Thursday, March 18, 2010

Weekend at the Lake!

Charlie invited a group of us up to his parents lake house up in the Tennessee mountains for a fun weekend out of the city! Klar picked me up late on Friday and we met Charlie, Sarah, and Dana up at the cabin.

We spent all of Saturday out on the lake. Charlie is a fricken pro at wake boarding and Dana is pretty dang good too, but Klar, Sarah, and I were all beginners. After Charlie showed off his awesome turns and flips and Dana attempted some sweet moves, it was the beginners time to learn.

It took Sarah a couple of times, but before we knew it she could stand up everytime and then entertain us with her awesome falls.

I was up next and after a couple times of being plowed through the water, I stood up on the board and was riding! It was hard to figure out how to maneuver over the wake without eating it, but minus the probable whiplash - I had a blast.

Klar was next and unfortunately he didn't have much luck standing up, but got frustratingly close a bunch of times!

We made sure to all take turns at the huge rope swing in between wake boarding and eventually we head back in for the night and grilled some up some food to have with our margaritas.

The next day we played around on the jet skis (my first time!) and I realized that I'm not a huge fan of going fast as hell on them...but, a bit of fear makes it all the more fun! :)

Muddy Buddy!

There is this race called Muddy Buddy that comes through Atlanta once a year and you sign up for it with a partner. AK and I decided to partner up even though that would mean that he had to use my tiny mountain bike.

They give out prizes for the best costume so we decided to give it a go and spent the night before trying to locate blue paint with which to smurfify ourselves. I grabbed a white dress at a thrift store and a pair of red shorts for AK so we could pull off Smurfette and Papa Smurf (complete with a Santa beard).

Man oh man were we a bright, bright blue! We ended up losing the costume contest to Mario and Luigi (complete with a Yoshi bike!).

The race is designed such that one person rides the mountain bike while the other trail runs and then when you get to one of the obstacles you switch off. Whoever was riding the bike gets to the obstacle first, drops the bike on the side of the trail and takes off running....and the runner will pick up the bike after completing said obstacle.

The trails weren't particularly hard, but the amount of people that you had to dodge certainly made it interesting. The obstacles were a ton of fun and we had to run across balance beams, go down inflatable slides, and it all ended in the giant mud pit.

I got to the mud pit first (I biked 3 times, and ran twice) and waited on AK to meet me there. You have to go through the mud pit with your partner and so we ran to it and dived on in, crawling on our knees underneath the flags and getting completely coated.

Making it out of the pit we ran to the finish line and as we would later find out we managed to place 4th in our age group!

After rinsing what mud we could off of our bodies and out of our eyes (ouch!) we headed over to the beer garden - because free beer at 10 am is always a good idea.

We met up with Mariah and grabbed a bite to eat afterwords at a great family joint. Needless to say we got some rather funny looks with our peeling blue skin and mud covered clothes! :)

A Mere 586 Feet Underground - Ellison's!

Ok, so if you're a caver at all you have heard of Ellison's. Its a legendary cave located in North Georgia with Fantastic - the deepest single drop pit in the continental US at 586 feet. To give you an idea, the Washington Monument could fit into the pit! Rappelling into a pit like this is a bit intimidating to say the least, but of course a FANTASTIC experience.

My good friend Sarah wrote her account of our adventures in Ellison's and I thought I would just repost it here. :)

Last Thursday, July 2, Dana Wolski, Alissa Feucht, Charlie Emerson, Kris/ Klar Fausnight, Carl Fausnight, and myself headed up to the Pigeon Mountain area to camp out prior to most of our's first Ellison's adventure. I can't remember the name of the guy's land we stayed on, but there were some pretty questionable looking out houses and tee pee's, a pretty sweet looking traverse line that we didn't get to try, and a nice pavilion area complete with Christmas lights. We set up camp, ate some cold McDonalds, and consumed far too much wine.

The next morning we got a bit of a slow start. By the time we got ready and hiked up the mountain it was about 11:30 when we actually made it into the cave. We easily rigged the warm up pit and made it to Fantastic with out any major issues. The rest of us chilled out, had a snack and relaxed, while Charlie and Klar bravely rigged the pit. Klar and Carl were the only ones who had done a 500+ ft. pit before and the rest of us didn't really know what we were getting into.

We sent Klar down first and he made it to the bottom with out any problems. Alissa was next. She had a little trouble at the top since she was far too light to get anywhere with five bars on her rack. She was unable to get the last bar off with the weight of the rope, so she managed to swing over to the ledge and some how work the last bar out. She then continued to rappel the rest of the way with little trouble.

