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NSS Convention: Trip Report

avra c.
divermate
New York, NY
Post #: 2,060
NSS Convention, 2012

Greenbrier County, West Virginia.
So many caves, so little time!



This was my first NSS convention and as a novice caver, my priority was obviously to go caving. Mindful of the advice imparted by our grotto leader: "Ditch your grotto! You can cave with them anytime", I did manage to get out and underground on a couple of trips with folks from the area and also others from far afield. Of the six days spent at convention, I managed a cave a day for the first five: Rockland Spring Cave, Piercy's Mill Cave, McClung, Piercy's Cave and a great trip through a piece of Norman Cave led by Andrew Foord, our intrepid Chairperson.

So much to do, and so much to say about it.

The Caves.
I'm a newbie from the hard core scuba school. Wanted to learn about caves in anticipation of underwater cave training. Whether that will happen remains to be seen. But I've discovered that caving is an entirely absorbing activity that entails multiple skill sets. It is both physically and psychologically demanding while being strangely ethereal and rewarding in a way that is very primal and viscerally felt. Though I miss the ability to float, I still feel I am moving in three dimensions, as indeed I am.

I don't possess the vocabulary to describe all the wonderful decoration and formations that I got to see in the short list of caves I visited. But it was like nothing that I've seen in my few forays here in the northeast. West Virginia boasts hundreds of caves and a good few of the longer systems were conveniently located close to our campground. I didn't make it to Scott's Hollow, but all reports from there were sterling.

Several caves which are not usually open to the public, were open just for the convention week. I made a point of getting into one of those: McClungs. Showed up at the meeting spot to be informed that the 'trip leader' has had a medical emergency... we are on our own. Reassurances from the trip-trailer person convince us to proceed though no one has been in this cave before. Blind leading the blind. Turned out to be a great trip and a great impromptu team experience.

Two memorable scenes bear relating. The back of Piercy's Mill cave was an enchanted spill of terraced pools in a big high-ceilinged room. Also a knockout was a big room near our entrance to Norman that had a totally National Geographic feel with big formations including a thick floor to ceiling column. Made me regret not having brought a camera. We didn't make it to the fabled "Great White Way", but enjoyed the stream passage and an impressive waterfall.

A decontamination station was the first stop in camp for returning cavers. Only two pressure washers were available, but they made short work of mud. Rinse tubs and detergent were provided along with clorox wipes for gear. Outbound led trips, from the sign-up lists, were provided with decon kits and bags for taping up gear. Compliance seemed good. Interviewed while washing gear, fellow Met Grotto member Tim Burlingame and I found ourselves mentioned, pictured and quoted in a Charleston Gazette article on the convention and the steps being taken to control the spread of White Nose Syndrome.

The Skills.
Workshops galore. With my priority set on getting underground, I only took time for two workshops of the dozens offered. An all-day NSS Vertical Orientation Course introduced me to several systems I had seen but never tried. The Mitchell System was being demonstrated by none other than its originator (back in '67!) Dick Mitchell. Other Vertical Section luminaries were present to encourage our efforts. We had a chance to scramble on a cable ladder, to use ropewalker, prussik and frog climbing systems, to practice rappelling using first a rack and then a Petzl stop, plus play with knots and generally have a good time. Still got out in time to go find a cave!

Next day was filled by 'Speleology for Cavers'. Bit hard to stay awake for the all the charts and slides about the geology of karst formation, but that was no doubt due in some measure to the previous five days of caving and partying! The course was comprehensive including geology, speleo-biology, speleo-meterology, spleleo-paleontology and much more. Got the book and I'll bring it to the next grotto meeting.

Other fun distractions included a squeeze box set up in the school gym (I only managed 8.75") and something called CaveSim which was a cave like obstacle course electronically rigged to assign demerits for touching or coming too close to faux cave decorations. Overall time was calculated and weighed with 'bad' points to arrive at a score. Observers could view participants via night vision cameras set up inside the structure. Pretty cool. A SpeleOlympics event included these activities in a competition of rope climbing and other demonstrations of caving prowess.

The Beer.
Copious quantities of specially crafted beers and local wines were available at the beer tent gratis. Cave Monster and Pitch Black were two yummy offerings. It would seem that beer is an inseparable ingredient in the social fabric of NSS Convention, though the organizers were considerate in having free soda and water coolers as well nearby.

The Bonhomie.
Possibly closely related to the beer... but the pervasive sense of camaraderie was absolutely the most rewarding part of the week. Even all the town folk I encountered seemed drawn into the spirit of good fellowship. I talked with plenty of locals from the Virginias, but also with folks from France, Ukraine, New Zealand and other far flung ports of call. There were musical performances that began with the kickass hoe-down and square dancing at the Howdy Party. Later in the week was another night of great dancing and singing to a more contemporary band that had the crowd rockin' till the wee hours.

