maandag 29 december 2008

Thanksgiving with the Cave Research Foundation (CRF) at the Lava Beds National Monument

Wednesday 26th of November: Will and I were packing our caving and camping gear for the first time since we've arrived in the States! We were not sure what to take; other country, other habits ... Will H - who spent the night at our place that evening to make logistics easier - luckily gave us some tips.

Next morning - Thanksgiving Day - we took BART to Oakland (across the San Francisco Bay) where Brad picked us up in a rental car. We set off on an ~ 8 hour journey North, almost into Oregon. On the way we got some interesting insights in rocket technology, Mormon life and California geology and had a great view of the snow topped Mount Shasta from a little town called Weed ...

Around 17 h we arrived in the RC (Research Center or was it Recreational Center?! ;-)) and met the already present cavers from as many as 4 caving clubs: SFBC, Diablo, Mother Lode and the Shasta Area Grotto! We made some food and had some delicious chicken with veggies generously shared with us by Frank, Iris and James.

At about 20 h, it was time to go out into the cold and acquaint ourselves with the lava landscape. Will H. took us to Indian Well, the cosily lighted Mushpot Cave which is a developed (as in 'made easily accessible to the public with paved floor and plaques to explain the different features') lava tube and then searching for Lava Brook and / or Thunderbolt caves. We never found them (GPS's!), but stumbled upon Sentinel Cave, one of the larger and very interesting lava tubes with at least four superimposed levels; almost like a real cave!

The next morning Bruce - our trip leader together with Pat - had a serious announcement. This Thanksgiving CRF (Cave Research Foundation) trip marked the 20th anniversary of exploration in the area. To celebrate this event, we had to make sure to keep in mind the most important goal of the day: "YOU MUST HAVE FUN!"; which meant we could do some "course familiarisation" (i.e. be a "tourist") and explore Mammoth Cave, another of the bigger lava tubes with almost 2.5 km in passages. It is probably the only muddy lava tube around here and we were promised tons of mud. It turned out not to be that bad after all thanks to a relatively dry period preceding our visit. Upon request everybody was back around 16 h at the RC to start preparing for the Thanksgiving potluck dinner, which included the traditional turkey, a roast ham and a plethora of side dishes and desserts. It was a great evening and - just like the turkey - we all got really really stuffed!

The following day Will and I took off with Shane - who is the Park Ranger responsible for the caves -, Cyndi and Brad to the Big Nasty. We had been warned thoroughly about the Big Nasty: extremely uneven terrain due to expanded and then collapsed surfaces, snakes - luckily not so much in this time of the year - and prickly bushes all over which force you to crawl on hands and knees to get through. Although somewhat intimidated Will and I decided to go through with it and it proved to be a very good and productive day. An hour and a half walk bushwhacking led by Shane's gps brought us to promising territory and we managed to topograph 16 survey points (which is a good score apparently since you have to measure every station back and forth due to the lava's interference with the natural magnetic field) and still going before we had to go home. (You don't want to be out in the Big Nasty after dark, mountain lions all over!) Back in the RC, Brian took us to the Northeastern corner of the Monument for a visit of the Petroglyphs and in the evening we had another great meal: delicious soup made with turkey stock, an exquisite Oriental Style noodle dish and Italian pasta.

On Sunday morning, Will², Brad an I had to leave to be back in town by the evening, but not before getting to the top of Schonchin Butte. Will & Will, fighting over who would get to be addressed as Will and which one of them had to take on a pseudonym decided to have a contest ... first to the top ... The previous record set by Beej was 10.5 minutes. They managed to get it down to 8.5 minutes. I'll leave you to ask Will and Will who actually won ...

