Standing at the bottom of the chasm it was a good 30 degrees colder than where the crew stood 40 feet overhead. Commands of "TENSION!" "HOLD!" "SLACK!" in various combinations were amplified as they bounced down the narrow chasm walls. Slowly, and somewhat ominously, a rock hovered above and into view between the opposing cliff faces. This far down, the numerous ropes controlling it disappeared in the glare of the June sun, leaving only it's black sillohette looming overhead - as if made weightless by some kind of witchcraft. A head poked itself out over the cliffs edge and made eye contact.
With that, the rock descended into the cool chasm air.
Atop of the Ice Cave trail in New York's Sam's Point Preserve of Minnewaska State Park, a Jolly Rover crew of 12 worked with a panoramic view of the Shawangunk Ridge. Divided in half by two opposing cliff faces, a mere 8 feet apart, the two mini crews had been working tirelessly testing and troubleshooting the details of our most technical rigging system to date. On each cliff stood large tripod's with wire ropes, pulley's and various belay lines rigged through them and the load they would be carrying. With limited usable stone to build with inside the caves, the need to fly stone from the top of the cliff and into the chasm itself had become a reality. To do this a rock would need to be flown horizontally over the narrow drop zone, descended vertically into the chasm and even diagonally in order to avoid scarifying the cliffs winding walls during its descent. For the past two days, this had posed its challenges to say the least.
As the first rock touched down on the chasm floor it was steaming as if it had just completed re-entry through the atmosphere. I placed my hand on it and was stunned at how hot it was compared to the other stone around me. After making it's journey from the treeless exposure atop the sun beaten cliffs to the depths of the cold and eternally shaded chasm floor, the rock truly felt as though it had come from another world.
With the rock off the line I shouted the words we had all been waiting to hear.
"Rock on the ground!"
And with that, faceless cheers erupted from forty feet above.
It wasn't a big rock, only 200 pounds or so, but it was a big success. It could be done, and despite the seemingly endless frustrations of getting it done, the crew had held together, albeit at times, just barely.
As it turned out, we wouldn't be able to fly any more rocks that day. Shortly after our first success, we would witness our first failure. Moving up to 400 pounds, the next stone proved too heavy for the height and distance of our two tripods; lift off simply could not be achieved in a safe manner. After a frustrating weekend of troubleshooting, trial and error, we were one week closer to the projects launch, with no sure fire way of supplying stone to the crews below. Experience in hand, we packed up and resolved ourselves to return. Taller tripods? More guy lines? More patience? Sometime's you just need to step back and take a break before a solution presents itself.