Another two months pass, another survey trip to Cassell. Bob Zimmerman and I arrived late Friday night and found the normally quiet town of Durbin much changed. Glittering Ferris Wheels and funnelcake stands occupied the empty field between the depot and the campground down by the river. Apparently Durbin Days was in full swing. A country band played on a small stage and various folks were getting thrown around by an honest-to-god mechanical bull. By the performances of the people I saw, it must be a great deal harder than it looks! We retired across the street to the Durbin Outfitters where we crashed variously on the floor of Frank Proud's B&B or out on the porch.
It was a small group this time what with the NSS convention and various other summer goings on; only ten of us made the trip out. Charles Kahn and Stan Carts had a hankering to work on the surface dig Charles and Dave West had started on last time. The remaining eight of us girded up and rapped down the refreshingly dry pit. Our goal was to head down the little-explored North Branch from the Pit as far as the Big Room. Two vertical teams (Lew Carrol and Barry Horner, myself and Pete Penczer) would work on rigging the numerous high leads in the area and look for the several going passages in the area. The remaining crew (Miles Drake, Bob Zimmerman, Andy Yeagle, and Patrick Newman) would survey all available passage and help ferry the drills, bolt kits, ropes and other implements of destruction.
First up was 300-plus feet of belly crawling through the aptly named Miseries but it soon openned up and we cruised through 1500 feet of huge trunk passage in short order. We poked around for a bit getting the lay of the land. Three waterfalls entered the area all of which lead to apparent passage. In addition, there were perhaps half a dozen high leads on the east and west sides of the Big Room. Lew and Barry bolted their way up the first waterfall and found it to be a small, dead-end alcove.
Pete and I found a series of three high leads near the second waterfall which looked promissing. A bit of free climbing left us an overhung six feet below the first of these holes. One bolt and an ettrier let me scramble up in. What should I see but a small virgin alcove which lead up in two directions. To the left, a climb over a boulder lead to a small ledge high on the wall with some soda straws, but nothing else of great interest. To the right, a narrow passage lead about ten feet to the second of the openning we'd spied from below.
While Pete messed with his drill (a lovely Hilti hammerdrill which could sink a three-inch hole in solid rock in under a minute), I checked out the free-climbing options. The second waterfall emanated from a lovely openning blocked by a large column. A very sketchy ledge lead out to it from the left. I skirted out on loose material to a couple of exciting underclings. With some rather fancy footwork and very alert nerves, I traversed under a large block (about 20' off the ground) and found myself next to the column from which the second waterfall fell. Beyond the column was a large bathtub-sized pool of water about two feet deep and quite clear. The walls were fairly smooth and quite steep. Beyond this were about four more of these oval pools with steep sides connected by narrow streams. Looked sort of like a string of sausages. Perhaps this was the "Bratwurst Passage" we'd been looking for.
Lew and Barry at this point had headed for the Skeleton Dome area to rig a couple more climbs and traverses. They later appeared at two of the high, eastern leads and reported that they connected to the Skeleton Dome through some pretty tight crawls.
Pete put in three bolts on the traverse and we began the lengthy process of rigging a safety line across the hairy terrain I'd soloed. At length, we pushed into the Bratwurst and found that the pools ended in a large one and a 4' waterfall. The rest of the passage was wide, low and looked quite wet. Another option was a squeeze up to the left avoiding some glorious soda straws and a rather wet floor littered with intact, fallen speleothems. Clearly, this place hasn't been visitted much. Gorgeous!
The completed bolt climb up the third waterfall (Medville Falls). Photo from 11-01 trip.
We didn't get everything done we'd wanted to, but most of the passages are rigged. Next time, hopefully we can finish the 3rd Waterfall climb with a fresh battery. Bob wants to haul transmitters in for the radiolocation team on the surface to nail down the positions of the North and South Branch passages. Much will have to be done in September. Until then...
The Wilderness Journal