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May 2003 Near Normal News



I apologize if this issue is a bit late ingetting out. Time just got away from me. Sorry!

It seems that the rules for visiting ourfavorite tour cave (Illinois Caverns) are getting more restrictive by the week.It started with rapidly shrinking visiting hours. Now, certain areas of thecave are being placed "off limits." This was forwarded by JeffGosnell:

Hey all,
Last weekend at Illinois Caverns, barricades were up in part of the cave. Thereis some discussion of this on the NSS discussion board, but I wanted to get thisposting out ASAP. It's by Diane Tecic:

"I am a biologist with the IL DNR andthought I might be able to answer a few of the questions asked on theinstallation of the barricades in Illinois Caverns. A few years ago, we invitedthe renowned and beloved cave management specialist, Ron Kerbo to IllinoisCaverns to discuss current management
and potential mgmt strategies in light of increasing visitation, a recentlyfederal endangered species (Illinois Cave amphipod), and other potentialdevelopments in the area. In short, Ron strongly suggested that we"administratively" close the relatively short portion of the caveupstream of the entrance to provide a relatively undisturbed area for theIllinois Cave Amphipod. This upstream portion has somewhat better water qualitythan areas further downstream that receive drainage from off DNR property.

He also thought that the lunchroom area wasprobably one of the most decorated areas in Illinois Caverns (at least on DNRproperty) and should be closed off to avoid continued impacts. Ideally, hethought we should also try to restore the area so that it would be a moreimpressive overlook for cave visitors.

These suggestions came long after his firstcomment, which was that we cannot legally allow people to trespass onto otherpeople's properties. We have grappled with this issue for a number of yearsnow, and probably will continue to struggle with it for a while. However, atthe strong urging of Ron Kerbo, we are trying to resolve this.

We do plan to place a barricade at the DNRproperty line in the near future. Our line is past the T junction nearwaterfall passage. Unfortunately, this will close off a good portion of thecave, but we cannot legally continue to allow trespass onto other properties.With that said, we also understand that this is an important public cave thathas been used for recreation for at least 100 years. I am strongly in favor ofthe DNR trying to get easements or agreements with the other cave landowners toallow continued visitation throughout the cave. If we can do that, then we canpush the barricade farther into the cave until, hopefully, it is not needed.The bad news is that the DNR is terribly understaffed right now after a hoardof employees took early retirements and there has been a hiring freeze that maycontinue indefinitely. This may make progress on getting agreements slow. Also,if landowners won't voluntarily agree, but want us to pay for an easement, thatwill slow progress because of the dismal current budget predictions for the Stateof Illinois."

[sigh!] (end of comment)

Larry Matiz forwarded this information onour old friend, John Vargo:

Here is an update on John. He had surgery onhis right shoulder, a total replacement with a long pin. The doctor wassurprised at how bad his arthritis was as all the test did not show the degreeof damage! He is
recovery nicely but has a lot of pain. The doctor said that he will have a longterm physical therapy due to the serious surgery.

It's a fact that if guts and desire haveanything to do with it, John will be caving again and in time, we won't be ableto keep up with him again. Hang tough, John!

John Schirle sent this in concerning a newcaving video:

From: "John D Schirle"<jds217@juno.com>
Near Normals --I mentioned at last night grotto's meeting about a video nowavailable for purchase from the MO. Dept. of Conservation, and some wanted theinfo on how to order. It's called "Just Kiddin' Around: Caves", andit's an upper elementary-age video that's 27 min. long, and gives a good, well-doneintro to caves and caving. It's been available for a while for loan from theNSS library, but has just now been made available for purchase. I've borrowedit from them before and used it, and found it good for school groups, etc. It's$7.50 from MO DOC, plus shipping. I've attached the description from the NSSwebsite, plus order info. I'm ordering a copy, so of course anyone will bewelcome to borrow mine, as well.
NSS Catalog #V943
"Go on a restoration trip to Lone Hill Onyx Cave (MO) with Bill Elliottand some middle school kids; join a CRF survey trip to Powder Mill Creek Cave;go mist-netting for bats with DNR biologists; learn how to build a bat house;and see a virtual cave website. This is a great program for kids, with astrong, positive message." Mo. Dept. of Conservation toll-free: (877)521-8632 Website: www.mdcnatureshop.com (It's so new it's not listed on theirwebsite yet, but it IS available.)

