A beautiful sunny day welcomed members of the Mon Grotto Bridge Day Rappel Team as they gathered to make the 868-foot descent from the New River Gorge Bridge during Bridge Day on Oct. 15. This is the 32nd year for Bridge Day and is the 19th year rappellers have been included in the festivities.
The Mon Grotto team consists many local participants including Jeremy Browning and Nicole Good of Elkins; John Harman of Seneca Rocks; Susan Posey of Weston; Stacy Waggy and Heather Jordan of Franklin; Bob Griffith, Abby Hohn, Mary Davis and Dave Riggs of Morgantown; and Aaron Moses and Carl Amundson of Virginia.
Browning is in his fourth year at West Virginia University studying geology. He said he started rappelling by way of vertical caving.
"I have been caving for awhile," Browning said. "The Bridge Day rappel is really just a large version of what we do in caves."
Browning said he has attended bridge days in the past, watching rappellers and base jumpers and thought it looked neat.
"Part of the thrill of the rappel is the catwalk under the bridge," Browning said. "It is only 16 inches wide and it is unnerving until you are over the lip and hooked in."
Equipment used by rappellers is all related to safety.
"I wear a caving harness when I rappel," Browning said. "Other safety equipment include a rappelling rack with a thick wire frame and stainless steel bars and a helmet."
The time length of the descent varies from person to person.
"If someone would go very fast, only taking 1 minute, it is called 'smoking the rope,'" Browning said. "This is very dangerous."
Browning said an average descent lasts 10 minutes.
"One could safely make a quick descent in five minutes," Browning said. "I stop to photograph the surroundings on my way down."
Jerry and Jean Browning support their son in his adventures.
"My dad says he thinks I am crazy," Jeremy Browning said. "But they both are beside me all the way."
Browning says he hopes to do this again.
"Bridge Day is the biggest rappel I have ever done and I want to do it again next year," Browning said. "I am inspired by one team member who wants to eventually be the oldest rappeller at Bridge Day; he is 63 now and has a ways to go."
Nicole Good, originally from Elkins, made her first Bridge Day rappel this year with the Mon Grotto team. She graduated from Elkins High School in 2003 and Marshall University in 2008. Good said she got into the sport though her father.
"My dad, Bill Good, is president of the Mountain State Grotto in Elkins," Good said. "He started rappelling and vertical caving while I was in college and it looked fun. He taught me to rappel and climb a rope. I've worked as a guide at the Via Ferrata at the Nelson Rocks Outdoor Center in Pendleton County."
Good describes herself as an outdoor enthusiast.
"More so than being just a rappeller or a caver, I enjoy being out-of-doors," Good said. "There are so many ways to enjoy West Virginia parks and forests and I try to do all of them: I enjoy rock climbing, canoeing, geocaching, mountain biking, snowshoeing and bird watching."
The Mon Grotto Bridge Day team has 12 members, and almost half of those are women.
"There is nothing really holding women back from rappelling because it does not require a lot of upper body strength," Good said. "Between one-third and one-half of the rappellers I know are women. I encourage anyone interested in rappelling to not only educate yourself through books like 'On Rope 1," but try to find a mentor because there are a lot of technical aspects and gear can be quite an investment."
Good said her father is not the only family member who supports her decision to rappel.
"My grandparents are pretty accepting of it," Good said. "My sister and my husband came to watch me rappel during Bridge Day last Saturday."
Seneca Rocks resident John Harman started rappelling in 2006 with the West Virginia University Student Grotto. Harman graduated from WVU in 2008 with a master's in electrical engineering.
Saturday's rappel with the Mon Grotto Bridge Day team was Harman's fifth consecutive session.
"Really nothing can compare to literally hanging out 800-plus feet above the New River with great friends on a beautiful day in October," Harman said. "This is one of my favorite memories."
For more information about the team, visit the website www.caves.org/grotto/mongrotto.