05 Jul Ted the Caver
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"Ted the Caver"Written by Ted Hegemann
Estimated reading time — 86 minutes
Due to the overwhelming number of requests I have received to tell about my discoveries and bizarre experiences in a cave not far from my home, I have created this web page. I will outline the events that happened to me during the past few months. Beginning with my journey into a familiar cave in December 2000 and ending… well, it hasn’t actually ended yet. I will use my caving journal as the text to tell about my recent experience. I will give them to you as I experienced them, in chronological order.
I have included photographs that were taken during my many trips into the cave. I have also created a few illustrations to help the reader get a better idea of what things looked like in the cave. All of the photos were taken by me, or one of the few people I went into the cave with.
I want to point out a few things before I tell about the events:
1- Most of the pictures were taken with a Kodak disposable-type camera. I took a better camera into the cave on one or two of the trips. Pictures on this site are all original photos and have not been messed with or enhanced, other than where noted. As a rule, I get my pictures put onto disc at the time of developing so I don’t have to scan them later. This ensures the best digital quality.
2- I will not reveal the names of the other people involved in this experience. If you know me well enough, you probably know them already.
3- I will NOT reveal the location of the cave to ANYONE for ANY REASON! So please don’t ask! I refuse to be held accountable for anyone’s life but my own. I will refer to the cave as Mystery Cave. That is NOT its real name.
If you think these events sound far-fetched, I agree. I would come to the same conclusion had I not experienced them.
I will try to finish the site as soon as possible. Check the date on the main page to see when I’ve made updates.
To protect myself from people who might want to copy this site, I include the following: All text on this and following pages are my own words and copyright 2001.
I will divide the text into two colors for the sake of clarity. The plain text is taken directly from my caving journal. The italicized text is my comment as I reflect on the experience. I will do my best to convey the thoughts and feelings I had during the entire event. I will not use the actual names of the other individuals involved. I will include the entire relevant text of my journal. Only small parts of the journal will I skip. This will only occur when the entry has nothing to do with the experience in the cave, such as eating dinner after a trip, getting fuel or snacks, irrelevant details, etc. (My journal is fairly thorough) I will merely summarize what I am cutting out of the actual entry.
In an effort to present this experience in as accurate light as possible I will type my journal as I wrote it: sans grammar check. Please overlook my errors. My additional comments will help to clarify the things I wrote in my journal.
Caving Journal 12/30/2000
B and I decided to get in one more caving trip before the New Year, so we set our sights on Mystery Cave. Not a spectacular cave, but since neither of us had been caving in awhile it would be nice to go to any cave. There was a bit of excitement to this trip. There was a small passage in the lower portion of the cave that I wanted to check out to see if it was possible to get past it. It had a small opening, but lots of air blowing out of it. Even though it is way too small to climb through, I had never even checked to see what was inside the passage. We got our gear loaded up and hit the road by 3:00 p.m. We got to the cave in great time, since B likes to drive fast. We anchored from the usual tree and began to rappel into the cave. I went down first and got my gear together while B came down.
I will refer to B many times. We have been caving together for many months now. He was injured in a caving accident a few years ago and was told he would never walk again. Through hard work and perseverance, he not only walks but can get around very well in caves. The trickier parts of a cave might slow him down a bit, but he can make it. He patiently works through an obstacle until he gets past it.
As for the reference to the small opening in the cave, there is a saying among cavers: “If it blows, it goes”. Meaning, if a passage has a good flow of air, it is probably worth investigating.
After we explored all of the usual passages we climbed down to check out the hole. The hole is located deep in the cave, near the lowest part of the cave. It is on the side of a cave wall, about three feet from the floor. To look inside the hole I had to kneel down to duck under an overhang of rock.
I used my backup mini-mag light and held it inside the hole to see what I could see. I was excited by what I saw. The wall around the hole was about 3-5 inches thick. It led into a tight passage. The passage opened up a bit just inside the hole. It continued back about 10–12 feet in a small crawl space. After that it seemed to really open up! Although how much we couldn’t tell. This could be a virgin passage. (Obviously, no one has passed through this route, but there could be a way into the passage from the other side.) To even get to the crawl space we would have to enlarge the opening. Currently, it is about the size of my fist. Once we get past the opening we would have a tight crawl back to where it opened up. It would take some work, but we thought we could do it. We sat down for a few minutes to rest and contemplate our plan of attack. While we sat there in the darkness we could hear the wind howling from the other side of the passage. It was a low, eerie noise. We could also hear a low rumble from time to time. No big deal, though. The cave is in the vicinity of a highway that has heavy trucks drive on it. We figured the rumble was the effect of the trucks resonating through the rocks.
We determined that our best plan would be to haul a cordless drill into the cave to drill into the rock. Then we could take a bullpin and a small sledgehammer and break up the rock. It seemed pretty straight-forward. We would widen the hole big enough to squeeze in and see what was on the other side. The efforts to haul all of the equipment down to the hole would be a pain, but we hoped it would be worth it. I named the passage Floyd’s Tomb, after Floyd Collins. It seemed to look like the tight spot where Floyd spent his last miserable days on earth.
Floyd Collins was a caver back in the early 1900s. He got stuck in a tight crawl space and was unable to free himself. It is an amazing story that is detailed in a book called, “Trapped: The Story of Floyd Collins” (I think that was the title. I don’t recall the author). Calling our passage Floyd’s Tomb was not only a tribute to Floyd, but a commentary of the size of the passage.
Ha Ha! In retrospect, it is funny how simple I thought it was going to be. I figured a few hours work and we would be in. Had I known how long it was going to take I doubt I would have even begun the project. Had I known what I was going to experience in the cave I never would have returned.
We gathered up our gear and headed for the surface. Normally I couldn’t care less if I ever came back into this cave. There is nothing special about it. But now I was psyched about getting back and getting through. We hadn’t even left the cave and we were planning our return trip.
(The rest of the journal entry talked about the climb out of the cave, our dinner, and our trip back home.)
January 27–28, 2001
B and I were both excited to get back into the cave and get to work. I figured with about 4 hours work we could be in and see what was on the other side. We had arranged to borrow a DeWalt cordless drill to bring with us. We also had masonry bits to drill with, sledgehammers (two) to break up the rock, bullpins to insert into the drill holes, and a few other tools that we ended up not using. Getting the tools down to the work site proved to be a challenge. One of us would climb down the rope and stop at a ledge or good resting place, then the other person would lower the tools. We kept repeating this routine until we got to the bottom of the cave. Then we had to drag the tools to the hole. It took about an hour to finally get to work.