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It is hard to believe it is already May! Itseems just like yesterday that we were electing this years' board and beforeyou know it, it's May! It has been a very exciting past few months though. Ican come to you with the confidence that I have actually been caving again. Imade a return trip to Cave River Valley with some old friends from college. Itwas a great trip, but something stuck out that I'm not sure how to react to.After we checked in at the gate, I took a gander down into the valley a noticedseveral cars parked below. I'm thinking to myself, this is a bit unusual,considering I've never seen more than 4 cars there before (and 2 of those wereours). Then up ahead was the bright, yellow mass of a school bus. Oh, my gosh!There is actually a large group here! I'm not talking about a 15 kids andadults, but 50 kids and adults! I looked to my friends and simply said,"It's a good thing we have the rafts. Endless looks to be a littlecongested." We had a great time exploring River Cave and were able to exploreEndless Cave afterwards without worry of running into any other groups. Thereason why I bring this up relates to the growing concerns of closures atIllinois Caverns. As many of us are finding out, more people are becominginvolved in caving activities. This is evident as we encounter more individualsand groups on trips at many of our caving haunts. At the April 2003 GrottoMeeting, we discussed what does this all mean to us. I, for one, am a bigproponent of keeping lines of communication open and seeing how we (the NNG)can assist. I have drafted a letter, which will be presented to the membershipfor endorsement, outlining the NNG's support of the IDNR's efforts in karstconservation and offering our desire to be of assistance in the future. This isinline with our discussion at the April Meeting and we seem to be on the samepage. I would encourage everyone to visit the NSS Discussion Board atwww.caves.org to see what other views around the country might be. I was one ofthe first to sign on and have been able to glean enormous amounts informationfrom it since.

Other news... We have set tentative dates for the Vertical Training/Practice.The first date is Sunday, June 1, 2003 from 1:00 to 6:00pm at the ISU RappelingTower. Marc Tiritilli will be heading it up. There will also be a date inAugust and we'll get more into on that as we approach that time. May 10-11 isthe Central Illinois Gem and Mineral Club is having is show. We will have adisplay there along with various pamphlets about caving. I should be inattendance on that Sunday. I have also become an "unofficial" NNGLibrarian. I have copies of past issues of the Near Normal News and created anindex of articles since 1992. While I'm talking about The News, I noticed thatthe Near Normal Grotto was "shut out" this year for 2002 SpeleoDigestselections. We have several of our members who have had articles in theSpeleoDigest, so I know it isn't because of lack of writing ability. What itdoes tell me is that we need more articles in the NNN! You know what you needto do! o[;o>

I would like to end this little note with a warm welcome to new members AmbraDeering and Don Kerouac. I am no longer driving the furthest to grotto meetingsas Don is from just north of me at Kankakee! So, how about having thosemeetings at Watseka?! o[;)>

-The Pres.
Troy o[;)>

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MINUTES OF THE MEETING - March and April, 2003

March 14, 2003

Called to order by President Troy Simpson.Present: Ralph Sawyer, Bill Morrow, Ambra Deering, Brian Braye, Jim Jacobs.

The minutes of the previous meeting wereapproved as published in the NEWS.

The Treasurer was not present to deliver thetreasury report.



Jim Jacobs gave a slide show on theBlackBall Mine.


April 11, 2003

Called to order at 7:12 by President TroySimpson. Present: Amy Marcier, Tracy Tiritilli, Marc Tiritilli, Steve Taylor,John Schirle (Vice President), Ralph Sawyer, Jeffery Gosnell, John Walther,David. S. Carson (Treasurer), Don Kerouac, Ambra L. Deering, Jim Jacobs(secretary).

· The minutes of the March meeting were approvedas read.
· The Treasurer's report was read and approved.

· CIGMC Show, May 10-11, Decatur, IL
· Kentucky Speleofest, May 23-26; Ft. Knox, KY
· Lost River Karst System Tour, May 31. Contact Bob Armstrong.
· Indiana Cave Capers, June 20-22; Delany Park, IN (t-shirt design contest)
· NSS Convention, Aug. 4-8,; Porterville, CA
· OTR (Old Timer's Reunion) Aug 28-Sept 1
· NNG patches are available for $3.00. There are some shirts left, both greenand gray.