Dana was up next. Unfortunately we didn't have enough normal rappel racks and she was the one who got stuck using a mini. She had the same problem at the top that Alissa did but also managed to get the fifth bar off and continue down the rope. Since she was using a mini rack, she had a lot more trouble and pretty much had to feed the rope all the way until about 100 feet off the ground. At this point the rope became much stickier and worn and Dana could no longer even feed the rope into her rack. She was just high enough off the ground that communication was very limited, so she did the only the she knew to do and started to down climb. After about 30 to 40 feet she was too exhausted to go any further.

Klar and Alissa were able to talk to her a little bit at this point and tried to get her to do a change over. Unfortunately the gear wasn't appropriately adjusted for her height and the safety was too longto make that happen. Not knowing what else to do, Klar began to climb up the rope in order to do a pick off. The three of us at the top had no idea what was going on and we heard the words pick off and began to freak out. Klar made it up to Dana and sucessfuly completed about half of a pick off. I'm not sure exactly what went wrong but he put her back on rope and they finally realized it would just be easier to switch rappel racks. They both made it down safely and radioed up to us thate verything was okay.

At this point Dana had been on rope for over an hour and we realized that there was not going to be much time to explore the rest of the cave. Charlie, Carl and I still wanted to bounce the pit since we were already there and Dana needed some time to rest anyway. I got on rope next and decided to start with four bars since Alissa and Dana had already had so much trouble. I was also surprised by the weight of the rope and felt very uncomfortable not being able to pull up on it to stop like I normally do. I was unable to get a fifth bar on due to the weight of the rope and decided it would be best just to do a change over, climb back up to the top and start over with five bars. Unfortunately my gear was not properly adjusted either. The foot loops were too short to get the kroll on the rope above the larger than normal rappell rack. I had a short moment of freaking out while I was stuck on rope. Charlie talked me through it, and I eventually managed to work the rack out of the rope and climb back up to the top. At this point I was a little intimidated and decided I no longer wanted to do the pit that day.

Carl and I waited at top while Charlie descended with out any trouble to help the rest of them back out of the pit. About an hour later a very exhausted Dana and a Charlie made it over the lip and collapsed on the edge.

Klar and Alissa did a little exploring at the bottom while they waited and got to see some of the pretty crystal rooms. By this point Carl and I had become pretty cold and bored and had worked up enough courage to try going down again. This time I startedwith five bars and made it down with no problem. A few minutes later Carl made it down and joined me at the bottom. Once down there we decided it would be best for Carl and Alissa to climb up together since Alissa was pretty cold.

Klar and I decided to go exploring again while Carl and Alissa climbed. We took off at a very fast pace and managed to make it back to the north pole and back in under an hour. I was impressed by how beautiful the gypsum crystals were and by how clearly the fault line was defined. It was unlike any other cave I have been to. The north pole formation was very pretty as well, but much smaller than I was expecting it to be. Once the two of us made it back to the bottom of the pit and Alissa and Carl got off rope, we sent Alissa, Dana, and Carl out to the warm up pit to start climbing that.

Klar and I made it out of fantastic in about 45min. (I had a rope walker), and with the help of Charlie, we coiled up the rope and headed back to the warm up pit as well. We were all pretty exhausted and nobody really wanted to climb with the 600 ft beast attached to them so we decided to make a haul system instead. We (and by we I mean Charlie and Klar) set it up so the weight was 2:1 and got it up to the ledge pretty easily. Charlie dragged it up the rest of the way and then we made like trees and got the eff out of there. By the time we made it out we had spent a total of 12 hours in cave.

All in all it wasn't a complete failure even though we didn't get to do everything we had planned and we had a few amature moments. We learned that rappelling on rope over about 300 feet is much different. You can no longer use pulling up on the rack as a stopping mechanism, it is incredibly hard to lock off and to change the amount of bars you have on, and mini racks are pretty much a horrible idea. We also learned that everyone should adjust their gear so it is the appropriate size, everyone should know how to do change overs in their sleep, and pickoff's should only be done as a last resort and if the picker offer knows how to do them really well. I would recommend practicing at a wallwith a heavy weight at the end of the rope so you can know what to expect if you've never done a serious pit before. The important thing is we all made it out safely and we learned from our mistakes. It was still fun and the next time we return we'll know what to expect and be able to explore much more!

SERA Summer Cave Carnival!

I hitched a ride up to Lookout Mountain in North Georgia with my now good friend Klar. After our quick registration, we cracked open a beer, located our friends and set up our tent. We held many a crawl through the tiny black tube on the kid's playground contest (we all got some good bruises from this one!) and we all tested our limits in the Squeeze Box (think of it as limbo for cavers). I discovered that my head is the biggest part of me and could only squeeze my way through 5 3/4".

