Thursday, March 20, 2008

Day Six

Today was, by far, our best day yet. We got up from our pee-scented sheets, packed our bags again, and started driving towards Organ Cave. When we got there, we signed away our souls on a waiver form, pulled on some gloves, knee pads, and hardhats, and headed underground. Our guide, a wonderful man named David, walked us through the historical parts of Organ Cave, explaining some of the cavern's history and showing us where they found the fossil of the giant sloth now on display in the Smithsonian. And then it was time to go off-trail!

As our one and only wild caving experience, we were bound and determined to make the most of it. We didn't have to try very hard. As soon as we hopped the fence and turned on our helmet lights, we were in a whole different atmosphere. We hopped over some rocks and crossed the stream flowing through the cave about fifteen times. We alternated scrambles up piles of fallen rock, balancing on some rather thin ledges over the (and you can take my word for it!) freezing cold water, and finally came to what David affectionately called "The Rock Slide". Basically, we slid down 10 feet of muddy rock and dropped about 4 feet straight down at the bottom, landing us safely in - you guessed it - more mud. We crawled through some rather tight passages, including one called the "Small Straddle," in which we - as you can imagine by the name - straddled a gap that averaged about 11 inches in width, and maxed out around two feet. Dylan had some problems with his knee pad, but David staged a rescue mission and retrieved it. We crawled, climbed and slid for about another 45 minutes after all of that, and we finally reached Sally's Waterfall.

We sort of half-rappelled the 8 or 9 feet down to the bottom of the ravine, and played around in about 3 inches of thick, red clay. Then the fun part started. Getting back out of the ravine proved nearly impossible, as the rope we were supposed to use had mysteriously disappeared. Our guide managed to wriggle his way up through a secondary passage, but when we tried to do the same it ended in a spectacular failure. I got stuck, Lisbit couldn't maneuver her body high enough to get a fair chance, and Dylan had a combination of both problems, which culminated in him falling backwards and landing on his bottom. David finally had pity and pulled us up in place of the rope (I tipped him very well, this was no small feat!) and we started to work our way back towards the entrance, where we had more crawls, rolls, and even a few climbs, culminating in a repeat of the main passage.

We emerged almost a full 3 hours after we started, sore, breathless, covered from head to toe in mud, and completely exhilarated. After changing, doing a fair bit of speeding (sorry parents!), rushing through a shower and scrub in our Staunton, VA hotel, and getting a little bit lost, we made it to our American Shakespeare Company production of The Witch, by Middleton. Much in the spirit of The Merchant of Venice, it's a comedy disguised as a tragedy. The actors were brilliant, the Blackfriars Theatre (in the round!) was gorgeous, and we laughed for about 2 and a half hours. Really, it was the perfect way to end an exemplary day.

Blah blah blah, and a good time was had by all! Tomorrow we're meeting Brice and touring a few more Virginia caves, and then we're all off for Easter! Hopefully more pictures will be coming -- you still haven't seen Mammoth -- and, after 'Bit pestered me a little, the blog now accepts anonymous comments. So, have at it!

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