We decided to go back to San Francisco by the scenic route passing through nice landscapes and through the cute little town of Adin where we had an artisanal smoked hamburger sandwich. Further down the road we had some more fun playing around with some stones and around 20 h Brad safely dropped us off again at the Oakland BART station. Pity we couldn't stay longer in Lava Beds ... but it was a great trip to start our US caving career with and we'll be back! ;-)

Find some pictures here and check out Brad's video here (I hope)

maandag 22 december 2008

Volcano trip

Dag Spekulozen,

hieronder het verslag door John Tinsley van onze trip naar Volcano, een klein onooglijk dorpje in het El Dorado - oftewel Goudland - van California. Tonnen grond zijn hier weggespoten geweest op zoek naar goudklompjes, en er valt nog steeds goud te vinden! Wij waren echter op zoek naar iets anders: grotten ...

Fotokes zijn te vinden hier en bij coco.

Groetjes uit frosty Philadelphia,
Will & Joke

Volcano Area Novice Caving Trip
8 December 2008

It was a gorgeous day as the Tule fog burned off while driving across the Great Valley. Ten of us collected at the Post Office in Volcano, California. Frost lingered until mid-morning in sheltered valleys and in the topographic bowl that gave the 49ers the notions that (1) the area was a volcanic crater and (2) said volcano was the ultimate vein-based source of the placer gold that they sought so avidly. The miners were correct about abundant placer gold, which was derived from gravels deposited by an ancestral Mokelumne River, but the local topographic low containing the town of Volcano owes more to the lens of carbonate rock being more erodible than surrounding non-carbonate rocks. But I digress.

Almost all participants arrived by the appointed hour of 10 AM; one carload wandered in late bearing an apologetic if unreconstructed but admitted sleepyhead. No one seriously objected because the landowner met us at the post office and proved to be a master raconteur. He entertained us with accounts of the town's history and a few of its more colorful past and present residents while we waited. He then accompanied us up the hill, looked over the caves, and then left us to do our caving while he hiked over a part of the 200-plus acres he owns. An extremely affable fellow, with an encyclopedic knowledge of the region, its history and its people, he patiently answered our many questions and corrected errors in our grasp of folklore while we kitted up. He suggested that the preferred place to park cars was in the lot adjacent to the town hall, rather than the lot next to the Catholic Church, which convenes services on Saturday afternoon. The town hall lot is about a block further away from the trailhead, and is quite commodious.

So we relocated from the post office to the municipal lot and made final preparations for the trail and the caves. After selecting the equipment required, we hiked to the caves via the customary route, passing the cemeteries, the road gate with now-breached barbed wire on the east end, and the hydraulic mining tailings pond with grove of acidic-soil-loving conifers. The area was quite dry with no Zuider Zee. [For the uninitiated, the Zuider Zee is a name given to a giant lake that forms atop the tailings in the winter; during the late 70s, heavy overnight rains trapped several vehicles, and at least 3 cars got mired to the axles and then were forcibly extracted.] We found the caves without incident and initially visited all entrances to acquaint folks with the geography and the various expressions of urushiol-bearing vegetation (poison oak). As we had a large party, Robert Darrah generously had volunteered to co-lead the trip. Robert took half the party to Mushroom while Tinsley led the remainder to Santa Claus. Halfway through the day, we traded caves, so everyone got to see both. Of arguably greater significance was the dynamic duo of Will Moffat and Joke Vansweevelt who wasted no time in exploring all of Santa Claus, commencing with the discovery entrance. (I think this is the first time in about 12 years of leading trips up there that anyone has tackled the chimney entrance; several have tried but got filtered out owing to insufficient clearance at the top of the chimney.)

Robert rigged Mushroom Cave with a cable ladder and 11 mm PMI, so folks could amuse themselves with their vertical gear if they brought it, or if not, could be belayed down and up the cable ladder. This arrangement worked well. Santa Claus Cave was quite dry; only a few water droplets clung to stalactites' tips at several points in the cave. The inviting lower fissure did its thing and drew in the unwary, who then explored the nooks and crannies, then climbed up and continued past the site of the old Ice Cream Cone formation and down to the lateral fissure. The lateral fissure did its thing, inducing caution in the inexperienced, but with encouragement, all but Tinsley went down and back. Tinsley grabbed a fine 20-30 minute nap while waiting to assist anyone who might need help up and out of the fissure. No one required any assistance. The fissure was dry. We briefly considered pouring water from canteens down said fissure to grease it up a bit, to raise the level of sport a notch or two, but we then drank the water instead.

