Indy and the Orientation to Basic Cave Rescue

Elkins, West Virginia, March 18/19, 2000

Good morning! (or afternoon, or whatever; I started writing this up 2 days ago in the morning)

As some of you know, but most of you prolly didn't, I took a course on orientation to cave rescue through the NCRC (National Cave Rescue Commission; a couple of weeks ago (Mar 18/19). This little (heh!) write-up is to tell you a bit about it.

This really all started a few years ago when a couple of friends (Eric and Keith) took this course out in West Virginia and reported back that it scared the bejeezus out of them. Before this the question of 'how' one does a rescue from a cave had always gone through my mind, especially when I've been caving ("okay, how would you get someone with a broken leg out of THIS situation/passage here?"). Ofttimes I could puzzle it out myself what had to be done, but that was always assuming I was with or part of the party which had an injured caver. And I never had a good feel for just how LONG it would take to drag someone out from, say, the bottom end of a cave half mile long or longer. When Eric and Keith took the course and told me their reactions to it, I was intrigued and wanted to take said course, also. However, I wasn't able to find any information about it and the matter went onto the backburner (along with SO many other things).

Then late last year while attending one of the DC Grotto meetings I noticed that the NCRC was sponsoring a basic cave rescue course in the spring (also read 'winter') of 2000. Another friend of mine (Rafi) expressed an interest in taking it, too, so we made some basic plans to take this course together. We opted out of the January course (no time to take it then) and decided the March course would be preferable (esp having marginally warmer weather ;-). Thus the plans were made.

However, fates have a funky way of playing with some of the best-laid plans (not that ours were; we just knew we were going to take the course together) and Rafi was unable to attend the classes (of course throwing his back out didn't help any :-/ ). Thus I was going it alone. Originally we were going to be decadent and get a motel room, but with Rafi no longer going, I opted to try camping out instead (I mean, after all, it was freaking 80-degrees in Baltimore just that friday before; how bad could it be? :). This would also allow me to learn where the OTR site (used for major caver gatherings in/around Elkins, WVa) was located.

Friday came, and the weather forecast was for significantly cooler weather than the week before, so I grabbed a few extra things to wear while out there (remembered the parka; forgot the wool hat and fleece baklava). (note to self: wearing thermal socks with Tevas when the temps dip down to 5-10 degrees F is NOT the way to go!) then headed out.

[details of the drive out and back aren't going to be covered. They weren't the greatest, and would distract from the main part of this writing - ed]

I arrived at the OTR site (after missing it by nigh 10 miles - the directions on the webpage are....a LITTLE misleading - Beverly itself is only ~4 miles outside of Elkins, and the turnoff to the cave ~2 miles after that; I turned around after going 16 miles and never seeing a sign for Beverly, which I looked for around the 11 mile mark) rather late in the evening. The map said the turnoff road would be marked, as well as the entrance to the OTR site itself. Neither were (this did not help in finding it). I figured, though, that a fire in a field far from the road was a small clue so I headed in when I thought I found it. I saw a few people gathered around the fire and walked up to them. I said that either I'm in the right location or I am very very lost. They said then in that case I'm in the right location, go put up the tent. I did.

After getting some more clothes on and setting up my tent admist a small sea of tents rather far from the fire, I went back to socialize a little, learn who all these people were. It turned out that of the dozen people there, they were either Level-1 students (those taking the 5-weekend long intensive training course) or instructors; I seemed to be the only 'orientation' participant there (I would later learn that only a couple other people in the camp were also orientation class people; everyone ELSE was Level-1 or instructor, and I never did learn where all the other orientation types were camped or sleeping at). After a bit of fire-warming, I turned in. I had heard on the radio on the drive through Elkins that the temps were going to get down to about 6-10. More than chilly enough for me, and while I had thermals on, prolly didn't have enough stuff (better shoes more suited for this plus a wool hat would have done wonders ;-).

The next morning I woke at my usual time - around the crack of dawn (it was loud in that crisp air). But I couldn't extract myself from the sleeping bag (I had brought my good one, fortunately). It was too damned cold in the tent (my watch thermometer read 19 degrees F). After half an hour of convincing myself I needed to arise and eat before heading back into Elkins for class I was finally up and out. Others were stirring, some still sleeping, and yet others had already left to go forage for breakfast. I broke out my oatmeal and dinky stove and joined several guys in a nearby pavillion who were cooking up a storm of eggs and sausage and hashbrowns. My breakfast felt pitiful next to theirs. Sad. It was here that I learned that one of the three cooks was in the orientation class with me, the other a Level-1 student, and the third an instructor. They didn't know each other, but were all just cooking together.