· We discussed the Illinois Caverns situation. We understand that they will beerecting barriers at the property lines, and some other areas for protecting ofthe endangered Amphipod. [See letter from Diane Tecic quoted in From a Hole inthe Ground]. Until they come to some sort of agreement and figure out what theyare going to do, we may have to deal with this mess for quite a while. TheState of Illinois is in a budget crunch and hiring new DNR employees andnegotiating for us to go under private property while in this cave, may not behigh on the priority lists. We discussed sending a letter of support.

· Steve Taylor has been caving (!) He's going to the Great Basin National Parkin Nevada.
· Jeff Gosnell is going to Colorado Springs. He says a friend has promised totake him caving while he is there.
· Vertical practice at the tower. We decided to schedule the two days onSundays this year instead of Saturdays. It seemed to be the consensus that morepeople would be able to attend. Marc's going to try for June 1 and August 3.Schedule those two dates unless announced otherwise.
· We may also have a vertical training session, a redo of the official NSSProgram that we did a couple of years ago. He may contact Larry Bird to see ifwe might get access to the private canyon area that we were able to use forlast year's picnic.

Adjourned. Pizza!

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Cave Rescue

Here's an interesting article from theHarrisburg,IL, newspaper about a cave rescue at what is commonly calledEquality


Three rescued after 11 1/2 hour caveexploration
Tuesday, April 29, 2003 2:21 PM CDT

Brian DeNeal
Staff Writer
HORSESHOE - Three thirsty teen-agers made it safely out of the cave at CaveHill, just west of Glen O. Jones Lake, this morning after an eight-hour rescueeffort of Saline County Emergency Services Disaster Agency, Saline CountySheriff's deputies, Illinois Department of Mines and Minerals Mine Rescue, citizens,Illinois State Police and the U.S. Forest Service.
A parent called the Sheriff's Department at 10:25 p.m. Monday reporting his sonand his friends had planned to visit the cave and had left at about 3:30 p.m.
At 6:30 a.m. Tuesday, Josh Myogeto, 15, Herrin; Garrett J. Mausey, 19,Carterville; and Garrett R. Decoursey, 18, Herrin answered the call ofrescuers.
The teen-agers told deputies they had been in the cave walking, apparently incircles, between 4 p.m. and 3:30 a.m.
"They were worn out," Sheriff Ed Miller said. "They walked andwalked in circles and determined they were not going to find their way out.Instead of using their batteries up, they sat down and were waiting."
Miller said the three had used string, but decided to venture farther into thecave than the length of the string. Without the string as a guide, the threebecame confused.
"They were about to go to sleep when they heard the rescuers calling theirnames," Miller said. The three immediately yelled back.
"The parents were notified and were extremely happy. The boys wereextremely happy to get a drink," Miller said.
The three were also very cold and were shivering, but were not injured.
After receiving the original call, deputies asked a patrolling Illinois StatePolice trooper to check at a church near the cave for the vehicle the threewere to have been in and the truck was there. Deputy Jeff Oestreich arrived atthe cave and found what he believed were fresh footprints at the entrance, butno one answered his shouts into the cave.
At 11:30 p.m., Saline County ESDA Coordinator Alan Ninness began coordinatingthe rescue effort.
Danny Miles, Herod, a local coal miner and who is trained in mine search andrescue, got word of the search and offered to help with maps.
"He had been in the cave many, many, many times and has maps of the cave.He said he would like to help and was asked," Miller said.
Ninness said Miles was accompanied by Bob Wiman, also experienced as aspelunker. When the two offered to help, Ninness said he immediately swore themin as ESDA volunteers.
A rescue team from Illinois Department of Natural Resources, Department ofMines and Minerals, responded to a call for help from Ninness, driving to thecave from Springfield.
Ninness said the rescue team was called because the members are experts athandling underground injuries.
"They have special abilities," Niness said. "We wanted them herejust in case."
Before the team arrived, Miles and Wiman entered the cave to search for thethree.
"Miles was asked to go in and make a 30-minute quick search and didn't seethem. He went back in for a 40-minute search when it was almost time for themine rescue to be there," Miller said.
The mine rescue team arrived and entered the cave at about 3:13 a.m. Half tooka passage to the right and the rest went left.
At 6:32 a.m., a mine rescuer radioed out that they had found the three and werecoming out.
"Danny Miles was a godsend to them, he knew the area so well," Millersaid.
The boys emerged to see a large crowd outside the cave. An Illinois StatePolice search plane was overhead casting a bright spotlight and on the way fromSpringfield was an ISP mobile command unit along with two telecommunicators.
The fixed-wing aircraft was equipped with forward-looking infrared radar so theheat from the boys could be picked up, should they have been above ground,Ninness said. A Miller Ambulance crew was also on hand.
The boys were wet, muddy and thirsty, but happy to be above ground. "Iasked the one who had been in the cave two or three times if he was going to becave exploring any time soon. He said he would never go in a cave again,"Miller said.
Ninness said the rescue went very smoothly with good cooperation from allresponding agencies.
One key to the success was the fact the boys had told people where they weregoing, so when they didn't return home on time, authorities knew where to lookfor them.
Ninness recalled the time the rescue began coincided with the one-yearanniversary of the time when a tornado touched down in Galatia. "It wasalmost a year to the minute," he said.

