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Mock Rescue at
Catawba Murder Hole,
Botentourt County
Saturday, June 14, 2003
by Joedy Klimas

Dan McConnell, Sub-Regional Coordinator of the Eastern Region, National Cave Rescue Commission and Triangle Rescue Group member held a Roanoke Valley 1st Annual Inter-Agency Cave Rescue Event at Catawba Murder Hole.  This cave is located on Dan's 34 acre property west of Roanoke.  This event was to be a mock rescue in a vertical cave, involving multiple underground high-angle rescue challenges, confined space rescue, as well as a horizontal English reeves track line to be rigged over the 100+ foot entrance pit.  The patient was to be placed in the very bottom of the cave, approximately 230' below the surface.  The following agencies attended  (updated list of 6/23/03):

Blue Ridge Grotto
Botetourt County Sheriff Department
Triangle Rescue Group
Eastern Region NCRC
National Cave Rescue Commission
VPI Caving Club
Roanoke City Fire & Rescue
Roanoke County Fire & Rescue
Falling Spring Rescue (Covington)
Vinton Fire & Rescue
Tidewater Grotto
Parkersburg Grotto (WVACS)
Bowling Green, KY - Fire & Rescue
Independent Volunteers
Roanoke Times

I got a request to attend by Triangle Rescue Group and decided to go.  My cave gear and rappel gear was already to go in a minute's notice, so off I went.  It takes me 4 1/2 hours to drive to Roanoke, VA via Route 460.  I am definitely not an immediate response callout person in the event of an actual rescue situation.  This event was to be a good test of my two-month old broken finger, compliments of Rehobeth Church Cave, which now hopefully was fully functional.  I drove to Roanoke on Friday, June 13 (that's right Friday the 13!) and went to the 7:00 p.m. pre-event meeting at Dan's house where we discussed the next day's scenario.  I was given the task of Communication Coordinator.  As Communication Coordinator, I was to select three of the least vertically skilled staff (to leave the most vertically skilled staff for patient recovery), run communications lines to the patient, etc.  Once completed, I was to relinquish this task to someone less vertically skilled and help with patient recovery.  I then went to the house of Harold and Nancy Chrimes of Triangle Rescue Group and stayed the night.

The event was to begin at 8:00 a.m.  By 7:00 a.m. I was on scene.  By 7:30 a.m., I had rigged rappel lines into the main daylight cavern and set up the Incident coordinator tent and started logging people in.  By 8:00 a.m., I had selected my communication staff.  We all then went down the scree slope (an 80 foot, wet, nasty, muddy, 90o to 60o free climb assisted by a static line).  The line on the scree slope was supposed to be static rope (made by Sterling) but it was as close to dynamic as I have seen.  This made it very difficult climbing.  You had to contend with a four to five foot stretch in the 7/16 inch rope every time you made a move to ascend one arm stretch (ascend two feet, loose three, etc.).

We set the first communication station at the top of the inclined floor of the open pit and then ran the phone wire to the Fat Man cave entrance where the line was then strung to the next large underground cavern.  I then came out of the cave and acted as Communications Coordinator for the next couple of hours until I could be freed up for other vertical duties.  31 people showed up for the event, including Dave Socky, who will immortalize the event in video, and two reporters from the Roanoke Times.  While I was busy coordinating communications, the rest of the crew was setting up an English reeves track line to be used later in hauling the patient vertically out of the 108 foot deep daylight cavern.  As the lower part of the cave was flooded, it was decided not to place the patient at the bottom of the cave but at the end of the second underground cavern about 160 feet underground.  Our patient, Chris Heptinstall, appeared to be a good 6 foot tall and 180 pounds.  He was brought out through the Fat Man crawl (a twisting, 8 inch gap with a couple of humps and bends) into the daylight cavern on a skid.  This was fairly painful for Chris.  When looking into this hole, you wonder how you are going to get in much less how you would get a person out strapped flat to a skid.  It took eight of us hauling on a line, two people bending Chris and holding him at angles to pop him out of the hole.  We then put the patient in the stretcher which was already rigged to the English reeves track line and hauled him out.  I exited the cave to haul and remove and put away gear not being used.  By the time we finished the drill at 5:00 pm, the intermittent light rain of the day had changed to a continuous heavy rain with lightening.  Unrigging and cleanup was a very wet situation.  I'm just glad it was a warm day. 

Now a drill from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. sounds like a long time for a rescue.  You have to consider that this was a multiple vertical underground event, and we pulled it off with only 31 people.  In a real situation, there could be hundreds of people at the cave and it could take days.  That in itself takes a lot coordination. 

I would especially like to thank Dan McConnell for giving us the opportunity use Catawba Murder Hole for this event, Nancy and Harold Chrimes for being gracious hosts, and the rest of the crew for working well together under grueling conditions.  Everyone was great!  I would also like to thank my broken finger for healing for this event.  It was no problem.

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Catawba Murder Hole Map

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Going over vertical drop to top of scree slope.

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Top of Scree before vertical hand ascender line climb out.

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English reeves track line system.

Photo by Natalee Waters/The Roanoke Times
"Patient" Chris Heptinstall

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Patient is almost out.

The Roanoke Times wrote an article on this event and it may be found on the web at this location:


19-22 June, 2003
Girl Scouts of Colonial Coast Cavers Trip
Organ Cave, WV

Joedy and Rita Klimas, Stephanie and Dave Carver, Lisa Gomes, Tom White, Coni Ballard, Jo Bazar,  and Betsy Simmers  met at the Organ Cave school house with Girl Scouts in tow.  We caved Scott's Hollow, Lipps, and Friar's Hole-Snedakers cave systems.  The trip was a resounding success.  The weather was beautiful for a change.  Most of the caves in the area had to be avoided due the massive rains the area had received in the recent weeks.  Caving Scott's Hollow pretty much beat us all up with it's miles of 45o down slope over breakdown and then the same going back up.  This trip was for the older Girl Scouts (18 years old and up) so a fast pace with more aggressive caves were used.  What a great group of people.  We always have a great time!