This is Bryan's seventh New Years at Hamilton Valley, the Cave Research Foundation's facility at Mammoth Cave in Kentucky. For Mandy and I, it's the fifth New Years. It's become a sort of fixture in our family schedule. Mandy makes a big deal about having just the right kind of sparkling grape juice, which she drinks right from the bottle at the New Year's 'party' with our friends.
This year, for the first time, our family was asked to handle kitchen duties for one day. We got up early to cook breakfast for about 40 hungry cavers. Then Mandy and I got ready to go caving, and Bryan stayed above ground to cook garlic chicken, rice pilaf, and the best lemon pie in the world.
For the first time, this year (because of newly revised guidelines) Mandy's old enough to cave with regular survey teams in Mammoth Cave. (She went on a trip to Roppel a couple of years ago, but that was a special one-time deal.) So in addition to her usual long visits with friends, and helping a bit in the kitchen, and hanging around the edges of conversations with people she admires, she actually got to go caving two days in a row. She was a happy, happy girl.
Mandy would have been thrilled just to be in the cave, but Charles didn't send her on just any old boring trip. We got to go into the Historic entrance of Mammoth, where she's been on so many ho-hum tourist tours, this time wearing real cave gear. We got to walk on tourist trails, then go through a gate and down a hole in the floor to the Labyrinth area. And on Mandy's very first 'Mammoth survey', she was in virgin passage, in a place no people had ever been before.
That's a pretty amazing feeling for a seventh grader, to look at a dome no one's ever seen, and to crawl through a passage no people have ever touched.
On the second day, we were both a little sore and tired, and were glad to go to an area of the cave near the Snowball Dining Room. We did some easy survey research, tying in stations to other stations and just answering questions to help the cartographer understand the cave better. While we were there, Bryan had a good time in Illinois Avenue, in Flint Ridge, working on about 800 feet of survey in crawling passage (the results of which meant he crawled over 3,000 feet that day).
Another milestone this year: CRF's first Cartographer Action Figure. I'd bought a Mr. Potato Head set with a Santa beard sometime in the foggy past, so I brought it to Hamilton Valley, along with a plastic helmet. Bob Hoke hid in the kitchen with Mandy and I and, with the help of Joyce (who modified the helmet with a knife) and Shirley (who donated white yarn for a ponytail) we modified the Potato Head until it bore a remarkable resemblance to Ed Klausner.
We only spend a couple of weekends a year with them, but these are people who are important to us, and a project that we really enjoy being part of. Hopefully, now that Mandy can cave more at Mammoth, we'll be able to spend more time there in 2011.