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home : columns : columns February 21, 2019

6/14/2011 12:55:00 PM
A day in Charlie-The-Cave
Brent McGregor and friends cleaning debris out of Charlie-The-Cave. photo by Jim Anderson
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Brent McGregor and friends cleaning debris out of Charlie-The-Cave. photo by Jim Anderson

By Jim Anderson

Brent McGregor - premier juniper wood-worker, cabin-builder, supreme outdoor photographer, mountain-climber, caver, and all around Good Fellow - is also the Chairman of the High Desert Grotto of the National Speological Society (HDG).

Last Saturday, Brent and his sidekick Kara Michaleson, along with Mike Scarfini, the newest member of the wildlife biologist team of the Sisters Ranger District, and nine other members of the HDG went out to Charlie-The-Cave, southeast of Bend, to spend the day.

This wasn't just a day cave exploring; thanks to Brent and USFS Law Enforcement Officer Eddy Cartaya -who, with his wife, Linda, are also supreme cavers - everyone used the day to train for cave emergencies, and to clean up man-made debris in Charlie.

There are always lots of rumors on how a cave gets its name, and for Charlie there's no shortage. But an old, yellow typed note seems to settle who named this cave. The "Charlie" is probably for Charlie Larson of Bend, one of the pioneer cavers of Central Oregon.

The HDG become a team when entering a cave. Sure, there's all that fun-and-games stuff that cavers enjoy when they're out for the day (or night), but when the time comes to enter the cave things settle down and the mood, while losing no excitement, becomes serious.

In the recent outing at Charlie-The-Cave, all eyes and ears were tuned to Eddy and grotto librarian/safety person, Neil Marchington, when that moment arrived.

Eddy outlined the cave emergency first-response actions. As a professional law-enforcement officer and accomplished caver, he really knows his stuff. He has responded to, and been man-in-charge for, many cave emergencies in his previous position as a National Park Service Ranger. He explained how and why even a minor injury such as a broken ankle could lead to a life-threatening incident if help wasn't forthcoming in a hurry.

Dehydration, that sometimes-fatal nemesis of injured people, could set in all too quickly if the patient wasn't prepared for such an emergency, and if there was trouble finding the cave, or - worst of all - the patient was in poor health, or in such a tight place within the cave that getting him or her out would be far more difficult than expected.

Eddy demonstrated communication equipment and tools that help cavers know who is where and what is going on in the cave, and for caring and transporting a patient out of the cave. He also shared stories about successful missions - and sadly - recoveries of bodies.

When it came time for the cavers to enter the cave to begin the emergency training exercise, and cleanup, Neil Marchington gave an overview of Charlie-The-Cave from a geological, historical and safety perspective.

Each person that went into the cave called out his or her name, and Neil wrote that name on his caver record, as "In." When that person came out of the cave, his or her name was then marked "Out." Everyone knew where other members of the team were at all times.

A four-man team carried a large bundle of wood debris from deep within the cave. It was taken into the cave sometime in the '70s by early cavers who built a ladder to reach upper portions of the lava tube. In time, the ladder rotted, the early cavers were gone, and the ladder was litter.

While struggling along with the last bundle of rotting lumber, a thought hit Brent, and he said, "You know what, Eddy, this is about the weight of a full-sized person, and here we are struggling along over this broken-down, rough boulder floor. This could be one tough job, carrying someone out of here."

And Eddy responded, "Yeah, Brent, and now you know..."

Around 4 p.m. the team of tired cavers had removed the last of several trash bags filled with broken glass, pop and beer cans and scraps of metal. The old ladder parts were strapped into bundles, carried to the surface and placed in the trailer to be taken to the landfill.

As Brent and Kara were loading the portable telephone into Eddy's Forest Service rig, Kara looked at Brent and said, "I hope we never have to use any of this stuff, but if we do, I now know how..."

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