Return to the Rockpile

Dripping formations

Dripping formations

It having been over a year since our last visit we were due to check
out the jumble of caves in the area known as the Rockpile.

So off we were headed up the hill in search of
caves. After a short delay to rig a rope Jeremy headed on down to the bottom. Most of the group reached
the bottom fairly quickly, though I delayed as I spotted a large millipede crossing the ceiling about halfway down, so I stopped to get
out my camera. It didn’t wait around for me so I only snapped a quick pic of its tail end before it disappeared into a small hole in the
rock. I waited but it didn’t reappear. At the bottom there was hesitation as Ron wasn’t sure he could fit through a squeeze that
continued along the passage. After Chrissy, Jeremy, Warren and Mark slid through easily enough he had to try it. I had busied myself
photographing the interesting array of roots that were growing into the cave and then found a side passage with enough decorations to
amuse myself taking pictures and so avoided attempting the squeeze.

Ron enjoying the tight passages

Ron enjoying the tight passages

The squeeze back at the entrance with my vertical gear on was enough of a challenge. All of us back at the surface enjoyed a leisurely late
lunch, surprised to learn we had spent over a couple of hours in that relatively small cave. If we were to get any more caving in it was
time to head out. We headed off to the next cave. Ron located the entrance easily enough and once more the rigging was set up. Having
been in this cave just last year you’d think I’d remember how long the drop was but I couldn’t remember. I was thinking around forty feet. A
check of the rope at the bottom revealed it was closer to 120, good thing we weren’t relying on my memory. At the bottom we found a new
visitor, a small mouse, it was quite dead though still intact, apparently it hadn’t been there for a long period of time. The recent
rains had left the formations glistening and dripping which made for some nice pictures.

Shiny formations

Shiny formations

We also investigated softball sized hole where Ron was sure we’d find bad air. I attempted to photograph him reaching in
with a lighter but the awkward angle and the fact that the hole had enlarged to body size, probably due to the rains, made the results
inconclusive. Now it was time to climb back out. Here we had the only trouble on this trip and it was my fault. I had clipped my pack to my
harness using a petzl webbing with a plastic buckle. Not its intended use and in hindsight not a good idea. Nearing the top of the climb my
pack swung under a ledge and wedged itself just as I took a step up the rope. After tugging on it futilely for a few minutes I realized I
would need to down climb to free my pack. I stepped into my foot loop to pull myself up a little to loosen my chest croll and heard a snap!
With a yell of ‘Heads up’ my pack plunged towards the bottom. I was relieved to hear Mark and Warren proclaim that the pack had missed
them and they were unharmed. Once back on the surface I examined the webbing and confirmed that the plastic buckle had in fact failed and
was broken.

Chris begins her ascent

Chris begins her ascent

Next trip I’ll have to remember my prusik and carabiner that I usually use to clip my pack to. My pack was even retrieved, the
only casualty being the plastic container containing my spare batteries that had apparently absorbed the impact by shattering into
small pieces, Other things like my camera equipment, flashes, even a nalgene bottle half full of water were all unharmed.

Now for the big decision of the day. Dinner was to be Chinese food in Angels camp. Since the Fresno contingent had a longer drive they headed home, but that just meant more delicious shrimpy prawns for me. Another good day caving in the Mother Lode.


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