Saturday was rain (hence my plans to go climbing while we were there were scraped)
That evening there was a "safety meeting" were we learned about various security precautions that we had to worry about as well as what the setup for the rope would be under the catwalk. I put safety in quotes because the rigging system that we were to use as well as several other safety measures had been changed only about one week prior. The meeting included such things as: "Careful not to let your rope touch the metal of the bridge as it will chew through it very quickly"
"If a BASE jumper happens to hit your rope above you while you are descending (a real possibility), DESCEND LIKE HELL."
This is because you would likely be unable to hold their weight and your own once they hit you. Needless to say, we were all pretty happy about this one.
That night we got little sleep as the nearby group was banging out Midnight Oil and other 80's classics late into the night.
We awoke at 5AM to get breakfast and head to the cars or buses. Most of the team would head to the bridge in their cars, while I took the bus as I would be going to the bottom of the bridge to perform a fireman's belay incase someone lost control during the decent (an interesting task when you consider the amount of rope stretch in ~850 feet).
The sun came up, and with it, the rain started. It continued to rain on and off throughout the day. At the bottom of the rappel, I sat under the bridge with Tymme (another team member) waiting for the rope to descend. The ropes were organized into pairs: one rope would be upstream (near the BASE jumpers) and the other down stream (away). There were a total of 20 rope teams set up, creating a sort of web of ropes that the BASE jumpers would have to avoid during their decent.
There were several possible landing spots for the ropes to land on, the worst of which was an active railroad track (two teams were actually right near this the whole time, and yes, a train did come through). Our rope descended into a series of trees onto a hillside. After clearing the brush away, and getting hundreds of thorns in my hand, we were ready.
At 9 AM, a loud horn went off, and the first BASE jumper went flying off. Shortly afterwards, some of the rope teams started descending. It took our team quite awhile to get going. We later figured out that this was due to problems in our location. Apparently the rope had to be redirected as not to have it rub on the rusty metal bridge. At about 10AM, the first rappeller on our team descended.
It was interesting to watch someone descend down the ropes. The lines were white and blended into the cloud covered sky. You could see little tiny dots descending that eventually got larger and larger as they approached the ground. One of the drains for the bridge was located right near our drop point as well. As it rained almost all day, some of the team was drenched with sheets of rain from the drain pipe.
After the first couple of people came down, I headed up to the catwalk to get ready to rappel. There was a bus that took you up the very curvy road to the top of the bridge. The best part was that the bus would not make some of the turns, have to back up, and then try again.
When getting to the top, we walked over to the "security" area where they checked our photo badges, and let us climb down a ladder to the waiting area. The catwalk itself is a long 2 foot wide metal walkway that goes underneath the bridge. It is made of a metal mesh, and has supporting cross bars underneath it. Occasionally on the bridge, there are trap doors that access ladders underneath the catwalk. We were told to be really careful about these, as people may be going into or coming out of them to photograph the rappelers and BASE jumpers.
The catwalk is a very crowded place. Each of the 20 teams can have up to 4 people on the catwalk at a time, plus each team has a safety coordinator on the catwalk. The ropes are not that far apart, and therefore people are constantly bumping into each other. On top of that, I had to pass 14 other rope teams to get to the top of our rappel line (there ain’t nothin' wrong, with a little bump n' grind).
Once at the top, I waited for my turn, and eventually the safety
coordinator let me onto the rope. For the decent, we were required to use brake racks which are a series of bars used to create friction on the decent. I started the decent, and worked my way through the web of metal beams supporting the bridge. Then I was suddenly away from the bridge all together. It had stopped raining at this point, and I could see for miles up and down the river.
Parachute canopies were opening around me, and all I could think about was, "if a BASE jumper hits your line, descend like hell." Not very comforting now that I was 100 feet in on an 850 foot rappel. I decided that I should instead hum the theme song to "Take it to the Limit."
About halfway down, I slowed for a second to think: I was over 400 feet from the bridge, over 400 feet from the bottom, and those were the nearest things to me. It was a very foreign feeling indeed. In rock climbing, you are always using your feet on the wall, and on occasion, you bounce away from the rock for a few feet. Never 850 feet. I reached the bottom after about 5 minutes and enjoyed the stability of ground.
A few more people in our party made descents, but shortly afterwards, high winds and rain started yet again. Due to safety concerns, they had to close the rappel early. Luckily, everyone on our team got to make at least one decent.
After this, we went to watch the BASE jumpers, who continued to jump when the winds and the rain slowed down. This was a fascinating thing to watch. They had erected a large take off platform from witch they had placed two diving boards. One was actually springy (like the ones you see in a pool). People would take turns jumping off one of the two boards, fly towards the ground, and eventually open their chutes. New BASE jumpers would start with their opening chute in their hands and throw it out almost immediately, while the more experience (or crazy) jumpers would wait for what seemed like an eternity before opening their chutes. Some of the more crazy people would also perform tricks on their decent; slow rotating flips, spins, and long 300+ foot swan dives. It was spectacular! It made me want to BASE jump right away (of course, I then remembered how dangerous it was and put those emotions aside). Their landing was a small boat pull out. In years past, they had a large sandbar, but the water levels were 7 feet higher than normal, and that landing was gone. The skilled (or lucky) jumpers landed on a flour circle that was painted in the pull out. Unlucky people landed in the trees (at least 3 people did this) or in the water (50+ people did this). They had a series of boats racing around all day picking up the jumpers out of the water.