B took the first turn at the hole. After an hour of exhausting work, we could tell that we were not going to get through in one session. We kept trading off after we worked ourselves into a sweat. One would take a break and get some food and water while the other one went to work.
The routine went like this:
To begin work we had to get down on our knees and do our best to avoid smacking our heads on the ceiling. Working in this awkward position we would drill into the wall around the hole. That was difficult work. We really had to push on the drill, and it was still slow progress. Then we inserted the bullpin into the hole and hammered on it until the rock broke up. Then we would repeat the process. To give you an idea of how slow it went, the typical size rock that would break off was about fingernail size. If we broke off a large piece (about 1/3 the size of my palm) it was cause for celebration.
From time to time, for variety, we would just wail on a cold chisel with a 5-lb. sledge. It was slow progress. The problem with the sledge was that we couldn’t take a good swing because of the tight quarters.
Even though we spent many hours and several trips working on the hole we never did find a better technique for widening the hole. The drill/bullpin/hammer got the best results for our efforts. We came up with some crazy ideas for breaking up the rock. Everything from TNT (never seriously considered) to hauling a generator to the mouth of the cave and running an extension cord down to a jackhammer. We even thought about using liquid nitrogen to freeze the rock and make it more brittle!
After a couple hours of hard work, we realized what our limiting factor was going to be. It was about then that our first battery met an abrupt death. We had a second battery, so we swapped them out. The second battery lasted a little longer because we hammered and chiseled a little more often and a little longer each time. Finally, after about three more hours of drudgery, the second battery died and we called it a night. Whew! We could tell that we had done some work in the cave, but it was not much. For the first time since we got in the cave, we sat back both of us took a break. It was nice to check out the results of our hard work. Then we noticed the howling again. It seemed to be a little louder than the last time we were there. We just figured the wind was blowing a little stronger outside. What we could not figure out was the rumbling. It, too, seemed to be louder, and more frequent. This time we could not attribute the noise to trucks. The road that the trucks drove on was not very busy to begin with. At that time of night, it should be dead. Yet the rumbling continued. It seemed to be coming from deep within the passage. B said he would ask some veteran cavers what could be causing the noise.
We didn’t spend a long time admiring our work. We still had to haul the gear up and out of the cave. Actually, we left some of it in the cave. It was still difficult work. What made it worse was that we were both exhausted. Our original plan was to be done with this cave and hit a couple of other caves in the area the next day. Instead, we decided to crash at a nearby motel, charge up the drill batteries, and go back to Mystery Cave.
My journal goes on at length about the night after we left the cave: We got a room, dinner was excellent, I didn’t sleep good despite the fact I was exhausted, etc.
We both slept in so we got a late start back into the cave. The second day working on the cave went about the same as the first. We worked until both batteries were dead again. We were still not even close to getting through.
The howling and rumbling continued as the day before.
Before I continue with the next journal entry I thought it might be helpful to the reader to explain a little bit about caving and about the atmosphere in the cave. As I re-read and think about my description of the cave I notice that much of the language I use in my caving journal, and the descriptions, or lack thereof, assume that the reader has a knowledge of caving and what it is like inside a cave. In other words, I write my journals for ME! I will take this time to give a more detailed description of the cave. I will tell about what it was like while we worked on the cave. And I will summarize our feelings up to this point.
The cave was “discovered” several decades ago when construction in the area unearthed its entrance. From that time to the present it has been visited by mostly locals in the area and avid cavers in the region. Beer cans can be found intermittently in the cave, mostly in the upper half. When the cave was first entered it was probably beautiful. Dust, graffiti, vandals, pigeons, and regular use have diminished its appeal. There are still places in the cave where small formations remain undisturbed, as a reminder of what the rest of the cave used to look like.
To enter the cave one must have a good length of rope, in order to rappel down into the rock. A nearby tree serves as a good anchor point. Once the rope is tied to the tree, about 20 feet away from a small cliff, it can be tossed over the edge of the cliff to a small ledge 15 feet below. Cavers can then descend the short distance to the entrance. Once inside the cave, artificial light must be used. My light source of choice is a battery operated, helmet mounted light, known as a T.A.G. light. Safe caving calls for at least two sources of backup lighting. For my backup lighting, I have a mini-mag light mounted to my helmet, and another helmet mounted light in my pack (which I always carry with me). I also have glow-sticks that I carry with me. These are not considered good sources of back-up light, by some, but they are good to use for taking lunch breaks. And they could be used to get out of a cave if the other sources fail.
After a short climb over large rocks, the caver comes to a large pit. The same rope is used to reach the bottom of the pit. The drop is only 50 feet or so, but it is not free-hanging. In other words, you can’t slide straight down the rope, which is preferable. You have to snake your way around sharp rocks as you descend. The ascent is made more difficult for the same reason. The pit varies in diameter from about 10 feet, to 3 or 4 in a few places. The walls are lined with a sharp, white rock called popcorn. Let me correct that: it used to be white, but is now covered with dust and dirt that was kicked down from above by years of caving. The popcorn makes it painful to brush against the side of the pit. My choice of clothing is Levi’s, T-shirt, gloves and knee pads. I usually leave the cave with few scrapes but at least I am comfortable while I climb around inside. The temperature is stable year-round. It feels cool in the summer, and warm in the winter. We have gone in on freezing days, and 10 feet into the cave it is warm enough that coats are not needed. It is a good temperature to work in, as we learned.
For this size drop, I usually use a “figure-8” descending device. For the climb up I attach myself to the rope using a Petzl ascender, but I climb up on my own without using the device. It is there merely as a safety attachment, in case I slip. Other cavers have their own methods of getting down and up. At the bottom of the drop, the caver gets to do some crawling for a while. There is a small room, about 6X6 feet, at the bottom that gives the caver a spot to leave his harness and descending/ascending gear. Since there is no more steep drops the harness is not needed and will only get in the way.
