After a chilly night in the Llano Cheve, I awoke to a sunny, frosty morning. The vegetables had frozen along with some of the water. We fired up Mike’s grill & had some chilorio for breakfast, a tasty mixture of eggs and pork, along with some local spicy chili sauce. There was no sign of the trucks yet so we went and gathered more firewood, along with stringing up a tarp over where we’d be keeping the camp dishes and snacks. I decided to go explore for a way to get up on a nice rock pinnacle above the Llano. I walked back up to the parking spot and was breathing real heavy. I’d done some intense rope ascending training before the expedition, but still had to acclimate to the altitude. I wandered into a grassy field and saw some old wooden dams across the creek, then went into the pine forest. I made way to the top of the rock spire and had an awesome view of everything. Then back down into the Llano I passed by the waterfall we used as a drinking supply, and a beer cooler.

I relaxed a bit more in the sun, gathered wood, and decided to wander back up to the parking spot, and I heard engine noise. They were finally here! A few familiar faces along with some new ones. There was James Brown, Jon Lillestolen, Adam Byrd, Kristen Anderson, and John Harman who I’d all met before in West Virginia, Nikki Green and Vickie Siegel who were coordinating food for the expedition, Fernando Hernandez, a Mexican-American from Texas and two Polish cavers, Marcin Gala and Witek Hoffman. The expedition leader, Bill Stone, along with his son Rob was also there. The original plan was for them to be at Llano Cheve a few days earlier after food shopping in Oaxaca, and arranging permission with the state and local governments. But it took them 4 days to find a border crossing that would let them into Mexico without paying an extra fee for bringing in so much equipment.

We had been worried that President Trump’s saber rattling about Mexico might derail the whole expedition if the Mexican authorities decided letting some Americans in for nearly 3 months with trucks stuffed full of food, caving gear, ropes, and fancy scuba gear wasn’t something they wanted to do. Fortunately, it was only a delay and they got there with all their stuff and we had all necessary permissions to go caving. Then it was time to unload the trucks and set up base camp. We carried heavy bag after heavy bag down the hill, which was only a few hundred meter walk and a good warm up for the intense caving to come. It took us a few hours to unload everything and get it down the hill. Once that was done I opened my bag and found a nice spot in the forest to set up┬ámy tent, my above ground home for the next 70 days. It was another chilly night but this time I had my nice sleeping bag.

The next day was again sunny and warm and more trucks arrived with more gear to carry. Then it was time to get to work on base camp. Marcin climbed up some trees to setup the rope course we had to pass to be allowed into the cave. Nikki and Vickie took charge of sorting and packing the massive amount of food we had. 600 days worth of underground camp food was there for the cave with over 1000 days worth of surface provisions. James got to sorting out the diving gear that would eventually go over 7 kilometers into the cave and 1200 meters down. The rest of us did things like setting up the tent for the kitchen and a gear and phone tent for running logistics. We dug a trench for the latrine, set up a hose at the waterfall to eliminate the need for filling jugs in the creek, and packed ropes into bags off the 200-meter spools, rolling phone wire off the spools.

From here I don’t quite remember what happened which days, just the order it went in. After the day’s work we made a campfire and sang songs while Bill, John, and Marcin all played guitar. The next day I got up early to make an attempt at the rebelay course. I was 10 minutes over the passing time on the first try; there were a few things on there that I’d never done before, and I was a bit rusty on doing some of the maneuvers efficiently. The last time I’d done really major vertical caving was in China 2 years prior. But the course went like this: ascend up a rope along the tree, pass a rebelay, then pass a knot going up, rappel into a tight U-loop between 2 trees and ascend the other side, rappel down a sloping zipline, pass a redirect going up, rappel down along another tree passing 2 rebelays, and then do it all again in reverse.

It took me 2 more tries and my arm getting sucked into my rappel rack to finish with a passing time to qualify for the cave, but the third try was a solid run. I’d figured out a smooth technique to use on some of the unfamiliar features and was ready to go caving. The good thing was that all the difficult parts of the rebelay course turned out to be harder than any ropework in the cave for me and the training I’d done ascending 300 meters at a time with a 15-kilogram bag at my warehouse in Syracuse was paying off. Now that the base camp was set up, the gear was sorted, and the cavers passed the rebelay course, it was time to get to work in the cave.

Expeditions in Cheve are a huge undertaking, there are over 100 rope pitches from the entrance to the end and normal one way travel time from entrance to end takes 2 to 3 days. Rigging the cave takes kilometers of rope and hundreds of bolts, food, and sleeping gear must be carried to the camps, with a phone wire strung from base camp to the end, and hundreds of kilos of dive gear brought to the sump for the exploration push. Initially, Mike, Adam, John, Witek, and Kristen took up rigging on long day trips, entering the cave in the morning and emerging long after dark. 14 years had passed since the last Cheve trip in 2003. Many of the bolts were old and rusted, ropes left in the river sections were shredded by the intense floods from the annual rainy season, and we were using up a lot of rope and bolts to make the rigging safe and easy to use when carrying heavy bags. As the ropes were rigged and the route marked with flagging tape, the phone line was rigged, a task I helped with the first few days I ventured into the cave.

Expeditions in Cheve are a huge undertaking, there are over 100 rope pitches from the entrance to the end and normal one way travel time from entrance to end takes 2 to 3 days. Rigging the cave takes kilometers of rope and hundreds of bolts, food, and sleeping gear must be carried to the camps, with a phone wire strung from base camp to the end, and hundreds of kilos of dive gear brought to the sump for the exploration push. Initially, Mike, Adam, John, Witek, and Kristen took up rigging on long day trips, entering the cave in the morning and emerging long after dark. 14 years had passed since the last Cheve trip in 2003. Many of the bolts were old and rusted, ropes left in the river sections were shredded by the intense floods from the annual rainy season, and we were using up a lot of rope and bolts to make the rigging safe and easy to use when carrying heavy bags. As the ropes were rigged and the route marked with flagging tape, the phone line was rigged, a task I helped with the first few days I ventured into the cave.

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