After that headed in to town and found the firehouse where class would take place (with a little difficulty; the landmark I was told about saying that the firehouse was across from a tall church was accurate - only that the directions neglected to mention there was another tall church a few blocks BEFORE the firehouse - argh!). Hung around outside for a while with some other orientation participants. There was a group from Columbia and Annapolis, Maryland, involved in search and rescue, Bren from near Reading, Pa, who was a caver and involved in search and rescue in his school (same guy mentioned above who was cooking in the pavillion), and a girl from DC who is involved with the PATC organization's search and rescue team. And me, not involved with ANY organized search and rescue groups.

Finally someone found an open door and we went in. Bren and I took seats in the center right up front (I, personally, didn't want to miss anything). After some confusion in registration (the students were there, the registration materials were some 16 miles away down in Dailey with the Level-1s) things got rolling. We had a series of quick (10-30 minute) presentations by a string of people. First was an overview of just what all is involved in a cave rescue. After that came people who spoke about areas that they specialized in for cave rescue. We were given a brief but effective demonstration of why this chain of command is necessary. Our example consisted of a girl being brought to the front and told she was going to supervise a number of different people doing different things. One guy was put in a corner and instructed to run his hand against the wall in a clockwise fashion. She was supposed to make sure he kept doing this. A second guy was put in a different corner of the rather ample room and told to run his hand up and down in the corner. A third guy was put in yet another corner of the room and told to run his hand counter-clockwise circularly along the wall. At this point it was getting harder for the girl up front to keep track of all three at the same time, but not impossible. Another girl was then put in the fourth corner and told to rub her belly and pat her head. Now our girl in front had four people with different tasks to keep track of. She could handle it, but it was getting a bit tough. Then they put a guy out in the hall out of sight and told to do something else on the wall there (I couldn't see, and don't remember; not that this was important ;-). At this point the management system broke down; the girl up front could no longer manage and retain control over each person. She needed assistants in order to do this. This was a demonstration of 'span of control' (which is a fancy term for the number of people one can effectively supervise; for most people this ranges from 3-7, but for cave rescue they try to limit it to 5, tops).

In a cave rescue you have a rather rigid hierarchal system set up. And generally you have a LOT of people involved, which requires the rigid chain of command. The person in overall charge of the rescue effort is known as the Responsible Agent. Directly beneath them is the Incident Commander, who oversees the higher level aspects of the rescue effort (the name of 'Incident Commander' is slowly being changed to 'Incident Coordinator', as some Third World countries decided the word 'commander' means military and they don't want the US military on their soil; sad, such limited scope education or views on things - btw, did I ever mention I hate 'PC'-enforced stuff?). In our example above, the girl up front was the 'Incident Commander'.

The Incident Commander (IC) has direct connections with four other main groups: Logistics, Planning, Operations, and Finance (while we did not cover the Finance department in any level, it was noted that it does exist, and is used primarily when doing rescues on government lands). Each of these groups can be folded into one person, but all too often that one person becomes the group lead and has a veritable army of people below them.

In addition to these the IC usually has a small staff to alleviate stress that would otherwise distract them from the rescue effort. These include a PIO (Public Information Officer; this person deals with any media that may be present, family members and friends, onlookers, etc), a Security Officer (it is a sad fact that when you have a ton of people come out to do a rescue there are unscrupulous types who will ALSO show up and start helping themselves to equipment laying around and/or breaking into vehicles to have whatever they can take; this function is usually handled by a local law enforcement officer), and a Safety Officer (someone to deal with safety issues involved with the rescue).

The Logistics group/person deals with coordinating and supplying needed/requested equipment (this is different from actually FINDING said equipment; see below), how to feed everyone (if you have 60+ people involved in an all-day or multi-day rescue, they gotta eat, sleep, and go to the bathroom SOMEwhere!), etc.

The Planning team/person has to deal with locating resources (eg, finding out where the hospital may be if needed, where one can get their hands on specialized gear that may be needed for the rescue, etc), monitoring the weather (critical if the cave has flowing water in it and/or is prone to flooding), interfacing with technical advisors, and maintaining a documentation team (they document EVERYthing in rescues - from who goes in/out of the cave at what time with what equipment, team debriefs, patient status - literally everything that can be is, for both covering the butts of the rescue team in case someone tries to charge them with something as well as using what was learned on that particular rescue (what worked, what didn't) for future rescues - documentation was covered at length). If you were involved in a cave rescue, this is the person/team you would first report to (so they can register you, find out what equipment and skills you have/don't have, etc).

And finally the Operations Section bears the brunt of practically everything else. They have a Surface Branch (includes surface communications and entrance control to the cave - these latter restrict who can go into the cave and monitor who goes in/out at what times with what equipment, and this information is turned over to the documentation officer) and an Underground Branch (this would include any vertical rigging teams, the IRTs (Initial Response Teams), underground communications teams and the grunts - those people who will be hauling the litter out of the cave if necessary).