The night turned a bit crazy as Sarah & I introduced ourselves and partied with all of the caving "Gods" and preceded to turn even crazier in the infamous hot tub. Somebodies (leaving out names) naked beer run through camp supplied more beer to those of us that continued to drink and dehydrate ourselves in the hot tub.

Obviously all of us were quite chipper in the morning....but we met up with Ann as planned and packed into the car for the short drive to Anderson Spring Cave. After some peanut butter and jelly we began the plesant downhill hike to the cave. After a bit of searching through the woods, and spotting of the nearby road (the local farmer doesn't allow anyone on his land, so you have to get to the cave the long way) we found the small entrance with water flowing out of it.

I'm pretty sure river caves are my favorite kind as they always seem to be full of pretty decorations and hiking through water is pretty fun too. Our group (minus Ann) was dragging quite a bit so we didn't explore quite as much of the cave as we would have liked.

The second night was much tamer than the first and the next morning, a small group of us set out for Drag Fold Pit, part of the Mountain Cove Cave Complex. The rappel into Drag Fold is about 100 feet and it wasn't too drippy when we went. There isn't too much to see at the bottom of the cave, but Klar showed me some passage that he thought I could push since I'm kinda small.

The passage started out as a hand and knees crawl and turned from a belly crawl with decent room, to a tight, tight belly crawl with my back against the ceiling and me barely being able to push my way along. I experience my first ever clausterphobic feelings in this crawl because I knew that getting back out backwards, if I couldn't turn around, was going to be really fricken hard. Pushing my way through the passage and somehow avoiding breaking the 2 small columns. At the end of the crawl I came to a room that was just big enough for me to sit up in and where the air was blowing like crazy. There was a crack above my head that isn't big enough for a human to fit through, but I could see that it opened up into a pretty big room....I'm pretty sure if somebody cracks it open it would lead into 4 Kings Cave. This room was luckily big enough for me to somehow turn myself around in (glad I'm flexible) and I crawled my way back out!

All in all a great caving weekend!

Virgins, Concerts, Shamu, and Squirt Guns in Caves!

Friday after work, we packed up two cars with camping and caving gear and set off to the Cumberland Caverns in Tennessee. Not long after arriving and setting up camp (Cumberland Caverns rocks and allows us cavers to camp there for free!), I get the usual I'm lost call from Dana and somehow direct her along the foggy roads to our campsite. We get a little roudy as usual with our 2 handles of Soco (Dana and I think alike) and Sean's obligatory bottle of 2 buck chuck.

The next morning we woke up and headed to a small cave in the area called Cave of the Virgins. I'm still not sure that this cave actually qualifies for vertical status, but nonetheless we set up a rope and rappelled into the VERY tight entrance. The cave was pretty small, but decently decorated and we spent about an hour exploring with everyone rappelling and climbing on out. Getting out the cave was interesting and I just got frustrated as my gear got in the way and some people REALLY struggled to get out.

More of our friends had arrived when we were in the cave and the parking lot for Cumberland Caverns had filled up. The group of us showed our pre-purchased tickets and we were led down the path to the cave entrance. Cumberland Caverns is a very touristy cave and the passages leading to the main room were well lit and all of us cavers looked for tiny side passages that we debated crawling off into. Most of the seats were already taken, so we awkwardly found places to sit on a pile of rocks off to the side and waited for the magical cave bluegrass to start. A concert inside of a cave? Awesome idea as the acoustics made the fiddles and twangy singing sound ethereal.

Post-concert we piled in our various cars and set out for Snail Shell, where we would camp for the night. chili, hobo meals, and bottles of wine put us to sleep this night (after Sean's drunk dialing antics and Lisa's epic first pee in the woods).

A few more friends joined our group the next morning and we all donned our wetsuits and either hiked or rappelled our various flotation devices down to the cave. There were several kayaks, a dingy, 2 intertubes, a pool lounge chair, and Shamu.

Sarah and I grabbed our oars and paddled our little inflatable dingy on into the cave. I think the paddle upstream is about a mile, at which point all of us but Dana deserted our respective floatation devices and preceded into the cave by foot. Dana was determined to use her River Rat raft (1 of the 2 that had survived Puerto Rico) for as long as possible, and this eventually led to its demise.

We hiked on in for a while, having to occasionally swim...but, all too soon we had to head back out of the cave and on the road back to the ATL.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Costa Rica - Day 7 - Quetzels in the Clouds

The next morning we head to the official Monteverde National Cloud Forest and arranged to join a guided tour so we could learn as much as possible along our hike. It was the 3 of us, plus another couple with our guide and before we could even set off unto the path she spotted the famous quetzel and she set up her small telescope for us to take a closer look. The guide did her secret whistle and before we knew it we were surrounded by other guides and tourists trying to spot the infamous bird. I mean, the bird is pretty and all - but I didn't really get how big of a deal it was. I think we ended up seeing 5 during the hike that morning.

