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Caving 1-20-07

January 20th, 2007

Sharp's Cave

Seven of us - Alastair Firth, Colin McCabe, Michael Jehn, Jeff Stylos, Matt Brewer, Eric Schwelm, and one other person whose name we cannot remember (sorry!) - headed down to West Virginia for an overnighter caving trip. We stayed in our own cabin at the Thorne Springs Campground near the town of Franklin. The cabin was fairly clean and comfortable, but we discovered the rather unfortunate reality that its kitchen contained no silverware or dishware of any kind. On Saturday morning, we shared a tasty breakfast of cooked pasta and sauce, improvising in the dish department by, among other things, cutting cardboard energy bar boxes into bowls and using upside - down cooking pot lids as plates, with pocket knives as effective stand-ins for forks. We set out for the cave sometime around noon and arrived in a few hours. The entrance to Sharp's Cave is totally hidden on a hillside in a heavily wooded area - and the heavily wooded area was heavily covered in snow. From the road where we parked the cave entrance was totally invisible; unless one knew where the mouth of Sharp's Cave is located, one would drive right by without ever suspecting that such a fascinating place is tucked away in the forest just a few hundred yards away. It took us a while to find it, roaming around through the woods until someone finally saw the steam issuing from what turned out to be a very narrow hole in solid sandstone that dropped straight down into a black abyss. There was a wreath next to the entrance hole which had many of us wondering whether someone had died inside the cave, adding a slightly unsettling tone to the moment. (We learned later that it was simply a memorial for a person whose death had nothing to do with the cave, but who had loved the place in life.) We lowered ourselves into the narrow shaft and found ourselves at the top of a fairly steep decline which widened away from us.

It's impossible to remember now, but we must have spent at least three or four hours in the cave. The temperature, at a steady 50 degrees or so, was incredibly comfortable, and in fact seemed a little hot and stuffy after we'd all been climbing and crawling so strenuously. This cave featured few remarkable mineral deposits or geological wonders, but its very geography was fascinating and full of surprises. The sheer scale of the cave's network of rooms and passages was impressive. There were extremely tight passages and crawlways, cavernous rooms like subterranean lobbies of rock and mud, flowing streams, waterfalls, and magnificent rock formations. The cave was also populated by hundreds of hibernating bats clinging to the ceilings and walls. Their fur was covered with countless tiny droplets of water which, illuminated by our headlamps, appeared almost like sequined capes. (I joked that they looked like Liberace - King of Bling!) At one point near the end of our adventure, there was some disagreement as to where exactly we were, standing at the bottom of a waterfall chamber; but thankfully it was resolved quickly when enough of us collectively determined that we'd been through the same area before and that we were not, in fact, lost. When we got back outside, the shock of reemerging into winter from a comparatively temperate environment was a bit strange. We all changed out of our muddy caving clothes next to the cars just before sunset, and were presentable enough to stop at a decent family restaurant for dinner on the way back to Pittsburgh.

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