After discussing these various teams and subteams with us, and going over things like what possible scenarios one may encounter in a rescue (and recounting that just that previous weekend the Level-1 students had their mock rescue practice usurped by a REAL rescue at Cass Cave, which is located approximately an hour or two south of Seneca Rocks; more details at the end of all this), discussing hypothermia, hypoglycemia, and dehydration of both the rescue teams and the patients (they were not supposed to be referred to as 'victims' ;-), we took a quick break for food (they supplied us with donuts - MMMMM! - in the morning, lunch at lunchtime; we even got lucky due to the fact that the Level-1s were finishing their course that weekend we got to have pizza for dinner with the Level-1s! :).

After lunch we broke up into three groups and attended different stations. One station dealt with communications. There we were presented with the variety of comm equipment used in cave rescue as well as getting a little hands-on feel for the radios used (think old-style military radios; these buggers are robust as hell!). We had a quick overview of how to run comm wiring into a cave, and how to field-test the phones. In addition to that we also got a quick overview of what our own personal gear should contain (and that it should be marked, packed in something very rugged with lots of handles so you can quickly pick it up/transport it from anyway it is laying around, and that everything should be sealed and waterproofed).

The next station we went to introduced us to the stretchers used in cave rescue and how to put patients in these stretchers properly. There are three types of stretchers commonly used: the Ferno (a 2+ meter long plastic litter), the wire cage ('standard' wire cage litter), and the SKED (a rolled-up plastic thing that unrolls and then 'formed' to roughly encompass a body - complete with built-in handles and some securing lines). We were taught how to 'pad the voids' (all those empty areas around the body so the patient doesn't shift and/or wiggle around in the stretcher; when the patient is in the litter, they are in it securely (and should not be able to move)). To get an idea of what these voids are, lay down on the floor, face up. Lay straight. Now, you have a 'void' behind your neck, another void at the small of your back, another under the knees, another around the ankles....there are lots of 'voids' around a human body! In addition to all this we learned how to roll an injured person over so we can get a backboard under them (crucial for the SKED, which has no real back support), as well as insulating material if the litter is not yet available (this is crucial to know as an IRT member).

The third station discussed strapping the patient INto the stretcher. They have a way you can do it with 4 pieces of 10' webbing (and since they say as part of your normal gear you should always carry 2 pieces of 20' webbing with you, you ought to be able to strap an injured person to the litter with what you have onhand). Although they teach that you should use 4 different colors of webbing, that way 4 different people can strap down the patient at the same time.

Finally, they said it is very important to label things - such as the patient's name! As there will usually be a LOT of people moving an injured person out, having the patient's name duct taped to their helmet helps the rescuers know what the patient's name is so they can talk to/about the patient without defaulting to 'hey you'. This also is psychologically beneficial to the patient, and the rescuers ought to also have their names on their helmets so the patient can talk to specific people. This can be crucial if the patient has a head injury and is having trouble remember names w/out prompting.

Now, we covered all this FAST and furious throughout the morning and early afternoon hours. After that we suited up and then went outside to the city park across the street for...hands-on practice.

Hands-on practice involved our being assigned to a particular litter, working in the same three groups we were originally broken up into. Each litter had a volunteer (not one of the orientation students, but one of the NCRC people) already secured inside (and there they would remain for the duration of the afternoon - well nigh 3-4 hours!). It was chilly out, but not abysmally cold (the volunteers were packed and padded enough that they didn't get cold, even sitting in the litters for hours on end). My group was assigned the Ferno to start with.

We were (well, all groups were) run through the paces of doing 6-man carries (ours kinda devolved into 7 and 8-man carries as some of the people in our group were a little more than enthusiastic at wanting to do this ;-), how to switch off people who were tired to get fresh bodies in, etc. We also learned that when doing multi-person carries of litters, the person in the 'driver seat' (front left in the direction the litter is going) is the person In Charge of when to pick up the litter, when to put it down, and sets the pace for carrying it. This got a little confusing at first, esp when we switched directions midstream, but after an hour or so people got the hang of it.

After this we went on to do the 2-man carry, which was a lot harder (even while we didn't have a heavy person in the litter). After a few people did this (I had 'abstained' from it, having done it for real before), the instructor we were assigned said we would now learn more stuff! First he called out the Turtle technique. This is a 3-man carry of the litter: one in front, one in back, and the third - underneath on hands and knees! The 'turtle' person is supporting the bulk of the weight on their back, giving a bit of relief to the 2-man carry team. Of course, the 'turtles' tired fast this way, so we learned how to relieve/replace turtles (current turtle scoots out between the legs of the person at the current front of the litter while at the same time a new turtle scoots underneath between the legs of the person at the back of the litter. I had never done this before, so I decided to give it a go (it didn't look like we would have time for ALL of us to experience it, and I figured better experience it now before doing it in a cave). I was the third turtle. After moving for about 15 or so feet, the instructor said we would now do the 'centipede'. What this really means is that you now have two turtles under the litter at the same time. This meant I had to move up so the next turtle could squeeze in behind me.

