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August 9, 2007 by Charles Bertram  
Filed under Charles Bertram

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Volunteers Cindy Lackey and Thor Bahrman rappel down the 80-foot vertical shaft

It took me 30 years at the Herald-Leader to be assigned to my first AND LAST assignment involving rappelling. Earlier today reporter Bill Estep and myself covered the cave restoration project at the Saltpeter Pit Cave near Shopville (Pulaski County), Ky. After receiving a quick lesson in both the operation of the gear and the necessary safety precautions we began our trips down the 80-foot vertical shaft. It was actually kind of exhilarating-once I got over the weird sensation of leaning, in a sitting position, over the edge of the cave. I was tethered to Lance Mitchell, a highly qualified rappelling expert, and our trip down only took about 5 minutes. Bill followed with the help of Thor Bahrman. Once on the bottom, Bill interviewed the volunteers and workers while I made photographs. We were done with our work in about 30 minutes and that’s where it got interesting. There were two people that needed to exit the cave before us. What we didn’t expect was that it took an hour and a half for them to make the trip up. Despite equipment issues, Bill made it up in reasonable time. Then it was my turn. I don’t know the correct term for when you rappel “up” so I’ll just call it by the more common name of “torture”. It took me over an hour, dealing with equipment I had never used before, using muscles I didn’t know I had, to make it to the top. My guide, Thor, was super helpful and very patient as I progressed inches at a time. Several times during the ascent we had to stop to re-adjust the bootstraps I was using to push myself up the rope. Upon reaching the top, I had to have several bottles of water and Gatorade to recover from the climb, which started in 56-degree comfort and ended in upper 90-degree misery. The volunteers asked me if I would ever rappel again and I gave them a loud “NO”. But now that I’ve rested and given it some thought, I’m sure I’d do it again as long as the photographs are worth it and they install an elevator for the return trip. Posted by Charles Bertram


Bill Estep and Charles Bertram

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3 Responses to “Rappelling”
  1. Deb says:

    Hey, did you see Jimmy Hoffa while you were down there?

    I’m sorry you had such an unpleasant experience with rappelling up, more commonly known as ascending. It’s SUPPOSED to be as easy as fallng off a bicycle!


  2. Deb says:

    PS – Excellent shots in and of the pit! Cave photography is not easy, as you can tell, I’m sure. ;)


  3. Dr. DeWayne Hyatt says:

    Bill wrote a great story and you have some amazing photos Charles (some of the best I have seen from down below), so know that all of the volunteers did appreciate your coming out and torturing yourself to promote what we have been doing at that pit. Any time you think you might want to try it again, drop me a line and I will be happy to lend you my gear again. Like most pursuits in life, it does start getting a bit easier with practice. You did great for your first time down my friend.

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