Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

December 28, 2012

A chilly exploration

Participants can go underground in January

Tim Preston
The Independent

Carter Caves — For the first time in the past four years, participants in the upcoming Winter Adventure Weekend at Carter Caves State Resort Park will be able to get themselves and their gear underground during the final weekend of January.

“This is the first time, yeah. We’re still kind of limited, but people will be able to get in there and they will be able to do a little bit of crawling. They will be able to get wet and dirty,” said Sam Plummer, one of the organizer’s for the fourth annual Winter Adventure Weekend, explaining enthusiasts have not been able to access the park’s namesake caves since new rules went into effect after native bat populations began experiencing increased mortality rates.

“All of this started with something called Crawlathon,” Plummer said, noting the popularity of the annual event that allowed cave lovers nearly unlimited access to passages that were otherwise not included in the park’s activities.

Crawlathon was canceled in the winter of 2009, following a recommendation by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that the event could pose a threat to bat populations in caves at the park because of white-nose syndrome, a disease that has killed thousands of hibernating bats in several Northeastern states. The name comes from a white fungus that appears around the noses of some affected bats.

Hundreds attended the annual Crawlathon, considerably boosting winter revenues for the state park, prompting officials to create Winter Adventure Weekend as a substitute. Plummer said the weekend has evolved into an excellent pursuit for those who enjoy caves and related adventures.

“We have tried to come up with all kinds of things people would be interested in,” Plummer said, citing the weekend’s variety of tours and topics, including birding, hiking, zip lines and winter survival. From  start to finish, participants will have their choice of adventures, including “wild caving, cave tours, shooting, high-line ride, rappelling, rope climbing, rock climbing, tree climbing, mountain biking, canoeing, kayaking, hiking, backpacking, horseback riding, camping in a cave, adventure presentations, archeology tours, squeeze box, winter survival, fire building, campfire cooking, land navigation, corrugated cave, mine lighting,” and even a live band.

Jan. 25 activities will begin with a rope climbing competition, followed by the “Backpacking 101 Workshop” by Andy Niekamp of Outdoor Adventure Connection, an expert in backpacking who has hiked the entire Appalachian Trail three times, thru hiked Ohio’s Buckeye Trail and Kentucky’s Sheltowee Trace. The Kenny McCoy Corrugated Cave opens that evening, followed by a S’Mores Social in front of the lodge.

Winter Adventure Weekend will get into gear Jan. 26 with field trips, rope climbing, corrugated cave crawling and bicycle basics. Hikers will enjoy an end-to-end tour of Vermont’s 270-mile Long Trail starting at 11 a.m., followed by a noon viewing of “To the Edge,” a made-for-TV documentary of an El Capitan rappel trip. That afternoon, Tim Mootz will present “Royal Arch: Experiencing the Grand Canyon at Both its Best and Worst,” followed by “Caving the Deep Pits of Mexico’s Aquismon Area” by caver and climber Colin Gatland.

Just before dinner time, Cara Varney of Life Adventure Center will present “Backcountry Gourmet Cooking 101,” followed by the adult and children’s squeeze box competition, which tests individual’s abilities to squeeze through small openings. The evening will conclude with a buffet dinner, silent auction and live auction as well as a winter photo salon accepted image slideshow and awards and adult squeeze box finals.

Jan. 27 activities include an indoor workshop titled “After the Shot” by photographer Suzanne Jones of Portraits With A Pulse, as well as the Smoky Bridge High-Line Ride Fundraiser, a Down For Dummies seminar and an all-you-can-eat lunch buffet.

Guests can select from a list of trips they want to take for beginners and advanced winter adventurers alike.  All trips and events will be led by guides. For more details, visit winteradventureweekend.com or call (606) 286-4411. The 2013 Winter Adventure Weekend non-refundable fee for adults (13 years old and older) is $30 and the non-refundable fee for children ages 6 to 12 is $20. Participants must be at least 6 years old. Some trips have age requirements and some have additional fees.

TIM PRESTON can be reached at tpreston@dailyindependent.com.