Not the most comfortable thing, the centipede. If ever you are doing this and you are the front turtle, make SURE the back turtle is NOT using carbide!

After we did this for about 20 seconds the instructor pulled the back turtle out (leaving me; hmmmm!) and then shouted "Snake!". Urrrrr....whazzat? No, wait, don't tell me (I had a bad feeling). The instructor then told me to get down on my belly and the 2-man team (as I went down) lowered the litter onto my back and stepped away. Now I am carrying the Ferno on my back by myself, squirming through the mud and dirt in the city park where we were practicing (this is what we call 'Fun', boys and girls!). As I was doing this the instructor was telling the rest of our group about how to do this when you are going through a shallow opening that is partly filled with water (oh, good! give me a damned snorkel, willya??).

Once this was done we then moved on to doing ladder passes (all people not carrying the litter cluster to the front, and as it is passed onto them, the newly freed carriers run, dash, crawl (depending on the conditions of the passage and situation at hand) to the front to grab the litter when it is passed to them), and then chain passes (everyone lays down, head between the kneeds of the person behind you; then using your hands and knees, you pass the litter back towards the person behind you; effective is narrow, winding passagesways - only you run out of people pretty fast, esp if the passageway is not very tall to allow those freed from passing the litter to move to the back of the chain to take it up again). After this we did 'Paving the Road', which is something you do to 'fill in gaps' in the floor (we're talking half-body-length or greater) by using the bodies of the rescuers to become a 'floor' where there is a gap, and people pass the litter from one end to the other. To simulate this we took two picnic tables, spread them a body-width apart, and had three of our group bend over between the tables in order to have their backs bridge the gap so we could pass the litter from one table to the other.

After about 40 minutes of doing all this we switched off with another group and played around with the wire cage litter. With the new instructor we went through everything we did with the Ferno (except homey here was smart and stayed away for turtle/centipede/snake practice! :). We also did a one and two-man 'drags' of the litter (where you just grab a line attached to the top end of the litter and haul). After this we switched again and now we got to practice with the SKED. This time we spent 20 minutes going over everything we had learned (and it was a lot easier this time, too; our patient with the SKED was a very light and small 16 or 17 yr old girl) and then....we started doing the obstacle course.

On the far side of the city park was a playground and a raised pavillion/gazebo-like thing. Our first task was to get the SKED through (under) the 'porch' of the pavillion/gazebo structure. WithOUT scraping off the face of our patient. This went reasonably well (though we had to watch for nails sticking out of the wood - driving hazards!), and we moved on to passing the SKED in and around the fencing that surrounded the rest of the building. Next we moved on to the next pavillion and tried to pass the SKED under picnic tables length-wise.

Now while our patient was small, and the SKED not very bulky, having her strapped in it proved impossible to go under the tables length-wise (in order for us to go under we had to turn our heads to fit the helmets; our patient did not have this option). So we zig-zagged in and around the tables, coming up with all sorts of contrived problems.

After this we went to the the playground proper and started the SKED passing in/through/around the monkeybars, bike racks, and up/down ladders and slides. We spent the better part of an hour dealing with this, and while fun, it was hard to imagine doing this in a cave (being outside on a playground gives one a LOT of room to maneuver; inside a cave, however.....). We figured we'd learn how to deal with this come sunday when we did the mock rescue with the Level-1 students (assuming we weren't called out to a real rescue!).

Once we had completed everything the instructors wanted us to practice, inside we went. There we joined the Level-1s, who had just finished taking their final exam, for dinner (pizza! :). Various announcements were made, then we learned that the Level-1s had all voted for one of their number to be the IC for the mock rescue come the morrow. TR was his name, and a large man he was. Not physcially huge (okay, still not small!), he had Command Presence that dominated the room. Turned out he was a cop from one of the towns south of Elkins (as one person said to me, "The man carries a gun; we do as he says" :)

TR then began assigning the Level-1s to all the positions I outlined early on in this report. After all positions were assigned (not all the Level-1s were assigned a position; there were about double the number of Level-1s in the class than there were positions for, even with having multiple comm, litter/haul, entrance control, and IR teams) he asked for any one who wanted to stay above ground on sunday. Those people who volunteered for not getting subterranean were assigned various surface tasks (entrance control, surface comms, etc). Next he asked for people who were familiar with Bowden cave (oh, gee, um, I've been there, uh, a half dozen times or more). Of the 36 people in the orientation class, 5 of us had been in Bowdens before (hint, hint: the mock rescue was going to take place in Bowdens!) (which was a slight bummer for me because I wanted to learn about other caves in the area; oh well). And of the 5 Bowden vets, most had only been in it once (one guy a couple times, and me my unknown number of times). We were immediately assigned to the three IRTs (Initial Response Teams; these are the people who dash into the cave first and do the initial search for the lost/injured caver(s), then report back to the surface with what they found so the surface can send in the proper resources, equipment, and extraction teams; there is a lot more to it than just that, but I'm not going to go into detail writing it all up). Earlier on in the day I had decided that if I had a choice of teams to be on, I wanted to be on an IRT first (I want to get experience at all the stations, but wanted to do the IRT initially). So happy day, I'm on an IRT.

