For Months now I had been looking forward to flying out to Utah so that I could spend some time with my brothers, sister, and the unofficial 6th Elmer sibling, Cameron Rippy.
After flying into SLC, my brother Dan and Cameron and I drove up to Rexburg, Idaho and crashed at Will and Nicole's place where we stayed up late catching up.
The next morning, since we couldn't leave until 11am, we spent about 3 hours on Willy's Wii trying to hone our Ninja Gaiden skills which we had cultivated as teens in the early 90's. Luckily the Wii's controller was as un-ergonomical as the original had been and we soon found out we were just as bad at 30 as we were at 13 and that level 3 is still way hard to beat!
After that exciting dip into the past, we gathered our gear and packs and headed out to Darby canyon in Driggs, Idaho, about an hour away.
Upon arrival at the trail head an hour later, we had learned three very important pieces of information. The first being that "Holy Diver" was the lyric Dio and Kill Switch Engage sings and not "Moldy Tiger" as Cameron suggests it was. The second was that no matter how gently you bang on a cracked windshield, it still is never a good idea, even if you are Willy. And the third is that if you're going to be hiking into the Ice Caves, you'd better darn well make sure that the birth canal isn't still plugged with ice before you pull your rappel rope after the initial 60' ice rappel into the caves or you could be spending the night in the caves and have search and rescue come and rescue your butts out of there.
There were about 50 cars parked at the trailhead because SAR (Search and Rescue) was conducting a search for some cavers who had gone into the Ice caves and had gotten stuck by ignoring important piece of information number 3. It was comforting to know that if we did get ourselves in over our heads, we'd at least have someone there to pull our dead, frozen bodies out of the caves. Search and Rescue Sign stating: "Search and Rescue Operation in Progress. Please do not drive past this sign!"
Thankfully they had a pretty good attitude about us going up there, but maybe that's just because they were kind enough to snap this final mugshot of all of us together so that they could quickly identify bodies and notify next of kin.
The 2 mile hike up to the Wind caves was peppered with comments like, "When is it going to level out?" and "There is no way this is only 2 miles" and "I knew I shouldn't have eaten 10 Jack-in-the-Box tacos even though it only cost me $5." Most, if not all of these comments came from the extreme left of the above picture, but i'm sure we were all guilty of thinking them at one point or another.
We decided that we would camp at the base of the Wind Caves since our plans of actually going through the caves was impossible due to the ice plug, even though a small portion of our group wanted to try chipping out the plug with a hatchet. We unloaded our gear at base camp and put on the only clothes we had that weren't dripping in sweat and headed up to the Wind Caves where a massive waterfall was cascading out of the entrance to the caves. As we entered the cave, you could immedeatly feel the temperature drop about 20 degrees and as we hiked further into the mammoth entrance to the cave and as it got darker, we started flipping on our headlamps and strapping on our knee pads. We finally came to the entrance of the Wind cave, a small birth canal of a hole, about 2-3' wide and squirmed our way in. It only got tighter from there and at one point the cave makes this funky Z-shape and Dan was pickpocketed by the cave as it grabbed everything in his pockets and scattered them on the floor as he slithered through. We finally got to the toilet bowl, the furthest you can go in without ropes and we rappelled in. Malerie did her first rappel ever in 40 degree blackness into a wet pit. The rest of us dropped in and we found that we could not really go much further, though 3 of us were able to get across a raging underground river by stemming above it. I imagine we could have all made it across, but due to the fact that some of us could no longer feel our fingers despite the neoprene gloves we had, we decided to turn back and watch Cameron display his remarkable crevasse rescuing skill of ascending a rope with Prusiks. Progress was painfully slow, but in the end he made it up and was able to belay the rest of us out of the Pit of Despair. By the time we got back to camp, we were excited and exhausted and did what any excited and exhausted cavers who had just returned to camp would do, we consumed calories! and man did I punish that MRE that I brought, though after that meal, I do not envy those serving in the Armed Forces.
The evening was spent sleeping under the stars and with Cameron, Dan, and Will waking up every ten minutes thinking they'd heard a bear as they had chosen to sleep closest to the fire pit where Dan had dumped his Tuna juice on the fire to quench the flames before bed. Robby, who had forgotten to pack a sleeping pad, made do with about a million little pinecones and slept like a slept like the Princess and the Pea.
The next morning we awoke and against overwhelming odds, the group was persuaded to ignore their sore muscles and aching backs for a push to the entrance of the Ice caves. The hike was again peppered with the "There's no way this is 1/4 mile" and "Do you really know where the entrance is" but despite all that, we made it up and enjoyed the icy cold air blowing out of the entrance. After a bit of exploring, we decided to call it quits and trucked on back to the base camp and packed up our stuff and headed off. After hiking an hour back down to the car, we decided to take a dip in the icy stream, but as we were all changing, a group of young women drove up while we were in our B-day suits. Malerie of course was sent elsewhere to change, but I think we definetley scared those young women away. 10 minutes and 10 screams later we were back in the car and on our way back to the Burg. All in all, a successful trip i'd say.