Once the caver gets down to the 6X6 room he can take a break under a ledge while the rest of the party comes down. Then he must drop to his knees to negotiate a 10-foot long passage that is only a few feet high. This is where the knee pads come in handy. The floor is covered with soft dirt, intermingled with bits of broken rock from above. The thin layer of dirt does nothing to soften the blow to the hands and knees as the caver works down the crawl space. As a reward, at the end of the crawl, he gets to drop to his belly and scoot under a tight squeeze. Not “really” tight, just something low enough to make the caver scoot along in the dirt.
Once the caver gets on the other side of the squeeze there are a few feet of crawl space, then the cave opens up enough to stand. For most of the rest of the cave, the caver can stand, or at least stoop. The cave splits off into several passages at this point. Two routes wind around rocks and crevasses and come to abrupt dead-ends. The other two lead to small pools of water. Each route is fun to explore. They all lead on for a hundred feet or so in a gradual downward slope. Most of the time the caver can walk upright in the passages. Other times he will have to climb over large boulders or occasionally crawl on hands and knees.
Water is a common occurrence in caves. I have been told that one of the local residents was one of the first people in the cave, and that his cousin dove into the pools using SCUBA gear. He said the cave continued down for a couple of hundred feet underwater. What they were hoping for, and what happens frequently, is that the passage comes up somewhere else, with virgin cave passages to explore.
Unfortunately, I don’t possess the knowledge to give more detail about the types of rocks in the cave. When we were drilling we would have some parts that were easier to drill than others. And there were different colors in the rock (refer to the photos taken in the cave). But that is the best I can do to describe the makeup of the cave.
At the point, the cave splits into four routes, the two passages that dead-end are to the immediate left of the caver. Straight ahead and to the right are the passages that lead to pools of water. The entrance to the passage on the right is the largest of the four. The arched opening rises nearly 10 feet in the air, ending a mere foot below the cave ceiling. As the caver enters the passage the ceiling gradually lowers until it is about six feet high. It continues at this same height for the 40 feet that the passage travels in a continuous direction. This section of the cave resembles a hard rock mine. Its arch nearly perfect and the floor flat and easy to walk on. It’s easy to picture rusty mine cars on rail lines, and dust-covered miners with blistered hands gripping dull picks. The pseudo-mine comes to an end and the caver is once again forced to drop onto hands and knees and get reacquainted with the floor of the cave. This time the crawl lasts about 20 feet. The floor is sloping gently downward for the first half of the crawl. Then it gets fairly steep and slippery. Able-bodied cavers can still climb carefully down the slippery slope. When I go with B I carry the end of the rope that we used to get down to this point. I usually need to tie another short length of rope to the first rope to make sure he can use it to reach the bottom. The crawl lasts a few feet beyond the bottom of the slide. Over the next 10–12 feet the caver slowly begins to regain the standing position.
After walking a few feet and climbing down a short drop-off the caver arrives at a small level area which has a passage leading down immediately to the left. The passage ends 75 feet later at one of the small bodies of water. To the right is a rock wall. Straight ahead is an indentation in the wall which goes back about 3 feet. On the wall at the rear of the indent is a small hole, about the size of a softball. To get near the hole the caver ducks under an overhang and kneels upon the rocks that rise above the floor by a few inches. By the time the caver reaches this point, he is either warm or sweating and the first thing he notices is the cool breeze blowing out of the hole. It was my recognition of this hole as a potential doorway to unexplored portions of the cave that ultimately led to this telling of my experience.
As has been my tradition for all the years I’ve been caving, the party reaches a point in the cave, usually at the deepest part of the cave, that all lights are extinguished. Complete blackness fills the eyes. For a moment the individual caver strains the eye muscles, focusing in and out with the expectation of catching a crumb of light somewhere in the false night. After several futile moments, the caver turns his head at a sound- perhaps another caver- only to have the other senses return, and then heighten. The sounds, smells, and feelings that have been overlooked to this point come racing to the caver in perfect detail. The pain of their own behind sitting on the cave floor. The smell of dust, sweat, guano. The sound of modern material shifting on age-old rock as cavers attempt to find comfort on this solid foundation. At the back of every caver’s mind at this time is “What if?”. What if a person HAD to climb out of the cave with no light. Would he make it? Would he find all of the turns and bends which got him to this place? If not, would a rescue party find him in time?
The depth of darkness recognized at this time is something that is rarely experienced outside a cave. Many first time cavers erroneously declare that they have to hold their hand to within 2 or 3 inches of their face before they can see it. The truth is the human eye is incapable of seeing in an absence of light. If they did not hear something coming toward them, they would feel it before they saw it. COMPLETE and TOTAL dark! This exercise is a great way to remind people to take backup lighting.
As we proceeded to work in the cave we developed a system pretty early and little changed in succeeding trips. The first time in the cave, B took first shift at chipping away at the opening. After about a half hour he needed a break so I took over. He told me what worked best and I continued doing the same. We would try new things from time to time, to use new muscles, but usually stuck to the same method. We would use the masonry bit and press on the drill as hard as we could and drill out a hole in the rock. Safety glasses and dust masks were worn while working. Then we would insert the bullpin and hammer it into the rock and break out small chunks of the cave. Then we would drill another hole and repeat the process. Occasionally the drill would hit a soft spot in the rock and that step would be shortened. We would work until we became too tired to continue, then B and I would trade.
While one of us was working the other would remain in the darkness and either eat or drink, or just lay down on the cave floor, padded by rope bags. After just a few rotations we were tired enough to catch a nap while taking our break. The only light we used was the helmet light on the head of the worker. Since it was pointing toward the hole, the resting person was left mostly in the dark. This was a welcome benefit, since the resting person was usually, well, resting. The rest break was also a chance to cool down a bit, which didn’t take long in the cooler temperature of the cave. Fortunately, the temperature of the cave allowed us to work pretty hard and not overheat much.
I remember that I frequently looked and the hole and thought, “Hey, it’s big enough. I think I can squeeze through,” only to be disappointed in my attempt. However, even after the first attempt and failure, I knew that I would keep working on the hole until I got through. This despite the fact that I knew it would take many more hours of hard work. It actually became an obsession with me. I tried to get out to the cave and work as often as I could. I hoped that the passage led to a larger undiscovered cave that we would be the first ones to enter. I guess the explorer in me wanted to find a new frontier there in the cave. Since B is such an avid caver he was motivated by the same desire to find a new unexplored cave. What we did find was not at all what I expected…
February 10, 2001
Scarcely two weeks had gone by and already we were on our way back out to work in the cave. We admit we have become obsessed with the idea of getting through the passage. That may be a sign of how exciting our lives really are. It’s not that we think there is going to be something great beyond the passage. We just like the idea of being the first humans on the face of the planet to set foot in a virgin part of the cave. Although if we found a hidden treasure that would be fine with us!
