Cassell Cave Survey – The Bratwurst and More

September 21, 2002
By Bob Robins

It was the third weekend in September and time for another Gangsta Mappers trip to Cassell Cave. With carpool numbers having dwindled below critical mass for taking my van, I met Rick Royer at the Rt. 70/32 Park and Ride west of Baltimore. We were heading to the Boy Scouts of America’s Buckskin Scout Reservation in Pocahontas County since our previous accommodations at the Depot/Senior Center in Durbin were not available. We arrived to find Bob Alderson, Bob Hoke and Miles Drake already there holding court in the kitchen of the first cabin. A tired Dave West, just off an international flight, and Karen Willmes arrived just before I crashed for the night.

Edgard Dropping the Pit

When I woke in the morning we had been joined by Charles Danforth, Tom Kornak and Edgard Bertaut bringing our numbers up to ten. Rick and I seemed to be the only ones without an agenda for the weekend so we spent some time trying to recruit a sketcher to go with us to the Notwurst or the Ballroom areas, but no one rose to the challenge so we were left with trying to fit ourselves into one of the other teams. Bob Hoke was going in to do some work near the Windy entrance while Charles Danforth was going back to try to finish the Bratwurst Passage. Dave West was headed for a survey of Neal’s Wonder Pit (AKA Willis Cassell Cave). Our final decision on teams was left till we got to Cassell since we hoped to have several other folks meet us there.

When we arrived at Cassell around 10:00 am we found no one waiting for us, but by the time whole group had arrived and milled for a while Gordon Birkheimer arrived. At that point Rick and I determined that we would have to split up and our best choices seemed to be the survey of Neal’s Wonder Pit and the Bratwurst Survey in Cassell. Rick left the choice to me and I opted for the Bratwurst trip (what was I thinking?) with Charles, Tom and Edgard (pictured on rope dropping the pit). We quickly rearranged gear between cars and began getting into our cave gear. Charles rigged the Cassell Pit and we all rappelled in without incident, packed up our vertical gear and headed in to the aptly named Miseries.

We made good time to the Skeleton Domes area and squeezed up into the Rat Race to reach a series of traverses and climbs that came close to exceeding my confidence factor. Thanks to some well-rigged safety lines and etriers, and some coaching from my teammates, I was able to negotiate the series without problem and reach the rope for the thirty-foot climb up into the Bratwurst Passage. This proved to be an easy climb and I was glad to have brought my vertical gear in since the harness and cows tails proved comforting on the traverses. One final step across thirty feet of exposure near the top of the rope and we were on our way to our first destination for the day. We were ready to begin our journey through the gloriously decorated passages about which Charles has written so eloquently.

Charles & Edgard in the Bratwurst

We arrived at the start of our survey not far from the climb up. Charles was sketching, Edgard and Tom were on instruments, and I was keeping book and making an attempt at cross sections. The section we were to survey is a compact maze off the main passage, generally stooping height with a few crawls and some climbs to upper levels. It was also muddy – boot-sucking soupy mud, mud on the walls, mud on the ceiling, mud falling every time you brushed the walls or someone moved above! Normally I only see that much mud when I cave with Ralph Hartley.

Keeping the book clean is an art I apparently have yet to learn as I found myself in a constant battle with the mud that was vigorously trying to obscure the data as fast as I could write it down. I finally gave up on the cross sections when I found myself spending more time removing mud than sketching and just concentrated on keeping the data legible. At least I wasn’t down in the mud trying to read instruments. Edgard (pictured with Charles at right) was feeling particularly adventurous, checking out some tight leads during lulls in the survey, and getting thoroughly slimed with a nice mud facial in the process.

After several hours, with everyone getting chilled in the process, we closed a loop back to one of our earlier stations and took a break. Charles, deciding that we had perhaps had enough surveying for one day, suggested we head to the back to look at the pretties, check out some leads and get back early for once. After washing up and refueling we headed on further into the Bratwurst and began to encounter some of the formations I had heard about and seen in Tom’s earlier photos.

The Camel

There are indeed some very beautiful and interesting sights and Charles pointed out some of the less obvious sights like the cluster of spar that I had walked past without noticing. As we approached the formation room though I had no trouble recognizing the Camel – even if I hadn’t seen Tom's pictures of it I would have recognized the camel shape. From the far side (shown here) one might perhaps see a dragon instead, but the formation is striking indeed. We continued on to explore leads beyond the formation room then came back for a photo session. I will try to add some more pictures to the Gangsta web page when Bob Zimmerman gets back from his honeymoon. Tom also took pictures, including several of Charles, Edgard and himself – all Swarthmore alumni.

The trip out was uneventful, though the exposure on the traverses out of the Skeleton Domes still kept my adrenalin levels high. The trip back through the Miseries seemed to go quickly and we began our climb up to the bottom of the entrance pit around 9:30 pm. As I was waiting my turn to start up I heard one of the others calling down that we were not alone in the pit, and then that there was someone on our rope. As we all reached the pit, the situation became clearer and we found that we had come upon another party with a casualty and all hopes of an early return quickly faded.

Mike Masterman Awaiting Rescue

The other party, led by Mike Masterman, had apparently entered the pit around 8:00 pm to do a through trip to the Windy entrance. It had been raining and they had become sufficiently wet that one of their party (Todd Leonhardt) was getting hypothermic and they decided to abort the trip. Mike was first up the rope and apparently was having trouble ascending – he was on a muddy rope under the waterfall. He was getting hypothermic and decided to change over to a figure eight for descent to work on his gear when one of his ascenders jammed, then he somehow lost the foot loop on his other ascender. With Todd’s assistance from our rope he managed to get free from the ascenders, but his figure eight had not been locked off and he fell at least ten feet, breaking his lower left leg. When we arrived Mike’s leg had been splinted and the third person in the party (Mary Schmidt) was heading on out to call for help. She was using our rope because one of Mike’s ascenders was still on their rope with nothing attached to it. [Note: This paragraph is derived from conversations in the pit and a later incident report provided by Todd.]

After we made sure that Mike was stable and loaned some extra clothing, we spent some time talking to Mike and Todd. It turned out that Mike, Charles and Tom shared some professional/academic acquaintances. Charles then climbed out to see what assistance he could offer on the surface, followed by Edgard. Not having much to offer beyond a 30-year-old Emergency Space Blanket (still in good shape) that we wrapped around Mike, I also headed up leaving Tom and Todd with Mike at the bottom. By the time I reached the ledge I could hear the Cass Volunteer Fire Department setting up operations on the surface. Those of us on the surface helped with the hauling operations, lowering Wayne Cassell on the fire department rope to tend to the patient. Charles descended our rope to the lip of the pit and used the other party’s rope to lower the equipment.

The hauling was a drawn out process with a lot of stops and starts to reconfigure the haul system, which was not terribly well placed. Tom climbed the other party’s rope, in the waterfall, to help guide the litter up past various obstacles. Todd climbed out on our rope and was able to help at one point where Tom couldn’t free the litter. Finally around 2:30 am Mike was in the ambulance and on his way to the hospital and everyone was out of the cave, so we were able to derig the pit, change and head back to the Buckskin Scout Reservation for a few hours sleep, arriving around 3:45 am. Never a dull moment with the Gangstas! Be sure to also check out Charles Danforth's version of this trip.

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  Copyright 2002-2004, Bob Robins
  Last Updated: February 12, 2004