In between and after, many grottos had their own thing going on. Met Grotto, under the able direction of Peter Welles, hosted SpeleOasis, a late night watering hole that came into its own on the penultimate night of convention. Thanks to Kay for the decorations and leading a stimulating dance session! Many thanks to Ian and Aurora for their contribution of that cosmic assortment of Spiritus Fermenti!

Most gatherings of the NY/NJ crowd centered around the campsite of Northern New Jersey Grotto and the remarkable camp kitchen set up by Mark and Jenn. This was Java Central every morning and most evenings was host to good food, great conversation, and a couple of remarkable guitar sing-alongs. Thanks to you guys for sharing your space, your knowledge and your experience.

The Sauna/Hot-Tub was definitely a kick-ass contribution to the bonding experience. Nothing quite gets out all the cave-incurred kinks and muscle aches like a nice soak in 100 degree water. There were some technical issues with the wood stove heating system, but for the most part this was a terrific amenity.

The Storm.
In case you haven't heard, we wrapped up our experience with a taste of an extreme weather event...

(continued)
avra c.
divermate
New York, NY
Post #: 2,061
NSS Convention: Trip Report (continued)

No sooner had several folks mentioned what great weather we had enjoyed all week, and how this was the first convention in a long time not marred by a weather related phenomenon, when a rolling system of storms, known as a 'dorecho', came barreling out of the northwest aiming straight at the NSS!

We are all sitting at the farewell banquet and awards dinner, when they announce "The recipient is...", then the lights go out. The fans stop. The sky looks ominous. Meandering back to our campsites, we learn that this storm system is descending upon us and has already knocked out power in the county. But we're from New York. Ain't gonna let no little rainstorm worry us much...

Mark (from NNJG) remarks that the probable danger lies in the surge of wind preceding the storm. Not more than thirty seconds later it begins, almost silently. I am at my small one man tent checking the pegs when, with little more than a second or two of build-up, I find myself being buffeted by gale force winds. Leaves and limbs are departing from a now uncomfortably nearby tree. I'm outside and behind my tent trying to keep it earthbound while dancin' in the wind. Others around are struggling likewise.

I see pop-up tents sailing high above my head. Tarps are whipping in the wind while some tents are bowled along the field like tumbleweeds. Then a thunderous crash commands my attention as I see a large tree that was before me now laid low. The wind has taken on a screaming thrum making indistinct the shouts and hollers of those around me.

As suddenly as it started, the wind abates. With others, I stare in shocked wonderment at the damage. In my immediate vicinity no one appears to be injured. The large tree that fell, better than two feet in diameter and maybe 40 feet tall, landed squarely on the back of a car that had two occupants in front seeking shelter. The car's rear was pancaked, but the occupants unscathed, though I imagine somewhat shaken. The remainder of the trunk fell between two tents, missing one by barely a foot. Talk about lucky! Somewhat less fortunate may have been anyone in the outhouse that was blown over!

Of the 1200 campers out in that unprotected field, there were only a few minor injuries reported. The huge campground is awash in clothes, gear, tents and parts thereof. Then we are advised that a second weather cell is on the way! We are given a 20 minute warning! Security personnel are requesting all campers to head for the building where the banquet was being held. Few comply. After all, we're New Yorkers.

Thankfully Round Two does not materialize. The storm system has passed to the north of us and left us to try to gather ourselves together in the fading light of day. I attribute it to good Caver-Karma. Gusts were reported in excess of 80 mph. The hot-tub surrounding structure and heating system has been blown to kingdom-come, but the water is still hot and several of us take the opportunity to enjoy a well deserved soak. Others join in for what soon becomes a crowded pool of naked but thankful cavers.

Great way to end NSS convention. Next year in Shippensburg, PA. I can hardly wait.

Happy Independence Day!

Peace, Justice and Freedom...
avra

avra c.
divermate
New York, NY
Post #: 2,064
UPDATE: Storm Relief

Most of us departing convention had no idea of the hardship and continued brutal weather that would afflict the hospitable residents we were leaving behind. Nor did we realize the destruction and deaths that were experienced in other areas hit by the the storm. Greenbrier County took one of the hardest hits. It has really sunk in, just how lucky we were.

Power outages still continue for more that half a million people withering in the same heat wave that we have been enduring. Without power, water resources run scarce for those who depend on electric pumps. Much of Greenbrier County is still without power. With temperatures soaring, many fear an influx of dehydration in young children and the elderly.

“This is a worse situation than what a lot of people think,” West Virginia State Police Sgt. Andy Evans said. “There’s nowhere to dispose of trash and all that rotten food from thawed-out freezers has to go somewhere. We need dumpsters and generators badly.”