We got a late start and drove part of the way in the dark. When I tell people that I go caving at night they wonder why. They don’t stop to think that it is always night once you’re inside the cave. All the way out to Mystery Cave we talked about new ideas to speed up our work. B also told me he talked to some caver friends of his that came up with an explanation about the rumbling noise. They thought it might be the sound of water deep within the cave. Possibly a waterfall. They couldn’t really explain why the noise seemed to come and go. To me, it is just one more reason to get through. So we can solve the mystery.
This trip we took B’s dog, Whip. She is a Jack Russell Terrier. I was not at all concerned about taking the dog into the cave. We have taken her before. She answers the call of nature before we go in, and then waits until we get out again. Also, she is well behaved inside the cave. We simply had to lower her via a custom made harness until she reached the bottom of the main drop. Then she negotiated the rest on her own. She loves to explore, but won’t go out of our sight. She doesn’t have a light attached to her, so she has to wait for us. Another reason I didn’t mind bringing Whip along was because we planned on putting her into the small hole and see how far into the passage she would go. That might give us an idea of what is on the other side. We knew that if there were a drop-off that we couldn’t see, the dog would turn around and come right back out. We thought we might have to do some work on the hole before even the dog could get through.
Despite working in the dark of the night we were able to rig up and get down pretty quickly. We didn’t take as many tools as last time. Plus, we left some in the hole so we wouldn’t have to haul them out and back in again. I did manage to get two more batteries for the drill for a total of four. Also a few more masonry drill bits. Even with the dog, we made good time getting down. Then something bizarre happened that I can’t quite explain.
The dog began exploring as soon as we let her off the rope. She was in hog heaven, sniffing and darting about around our feet. She would run from one person to the other as we made our way back to the work site. At the point, the cave splits into four passages the dog seemed to run out of juice. She just stuck right by either B or me. That seemed kind of odd. As we progressed further into the cave she would only stay by B. She seemed edgy. Like she saw something she didn’t like. As we approached the short drop-off before the hole, she stopped and would only come further after we coaxed her. The hair on her back stood on end. Finally, as we got to within 20 feet of the hole she began to whimper, and hide behind B. Her tail was between her legs and she was cowering down on the ground. Strange! I have seen her square off with dogs twice her size, but now she acted as if Satan himself was lurking in the darkness. I figured there must have been animals that used the cave as a home, and Whip smelled their scent. Too bad it upset her, because there was no way she was going into the passage.
We decided that with this new development (the nervous dog) one of us would work while the other stayed with the dog a few feet away from where we normally rested. We got right back into our routine of drilling, hammering, etc. With our extra supply of batteries, we were able to really push hard on the drill and not have to worry about using up the batteries. This did not make our work any easier, but it did speed things up a little bit. Progress was still slow. I really didn’t mind, though.
My journal goes on for a while about the progress we were making. The entire time we worked, Whip did not move. She just laid there on a rope-bag, shivering. She would whimper from time to time. One thing I didn’t think about at the time was that she would not take her eyes off the hole. We should have been more observant of this intuitive animal.
We were on our fourth battery when the second bizarre thing happened to us. B was working. He had just finished drilling a hole and was getting ready to hammer the bullpin when he stopped working and looked into the hole. I was kicking back, almost asleep, and hardly paying attention to B. He had a light by his side to illuminate the work area. I could see in the eerie glow a puzzled and intense look on his face. He looked over at me and shook his head. I asked him what was up. He said that he swore he just heard a strange noise emanating from the hole. He said it sounded like rock sliding on rock. Sort of a grinding sound. I assumed his ears were just ringing from the drill (he didn’t wear any earplugs this trip). He assured me he heard what he said he heard. I didn’t have an explanation, so I went back to dozing. B sat in the quiet of the cave for a long time before he resumed work. Also, he would stop from time to time and just listen. B is very grounded and not one to pursue some imaginary sound. I believe he heard something, but I’m not too concerned about what it was. I assume we will figure it all out once we get through the passage.
The final battery lasted another hour or so. We were sitting around talking about our progress when I decided to see if I could get my head through the hole. My head easily fit, but there was no way my shoulders were going in. As I was kneeling there contemplating how close we were I noticed something that B overlooked: The wind had stopped! In all of the times I’ve been in the cave I have always felt the wind blowing. The last time we were out working on the cave the wind was blowing worse than ever. Even earlier we remember the breeze cooling us off. But now, nothing! B said he did not know when it stopped. The rumbling had ceased, too. BIZARRE!
This plain old cave was becoming mysterious. We talked for a long time in the dark of the cave. We debated what could possibly be causing these unusual events to occur. I think part of the reason we were sitting in the dark was because we were both too hammered to move. We could come up with no reasonable explanation for the strange things happening in the cave. After sitting for at least a half-hour we slowly loaded up our gear and started for the surface. Whip couldn’t have been happier to get out of there. Once again we left some of the tools in the cave. We just put them in the hole. Not enough people use the cave to worry about. Plus, we were too tired to care.
We made a lot of progress on this trip. It helps to have the extra batteries. We still have a long way to go, but it sure is nice to see how far we have come.
The rest of the journal entry talks about climbing out of the cave, getting a room at a motel, and CRASHING! We were beat!
In retrospect, I can’t believe how casual we were about everything that was happening in the cave. At the time the only thing we could think about was getting into the passage. Everything else was just a minor distraction. I do recall thinking that it would be nice to get in and see how the mechanics of the cave worked (where the wind was coming from, what was making the noise, etc.) Now, weeks later, I think of my ignorance and naiveté, and shiver.