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$34 Million Civil Penalty Is the Largest Paidby a Company in EPA History

WASHINGTON, D.C. April 1, 2003-- TheDepartment of Justice and the Environmental Protection Agency today announced asettlement with Colonial Pipeline Company, resolving charges that the companyviolated the Clean Water Act on seven recent occasions by spilling 1.45 milliongallons of oil from its 5,500 mile pipeline in five states. Under the consentdecree, Colonial will upgrade environmental protection on the pipeline at anestimated cost of at least $30 million, and pay $34 million, the largest civilpenalty a company has paid in EPA history. Atlanta-based Colonial is thelargest-volume pipeline transporter of refined petroleum products in the world,moving an average of 83 million gallons of petroleum products each day throughan underground pipeline that stretches from Port Arthur, Texas, to Linden,N.J., passing through Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee,South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, District of Columbia, Maryland, andPennsylvania. The government maintained that pipeline corrosion, mechanicaldamage, and operator error in seven recent spills resulted in the release ofapproximately 1.45 million gallons of oil and other petroleum products into theenvironment, including numerous rivers, streams, and wetlands.
Oil spills from the pipeline damaged a variety of aquatic systems. In onespill, more than 950,000 gallons of diesel fuel spilled into the Reedy River inSouth Carolina in 1996, killing 35,000 fish and other species of wildlife, anddispersing more than 34 miles downstream. It can take years for an ecosystem torecover from damage caused by an oil spill. Other spills forming the basis ofthe penalty occurred in Georgia, Tennessee, Louisiana, and North Carolina.
"Maintaining the integrity of our nation's industrial infrastructure, suchas oil pipelines, is a critical priority for the Justice Department," saidAttorney General John Ashcroft. "Today's settlement sends the message thatwe will vigorously pursue violations of environmental laws that subject ourcitizens and our environment to potentially catastrophic consequences."
"This settlement is another example of EPA's 'smart enforcement' approach,illustrating how an enforcement decision translates into the very real resultsof cleaner air, purer water and better protected land. The combined efforts ofEPA and DOJ successfully address environmental damage and prevent future harmto public health and the environment," said EPA Administrator ChristieWhitman. Today's settlement requires Colonial to designate its entire pipelineas potentially affecting "high consequence areas." This will subjectthe entire 5,500 mile pipeline to the pipeline integrity regulations of theU.S. Department of Transportation's Office of Pipeline Safety (OPS).
Under the terms of the settlement, Colonial is also required to: Inspect itscorrosion prevention system along the entire pipeline system every five years;Repair problems detected in the corrosion prevention system to meet thestandards developed by the National Association of Corrosion Engineers (NACE);Maintain its right-of-ways, including mowing and removing debris; Havepersonnel on site when utility or other excavation is occurring within fivefeet of the pipeline; and Survey and inspect the pipeline where it crosseswater, and address areas of the pipeline that are exposed or insufficientlyburied.
Finally, the settlement requires Colonial to pay for an independent monitoringcontractor, approved by EPA, to ensure that the company incorporates theserequirements into its existing programs and then implements the requirements.
Colonial's $34 million civil penalty will go to the United States' Oil SpillLiability Trust Fund. The Fund underwrites oil spill cleanup activitiesnationwide. On Feb. 25, 1999, Colonial Pipeline Company pled guilty to criminalcharges in connection with the Reedy River, S.C., spill. The company wasordered to pay a $7 million fine and serve a five-year term of probation.
In addition to this settlement, the United States has taken action recentlyagainst several other pipeline companies for oil spill violations. For example,in January of this year, the United States and the State of Washington reachedcivil settlements with Olympic Pipe Line Company and Shell Pipeline Companythat included penalties totaling $15 million plus injunctive and other relieffor violations leading to a fatal pipeline rupture in Bellingham, Wash., in1999. In December 2002, Olympic and Shell entered pleas and agreed to pay $21million in criminal fines for criminal violations arising from the sameincident.
Today's settlement agreement has been lodged at the U.S. District Court for theNorthern District of Georgia in Atlanta and is subject to a 30-day publiccomment period and final court approval.