Between Mushroom and what Mr. Ketron called Pearl Cave, this is a great place for vertical practice. The pit entrance to Pearl Cave offers simultaneous rappelling and ascending with good light and a second walk-in entrance, so participants can cycle through exercises multiple times. Mushroom awaits any interested Pearl Cave graduates, being slightly bigger game. These caves, located about 50 feet apart, beat Connie's Cave as a practice venue, and there are no known bat-related issues, yet.

After exiting both caves, we de-rigged and stashed gear in packs for the return hike. Reaching the cars in a now-shadowed if not slightly dusky parking lot, we packed up and then departed Volcano for Gianini's Italian Restaurant in Pine Grove, beating the evening rush and enjoying post-trip socializing, fine food, and commodious conviviality.

These caves are short but nicely decorated, the hike isn't arduous, and the weather was perfect. It turned out that most of the true novices who had signed up initially turned out to be unable to participate, so the level of experience was unusually high and possessed of a distinctively Continental-international flair. It was a low-stress experience for the leaders, which was most pleasant. It was Jason's first cave, and he fared perfectly well and seems eager for more. It is safe to assert that a good time was had by all.

Participants: Leaders were John Tinsley and Robert Darrah. They were ably abetted by totally cooperative and enthusiastic corps of cavers: Jenny Kuo and her friend, Jason Cabassi, Al Keller and Dominic Ramirez from Diablo Grotto, Mark Bellias, Will Moffat, Joke Vansweevelt, and Mike Davies.

dinsdag 2 december 2008

3D in Jezus-Eik

Zaterdagavond... Eindelijk was het zover: DDD-montages van grotten in Zuid-Frankrijk en in de Joesteeted Naaits: TAG-area, Lechuguilla... ‘k Heb het echt voor concreties (vermoedelijk omdat ik er nog niet genoeg gezien heb in mijn speleoloven :-)) en beter dan dit wordt moeilijk... Daniel Chailloux en Michel Renda hebben me echt opnieuw doen wegdromen.

Ja, ‘k heb nog wat te leren als ik hun 3D-foto’s zie die op esthetisch oogpunt “af” zijn, quasi perfect in het 3D kader gemonteerd. Of 'k moet gewoon wat meer tijd spenderen in concretie-grotten :-) De technische aspecten en de fotografiemethodes die Michel en ik tijdens de projecties bespraken, hebben me een stuk wijzer gemaakt. 't Zal een keer interessant zijn om zijn methode te proberen. Veel van mijn info komt via het internet, maar er gaat toch niets boven een discussie met iemand die zelf de foto’s neemt.

De reacties op “Explositie” waren heel positief. Zoals ik het zag, contrasteerde het wat met de andere montages: De schilderijen van Anja Crommelynck tegenover de meest vreemde concreties. De Reseau de Fresnes tegenover Lechuguilla. Een documentaire tegenover een verkenning van talrijke droomgrotten. Iets luidere tegenover wat rustiger muziek. Enkele technische imperfecties tegenover bijna 100% verzorgd. Soms aparte 3D-effecten tegenover het klassieke werk.

Op het einde op het podium moeten komen met hen was echt te veel eer. En in al mijn kluts kwijt zijnd vergat ik toen de ganse organisatie te bedanken voor die avond. Een ganse 3D-installatie van Parijs naar Jezus-Eik krijgen (en terug!) is echt niet vanzelfsprekend, laat staan om zo’n zaal vast te krijgen. Bij deze: DANK! Dank voor de mooie avond en dank dat ik er ook deel mocht van uit maken!

Dit zal echt een heel mooie herinnering blijven. En ’t motiveert ook om verder aan 3D-projecten te werken...