The most interesting jump of the day was done by two people connected with a bungee cord. The two jumpers got on opposite diving boards, with a long rope/bungee cord between them. The first jumper went, and shortly there after release their canopy. The second jumper was then pulled off the diving board, free fell, and then bungeed off the first person (whose canopy was now opened). After coming to rest, the second person released the bungee, did an additional free fall, and then opened their own canopy, and second later, landed on the ground. Remember, the bridge is only ~900 feet high, any mistakes would have been disastrous if not fatal. Talking to other BASE jumpers on the bridge, they told me that they thought these people were insane. I had to agree.
There were no injuries for the rappelers, although, there was at least one close call in which someone descended out of control from ~800 feet, only to be stopped 50 feet from the ground by fireman belay. The BASE jumpers were not as lucky. There was a series of six ambulances at the bottom of the jump. From time to time, an ambulance would leave, and another one would arrive shortly after. In talking to the BASE jumpers, I learned that no one had dies, but that anyone that hit the trees was seriously injured. I watched the last jumper of the day get carried off on a back board.
That night, we spent the evening with the 80's rockers, eating, drinking, and enjoying the large fire (you had to be at least 20 feet away from it or you would melt).
Overall, we all had a great time, and although the safety conditions were not optimal, it is a great life experience to have.
White Water Rafting (By: Nate Newkirk):
The weather was exceptionally cold this weekend. I had made a VERY important observation while taking a shower the previous day. The shower room was heated! That night I secretly snuck up to the showers with my sleeping bag and pad. I slept very well that night. When I awoke, I noticed that a few other people had the same idea.
We had to get up super early again (5 a.m.). I may have over slept slightly and no one knew where I went to wake me up. I made it up and on the bus just in time.
Everyone was on the bus wearing their helmets, wetsuits and holding their paddles upright. It was as if we were going to war, quite humorous. In reality, we WERE going to WAR! I had never done class 5 white water rapids before. I was starting to wonder if this was such a good idea or not. The guide then spoke out to everyone, “Turn to whoever talked you into going on this trip and slap them, these rapids are class 5, ranked 8th in the world”. Oh great! I’m going to die! He asked how many of us had been rafting before. He then asked if we were taught that when you fall out, to float down stream, feet first with your thumbs up. He said, “Forget that! This is the Upper Gauley, your gonna have to swim HARD to the banks until you have leaves and sticks in your hands”.
The bus pulled up to the dam and the start of our rafting trip down the Upper Gauley. We were assigned a raft and guide. Onward to the river!
Starting out, it was pretty fun and everyone was impressed with the rapids. I had a feeling that these were nothing compared to what was up ahead. The guide later confirmed that.
“Gotcha!”, I turned around and see Brandon overboard! The guide had grabbed ahold of him and was pulling him back in. Here is the funny part: They were only class 1 rapids!!! Haha…
We were approaching our first set of class 5 rapids. I learned an important lesson, DON’T GO RAFTING IF YOUR SIBLING IS THE GUIDE! Our guide’s sister was on our raft and during our class 5 rapids was tossed off the rapids during a HARD HIT! She went airborn up over me and hit the water. She was instantly sucked underwater. Eventually, she popped back up 3 seconds later. Coincidence? That the only person that fell out was the guide’s sister; I’ll let you decide…
The river we were going down is now combining with another river. The guide explains that things are going to get intense. The rapids up ahead are treacherous and we would have to listen to his commands and execute them precisely. Getting flipped here would be very bad. We started into the rapids and all hell broke loose. The raft was going underwater, water was flying into our faces, couldn’t see, breath, we would hit holes, pop back up, pure craziness!
We FINALLY, pulled off to a shore to eat lunch. The reason I say “FINALLY” is because DAMN-IT I had to piss, like a race horse. It’s always fun taking off the entire wetsuit practically just to relieve oneself. We were also pretty hungry so it was nice to fill up on some “soggy” sandwiches and cookies. Yeah, apparently the guides food containers aren’t totally waterproof.
There was still some pretty fun and hard hitting rapids left in the trip. Guides are pretty good at judging how to hit a particular hole. He told us to watch up ahead at another raft. He was predicting that the guide was going to flip them. Indeed, the raft hit the hole and flipped everyone out of the raft.
The trip was over as we rowed into the banks. We then had to hike up a pretty long trail to get to where the bus was. Mark Spark’s girlfriend asked me to unzip part of her upper wetsuit. That was interesting! She said I was a pro at it…
Cold beer was waiting at the top for anyone interested in indulging.
Pictures from this trip