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Adventurers descend on Carter Caves for Winter Adventure Weekend

Jan. 24, 2013 @ 12:00 AM

OLIVE HILL, Ky. -- At Carter Caves State Resort Park you can take a walk on the wild side this weekend.

Or if you prefer -- a rock climb, a canoe paddle, a mountain bike pedal, a highline zip, a horseback ride, a tree climb, a geological find, or even a dark and muddy crawl into the bowels of Middle Earth.

Yep, just about everything you ever wanted to try in the outdoors, you can do this weekend as Carter Caves State Resort Park becomes the ultimate regional exploration destination as more than 400 adventurers from six states descend upon the park.

Come snowstorm or sunshine, the fourth annual Winter Adventure Weekend kicks off at 12:30 p.m. Friday, Jan. 25, and rolls through Sunday, Jan. 27, with more than 134 different guided trips -- from beginner to expert trips -- that include everything from rope climbing to a .22-caliber shooting workshop.

Online registration is closed but folks can register on-site beginning at 12:30 p.m. Friday at the lodge, which is also home base for WAW's plethora of indoor adventures that include the infamous Squeezebox competition, a slew of multimedia adventure presentations, a live and Chinese auction, live music, and of course, in the lodge basement, one of the world's longest cardboard caverns.

The nonrefundable fee for ages 13 and older is $30, and $20 for children ages 6-12. Some trips have additional fees. (All participants must be at least 6, but some extreme trips have additional age requirements.)

Park naturalist Coy Ainsley, who helps organize the event and head up the herd of faithful volunteers from such groups as ESSO Grotto, Dayton Underground Grotto (DUG), the Ashland Cycling Enthusiasts and many others, said they're hoping to draw in 450 people this year.

Ainsley said it's been an amazing journey building a new event from the bones of what was Crawlathon. That winter event had grown to have more than 750 caving participants, making it the world's largest wintertime caving event, before it was canceled in 2009 because of the threat of the spread of White Nose Syndrome, a fungus mass killing hibernating bats.

"We've had some people stay with us through it all but it has been a building process over the last three years," Ainsley said.

In 2010, the first WAW drew 142 people, while the second year jumped to more than 200 and last year 338 came out to take part in the ever-diversifying buffet of outdoor sports. This year, pre-registrations were at 382 and the park is hoping for a few dozen more walk-up registrants.

This year's trips have increased by more than 30 percent, and with strict decontamination procedures in place, Carter Caves will for this event only be reintroducing wild caving for the first time in four years with such popular trips as the tight squeezes and twists of Tar Kiln to Sandy Cave, where a jonboat is lowered into a water-filled cave.

There are 21 different wild caving trips planned and folks can sign up for one of those in addition to other trips and workshops during the weekend.

"There is lots of excitement about it that's for sure and we are seeing people's names that I haven't seen since the 2009 Crawlathon registration," Ainsley said. "Surprisingly it is a little bit slower than I expected. We still have over 100 slots for people to go into the caves but we built it pretty good. There were roughly 340 people who could go on a wild cave trip. So there's about 65 percent of the people who are taking a wild cave trip and about 35 percent not taking them at all, but we have built a different base of demographics.

While Crawlathon mostly drew strictly wild caving enthusiasts, WAW is a true smorgasbord of outdoors that also brings a bit of that "Man vs. Wild" flare with the Winchester, Ky.,-based Natural Alliance teaching such workshops as Winter Survival, Land Navigation and Fire Building.

"With Crawlathon if you didn't like to go in a cave there may not have been a lot for you," Ainsley said. "There's so much stuff you can do now, a family can split up how you want and take part in all of these other fun trips."

First hooked up a few years ago by Benjy Simpson, of Passages to Adventures and the New River Gorge Bridge Walk, the highline is the Tri-State's only zipline, albeit temporary.

There are 13 scheduled time slots Friday through Sunday to catch a not-to-miss trip zipping past the massive 90-foot-tall Smoky Bridge, the largest natural bridge in Kentucky.

