Cave Rescue, March 16, 1968
Cass Cave, WV


On 16 March a group of 8 people associated with the Explorer's Club of Pittsburgh entered Cass Cave at about 2:30 PM. They were David Walsh (20), the trip leader, Rita Ernst (21), Phyllis Gable (21), Mike Adams (19), Norm Snyder, Sandi Zubritzky (20), Ray Enyeart (23), and Denny Callihan (22). All the group had some climbing experience; five had been in caves previously.

The 200 foot drop into the big-room was rigged with a cable ladder and belay. Two members of the party remained above while the other six rappelled down in front of the waterfall that drops into the room. Due to recent rains, the streams and waterfall in the cave were moderately high, causing everyone to be soaked by the time they reached the bottom.

The events of the next 12 hours are confused. The six that had descended did some exploration and finally returned to the ladder. One person ascended on belay in about a half-hour; a belayer descended, and then he and three others ascended in times ranging from one to two hours. Difficulties were experienced with signalling (whistles were used); exposure (the spray from the fall drenched and chilled everyone); entaglement of the ladder and the belay rope; and fatigue. Finally, at about 2:30 AM (17 March) only Enyeart and Snyder remained at the bottom. The ladder and rope were pulled up to disentagle them.

The two at the bottom checked now and then, until 6:00 AM, for the ladder and rope, and finally moved away from the falls and got some sleep. Snyder also spent some 3 hours exploring while Enyeart tried to sleep. At 11:30 AM, the ladder and rope were lowered. Enyeart tied in to the belay line and proceeded to climb. Despite signals given by Snyder, the belay line remained slack. Enyeart noticed this when he was 15 to 20 feet from the floor, started back down, slipped, and fell. Enyeart attempted again to climb, receiving tension on this time, but was unable to proceed. Inspection showed a bad bump on his knee and it was decided he would have to be pulled out. Snyder tied into the belay and ascended, planning to arrange the necessary rescue.

Meanwhile, at the top of the ladder, after the ladder and rope had tangled and been pulled up, those on top decided that help was necessary. The three grisl left the cave and contacted John Payne and Mike Ballister from the National Radio Astronomy Observatory. Snyder found them there when he reached the top of the ladder. Payne and Ballister, not have block and tackle available, suggested that the Cave Rescue Commucations Network be called. Either Payne or Ballister descended to keep Enyeart Company, while everyone else left the cave for assistance leaving one of the Pittsburgh group at the belay point. A rubber bag containing a sleeping bag, stove, food, and a "walkie-talking" were lowered but were never received, as it tangled with the ladder.

The CRCN was contacted at 4:15 PM., arrived at the cave at 8:00 PM, removed the tangled rigging, and Tom Vigour rappelled in with food, extra clothing, and the harness. All three were pulled up without incident and all were out of the cave by 1:00 AM. Monday morning (18 March)..


NSS Cave Accident Reports, 1968, Page 5-6.

Ed Bauer, Rita Ernst, Norman Snyder (Netherworld News, April 1968).


(Bauer) My analysis of the situation is that the leader of the Pittsburgh Explorers trip, Dave Walsh, used extremely poor judgement in bringing his group into Cass Cave. Many were inexperienced in such a difficult cave as Cass. Regardless of the experience, an attempt at the drop under such wet circumstances appears very foolhardy. The point of the original rigging indicated the leader's unfamiliarity with the cave, and was probably greatly responsible for much of the difficulty.