March 3–4, 2001
It took us three weeks before we got back out to Mystery Cave again. Our attitudes have changed a bit since we first started the project. In the beginning, we looked at the whole thing as a fun adventure. Since the last trip out we found ourselves taking a more serious approach. On the drive out this time, our conversation was a little more subdued than before. We hadn’t talked much since the last trip (not for any reason but scheduling conflicts). Instead of discussing ways of getting through the passage, we found ourselves talking about rational explanations for what had happened. Neither one of us had any ideas that would explain the unusual occurrences we experienced on the last trip. We were amused to find out that neither one of us had talked much about the last trip to other people. That is a complete reversal from the other trips. It has been fun to report to friends and family about our progress. It is always fun to tell people about the tight squeeze we are going to have to go through to get into the passage. Most people have little desire to voluntarily subject themselves to incredibly tight places. Actually, neither do I, but I will do it in order to get to the other side. Good motivation.
We left town early in the afternoon to beat traffic. I don’t really recall what time we finally got to the cave. Like I said, the mood was subdued. We got rigged up and started down. Obviously, B left the dog home this time. We took essentially the same gear as the last time. We left some of the tools in the hole to save our backs the agony of hauling the extra weight. Even with the gear, we got down in good time. We really have a good system for getting up and down. There was only one minor mishap this trip. B scraped his arm on the descent. Not real bad, fortunately. He waited until we got all the way to the hole to patch it up. It was just a superficial cut. While he was getting the wound cleaned up I started working. We both took note that the breeze was back and the rumbling present. We had four fresh batteries and four (or maybe 3 1/2) fresh arms. I had high hopes this would be the day. It started out pretty slow. When we first started working on the hole the thickness was about 3 inches. As we have enlarged the hole the thickness has increased. As a result, our progress has become slower. Still, we continued with as much energy as we could put into the work. The hole was big enough, at least, for me to put the hammer into the hole for reference, then put the camera into the hole and take a picture of Floyd’s Tomb.
It’s been nice to see the pile of broken rock below the hole get bigger and bigger. We have both realized that we are just going to have to put in a certain amount of work in order to get through, so we just get down to business. We don’t usually talk much while we work, since one of us is making a lot of noise with the drill or hammer. Break times are used to chat momentarily about whatever topic pops into mind. The breaks take place whenever the guy that’s working decides to switch roles. We both put in some pretty good work sessions. I have a little more stamina than B, but he gets just as much done in a shorter amount of time, due to his upper body strength. We still celebrate the small victories we encounter along the way. Whenever a section we’ve been working on crumbles, we cheer. On the rare occasion that a fist-size rock falls from the entrance, we whoop and holler. That’s one small chunk of earth that no longer separates us from… whatever lies on the other side. I still harbor the fantasy that there is a hidden entrance to the other side of the passage and years ago Spanish explorers hid their treasures in the cave and sealed up the entrance. And it has remained untouched until we find it! B has a more realistic, although more mundane theory. He figures there is more cave on the other side. We’ll see who is right.
This trip out I wanted to see if we could speed up the work by using larger masonry bits. I purchased some good sized ones at the hardware store (at a good sized price). One was larger in diameter than all the rest. The other was smaller around, but longer. I had pretty much concluded that the big one might be too big, and I was right. We tried to get it to go into the rock but progress was very slow. We tried pushing for all we were worth and all we got was tired. The larger bit just created too much friction area for our strength. It might have worked with a hammer-drill, but we didn’t have one. The longer bit worked fine with our drill. We relied on it for most of the work we did this trip. I thought we were going to be out one bit, and a drill and my hand, when the bit broke off toward one end. I was pushing as hard as I could on the drill with the bit a few inches in the wall, when it snapped. I nearly rammed the drill through the wall from pushing so hard. We were able to retrieve the bit and keep using it, minus a couple of inches. It still worked great. Only once in a great while did we resort to hammer and chisel. Work was proceeding as normal, until about the time we were on our fourth battery.
I was kneeling down and working the drill slowly into the wall at the time. I had my earplugs in, my safety glasses on, and was lost in my own thoughts. Suddenly, over the squeal of the drill wearing down the rock, I heard a strange noise. It was loud. I could hear it over the noise of the drill, even though I had the earplugs in. At first, I thought it was just the drill bit doing its job on the cave. It would frequently complain by screeching and whining as we forced it into the wall. But this was different. It took me several full seconds to comprehend that this was coming from inside the hole, and not the bit. I stopped drilling and yanked my earplugs out just in time to hear the most terrible scream I have ever heard trail off and echo into the darkness of the cavern. I stared wide-eyed at the hole. For several moments I didn’t move, nor did I breathe. I turned to look at B. Moments earlier he had been lying on the rope bag catching a nap. Now, he was standing upright, mouth open, with a look of concern on his face! I turned and looked into the hole again, half expecting to see a demon face staring back at me. Nothing was different in Floyd’s Tomb. I fixed my gaze on the back of the squeeze, where the limits of my light reached. There was no motion, only darkness beyond the reaches of my light. In the complete silence that followed I could hear my heart pounding in my ears. Not another sound could be heard in the cave. Suddenly I heard a scraping noise behind me and straightened up. I nearly knocked myself out hitting my head on the overhang. It was just B moving to turn on his light but I was so wired it nearly sent me to my grave. B spoke and again I jumped. He said to get some rocks and put them into the hole. He explained that whatever animal had made that noise might be able to get through the hole. I immediately grabbed a few rocks and hoisted them through the opening. Using the handle of the sledgehammer I slid the rocks as far back into the tunnel as I could reach, creating a wall between us and the other side. Since the squeeze is so small it didn’t take long. The entire time I was doing this, however, I was thinking that the noise certainly did not come from an animal! I didn’t know if B really thought it was, or if he was just trying to convince himself. I didn’t say anything to him about what I thought.
From the time it happened to the writing of this journal entry (two days later), I have tried to come up with some possible source for such a noise. To describe it I would say it sounded like a cross between a man screaming in fear, and a cougar screaming in pain. It sounded like it came from the hole and was roughly 100 feet away. The horrific noise reverberated through the cave, and through my ears. B estimated the scream lasted 8–10 seconds. My best guess is about 5 seconds. (Three seconds while I was drilling, one and 1/2 seconds to drop the drill and yank the earplugs, and 1/2 second of sheer terror.) It’s difficult to tell how much time passes when you’re listening to a solo from the depths of Hades.