That high line gear now used on various other weekends throughout the year, was bought by the Friends of Carter Caves. The Friends will have both a Chinese auction (a raffle draw) as well as a live auction at 7:30 p.m. Saturday night to help fund other projects and gear purchases for the 2,000-acre park.

The auction is just one of many indoor adventure programs that range from presentations about Grand Canyon hikes to caving and climbing in Mexico.

Throughout the weekend, outdoors experts will share slideshow talks of their travels including Andy Niekamp, an Appalachian Trail thru-hiker who will be doing a photo journey of Vermont's 270-mile Long Trail at 11 a.m. Saturday, while Colin Gatland will talk from 3 to 3:40 p.m. Saturday about "Caving the Deep Pits of Mexico's Aquismon Area."

There's also plenty of competition to be found. Inside there is the almost famous Squeezebox, a see-through box that tests how small of a space you can slither through and a competition dominated by returning heavyweight champ Jamie Dzierzak. New this year is an outdoors rope climbing competition.

Among the "drop-in" events, that range from cooking demonstrations to slacklining, nothing is more popular than the extreme multi-level cardboard maze now called The Kenny McCoy Corrugated Cave, named for the long-time Carter Caves naturalist and cave guide who retired on Dec. 31 after being a cave guide at the park off and on since the 1970s.

The cardboard cave will be open from 7 to 9 p.m. Friday, 9 a.m. to noon and 1 to 5 p.m. Saturday and 9 a.m. to noon Sunday.

Ainsley said volunteers worked over a four-day weekend to rebuild and make new sections in the cardboard labyrinth including a new entrance and exit.

"They ripped out a lot of the old and put new sections and they made a junction area like a spaghetti junction with five different ways you can go," Ainsley said.

Wild Winter Adventure

WHAT: Fourth annual Winter Adventure Weekend, featuring 134 different guided trips including hiking, tree climbing, wild caving, canoeing, ziplining, survival classes, rappelling, and archeological field trips

WHERE: Carter Caves State Resort Park, located at 344 Caveland Drive in Olive Hill, Ky.

WHEN: Friday through Sunday, Jan. 25-27

HOW MUCH: The nonrefundable fee for adults (age 13 and older) is $30, and the nonrefundable fee for children ages 6-12 is $20. Some of the trips have additional fees. Online registration is closed. On site registration begins at 12:30 p.m. Friday.

RESTRICTIONS: (All participants must be at least 6 years old. Some trips have additional age requirements.)

NEW THIS YEAR: a rock climbing workshop, a .22-caliber shooting workshop, nature photography workshop and a rope climbing competition, along with six new adventure presentations Saturday. The park is also incorporating some wild caving trips in this year's event, including one being led by old-style carbide cap lamps. Some trips will be offered on Friday afternoon.

INSIDE ADVENTURES: In addition to the outdoors adventure buffet, there's also one of the world's largest cardboard caves, the Squeezebox competition, live music Saturday night, a Chinese auction and live auction and outdoors presentations throughout the weekend.

GETTING THERE: The park is off Interstate 64 at exit 161. Take U.S. 60 east. Go approximately two miles and turn left on KY 182 north. The park entrance is three miles from the left turn onto KY 182 north.

CONTACT: Call 1-800-325-0059. Go online at www.winteradventureweekend.com to check out the schedule. Although advance registration is closed you can register at Carter Caves for the remaining trips.

OTHER UPCOMING CARTER CAVE WEEKENDS: Feb. 15-16, Valentines Day Weekend dinner shows with nationally traveling comedian and storyteller, Bil Lepp; March 1-3, Tracking and Woods Lore Weekend; March 29-31, Easter Weekend getaway; March 23 and May 11: BYOK: Tygart Creek Kayak Float; April 6, Eastern Mining Collectors Association Spring Meet and Show; April 13-14 and May 12, Tygart Creek Canoe Excursion; April 19-21, Wildflower Pilgrimmage; and April 26-28, Camper Appreciation Weekend; May 4-5, Smoky Bridge High Line Ride; May 18, Exploring the New Frontier (9 mile hike).