There were no big animal sightings (other than another coatimundi high up in the canopy), but even all of the little things that our guide pointed out were incredibly interesting. The cloud forest itself is just an amazing place to be and your neck starts to hurt after a while from looking upward and trying to take it all in.

We saw various small birds, more Strangler Fig Trees, and a particularly group of caterpillars that line up in a row so that all of them together gives the appearance of a snake to keep the pesky birds away.

The end of the tour brought us to the hummingbird garden and we saw countless fast flittering wings as the birds fed. The 2nd biggest hummingbird in the world is found in Costa Rica and is a brilliant blue color.

After grabbing a quick bite, the 3 of us set out to hike a bit and headed out on the Continental Divide Trail. We crossed over a pretty neat suspension bridge, but there were no big animal sightings along the way. The hike led us out to a viewpoint at the edge of one of the mountains and we got to look out over the cloud forest and see the alleged divide.

I easily could have hiked through the jungle all day, but we had to head back towards San Jose since our flight was early the next morning. We made plans with Pauline and her 2 friends to meet up at the same hostel that night in Heredia, a burb of San Jose.

We flew out early the next morning and gazed over the mountainous and volcanic terrain below. Adios for now Costa Rica! :(

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Costa Rica - Day 6 - Swinging through the Canopy, Tarzan Style

Waking up early, we continued down the Intercoastal on the way toward Monteverde. We turned off the nice paved highway, onto the dirt road leading up into the cloud forests of Monteverde. The road to the famed cloud forest is said to be just as famous - a bumpy, dirt road that winds up and into the clouds through farmland. Judging by the amount of construction workers on the road, I'm going to guess it takes a lot of upkeep to keep the road drivable when it is likely washed out due to the frequent showers.

We arrived in the small sister towns of Monteverde and Santa Elena (I never could distinguish which one I was in at which times) and immediately set out to find The Original Canopy Tour. We followed signs up a steep road and arrived at a luxury hotel which had been the first to run the famed canopy tours many years ago. We walked in and they asked for our reservations which we definitely had not set up. Luckily, another group canceled and the three of us set off with 2 guides hiking into the rainforest.

This canopy tour was definitely the most "touristy" activity that we did on our CR trip, but it was a ton of fun and completely worth it! Our first stop was at the tarzan swing, and it did look kinda lame, but when you jumped off the platform you went swinging high up through the trees and it was actually pretty awesome.

After the tarzan swing and a bit more hiking we went from zipline to zipline to zipline, higher and higher into the canopy.

The cloud forest canopies are an amazing thing with an entire ecosystem living up in the treetops. It was amazing to see the diversity of plant and animal life that occupies the canopies.

One of my favorite plant species is called a Strangler Fig Tree. The seeds of a Strangler Fig is dropped on top of an existing tree by birds and it begins its life as an epiphyte, growing on top of the existing tree. Eventually the Fig's roots grow hundreds of feet down to the forest floor and complete envelope the host tree, eventually killing it. The interior tree, slowly decomposes and leaves a hollow interior to the Strangler Fig which we actually got to climb up inside of!

After the fun, albeit touristy canopy tour we grabbed a quick bite to eat before heading to one of the many ecological sanctuaries in the area for an afternoon hike. We had the sanctuary mostly to ourselves and hiked out to various viewpoints, overlooking the gorgeous rain forest.

Besides the gorgeous flowers around every corner of the trail, I managed to spot two Agoutis - a large guinea pig like animal that is orangish in color and WAY too fast for any picture snapping opportunities.

After leaving the park, we found a small museum called The Bat Jungle, and since I'm all about some caves and bats the three of us decided to go since it was still open. Again, we had luck on our side and a group had canceled and left us with the brilliant bat doctor, and owner of the museum as our guide. He was impressed with my little bit of knowledge of bats and of the white nose syndrome pandemic that is spreading to bats throughout the Northeast corner of the US, and by now has even spread as far south as Tennessee. The most interesting part of the museum for me was the room where he kept several different varieties of fruit bats. He had a device that converted the bats talking decibel range to one that we humans can hear, so we could hear the bats communicating with each other. There was one particularly pissed off momma bat that would NOT shut up, but it was fascinating to hear how much they communicated with one another.

That night when the three of us were walking to grab a beer, we had an amazing "The World is a small, small place" moment when we ran into a former Couchsurfer of mine, Pauline. She was checking out part of Central America before she head back to Paris and we just happened to run into her in the small cloud forest town of Monteverde!!!! Amazing!