After I filled the back of the passage with rocks we just sat there listening to the silence. My breathing was a lot more rapid than usual. Neither of us spoke for quite some time. Finally, B suggested we get back to work, but keep an eye out for movement in the hole. We put a light in the passage that shined to the back of Floyd’s Tomb. It was only at this point that we realized the wind had stopped again and the rumbling could no longer be heard. To say I was nervous would be an understatement. I didn’t say anything to B, nor him to me. Back to the drilling. B took over the work, which was fine with me. I wasn’t exactly worn out, but I didn’t mind being further from the hole. B would stop from time to time and listen. I just sat, watching him, with my light on. I wasn’t close to the entrance to the hole, but I still found myself looking behind me down the passage to the still water. Every time my light would cast an unusual shadow my heart would jump. My imagination was running wild. Oddly, B seemed to be less concerned about the strange noise than me. After a short time, he seemed to be focused entirely on getting through the passage. I was still straining to listen above the sound of the drill. I heard nothing but the now familiar sound of carbide on stone. As I contemplated the possible scenarios which might play out on the other side of the passage I found myself strangely getting somewhat excited again about getting through. It might have been fatigue taking its toll on my mind. Or the thought of something valuable on the other side.
My thoughts were broken when B let out a yell. Possibly a cuss word. He said the drill battery was dying, but he hadn’t quite broken off a large (relative) section he was working on. He set the useless drill aside and picked up a hammer and bullpin. He started wailing away at the hole created by the bit. After nearly ten solid minutes of hammering, he sat back against the rock, sweating and nearly out of breath. The bullpin was still protruding from the cave wall. He held the hammer toward me, inviting me to take a few swings. I held up my hand and shook my head. I had been ready to exit this cave for quite a while now. He didn’t press the issue, and without speaking we both started gathering the gear we were going to take out. Once again we stashed some of the tools in the passage. I was first to start toward the top of the cave. Several times I had to stop and wait for B. Not because he was moving slow. I was just more than eager to get out. Few times have I felt better than that night, stepping out into the chilly night air.
My journal talks about the rest of the evening: Our dinner, our decision to get a motel and come back the next day, our lengthy discussion on the strange sounds we had heard, another mediocre night’s sleep. I CANNOT believe that we were so willing to get right back into the cave after hearing the scream. Part of the reason I went along with the idea was because B seemed so indifferent to any possible dangers. Even if it were an animal (which I did not believe, but could offer no better explanation), weren’t we possibly putting ourselves in harm’s way? In retrospect, I still have difficulty understanding our thought process at that time. We were just too eager to discover virgin cave passages. I now think it can be summed up with one word: testosterone!
It’s amazing what a couple of good meals and a little sleep can do for someone’s attitude. Even though we still had memories of the strange noise fresh in our minds, we relit our fire of enthusiasm. The other side of the passage seemed so close. We were sure this would be the day. We got to the cave and started to work our way down to the hole. Getting back into the darkness of the cave brought back the memories of the night before. The sight of the circle of rock illuminated by our headlamps, the smell of dirt in the air, the sound we made as we crawl across the rock. Once we reached the entrance to Floyd’s Tomb, however, we were once again ready to blaze the trail leading to an undiscovered part of the cave. We immediately noted the presence of the breeze blowing out of the hole, and the rumbling.
The bullpin sticking out of its hole was an obvious sign of where we needed to begin work for the day. B took over where he left off the day before. I took up residence in the same spot I occupied the night before, even though I was already well rested and wanting to start work. B was making the hammer sing with each blow. After a mere 2 or 3 minutes, he let out a cheer. He turned to reveal a handful of rock that used to be attached to the cave. He was breathing heavily but had a big smile on his face. So did I. For the time the strange noise had been forgotten, and the vision of success captured our attention.
The lower left-hand corner of the hole had been giving us grief because of the thickness of the wall at that point. We felt that if we could just remove that corner, we might be on our way inside. B now held in his hand the crumbled remains of the corner. Our excitement consumed us as we examined the hole. I took the hammer and pounded away at the surface of the hole. The idea was to remove the jagged edges that would take their toll on my skin. The size looked right! Now, the moment we had been working for.
I cautiously approached the entrance to Floyd’s Tomb. I decided the best way to enter the small hole was to place one arm over my head, turn my head sideways, and slowly work my way in. I soon determined this was not going to work. The hole was SMALL. If I was going to make it in without widening the hole any more, I was going to have to put both arms over my head, in a diving position, turn my head sideways, and “slip” into the Tomb. The width of the entrance was the limiting factor. The height was sufficient. The arms-overhead position flared my shoulder blades out, but there was still room to get in. Plus, the arms-overhead gave me the best squeeze side to side.
In order to enter straight into the hole, I stood on my feet and bent over to get level with the entrance. My knees were bent and the position was uncomfortable, sort of a semi-squatting position, bent at the waist with arms overhead. Plus, I had to slightly turn my upper torso to the left, in a counter-clockwise rotation, to negotiate the angle of the entrance.
Notice in the last photo that the entrance generally slopes up to the right.
I got my arms through the entrance with minor scrapes. Next came my head. By keeping it turned sideways I was able to get it in, for the most part, up to my shoulders. When I got to my shoulders I could feel the rocks touching all around my shoulders and chest. It was not stopping me, but I was definitely scraping many surfaces of my body. I decided to just push through, keeping in mind that I was going to have to come back out eventually. The pain was not too bad, and I was IN! Well, my upper body was in. At least I could get a good idea what the Tomb was going to be like.
Once inside the Tomb, I had a few inches all around me in which to position my body. This was the largest part of the passage, and it was conveniently located right at the beginning of the crawl. That gave me a little room to get positioned to crawl further into the passage. Inside the Tomb gave me a whole new outlook of what it was going to be like to crawl through. Even though this was the largest part of the crawl it was still small. I could move my head around freely, but every direction that I turned I was staring at a wall of solid rock. When I spoke to B my voice sounded muffled, like I was talking in a small box. I could rest my chest on the passage floor, but the rocks were uncomfortable. I turned my head to look further ahead, but couldn’t see past the wall of rocks I had built the day before. The squeeze toward the end of the passage was closer now, and appeared even narrower. I didn’t know if I could squeeze through or not. I knew it would be close. I wanted to crawl further into the passage. First, however, I had to work to get some of the loose rocks that were lying on the passage floor out of my way. I was disappointed to find out that most of the rocks that looked loose were actually attached to the floor. I was hoping to be able to just scrape them out of the way. I had pushed the sledgehammer into the passage before me, so at this point, I used it to push the rock “wall” we had made further back in the passage. Then I dragged the sledge back and forth across the floor to move any loose rocks, or break up the solid ones. By sliding the head of the hammer under the squeeze, I determined that the narrowest part of the squeeze was about seven inches high. I figured we would have to do some work before I could slip through. The entire time I had my head in the passage, B was just kicking back, listening to my descriptions and progress reports. At some point, he snapped the photo shown above. Thanks, B. Up to this point the size of the passage was not too big of a deal. I was in an incredibly small passage, but only my upper body was in, and since it was the largest part of the passage, and my arms could move freely, I was pretty calm. Then it was time for a push.
