Friday, October 24, 2008


My appreciation to everyone who came to see photos on Tuesday night - thanks for listening.  And thanks to those supporting sometimes out of sight.  And thanks to the Potters for that outrageous wild afterparty.  
More soon.


Thursday, October 16, 2008

Pilgrim Photo Show

I'll be showing photos of and talking about last year's travel on Tuesday 21 October at 7pm in the Gailor basement. The photo above was taken at just this time of year in 2007 under the Hunter's Moon in Bavaria. The Fagus sylvatica beeches beneath the glider wings aren't in the shot, but those flaming colors remind me of what we have coming here in Sewanee.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Please don't say it.

Saturday morning was all about chopping ropes. There's an inborn sickening twitch that even mildly vertically-experienced people feel when a knife gets too close to a climbing rope. Nine millimeter static line, fat supple dynamic rope, measuring, slicing, burning. When you pull the blade through the tape and the sheath, twinning the core in a razor nanosecond, like butter, some part of your stomach's memory hits your feet in anticipation of the wooshing fall that such lifeline vandalism would surely cause if you were hanging from it.

Sounds kind of like the McCain healthcare plan.

We were actually splitting long sections of rope in Stephen's yard and cauterizing the ends with a coleman. He needed an assortment of shorter sections for rigging the two caves we attempted this weekend.

Somewhere 500 feet beneath contented P-trail hikers, there is a certain hole in the ground, which we shall refer to as ''the-hole-which-must-not-be-named.'' It's an amazing thin twisting underground creek with pots and bowls in sandy limestone, in the dark. Most bends are a squeeze, most squeezes require bending. And that funny limestone is sharp. The water has been down, thanks to drought, but that only makes a bad thing a little less bad.

The entrance is a gap in the roof of an overhang, boobytrapped below with a pit of sharp rocks. You can get halfway there by skirting the rim around the trap, but you're still 15 feet below where you want/don't want to be. Formerly waterfall, now chilly trickle. Stephen and the legendary Marion Smith last made it in there on the back of a log ramp propped strategically above the nether. This log is now 14 years old and very soggy. "Here, put all your weight on this," said he.

The whole thing came crashing down in two pieces. One wumped its waterlogged mass onto my chest for a rock-dork-tree sandwich, and the other tried to kick Stephen into the hole by whacking him just north of the coccyx. Miraculously, no one suffered even a ruptured spleen. We decided to stick-clip the aging bolt and prolong the inevitable.

We gained the antechamber of the cave, and Stephen rigged it while I dragged more rope and a bag to the second major obstacle. "When we pass this crawl, there have been more people on the surface of the moon than in the room at the end," he said.

Remember that part in the Shawshank Redemption where Tim Robbins crawls 8 miles through a half-full sewer pipe towing a bag tied to his shoe, stopping to wretch every ten feet? Like that.

Mercy descended, and the room at the end was tall, and dry, but cold. The next bit of passage we meant to rig required a relatively easy 35-foot free climb. I got most of the way up and realized that if I plummeted shivering the last 25 feet, my body would never leave 'the-hole-which-must-not-be-named' - and lost my nerve. In shame, we left the ropes there for a try on a luckier day.

Too bad we left the hooks there too, because that's exactly what Stephen needed on his waterfall the next day. After rigging the first few bits of a different cave, he started the climb a slick mostly dry waterfall, about 50 feet. Cams and aiders, lassos, and a hand-belay got him about 10 feet off the deck. He was hanging out over another pit of sharp rocks, this time slightly cushioned by a thin pool of water. He called in the artillery, der Boschammer Annihilator. Limestone was drill perforated, and a bolt hanger inserted. This got him another 6 feet higher to where he could possibly reach a mantle.

He had been on there for about half an hour, and suddenly mumbled something impatient and started climbing fast above his anchor, flat out going for it. From where I was, he looked like a scared lemur in a red jumpsuit. A few hero hoists later he was on top, miraculously. I saw a headlamp peek back down to the coil of ropes where I was standing with the now useless belay line I had trimmed the day before. The static rope came down for me to follow.

We shot some funny pictures, and installed a new anchor making that leery waterfall into child's play for whomever wanted to tempt el Diablo next. I asked him what he was thinking when he finally sprinted for the top. Well, he was hanging there, scared of the last leg of the climb, dithering, overthinking, and finally told himself that if he died, at least 'she-who-must-not-be-named' would never be his president. The odds seemed good, so he went for it.

For years, I've been trying to get onto my dad's health insurance* policy. He says his policy is 'don't get hurt.' That might not work for very much longer. On Wednesday, we're going back to 'the-hole-which-must-not-be-named' so I can climb the rest of it. It worked for Stephen, so I might as well try thinking of 'she-who-must-not-be-named.' The cave's name is, seriously, "The Most Horrible Thing Ever." Her name is "Sarah Palin." Oh well. If I die, at least she won't ever be my president.

*we don't have any.