Memorial Day Photo Trip - Sept. 13, 2003
(or We Do This For Fun!)
by Bob Robins
It's Monday morning and everything hurts! I arrived in Germany Valley hoping
for a survey trip but ended up on a photo trip in Memorial Day Cave with Paul
Gillis, hauling some of his photo supplies and doing flash slave and occasional
(muddy) model duty. My cave pack wasn't big enough to handle the photo supplies
so Paul kindly loaned me a much larger pack, though much of the load was large
but lightweight flashbulbs. Steve Biggers was coerced into joining us as guide,
and also hauled a rope bag for the camp crew (Mike Frisina and Mark Stover)
as far as we went.
This was my first time all the way through the Puppet Buster and down the
125 foot drop. I don't even want to think what the Puppet Buster was like before
the improvements, but it is still difficult, with the main problems being the
section with the bottomless slot that threatens to consume packs as you try
to maneuver through, and the changeover getting off at the top of the 125.
When we got down into Columbia Canyon, Paul took a few pictures at the rope
as the rest of the group descended and a few shots in the dead end side passage
just west of the rope. Then we headed on to the northeast following Steve who
was on his fourth trip into Columbia Canyon. We had at least one photo stop
on the way in, but Paul decided to leave most of the photography for the trip
out. We turned around just before what Steve described as a hairy breakdown
section about an hour short of the Pinnacle Room.
We slowly worked our way back toward the ropes, stopping periodically for
photos as various segments attracted Paul's attention. Steve was napping frequently,
though I think it may have been photo trip fatigue rather than physical exhaustion.
The slow pace made for fairly easy traveling, but eventually the late hour
and misbehaving equipment caused Paul to call a halt to photography and we
began moving more quickly. At one point we stopped to rest - I don't know how
long we slept but I awoke at 2:30 am to find that I was getting chilled, Paul
was snoring gently and Steve was wrapped up in a trash bag sleeping.
Columbia Canyon proved to be a lot of work, with continuous climbing up and
down large breakdown piles, but the real killer was hauling gear through the
keyhole passages in the Puppet Buster and the entrance series. By the time
I got to the climbs above the 50 foot pit, I needed Paul's assistance to get
up, and progress was pretty slow beyond that point. It ended up being a 22
hour trip, getting out at 9:30 Sunday morning, and no speed records were set
unless you are looking for the slowest trips through a section of cave. Many
naps and breathers were required along the way to get the old folks safely