I slid the sledgehammer up as far as I could reach. (since my body filled the entrance I could not slip the tool out, so it was easier to push it ahead.) In order to rotate my hips to the proper angle to enter the hole I had to lean my upper body on my forearms, use my feet to climb the wall outside the hole, and slowly “crawl” into the hole. My hips barely fit. Once they cleared the entrance I could relax a bit and get in position to work toward the squeeze. I decided to try the one-arm-forward technique to get through. The passage was so narrow that whatever position I started with I would have to stay with through the entire length. There was just no room to move around or change positions. I would also have to turn my head one way or another, and keep it in the same position. This crawl was tight!
Moving forward at this part of the passage was relatively easy. I could use my forward arm (my left arm) to pull and my other arm to push. At the same time, I would wiggle my body, trying to arch as much as I could to keep my chest off the rocks. I tried both ways and determined that I would turn my head to the right. It felt the most comfortable. I began to learn things as I went. I determined that a small flashlight in one hand would be nice. Then I could shine it ahead and get a better idea of what I was about to crawl over. This was a difficult maneuver because I had to look overhead, since my head was turned. It became immediately obvious that we were going to have to do some more work removing rocks from the passage floor. As I moved along the surface I was constantly scraping my chest on the rocks. They were sharp and it was painful. Occasionally I would cause a rock to slide along under my chest and actually wedge me between it and the top of the passage. I would then have to back up and either try to move the rock to the side with my cheek, using a sweeping motion with my head, or back way out and move it with my forward hand.
My little trip into the passage represented a major milestone in my caving “career”. When I began caving I did not feel overly comfortable going through tight spaces. Even the little squeeze at the beginning of this cave was an obstacle to overcome. By pushing myself and forcing myself to try the narrow passages I have become much calmer about tight spaces. Still, this passage represented a new benchmark in small spaces. I had not been faced with anything this small. I don’t remember having to take off my helmet before now. With this passage, it is mandatory. As I mentioned before, not only do I have to take off my helmet, but I have to turn my head to the side in order to fit.
The journey into the Tomb went like this:
After I had twisted my hips into the passage I took a few minutes to stop and work out a game plan. Most of the length of my legs was still outside the entrance. They were just dangling in the air. The Tomb was still big enough to move my head around, and even move my arms freely into position. It was larger than the rest of the passage, but not by much. It was like sticking your head into a box. Everywhere I looked there were rocks, and not too far from my head. Any sound I made was muffled and “dead”. The narrowest part of the passage was about 10 feet in. At this point, I was about 3 1/2 feet in. At about the 4-foot mark I would have to commit to whatever position I felt comfortable, and stay that way until the 12-foot mark, at which time the cave started opening up.
I went with my left arm forward and head turned to the right. B had given me a flashlight that I held in my left hand. As I inched forward I would try to brush the loose rocks away with my left arm. This was somewhat successful, but there were a lot of rocks I missed or could not move. As mentioned, the first little bit of the crawl moved along fairly quickly, since there was a little room above me to negotiate the passage. Then the walls started to close in around me. I had a few extra inches on each side of me, but the top of the crawl was getting very low. At about the 7 foot mark I could feel the top rubbing my back as I would arch. After another half a foot, I couldn’t arch anymore. I had to just push ahead with my toes and pull with my forward arm. I decided it would be a good time to see if I could back out. I tried it and it was pretty easy. That gave me a lot more confidence. Still, I had B tie webbing to my feet, just in case he had to pull me out.
My neck was starting to get sore from being cranked to the side. My head was getting heavy, but to rest it the only option I had was to lay it down on the broken rocks. It was painful, but I did it frequently. I was staring at the wall to my right. It was a mere four to five inches from my face. Most of the time I wasn’t watching the wall. Either I had my eyes closed (which I sometimes do when I go through a tight spot) or the light wasn’t shining in a direction that did me any good. It was very quiet in the Tomb, other than my own breath. I was breathing heavy from the effort it took to move. Thankfully the breeze was present and cooled me off. By lifting my head and carefully touching the ceiling from time to time I could gauge the size of the passage that my body would soon pass through. Much like a cat using its whiskers to gauge an opening in a fence. At the 7 1/2 foot mark I could tell things were about to get real tight.
While lying in the darkness, in a passage deep within a cave, one is in a unique position to ponder. A mountain literally resting on top of me, the entire earth lying below. One tiny movement of earth and I would cease to exist. Or worse, to recognize the fear shared by Floyd Collins as he lay there, trapped for days deep within the heart of Mother Earth, incapable of freeing himself from his earthen prison.
Picture yourself in my position: Lying on your stomach your left arm is extended over your head. Your right arm is at your side, having only a few inches in which to move. Your arms and hands are sore and bleeding from crawling/pulling yourself across the broken rocks. Your entire body is resting on the rocks. Your neck gets tired of holding your head off the rocks so you gently rest your cheek on the rock to rest. Once you start again you have to push with your toes to scoot your body forward, sliding across the rocks. After moving a few inches you are breathing hard and have to rest. As you inhale you can feel your back pressing hard against the top of the squeeze. It takes several minutes before you recover enough to press forward. The entire time you are lying there you think about how you are going to get back out. And, what if…?
Well, that’s pretty much what I was going through at that point in the passage.
I decided that this would be a good time to throw in a photo of the “squeeze”. The photo was actually taken on a different trip, but it shows how tight things were at that point in the passage. Notice my head turned to the side (not by choice) and you can see how I would rest my cheek on the rocks. You can also see how difficult it is to look ahead of me. My arms are pinned to my side (I later determined that would be the best position). There is virtually no space between the top of the passage and my back. TIGHT! Not for the claustrophobically inclined!