For more enforcement and compliance news andinformation, visit

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Robert K. Elder
Chicago Tribune
03/30/2003 12:00 AM

MAMMOTH CAVE, Ky. - Worry sets in when Ifind out our guide is a submarine veteran. This means Alan Sizemore, ourlifeline through Mammoth Cave, has spent a significant amount of time living intight spaces. I was already sweating, having found out that my friend Jessicasigned us up for the Wild Cave Tour - a 6 1/2-hour, 5 1/2-mile expeditionthrough the world's largest caving system. It all sounded exotic andadventurous when we five friends - Jessica, Doug, John, Karl and I - were backin Chicago. Now, as we're strapping on our helmet lamps and picking up ourrubber kneepads this Saturday morning at 10, reality sets in.
Already two of our 14 cavers have dropped out after Sizemore's introductoryspeech.
"It's a caving tour; it's not a sightseeing tour," he said. "Theonly lights we have, we bring in. We will not have time to stop and pose forgroup photographs. The first couple of hours, get used to being on your handsand bellies." We'll have to squeeze into spaces no bigger than 10 inchestall, we're told, exhaling sometimes to fit through some of the more snugspaces. For this reason, no one under 16 years of age, or a "chest size ofno larger than 42 inches," is allowed on the tour.Pace, we're told, willbe the most difficult part of the trip.
"By the time today is over, you'll be tired, you might be scratched andbruised, but that's how you know you've had a good time," Sizemore said.He concluded: "If you're claustrophobic, save yourself $45 right now.You're not going to like anything about this tour, I guarantee. Afraid ofheights? Save yourself $45 right now."
But the lunatic adventurer in me can't resist any trip that combines the fearof heights with the fear of tight spaces, so we suit up and head to the bus.
Because the entrance for the Wild Cave Tour isn't at the visitors center, wehave a five-minute ride to a dank cement stairwell - an old tourist entrancecalled the Carmichael Entrance. The first half of the tour weaves through,under and over Cleaveland Avenue, one of the main underground tourist paths inMammoth Cave.
Self-educated slave Stephen Bishop pioneered many of the trails still operatingon this and other tours, which nearly a half-million people take each year. Twomillion people annually visit the park itself. Mammoth Cave is home to 365miles of caves; its next-closest competitor is the 113-mile Optimisticeskayacave system in Ukraine.
With our helmet-mounted LED (light-emitting diode) lights, the caves we see atthe beginning of the tour are neither long nor vast. We're instructed to keeptrack of the person in front of us, turning around to announce which way we'regoing in the event of a cave split. Sizemore's protege, 22-year-old NathanTalley, keeps a watchful eye on us, often taking alternate routes and poppingup ahead of us.
Soon, Sizemore leads us to a long crawl, at the end of which sits a trickyobstacle called Split Rock.
"Don't take your helmet off," Sizemore instructs. "At the end,it's going to look like a blank wall, but tilt your head sideways and pull yourbody up. I have no question that all of us can make it through physically.Psychologically, that's another matter."
Positioning himself on his belly, Sizemore's torso disappears ahead of us, hislegs sticking up in the air as he wiggles his body into the opening that looksnot much bigger than a hubcap. This is the first major test, the dusty battleof skin and sandstone meant to separate the men from the boys, the women fromthe girls.
I wanna go home.
Underground, you fight yourself as much as the laws of geometry and physics.The pack mentality helps, of course, especially for those of us with no cavingexperience. If the person ahead of you goes, the momentum of the tour carriesyou through. We find out that, yes, if our friends jumped off the BrooklynBridge - and survived - we'd do it too.
The roughly 25-foot crawl itself isn't so bad, as my upper body gets used toworking without my legs. When the legs follow, it's almost like learning tocrawl again, but without my hips. Since I can't bring my knees under me, I haveto drag myself on my elbows or shoot forward in brief bursts with what footingI can gain.
