Mapping the "Notwurst" Passage on November 17, 2001

By Bob Robins

With the third Saturday in November approaching, it was nearly time for another bimonthly Gangsta Mappers trip to Cassell Cave. The first order of business as the date approached was arranging carpools, started as usual by Bob Zimmerman. After several days of e-mail coordination I ended up with a full vanload of five for the weekend, and three meeting spots along the way--picking up Rick Royer and Charles Danforth at the Rte. 32 Park & Ride off I70, then picking up Ralph Hartley at a Park & Ride lot in Frederick, and finally meeting Madeline Li at Strasburg off I81. On Friday we got off to a good start, leaving our first stop earlier than expected, which meant we had to wait for a while for Ralph in Frederick. Ralph arrived a bit late but we were again on our way headed to meet Madeline.

After a stop for 99 cent gas, we arrived at Bad Water Bill's (BWB) about 20 minutes later than planned but found no sign of Madeline so we headed to Ciro's for dinner, planning to check back on Madeline after we ordered. I returned to BWB but there was still no sign of Madeline. While I was gone however, Ciro's Restaurant had received a call from Pete Penczer, who was looking for three guys with glasses and one without to relay a message that Madeline was delayed by traffic on I66. Shortly after I got back, Madeline walked in and our carpool was complete.

After a leisurely dinner we headed for Durbin, arriving at the depot around 11:00 pm and quickly settling in. It was past Rick's bedtime so he quickly joined a few others who already crashed. Bob Zimmerman and his maps arrived late so the usual Friday night milling about was subdued and I decided to join the sleepy crowd myself. Saturday morning I found myself up before 7:00 am and joined a few other early risers for a hearty breakfast at the local restaurant. We returned from breakfast to find milling around was finally in full swing, with teams being organized (and reorganized to accommodate late arrivals throughout the morning) and survey assignments being handed out.

Old Map

The goal: The Notwurst Passages (Source: Bob Zimmerman)

I ended up on Ralph Hartley's team headed into the North Fork bound for the passage above the 2nd Waterfall, mistakenly identified as the Bratwurst passage several months back. Bob Zimmerman suggested for that reason it should be called the Notwurst (worst?) passage, but Ralph correctly observed that we ought to be the judges of that. Our team consisted of Ralph as sketcher, Pat Bingham keeping book, Edgard Bertaut taking foresights with me on point, setting stations and doing backsights.

Once our team was firmed up, we headed for Cassell in my van, arriving ahead of most of everyone but Barry Horner's crew who were rigging the pit. When we got to the pit, rigging was still in process because a redirect was being set up for the first time. Ralph made a few more adjustments in the redirect when he descended, but finally the rope was ready and the rest of our team was able to enter the pit. It was a nice rappel, the redirect caused no problems going down, and there was only light spray near bottom thanks to the redirect and low water levels.

We left our vertical gear at the pit and headed for the North Fork through the Miseries. Pat was the only one in our group that had been through the Miseries before but didn't remember much of the route so Ralph led us in, getting lost a few times on the way in. The Miseries didn't seem to quite live up to its name, though it may have improved somewhat over the years. The initial crawl and encounters with some soupy mud didn't bode well, but things began to open up and, aside the steep angle of much of the floor, it wasn't as painful as I had been led to believe.

We reached the Big Room and continued past to the 2nd Waterfall where we had to do a scary traverse near the ceiling to get into a window above the waterfall.

Ralph's sketch

Ralph's Sketch (Source: Bob Zimmerman)

Fortunately, the traverse had been rigged with a hand line, well secured to large column in the window and to several bolts on the other end. We found an existing station on top of a large breakdown block in the middle of the room with good line of sight from the window. Setting the first station was a bit challenging since there was a large drop outside the window and a fair drop into a pool on the inside. Choosing safety over comfort, I set our first station near the column where we had a reasonable shot in each direction with some moderate contortions, but minimal exposure.

