Mammoth Cave Restoration Camp
Aug. 1-7, 2004
by Preston Forsythe, NSS 14161 LF and Shari Forsythe NSS 24794
"Out Of The Lowest Depths There Is A Path To The Loftiest Height," Thomas Carlyle
Vanderbilt Hall is a key staging and work area for the week long camp. Here on April 6, 1907, the Chancellor of Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee, dedicated this alcove on the side of today's main Historic Tour route. This dedication event along with the above quotation is inscribed on a 2 feet x 6 feet x 1 ½ inch thick piece of slate. Later, this area was a men's rest room. A true fact. Today it is the Chop Shop for our camp.
Sunday, Aug. 1st - Fourty cavers from as far away as Oregon , Wisconsin, Vermont and Florida assembled at Maple Springs International Science Center. We were surprised to see the improvements the Park Service had made to the complex: new tile floors and new couches in the buildings, a new large gravel parking lot, and best of all a relaxing patio. This was to be our home for the week. Everett had his popup camper to sleep in but the others took advantage of the A/C rooms and comfortable beds.
Monday, Aug. 2nd - A couple of days earlier w/o any warning or any heavy local rainfall, the Green River had risen 8 feet suddenly. There must have been a storm upstream. So we temporarily postponed our main project of tearing apart and removing the creosote boardwalk along Echo River, as the water level was only inches below the wood and the place was especially slippery. Since we had several new members at the camp Larry Matiz gave us an interesting classic tour of Main Cave, down behind Giant's Coffin and on to Vanderbilt Hall. We then hauled previously cached feed sacks of wood to the base of the Historic Entrance steps. At noon we took our usual one hour lunch break. The group then drove over to the Collin's Home. The Park Service had recently repaired the gaping hole in the roof where the chimney had fallen in. This was wonderful news. The old home of the most famous caver in the world, Floyd Collins, still needs more stabilization, many coats of paint, and foundation work to name a few things. It is satisfying to report progress is being made. We hope that in the future a fund will be started from caver and park service donations to maintain this home. But, this afternoon our contribution to the upkeep was to remove 25 old moldy, rotten mattresses CRF had used. I slept in that house on those mattresses many times and so did many other cavers, but to the dumpster they went. That night Patty and Shawn, our chefs for the week, prepared a delicious Chicken Cordon Bleu. Later we enjoyed the new patio and some watched caving movies in the dining room.
Tuesday, Aug. 3rd - Today we did the El Ghor "Death March." We may have walked 8-9 miles inside the cave. In through the Carmichael Entrance, to the Snowball Dining Room and on via El Ghor and Silliman Ave. to Cascade Hall. The work involved hauling electrical fixtures from this old abandoned tourist route to the base of the elevator near Snowball. This junk must have added up to 3 or 4 tons. Those ballasts and cables are heavy. By 3 P.M. we were on our way to tour Dogwood Cave and Adwell Cave on or near the Hamilton Valley property of the CRF. Thanks to Pat Kambesis for letting us tour those wonderful small caves. That night we feasted on prime rib and chocolate sundaes. During the day, Karen Kennedy, a doctor in our group, aided a tourist who had slipped and hurt her arm near the Snowball Dining Room. Half an hour earlier another heavyset tourist had also fallen and broken or sprained his ankle. The Park is not responsible for injuries as the people are warned of the conditions before adventuring into the cave. The Park cannot refuse to sell a tourist a ticket even if they feel that the person is too out of shape to handle the tour. Not long ago one tourist took the Park to court because the tourist said he had slipped on ice. A cadre of guides with decades of experience in the cave had to go to court to testify that the average temperature varied from 54 to 57 degrees and there was no ice anywhere in the cave.
Wednesday, Aug. 4th - This was the Echo River boardwalk demolition day. The river was 6 ft below the boardwalk. Can you believe the river level fluctuates that fast. At least 7 cavers, lead by Kevin Betz, worked at the end of the bridge. Many others hauled boards first to Lake Lethe Rise, a staging area, then on further to the Chop Shop. The work at the Chop Shop was lead by Craig and Beth. Here there is electricity available to run the two electric chain saws to cut the timbers which can weigh up to 120 lbs into bagged manageable loads of 20-25 lbs. Everyone was busy. Dana did take time out to show us Stephan Bishop's signature not far behind the Hall. I speculate that Stephan was exploring low passage and left his mark before continuing his search in another direction that lead to his greatest discovery-Mammoth Dome. Next door to Vanderbilt in another alcove which was once the old women's restroom, is the signature of Leo Hunt, 1928. That night Rick Sanders, a seasonal ranger, entertained us with story telling. I must say he pulled us right into the mind's eye.
Thursday, Aug. 5th - Another day down at Echo River. Over the two days we disassembled 50-60 ft. of boardwalk. It started at 1500 ft. 5 years ago and now only 100 ft. remains. By the end of the day all the tools were removed from the river level and many bags of wood had been stacked at the base of the Mammoth Dome Steel Tower. In the afternoon the group went down the side passage off of River Hall, known as Carlos Way. This had been a breakout I helped explore and survey with CRF around 1974-75. One passage lead to the floor of Bottomless Pit. This was pure excitement. Here we were at the bottom of Bottomless Pit! The purpose was of course to clean up the cave's most famous Wishing Well. Many picked up a dozen or so coins and a small amount of trash. Later we showed Sean Ryan from Jersey City the Sand Cave. Then, it was another great meal at Maple Springs and more patio time.
Friday, Aug. 6th - We carried and wheel barrowed 639 bags of creosote wood out of the cave and loaded them into the park dump truck. This was 3 truck loads hauled to the dumpster. My estimation of 25 lbs/avg. bag x 639 bags = 8 tons. What an effort! That afternoon in a short recon for passages that may need our clean up attention, I spotted Gorin's signature, circa 1815. He was an early owner of the cave, and possibly the white father of Stephan . That night the Park Service volunteer office had a fish dinner catered for us. This was followed by a celebration awards party by Rick Olson and Roy Vanhoozer.
On Sat. there were a couple of educational reward trips, a short and a longer trip. That night a lucky 12 cavers were lead by George Corrie in through the New Discovery Entrance to see Paradise. Only a few people each year are taken in New Discovery. This is one of the best decorated sections of the cave.
I am sorry that I have not been able to mention everyone's name in this write-up. Special note should be made to Bonnie and her artfully done camp T-shirts. The ESSO Grotto of Eastern Ky. and southern Ohio had the largest number of cavers represented at the camp. This is an excellent way to see Mammoth and help the cave out. By the way do you know the Wild Cave Tour now costs $46/caver. Look how much you save by coming to camp. And, to top it off gas and food costs are reimbursed under a grant from the National Park Service to the NSS. An excellent week of caving. Next camp is the weekend of Nov. 6-7, 2004.
I'll leave you with this quote from the sign at Houchins Narrows.
The Twilight Zone
You are journeying from the light to dark, descending into a sunless world where the weather is changeless, and time seems frozen. This is the middle ground between light and dark.
Or as Johan Ragner of Wisconsin said, "It takes a little bit of adjusting to get used to the above ground world. Life is much less complicated underground!
See you again real soon-underground.