The American Red Cross is among those leading relief efforts in the region. To make a donation visit Disaster Relief, ARC

If anyone knows of a way to make a more finely targeted donation to efforts in Greenbrier County, please let me know or post the information on this board. I am dismayed that I can't find any effort by the NSS to help.

Read more: http://www.dvidshub.n...­

West Virginia struggles with power outages amid new storms

West Virginia hardest hit state

Heat wave to ease in Midwest, high temps to blast West (Adds two deaths due to storms in Tennessee)
By Ian Simpson

LEWISBURG, W.V.,July 5 (Reuters) - Six days after violent storms hit the eastern United States, the state of West Virginia was struggling to recover on Thursday, with nearly a third of electricity customers still without power and new storms putting more people in the dark.

Electric utilities said more than 566,600 homes and businesses were without power from Ohio to Virginia, leaving them without air conditioning amid a scorching heat wave.

West Virginia, with a population of about 1.9 million, was the hardest hit. Utilities warned that some people could be without power for the rest of the week.

A fresh batch of damaging storms that pushed across southern West Virginia, Tennessee, Kentucky and North Carolina on Thursday afternoon caused more outages and the weather was blamed for two deaths in Tennessee's Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

One man riding a motorcycle was killed in an accident blamed on the weather, and a woman died after being struck by a falling tree, said park spokeswoman Melissa Cobern. Numerous trees were knocked down inside the park, blocking roads and stranding motorists who had to be rescued, she said.

Huge trucks loaded with ice and bottled water roared through the picturesque West Virginia mountain resort town of Lewisburg to supply thousands of residents in the region who lacked power or water.

Plants that shut down during the initial power outages have resumed pumping but had not generated enough pressure to supply far-flung residents, Lewisburg Mayor John Manchester said.

Repair crews from as far away as Arkansas have set up a temporary campground on the town's outskirts, where an empty field was filled with dozens of electrical trucks.

Jerry Morehead said he and his crew had been working up to 18 hours a day. "We turned some people on today - did some good work," he said.

Katie Gwynn of Lewisburg said that until her power went back on Thursday, one of her neighbors had kept her refrigerator running with his generator and extension cords for six days - and would not accept any payment.

"The conditions have been ripe for great difficulties, but people have pulled together," Manchester said, noting there had been no deaths or serious injuries in Lewisburg related to the storm.

The temperature in Charleston, the state's largest city, reached 93 Fahrenheit (34 Celsius) on Thursday and was expected to top 100 F on Friday and Saturday before returning to the mid-80s F Monday, according to Accuweather.com.

Adding to the snarl and the strain on local infrastructure, tens of thousands of visitors streamed in to attend a professional golf tournament at The Greenbrier, a famed resort in White Sulphur Springs near Lewisburg.

Thousands more were expected for weekend concerts at the resort featuring Rod Stewart and Jon Bon Jovi.

BAD NEWS FOR MIDWEST FARMERS

The continued heat wave was bad news for Midwest farmers, with the corn crop suffering from drought in the middle of a crucial growth phase.

The U.S. Drought Monitor showed an expanding area of abnormally dry and drought conditions in Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and Missouri. Corn prices surged to their highest in over a year and soybeans were near a record high on Thursday as the heat scorched crops.

"It's not only abnormally dry, but now you have 100-degree heat combined with the ongoing drought and it's too much for the crop," Accuweather.com senior meteorologist Alex Sosnowski said, adding that Washington, D.C., could on Saturday break its all-time record of 106 F (41 C) set in 1930.

The Midwest and East should start seeing more normal temperatures next week, when the extreme heat returns to the West and brings triple-digit temperatures to parts of Idaho, Utah, Washington and Oregon.

The temperature in Chicago hit a record 103 F on Thursday, before dropping 19 degrees with the arrival of a thunderstorm in the early afternoon. Summer school was canceled at 21 public school buildings without air conditioning.

Part of Columbus Drive near downtown was closed after the pavement buckled.

Around a ground-level fountain near downtown Chicago's Daley Plaza at lunchtime, more than a dozen people were resting their feet in the cool water.

"Any time you can cool off one part of your body, it helps," said Mary Moore, 56, of Chicago, who was dipping her feet in the fountain during a break from jury duty. She said she didn't mind the sunny weather. "I prefer it to the winter," she said.

The storms last Friday crossed the eastern United States with heavy rain, hail and winds reaching 80 miles per hour (129 km per hour), leaving more than 4 million homes and businesses without power. The storms and the record heat that followed have killed at least 23 people. (Reporting by Mary Wisniewski in Chicago, Scott DiSavino in New York, Kim Palmer in Cleveland, Tim Ghianni in Nashville, and NR Sethuraman in Bangalore; Editing by Andrew Stern, Todd Eastham and Lisa Shumaker)
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