Usually there are only 3 people on an IRT: the group lead, a medic-type, and a third body. The reason is once the IRT finds the missing/overdue caver(s), one person (usually the medic-type) is left behind to take care of any injured while the other two (who have made VERY detailed notes about who/what/where/etc about these cavers) dash out to the surface to report. However, since we had 80+ people involved for the weekend, we ended up having three 5-man IRTs. I don't know how large/small the other groups (Comms, vertical team support, litter carriers/haulers, etc) were; I was busy with my IRT.

Now, we were warned that this was the preliminary assignments; things could and very well would change by morning. I hoped not too drastically, but one never knew (as it turned out, on sunday I was pulled off the IRT, put back on it, pulled off, put on another, pulled off that, and put back on my original IRT, but it was then IRT4, not IRT3).

After this we cleaned up the room and made our ways to where ever we were sleeping for the night (me back to the OTR site to hang by the fire a while before going to sleep; that night was noticeably warmer - only got down to 25 degrees!).

The next morning I broke camp and got back into town. My IRT leader (a lvl-1 student; as was our medic) asked us to arrive about 15 minutes early so we could head out as soon as possible while the others gathered and got themselves organized. I got there 25 minutes early (oops :), and waited while people slowly trickled in. While waiting I struck up a conversation with a couple from the DC grotto. I thought I had recognized them, but wasn't 100% sure; they remembered me as a friend of Cat's. They told me they were part of the surface comm unit, so they weren't going to get muddy that day. Me, on the other hand...

As people arrived things did not go as had been thought (it was here that the continuity of my IRT fell apart). The instructors decided to FUBAR what TR had put together the night before (TR was not a happy man) and gave him a totally different scenario than what we were going to do. Oh, we were still going to Bowdens. But we were going to go in a staggered, randomly picked fashion. There would be three waves. The first would leave immediately. The second would leave 15 minutes after that. The third a half hour after that.

I was not one of the first to leave. The one of the orientation students on my IRT were part of the first 10 randomly picked names to go first; the other orientation student, as well as the IRT3 leader and medic, were selected to head out in the next wave. I got to follow in with the rest of the masses (but somehow a lot of people decided to leave on their own and get there early, which caused more confusion).

Once at Bowdens we signed in and then I went looking for my IRT. I found the team leader and medic (who were still together), but the other two orientation students were off on other assignments. It was here, over the course of the next 45 minutes, I was pulled off, put on, pulled off, and put on IRTs. I finally got back on my original IRT (well, had the original leader and medic: Steve and Jen), but we had two new orientation students assigned (Steve #2 and Marissa). I got on the team because of my vertical abililities (I even had my climbing harness and various prussik cords with me; I was still in the process of putting together a real vertical rig, complete with ascenders and whatnot, and all that was at home). We were immediately assigned to scout out an area of Bowdens that led to a section of the cave I've never been in: the Agony Crawl (which, for you Bowden vets, is supposed to be nightmarishly worse than that 300' long one-foot tall crawl in the back called Pauline's Crawl). We fortunately were not assigned to scout up into the Agony; just do 'voice' (ie, yell up the passage, see if we get a response). After a 20 minute in/out scouting run, we were re-assigned to the Bear Haven entrance, a mile away. We were assigned that as we were the only IRT which had vertical competency and gear; the other three IRTs were all horizontal cave only. Oh, good, we're going to do some pits. I had a sneaking suspicion (and hope) of where we might end up.

At any rate, we were under a seriously constrained time limit. It was already 10:20am; we had to report back by 11:30am. One of the things about IRTs is that Surface gives you a specific search area, and a specific time you are to report back out your findings in that search area; we had less than an hour to huff it up to Bear Haven, go in, look around as much as we could (without doing any vertical work, although we would have a line of 50' rope if needed) as fast as we could, and report back to Entrance Control at the Bear Haven entrance our findings. And as an IRT we are NOT allowed to be late (overdue teams are presumed to be lost and potential casualties of the search). So in order to save time, Jen offered us all a ride up in her SUV (one of those Jeep Cherokee-types). We were just a little muddy from our earlier exploration, but she wasn't overly worried (looking in I noted that her SUV interior was in far worse shape than my apartment). She did say to try not to get everything muddy, but don't worry 'bout it otherwise. Now, since there were five of us, seating was...a little tight. You see, her backseat area had two kid seats strapped in. Steve grabbed shotgun position, and Steve #2 leaped into the cargo area atop of all the packs. Marissa and I fit ourselves into the backseat. I was in one of those childseats. Steve #2 said something about wanting a camera at that moment (mine was buried in my pack underneath Steve #2). Suddenly we were in motion.