It's tough, skin-scraping work, and I have to take off my small backpack andtoss it up ahead of me. Split Rock requires me to bend my body in an almostunnatural 90 degrees, arching my spine backward through the crack. My whiteplastic helmet does get stuck briefly, although I adjust my neck to compensateand pull myself up onto a ledge where the few people ahead of me lay panting.
And, it turns out, these are my favorite parts of the trip, the thin seconds ofsolace between the claustrophobic crawls and steep climbs, when the adrenalinebeats against my eardrums. Sizemore likes the Wild Cave Tour because itprovides the most freedom and creativity of the other pack tours. Some tourshave a horde of a hundred or more tourists and their children, but there areonly 12 of us to lose on this trip. He does what he likes, goes where he wants,and every tour is different from the one before. How many of us have jobfreedom like that?
About an hour into the excursion, we're given the choice between two crawls,one called Kathleen's Crawl and the other called The Hellhole.
Never would I have thought I'd regret not choosing going through somethingcalled The Hellhole.
Kathleen's Crawl was discovered in the 1970s, we're told, by a young MammothCave Park ranger named Kathleen Dickinson, an adventurous woman who wanted toexplore an opening no one else in the park cared about.
Hubris has been the downfall of better writers (and cavers) than I, but fearcombined with hubris provides an odd chemical cocktail in your brain. Imaginecrawling 100 or so feet through a jagged hole the size of a computer screen.Endorphins released into your brain during the first 10 yards give way tofatigue in the next 10, only to give way to the inevitable deals with Godduring the last five.
Not being able to raise my hips is a maddening experience, but knowing thatpeople behind me need to move as well is an omnipresent motivator. We're noteven halfway through this thing, and already I'm bleeding, tired and dirty. Oneof the disposable cameras I brought is so clogged with sandstone and sweat, itdoesn't work anymore. My mouth is dusty, and there's grit in my teeth. I needwater so badly that I clean whatever dirt I can off my water pouch and swallowthe rest.
Around noon, we arrive at the Snowball Room, where our tours and some of themainstream tours connect. There's a dining room, with rows of picnic tableslined up in front of a cafeteria-style serving area.
Although instructions on the National Park Service Web site suggested WildCavers bring their own lunch, Sizemore suggests we simply bring $6 for asandwich and vegetable soup. "What you bring down won't look like food bythen anyway," he says.
"Best soup in the cave," Talley says, offering a joke certainlyalmost as old as the gypsum hanging from the ceiling.
Karl puts a finer point on it. "Man, this vegetable stew is terrible, andwe're wolfing it down as if it was manna from heaven," he says.
Sizemore offers a story about an extended deployment at sea when all he had toeat was lime Jell-O and ravioli. We pipe down.
We look like miners, or worse, and several people from the other tours gawk atus. We tease John, now clay-colored from head to toe, that he's effectively ahuman bottlebrush for the caves.
After lunch, no one drops out of the tour to head off with the CleavelandAvenue crew. We head off "about two miles from civilization,"Sizemore says, and fast. We're moving at such a brisk clip that I stop takingnotes on my tape recorder, more preoccupied with survival than journalism. Withfour hours ahead of us, Kathleen's Crawl still got the gold medal for toughestcrawl, save for a torture chamber Sizemore dubbed "The CheeseGrater," which was no tighter, but more jagged on already skinned elbows.Further along, we're required to straddle a canyon, during which one ledgecompletely drops away, leaving us to cling to the other side.
I hear Jessica pray "Hail Mary" out loud, and the blood rushingbetween my head and heart tells me this is one of the most exhilaratingexperiences of my life.
My head adds: one that we're never doing again. My heart has yet to weigh in,still pumped full of adrenaline. But I'm bleeding, dirty and sweating throughmy clothes, so I must be having a good time.
If you go,
Getting there: Mammoth Cave is part of Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky,near Cave City off Interstate 65.

