Wednesday, April 25, 2012


DiG DUG - Remember that video game? I didn't learn anything from it that works in real life.

The MSS started a dig to clear a passage 10 years ago and I end up on the trip due to some extra phone calls from Josh pulling for me so I make the short list of diggers. Seven in total.

Lets get into the pictures because it's digging dirt, you know how to do that right?

Javier (in yellow) hikes a narrow slot using climbing skills call "chimney"  moves. It's friction climbing in that you use friction to hold yourself in place and not hands and feet. See Josh on the right! That's about the best belly scumming I've ever seen! This crack is vertical, he his not laying on a ledge with his feet hanging. He is holding himself in the air because the slot and his torso are the same size. He worms himself up a few inches at a time with great effort. I follow Josh up the same slot.

This is the top of the slot. We are in a narrow passage about 20 feet above the dig. Our intent is to down climb the other side and dig out while the rest of the team (4) dig in. The slot gets very small and you have to make sure you don't get stuck. My helmet 'sticks' a few times.
We set up a cable ladder and down climb into a the space we need to dig out of to connect with the main passage. These ladders are a little difficult to climb on but the narrow slot makes it better in that you don't swing around but you also can't move and you hang up and 'stick' when you want to 'fall'
I'm  really lucky to be the digger when we break through but I also feel mixed that I didn't spend years digging and others should have been in front at the breakthrough. This is Al, he's a great guy. He and I shake hands through a 5 inch hole before we widened it to the size you see in the picture.
 Javier is very happy, It was his project, I think, and he's been pushing this lead for years.
Al and I not long after the break through. Everyone is electrified with the accomplishment and a small party goes off in the new passage. The 4 diggers from the far side pass the restriction with ease and explore a room only seen by 5 or 6 people before.

Josh and I volunteer to retrieve the cable ladder that was left in place to make sure we could return if the breakthrough failed. We climb the slot and lower the gear and drop the rope so that we don't have to carry anything but it also commits us to returning via the original route which is small and requires us to drop down the small chimney we went up at the start. It's also very wet.

This is Josh squeezing through the last bit. It's muddy, wet and greasy. With the main passage now open, it's possible Josh and I will be the last people to pass this restriction.

Below: Everyone returns to a staging area to change out of the very muddy gear so as to not make a mess of the main passage and the tour route. Note the large formation behind Brian. Looks like a huge cow tongue, right?

Some of the formations on the way to and from the dig site.

 Diggers exit the cave.
And take a few pounds of mud with. You can't avoid getting mud covered. It's kind of fun for the first few hours and then you want to eat and you only have dirty fingers... Good thing I had peanut butter sandwiches. With them getting squashed in my cave pack and the poor light, I couldn't tell what was PB and what was cave mud. :-)
I don't remember putting mud on my face and I know it's not PB.
We need dinner before the long drive home so we run into town and have Mexican food as Los Gables. I think its good value. I'd go back but my beer tab was bigger then my food bill so maybe my priorities are wrong.
 This is my gear.
This is my climbing gear. With this much mud and only using a head lamp, you need to know your gear well. You really do need to know how to do things blind.
 After a good hose down the color returns.
This is much better but  I still check each piece very carefully and inspect for any damage. This harness is only for caving so it can take a bit more abuse because it's unlikely to see a fall. It only needs to hold body weight yet it's a full strength harness so it can take a ton of abuse before I need to replace it.

A short video to end things. This is Josh cleaning out a bucket used to move earth while Javier uses a pry bar to dig.

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