Down the road a quick piece we turned onto the access....'road'...that leads up the mountain. It's a pure 4-wheel drive road. We drove (that is to say, bounced) 3/4 of the way up to the entrance of the cave then parked. When asked about being able to turn around on this all-too narrow road, Jen informed us she has driven down in reverse this whole stretch. Ah, good. An experienced driver.

We parked, dismounted, geared up, and started hoofing it to the entrance. I knew where the 3rd entrance was; I wasn't fully sure where Bear Haven entrance was, so this was going to be a treat (in fact, anything on the high side of a certain 20'+ pit I found myself in once some years ago¹ would be new for me). Bear Haven entrance is only 200' or so (if that) past the 3rd Entrance, and there we found Entrance Control and a Comms guy named Vitus (pronouncd vee-tus). We checked in with the EC while Vitus radiod back that we had arrived, and then we headed in. IRT leader Steve and I led first while Steve #2, Jen, and Marissa went to take care of some business before going into the cave for however long we'd be there (although we had a time limit of 40 minutes to get in and out again). Steve and I poked down a side passage and chimney'd over a deep slot that led to a tight crawl. Doing a quick 'voice' call to see if we could find anyone, we reversed course and hooked up with Jen and crew. There we took another passage. Jen seemed to have an idea where we were going, having been in this section of the cave a few dozen times; my suspicions were growing stronger (see also aforementioned note about a 20'+ pit). We followed her lead, running through a 'shower' room (also known as the Cathedral Dome), through some seriously deep and sticky mud floors in an adjoining room (known as 'Mud Canyon'), to clamboring up and over terraces (which I usually, being the climber in the group, spotted everyone through; turned out not to be totally necessary, but Steve didn't want to take any chances). We quickly found ourselves in a tight hands/knees crawl passage.

side story:

¹ - some years ago, about 5 or 6, during one of the many CCCs I led a _large_ party of people into Bowdens to do a through-trip. I had believed I knew where Pauline's Crawl was located, and from vague memories of doing it some 4-5 years before thought I could find the back entrance, but wasn't 100% sure. I found someone in camp who was familiar with Bowdens and told me I was looking for the Bear Haven exit. I had thought that was a different exit than the one we had come out, but he insisted it was the same. He gave me directions, told me to follow the markers that said 'B.H.' and we would be out. He knew I was taking a beginner trip in, but he failed to mention some details that we would discover for ourselves. Anyway, making a long story short, we found Pauline's Crawl, got to the end, and it was a T-intersection. A 'BH' arrow pointed right, but my vague, vague memory said go left. We went right (after all, the guy at camp was adamantly about the directions, right? and my memory could be way off, anyhow). This led to more belly crawling (a LOT of it!) and finally into a couple of small pit rooms, or 'drops'. We brought the group in and a half dozen of us pushed on through a small tube we had found high in the wall. This was another extremely tight crawl that led to...a deep pit, and opened up at the bottom end of said 20'+ pit. A rotted rope led up to a shelf ~20' up. One of our members volunteered to shimmy up and explore the passages beyond. I knew we were off of what I remember being on, but figured if we were close to the surface, I could get ropes and drag people out if necessary. Keith reported back after ~10 minutes that he found more crawls and a tube that said 'Gophers Nightmare'. At this point we turned back, but on a whim fortuitously found the proper exit.

Anyway, back to the main story...

Jen and Steve (leader-dude) went forward through the hands/knees crawl. I held back about halfway, and Steve #2 and Marissa hung back at the start of the crawl (no need for all of us to get boxed up in there if it proved impossible to turn around easily). Shortly after Steve called me forward. They had found two missing cavers at the bottom of...a pit (gee, what were the odds?). One was injured; the other appeared okay. I scurried up, and told Steve #2 and Marissa to hang back. The idea at this point was that Jen would rappel down to the cavers and check them over. Steve would take detailed notes as to their condition (including names, ages, etc, etc, etc), give me the note in a sealed plastic bag, and I would ferry this back to Steve #2, who would then immediately head out with Marissa to the entrance and get Vitus to radio the base of operations what we found and what we needed.

(note: the pit they found was exactly the one I was in a couple paragraphs above half a dozen years earlier).