Details: The park offers a variety of tours,ranging from the family-friendly, half-hour Discovery Tour ($4) to adventurehikes of all levels of athleticism. For example, the popular Great Onyx LanternTour ($9 adult, $6 youth) offers an authentic lamp-lit tour of Flint Ridge andthe Great Onyx Cave, full of stalactites, stalagmites and other naturalwonders.

Make sure to bring or buy gloves if you'regoing on the Wild Cave Tour, and to wear clothes that you don't mind throwingaway. Jeans and a lightweight, long-sleeve shirt are best. Hiking boots withankle support and deep treads are a tour prerequisite. Wild Cave Tours operateseven days a week, except Oct. 28-March 14, when it's weekends only. Butconditions can change, so call to confirm schedules. Reservations arerecommended.

More information: Details about Mammoth Cavetours can be found at www.nps.gov/maca/. Camping reservations can be made onthe same site or by calling 1-800-967-2283; the general information line is1-270-758-2328.

Contact the Kentucky Tourism Council at1-800-225-8747; www.tourky.com.

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Troy J. Simpson

Almost three years ago I saw the LED lightconversion that Marc Tiritilli had designed for Steve Taylor. Shortly thereafter I had one custom built. This particular model was actually built by BrettBennett utilizing a Petzl Zoom as the platform. I had a 20-LED array put inwith a dimmer switch to help regulate the light output. I have to admit I haveenjoyed my LED converted light the past couple years. In fact is has been a hitwith other cavers everywhere I have went. Alas, I would not be satisfied withwhat I had and would see about the possibilities of making an improvement.
A few months ago, I chatted with Marc again about some new features that Iwould like to see on a headlamp. I enjoyed the output and efficiency of the20-LED array, but missed having the beam of a halogen available to light updistant objects. So, I did what any person in my shoes would do, I asked Marc.We started off with a little brainstorming session and then followed up withsome ideas of how to put it all together. The plan was to utilize the PetzlZoom's housing, reflector, and halogen light, then incorporate a 20-LED arrayinto the housing. After a brief talk, we agreed to give it a whirl and see whathappens.
January came and along with the month a trip to Sullivan and Buddha Caves. Marcsurprised me with having the prototype of the redesigned headlamp. I couldn'twait to give a try! The prototype looked very similar to my original convertedheadlamp. There were some noticeable changes though. First, the originalhalogen light set-up remained intact, but was surrounded by 20-LED bulbs alongthe outer edge of the reflector. The bulbs were drilled into the reflector sothat the halogen bulb could get the maximum reflecting capability. Second, theLED's simply had an on/off switch, with the halogen turned on using therotating bezel. The battery pack utilizes the Petzl's original housing. Marcsaid that he had to make some adjustments to the power source in order toprevent the batteries from "blowing out" the LED's on this prototype.These adjustments include using only 2 AA batteries and a third AA that wasnearly dead. The adjustments are a temporary solution until a dimmer switch canbe installed. This meant that that the halogen would not be up to full speed,but the LED's should draw enough to provide adequate light. I could not wait togive it a try out!
Marc handed me the light and I attached it to my helmet. It was weird seeingthe blue colored band instead of the bright orange that has been a mainstay for6 years. I stood outside of the gate at Sullivan Cave and flipped my newheadlamp on for a light check. So far, so good. I volunteered to be the lastone into Sullivan Cave to close and lock the gate behind us. This gave me a chanceto see my new light in action before catching up with everybody else.
As I began my descent, I flipped on the 20-LED array that sat on my helmet. Allof a sudden, the darkness became light. The first thing that went through myhead was "WOW, who needs halogen!" I finally made to where everyonewas waiting, just before the dreaded "BackBreaker." I climbed up intothe connecting passage and immediately blinded Steve and Bill. Oops! I didn'trealize the intensity would be so great. Marc seemed as impressed as I was withthe light set-up. He had put in a newer, brighter LED and wasn't sure exactlyhow bright it would be. We killed our lights and each of us, one at a timeturned on our respective lights. I cranked it up and watched as my headlamp litup the entire passage! This time I made my thoughts audible with a"WOW!" After we had taken our turns with the lights, I had to admitthat a couple of other lights out shown me, but Marc cleared things up a bit.He made sure to let everyone know that I was running on TWO AA batteries, notfull 4.5 or 6 volts of some of the others.
As we continued through Sullivan, I had to keep reminding myself to tilt mylight down or turn it off when I faced someone to talk with them. This is onereason I can't wait for my light have the dimmer switch installed. As the dayprogressed, I watched others lights dim and some change their batteries, as mylight continued to hold strong. I found the same to hold true even the next dayat Buddha Cave. I continued to draw power off the original batteries andperhaps had several hours still left.
I'm looking forward to trying out the final product. I've seen some otherlights out on the market, similar to the set-up that Marc and I have come upwith. But, when push comes to shove, I've been more than happy with the designsthat we have come up with. I think as materials drop in price, a reasonablepriced, reliable, LED headlamp is not that far in the future. In fact, I woulddare to say for members of the Near Normal Grotto, the future may be now.

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