From the window, we shot across the pool into a fissure, then around a corner to the area where things began to get interesting. Above and to the left was a low crawl and ahead was a one-foot deep pool at the base of a waterfall, with another low crawl waiting above. While I went up to look at the waterfall, Edgard crawled up into the left-hand passage and could be heard strenuously working his way back into a wider area. After a while, Ralph followed Edgard up and worked around in the direction of the waterfall. Before long, I could hear Ralph's voice coming from ahead of me as he worked his way back to the stream above the waterfall.

While Ralph worked on sketching the upper bypass, Edgard and I resumed our survey along the stream and into the passage above the waterfall. Getting up the waterfall from the pool was challenging as there were no good handholds and muddy coveralls provided little traction on the smooth, water washed rock. We all ended up with boots full of water except for Ralph who had on his high rubber boots. I finally had to get a boost from Edgard to get high enough to pull myself up. Pat apparently thought we were near the end of the passage after hearing all the grunting from various directions, and was planning to stay in a comfortable spot short of the pool and waterfall climb and just write down the numbers as we called them out. Ralph had to break the bad news that we had perhaps a thousand feet of passage ahead of us and she really was going to have to get wet.

We continued down the stream crawl and the wide, low passage gradually became higher and narrower, eventually becoming meandering walking passage, though quite tight in at least one spot. At the tightest spot, our survey stalled for a bit as Ralph went off to explore a side lead. Pat took advantage of the opportunity to break out an MRE, enjoying both the hot food and the warmth provided by the heater afterwards. She shared the heat pack with me, providing an opportunity to warm up my hands before continuing the survey.

As we neared the end of our endurance for cold wet survey, I started looking for a place where we could set a recoverable station, since up to that point our stations were inconspicuous little nubs, rock cairns or little blobs of mud stuck to the wall. With the passage now comfortable walking size, almost square in cross section, I found a rock projecting from the wall that would be our final station. I wrapped it with some flagging tape Pat had brought along and Ralph added a bit of reflective tape to better define the station.

Before we turned around for our trip out, I looked ahead for a bit and was joined by Ralph and Edgard as we saw the passage ahead was once again changing character--on the right side was a small dome with one or more high leads and the passage ahead was continuing to get larger. I felt better about quitting now since we were leaving much nicer survey conditions for the next crew than we had experienced up to that point. Hmmm--I may just have to come back to finish this one!

We made good time as we retraced our steps back to the window and gingerly made our way across the traverse. Working our way back to the Big Room, we encountered Barry Horner, who advised us that there was another team already heading back to the pit along a high route. We decided to try to beat them back to the pit to claim first position at the rope and made good time back to the Miseries. We kept up a quick pace through the Miseries, but I began to drag as I tried to keep up with Ralph and Pat.

Finally, we made it to the climb up to the base of the pit and arrived to find we were indeed the first group there. Edgard started up the climb first as Barry's group arrived in the pit, followed shortly by Rick Royer's group. Pat went up next, while Rick Royer and Don Coons decided to head for the Gunbarrel entrance, leaving Penelope Pooler who chose to wait her turn in line for the rope. [Note: Rick was back at the cars when Ralph and I arrived and reported that he was out of the Gunbarrel in half an hour and back to the cars in another 15 minutes, well ahead of Penelope.]

Finally, it was my turn--the first time I had used my current vertical gear in a cave and my first time on rope in a cave for over twenty years. It was an almost perfect trip up with the gear well tuned from practice sessions above ground. The only hitch was at the new redirect, where I managed to get myself tangled the first time I tried to reposition the carabiner below me. I figured that out quickly and was on my way again, now able to enjoy the view of the stars above as I climbed. After I was off rope, Pat followed Edgard to the van while I waited for Ralph and observed one nice meteor while he made his ascent.

Back at the van, I observed that I was covered in mud from head to toe, which apparently made this a typical Ralph trip. We returned to the depot around midnight and I fixed a quick dinner and headed to bed. It was a busy night at the depot as people straggled in through the wee hours of the morning from the cave. The Leonid meteor shower kept many up and others rose early to go watch the show, but I couldn't convince myself to leave my warm bag and dress for the frigid temperatures.

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  Last Updated: February 12, 2004