One thing I forgot to note in this exercise. There were instructor-level type people all OVER this cave. They were playing 'angels'. They were either stationed at areas of the cave which held potential danger to the rescue teams and/or 'lost' cavers or they were assigned to any given team that headed into the cave. Our angel stayed with Steve #2 and Marissa as the 'lost' cavers at the bottom of the pit had an angel sitting with them the whole time they were there. The role of the angels is to make sure things stay safe and that good judgement is used, but in the event of a real emergency, they suddenly 'come to life' and can actively not only interfere with the course of events, but also take over if a serious 'for real' situation crops up. Otherwise we were to basically ignore them; pretend they were not there (though we could go 'for real' and ask them a question, as long as it did not pertain directly to what we were doing, with some notable exceptions, of course). Anyway, this is almost how things worked out for us. Jen went down and started assessing the conditions of the two lost cavers. There was a rope already rigged in which the two lost cavers had rapped down. The scenario, though, had them go in with 1 or 2 other people (this was never cleared up). They had gotten seperated and decided to head out on their own. They were playing two 17 yr old girls (one was for real; the other was a 30-something), and one decided to free-climb the rope w/out using her ascenders (this was played by the real 17 yr old). She was to have slipped after getting partway up and fell on her back, and had been unable to move since. Her friend stayed with her, unwilling to leave to get help (more or less the smarter thing to do in this situation). Susan (the injured girl) was laying amidst a bunch of rocks while Penelope (no, really, that was her name) played the obnoxious teenager who was forever getting in the way. Steve decided at this point to rap down and join Jen to keep Penelope out of Jen's hair so Jen could work on Susan. Thus I became note-taker.

About halfway through the assessment process Steve #2 informed us we were now overdue; it was 11:30. Oops. Well, not much we could do about the situation; here we were, there they were. We finished gathering hte information and I got it back to Steve #2. It was 11:34. Steve leader-dude wanted me to return to stay up top in case they needed something from me. Steve #2 and Marissa headed out with the notes.

Not 15 minutes later, as Jen was having a tough time working with Susan, Steve (leader-dude; we never saw Steve #2 or Marissa again; they were more than likely assigned to a litter team or something at that point) asked me to come down and take care of Penelope so he could help Jen. So I went down, bringing all the gear Steve and Jen had left behind.

Penelope proved to be a handful, and it took both Steve and I combined effort to keep her occupied (she was doing too good a job at being the obnoxious teenager - and loving every minute of it). Finally, about an hour after we sent Steve #2 and Marissa out with the information, the vertical rigging team and the comms team showed up (the comms group said it took them 35 minutes of driving around the mountain to find the entrance; they had been given bogus directions). I'm not sure if the haul/litter team got there or not with the Ferno we requested. If they did, I never saw them (they were probably on the far side of the narrow crawl). The vert team began trying to rig a system in order to bring Susan up. I kinda kept an eye on Penelope and watched the chaos as best as I could unfold up top. It got so crazy that Steve decided to go up and see if he could help, leaving me with Jen to watch over Susan and Penelope.

Susan, having been laying there for a couple of hours, suddenly had the 'for real' need to go to the bathroom. So we went 'for real' (you say this to extract yourself from the mock rescue for whatever purpose) and Penelope took her to an adjoining 'room' to...well, do what she had to do (they had the foresight to bring pee bottles with them). When Susan came back I helped Jen get her back into 'position' as patient for the mock. Penelope got unfair and disappeared at this point in time. I noticed about 5 minutes later that she was still gone. Both Jen and I thought she had 'for real' also gone to the bathroom, but....5 minutes? I asked the angel 'for real' if she had gone to the bathroom. He said 'no'. Damn! I told Jen I would be right back and see if I could grab Penelope and bring her back (bloody troublesome 17 yr olds!). I found the crawl out of the room to the drops beyond (a bugger of a tight crawl - 1' tall through a puddle of water! and goes on for about 30' or so). At the end of the crawl, at the mouth of the tube into the rooms beyond, I found Penelope sitting. She said she had decided to go off and see if she could help by going to find help (despite the fact there were a bunch of people atop of the pit). I coaxed and dragged her back to the main room. Once back Steve decided to rap back down and help Jen and I, as Penelope was proving to be a handful. The chaos up top continued...

Finally the Comms team had brought in phone wire and lowered that down so Steve could use his homemade hand-phone to call the surface with more details. It proved difficult to do, though; partly from the fact he was trying to transmit through somewhere on the order of 500+' of wire to the surface comm guy, partly because the vertical team was making way too much noise (we had to yell up to them more than a few times to try and keep it down so we could talk), and partly because the comm guy at the Bear Haven entrance was having trouble properly using the equipment (we later figured out he was using the comm equipment as a phone where both people can talk at the same time, not as it was meant to be used, where one person at a time talks). Finally the Comm group leader came down himself with a field phone and rehooked things up (we hadn't wanted him to come down originally just because we didn't want too many people in the room at the same time, but, well, it was necessary).

