Vertical Reality for The Vertically Challenged

Location: Gilboa, Ohio
Date: October 23 & 24
By: Chuck Hilpert

For horizontal cavers like myself it is somewhat of a challenge to find vertical training, especially vertical training geared toward vertical caving. If your a loaner looking to make the transition from horizontal to vertical, you probably can hook up with an experienced grotto member willing to take you under there wing for some one on one training. However, if you are a group of the vertically challenged, the grotto is not the place to seek your primary training. This has been a debated issue at recent grotto meetings but the bottom line is that for various reasons, (liability being a big one) the grotto as a club does not currently teach vertical. So whatís a belly crawling caver to do? Well, one solution is to consider a trip to Vertical Reality in Gilboa, Ohio, (about 4 Ĺ hours from Pittsburgh). Myself and 6 other Pgh. Grotto members did just that on 10\23&24 and all were in agreement that it was a very worthwhile trip.

Vertical Reality is a vertical training facility with interior and exterior climbing walls, rappelling and manmade simulated caving, including a small waterfall, multiple rappels, ascents and confined space maneuvers. The facility teaches all aspects of vertical and high angle work to everyone from the Boy Scouts to firemen, law enforcement and search and rescue personnel. The management and staff were happy to tailor a class to our specific needs for beginning vertical and vertical cave techniques. Starting with a classroom discussion checking our knowledge of responsible and safe caving based on NSS guidelines. Upon finding that we were grotto members and NSS with a few years of caving experience the instructors didnít spend a lot of our time on this subject matter.

Next came knots, knots are easy when you watch someone else tie them but they can be a bit like working a Rubics cube until they become ingrained. (Ingrained; being able to do a task such as tying a knot or doing a change over, the right way without having to think about it. Ingrained techniques will help you to function in emergency situations.) I learned that at Vertical Reality too.

From knots we moved out of the classroom to the center of the building. Here in this main interior practice area there are what are referred to as the left and right pits. About nine different ropes hang into the pits for rappelling and ascending. Depending on which floor you rappel from the drop is 30 and 40 some feet to the ground floor. For an additional 8 to 10 feet, in the right pit a hatch on a plastic pipe can be opened so that you can drop through the floor to the outside. The challenge is that the ropes donít line up with the hole so you need to bounce or swing and catch the tube. The left pit is similar with its floor pipe leading to cave passages. There is also a rope ladder that hangs free for part of the ascent and then hangs against a wall for the rest. Just before the top you must switch to a smaller rope ladder on the right to complete the climb.

In both pits there are climbing walls, with varying degrees of difficulty and wall angles.

Six top belay lines are pre-rigged with gri-gris to allow attempts on any wall. The pits are separated by a two foot thick concrete wall about 15 feet high. A swinging rope bridge above the wall connects the first floor landings. It was in this area we practiced proper use of the rack, tie offs and rappels with ropes placed at various angles. We also tried several ascending systems from Prusik to rope walkers. Then we combined our newly learned techniques to do change overs in both directions. It was emphasized that these were important self rescue techniques that need to be practiced until ingrained. We also practiced over the lip re-belays on single or multiple ropes.

Next we put our new skills to the test in the simulated cave. Starting on the second floor, a hatch was opened on an 18 inch pipe. This allowed for a confined space rappel of about 40 feet with a 90 degree bend at the end. We were able to choose the type of ascending system that we would carry in our cave packs. I chose Prusiks since all of the ascents were to be less then 30 feet. One of the ascents was above shallow water in front of a 10 foot waterfall. The trick here was to climb smoothly so as to not swing into the water. Other ascents were through concrete openings, between rebar and up a 20 inch diameter pipe with a tricky 90 degree bend at the top, trying to get over the lip and de-rig your gear was an interesting challenge in this confined space. It was becoming a real physical challenge because we were nearing the end of our 10 Ĺ hour day with no lunch. At some point during the day we were given the opportunity for lunch break but we opted to stay on rope, our instructor Brett, stuffed his face with 7 layer burritos while supervising us. We might also have been a little tired because we were up till 3:30 am on the night before with lead instructor Russ Born (studying of course). Tonight weíll be good, into town for some grub, back to V.R. for hot showers, then hit the hay. "Hey itís only 10:30 we might as well light a fire and have a beer" here we go again. Rick had to be tackled when he tried to retreat to the tent before doing his share to lighten the cooler. And some fool showed Tom how to make a carbide bomb, (be it known Tom is an electric caver, if he asks you for a little carbide just say no).

Day two - breakfast, ibuprofen, class at 9:00 a.m. Today we have the entire facility to ourselves. Our instructor Steve gave us free reins to use any equipment and practice everything that we want. Steve had a late night too (studying of course). "Hey Steve are we allowed to use 8's on these ropes?" I was curious because they all hung perfectly straight and they werenít black from aluminum. "Go ahead, he said; We usually just use the stainless racks but you can use your 8's." There was a particularly pretty 3/8 royal blue pmi rope hanging in the corner. It was brand new and had a log card and pencil attached. Vertical Reality does equipment testing for various manufactures and this rope was a test subject. I just had to log on some high speed 8 rappels and try a few with carabineer and munter hitch, after all what rope leads such a sheltered life as to never be twisted by an 8.

We practiced for a few hours inside then moved to the steel deck outside of the top floor office and showroom. From here you get a great view of the Gilboa Quarry Lake. It is about 20 acres and as much as 180 feet deep. Scuba divers come from as far away as Canada to use the dive facilities here since this is one of the last bodies of water in the region to freeze.

A 600 ft zip line crosses the lake starting from this deck, but it is removed at this time of year because the water is a little too chilly and you do get wet on the ride. Looking past the quarry tree line is a cemetery that helps to remind you of your mortality before you step from the 60' high deck. It was windy and cold but that didnít slow us down, I even tried a few inverted rappels with the rack and 8. The worst part was running back up all those stairs to do another drop.

To finish off the day and the weekend we all tried the outside climbing wall. The total possible climb is about 60 some feet but the cold, fatigue and our lack of experience stopped us at about 30 ft even when we chose easy routes.

All in all this was a great experience with a ton of knowledge gained. We all felt that it was well worth the price (about $85.00 each for the weekend). The management and staff are great and the facility is well designed. We all plan to go back in the future just to play and ride the zip- line. Iíll take my son and some other young cavers for some formal vertical education, but theyíll have to skip Russís 3 am class. [ You might be a red neck if, directions to your training facility include " turn left at the cow."] If your interested in scheduling a clinic, pricing or any other question you can contact lead instructor Russ Born @800-589-2676 M-Fri. Just one final strange note. After this trip I went sky diving several times thanks to Dan Peden, now Iím not vertically challenged but I am challenged to figure out, do I go caving or make a jump this weekend ? And how do I pay for it? ( My wife doesnít like Dan )

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Modified: Wednesday, 12-Mar-2014 09:38:18 EDT