At this point it was decided between Penelope and our local angel that the Penelope character was presumed to finally have been coaxed to leave her friend and leave the cave, so Penelope became a second angel at this point (it was amusing to listen to this reported back to the surface). In the meantime, Jen was requesting certain drugs and resources to be available upon extraction of Susan, and was attempting to get permission to use some drugs she had with her (not 'for real', btw!) to help Susan with the pain in her back. Communication between the Comms guy with us and Bear Haven entrance was...well, for me amusing, but for the Comms guy...frustrating (Vitus kept talking over him instead of waiting for him to finish; our Comms guy wasn't real happy about this).

By now several hours had passed. I realized that my services here were no longer really necessary, and that I should probably go up top now while the opportunity presented itself (this way I could be ready to help with the litter/haul teams in dragging the litter out). But Surface Command (back at base) had other ideas. Time was drawing short; we were supposed to be FINISHED with the scenario and back to the OTR campsite (some 20-25 miles away) by 4pm. It was now 3pm; noway were we going to finish in time. Jen and several others fought with Surface Command because they wanted to work on doing the extraction from the pit at the very least (Jen is a paramedic who lives 20 minutes from the cave, and has done other rescues - for real - from this very pit, but never an injured caver from the pit; she knows that one day it WILL happen, and she wants to know how to do it now). Surface declined and said our patient just had a miraculous recovery; leave the cave now. I borrowed Steve's ascending rig (because my prussiks were proving too slow to deal with) and shot up to the top.

The vertical team was in position to haul someone up, so Steve and Jen convinced them to haul Susan up with Jen travelling alongside as if she would be doing this for real (the only difference is that Susan wasn't in a litter). That took a bit of time, but it DID give the vertical team practice at dragging someone up (they had a Z-to-C pulley system rigged, using real pulleys instead of carabiners like I have in the past :). Once Susan and Jen were up, Steve, the Comms guy, and our two angels followed. Once all were up I helped the vertical team pack the ropes and begin dragging equipment out. A dash to the surface took all of 10-15 minutes, even with dragging heavy ropes and other gear. Up top we checked in with Entrance Control, then slowly people made their way down the mountain. I felt I should wait for Jen and Steve so hung around (I later learned they and a few others were having a discussion, expressing their disappointment with the scenario's finish and that none of them felt that they succeeded at the jobs they were supposed to do; I, on the otherhand, thought as an IRT member we (the IRT) performed our function perfectly; we just didn't get our patient out in time). Once out we had a bouncy ride back down the mountain and back to the parking area by the main entrance of Bowdens. It was already well after 4pm. Most of the place was deserted; most people had cleared out and were at the OTR site already. We all changed and then headed there ourselves.

Back at the OTR site we had a group debriefing. Various team leaders spoke about their roles and how they felt their teams did. The project coordinator (the guy who put all this together) said he designed these scenarios after real life rescues from Bowdens, and that with the time constraints we had he would have been stunned had anyone succeeded in getting their patients out by the end time (no one did, as it turned out; in fact, NONE of the litter teams even got a chance to do anything; most sat around outside the cave waiting to be sent in). We learned where the other patients were located in the cave (one near the Water Course in the main first third of hte cave, the second group was on the far side of the Water Course; if you've been in Bowdens before, you know what the Water Course is: it's that narrow twisty passage with water shooting through it). And after that it was over. We were done. Various people said their good-byes and slowly filtered out for their long drives home (some people came as far as Michigan and upstate New York, as well as Georgia and North Carolina).

And thus endeth the Orientation to Cave Rescue class. All in all a very well-worthwhile course to take. I would strongly recommend it to anyone who spends any significant amount of time caving, or is involved in a S&R organization.

PS: a note on the Cass Cave rescue from the week before. Between the Level-1 students who were called out and all the other people who were called out, they had 60-some rescuers there. The situation was that 4-5 cavers had entered Cass the day before through the stream entrance (not through the 90-100' pit entrance in the back, so they did not have ropes and stuff). While they were in the cave, the water rose, effectively trapping them inside. The authorities discovered that the car was still there the next morning and did their initial search of the surrounding area. Determining that no cavers were outside the cave (camping or at the bar or something), a call out was done to search the cave. However, due to the nature of the rescue, there were some very stringent requirements to enter the cave. First you had to be vertically competent and have your gear with you. That cut a lot of people to surface duty. Second you had to have a wetsuit (in order to go through the stream and stay in it for lengthy periods of time). This cut down the number of available for the underground team to 5. They went in and had to literally haul (z-line pulley) out the trapped cavers (who were tired, cold, hungry, and hypothermic, but none so bad off that they were in critical condition; just that they could not get themselves out at that point). The rescue was a success, though it took the better part of a day to do.

Oh, and I'm going to get a chance to visit that cave in a few weeks (April 15th) when I head in with the Gangsta-Mappers to start the next resurvey of the cave. Hope it doesn't rain...


Return to The Adventure Library