When I reached the point where my back was rubbing and I could feel with my head the passage was not getting bigger, I knew I was most likely not going to get through. Still, I decided to give it one more push. If I had been in this position a year ago, I would have been in a state of panic, but not today! I was pretty pumped. I took a few minutes to rest, then I went for it. I exhaled completely all of the air in my lungs. This caused my chest to collapse enough to scoot forward a few inches. Because it takes so much effort to scoot I only went a few inches before I had to stop and breathe. As I inhaled, my chest pressed hard against the floor and my back against the top. It took a little longer to get my breath back. Unbelievably, I did it again! Exhale, scoot, rest. Again, only a few inches. Repeat. I took a few extra minutes to “enjoy” this position. Pinned in this small passage. Wow, I could not believe how relaxed I was. I tried one more time to exhale and scoot. My back was rubbing too much to continue. Despite the failed effort, I was psyched. I took several long minutes to lay there and recover from the effort. B had been encouraging me the entire time. It was fun to hear him cheer as he saw my shoes go deeper and deeper into the hole.
Backing out was not too difficult, but did take some work. I encountered the same obstacles as when I went in. After I wiggled my hips out of the hole, which took some time, I had trouble getting my shoulders out. Both arms were overhead at this point. My shirt was getting caught on the rocks and my shoulders were brushing the sharp rocks. After struggling to find a good position I gave up and just pulled my upper body out. SCRAAAAPE! My shirt pulled up over my head, and I had some nice scrapes on my shoulders, but I didn’t care. To me this trip was a success. I had pushed myself beyond what I though was possible. I kneeled at the entrance and looked into the narrow passage I had just been in. The rock wall was now at the 11 foot mark (I had pushed it a little with my forward arm). The smallest point was at the 9 foot mark. We were close. Between the work and the excitement I was tired. I just sat on the rope bag, grinning. Whew! What a trip!
The rest of the journal entry talks about the usual: our climb out, dinner, trip home, etc. On our way home, we brainstormed and came up with some ideas that would help us get through. We both invented some tools to remove the rock on the floor deep within the passage. We were both very excited by this trip. I, from pushing my limits in the cave, and B from his success in climbing out of the cave. This was the first time he was able to climb all the way out without the help of climbing devices, nor my help. It was a personal success that showed the progress he has made since his accident. Pretty cool.
I remained amazed that we could so easily forget the terrifying moment we experienced just the day before. All had been forgotten, with the strange noise being blamed, in our minds, on some rational, harmless explanation.
April 7, 2001
Prior to going back out to Mystery Cave again, we spent a lot of time preparing. We made a squeeze box, which is a wooden box the opening of which can be adjusted in size. We could then crawl through the opening and measure to see how tight of a squeeze we could fit through. From that, we were able to determine that I need about 8 inches in height to get through the smallest portion of Floyd’s Tomb. That meant we would have to scrape out about an inch from the floor of the passage. We also learned that the best position I would need to get through the passage would be on my stomach, with my arms by my side. And of course, my head would be turned one way or the other. That position allowed my shoulder blades to drop to their lowest point. In order to move, I would push forward or backward with my toes. It sounds difficult but felt adequate. Later it proved to work sufficiently.
The second thing we did to prepare was to construct the tools we invented to work with in the cave. I came up with a clever way to chip away inside of the passage without having to climb inside. I had my neighbor weld together several lengths of steel pipe in a manner that would allow us to take it apart while we climbed down to the Tomb, but still have the strength necessary to hold up to a blow from a hammer once it was together. We made our own tips that we could screw into our pipe to reach the area we needed to work on. B came up with a cool design for a scraper using angle iron. He had his neighbor weld it together. It proved to be an invaluable tool for scraping and removing the rock. We were both proud of our inventions! I also made a device to hold my drill that attached to our pipe. We ended up not using it since B’s scraper device worked so well.
I took an oath. I made a vow. I would not leave the cave until I had made it through the passage; conquered Floyd’s Tomb. This would be the trip. It had been a long time since we had been out to Mystery. We had been busy, though. We had made the tools we had talked about. It was fun coming up with ideas for tools. Also, we made a squeeze box to determine the best technique for getting through the tight spot. Plus we knew about how much rock we need to remove before we could get through.
We were excited to get back out to the cave to finish our project. Our climb down to the passage took a little bit longer than usual since we had extra tools to carry. Once we got down to the passage we immediately got to work using B’s scraping tool with the pipe I had made. It worked like a charm! We could hammer the pipe on one end and the scraping tool on the other end dug into the rock. Then we could push the debris all the way through the passage and out of our way. When we needed to measure our progress we would turn the scraper sideways in the passage and observe the clearance.
We worked for about 2 hours before I had a desire to try the Tomb. I just wanted to make sure I was going to make it through on the first try. B made one more sweep of the passage floor, clearing any loose rocks from where I would be crawling, and pushing the wall we had made to the back of the squeeze. I made preparations for the crawl by fashioning duct tape “suspenders” to prevent my shirt from sliding around while sliding across the rock. I went with a flashlight in my hand, even though my hand would be at my side. I knew I would need it once I got through. As an expression of faith, I did not tie a rope to my feet. I was confident I was going to make it. Finally, I made the attempt.
Although I didn’t mention it in my journal, we did notice the breeze was back, and the rumbling present.
Since we didn’t do any work to the entrance I had to go through the same dance routine to even enter the passage. Once I got my upper body through the hole I shined the flashlight ahead of me to work out a plan of attack. The passage didn’t seem any bigger than last time I was there, but most of the work was done deeper in the squeeze. I paused for a few minutes, then twisted my hips to get my lower body in. I slowly inched forward as my entire body slowly filled the passage. Before I was completely in I got into position for the push. I dropped both of my hands to my side and turned my head to the right. Then I began to inch forward. Once my toes were inside the cave I used them to push forward. To keep from scraping my body I would “walk” using my shoulders, knees, and toes. Progress was slow but steady. That was fine by me. A foot or two before the tight spot I could already tell there was a little more room. Even so, I began to touch the roof of the passage with my back. This time, however, I was able to continue moving forward. I reached the lowest point in the passage and I could tell it was still going to be tricky. Even with the work we had done clearing out the loose rocks, I still felt sharp pebbles rolling under my chest as I slid along.
When I could feel my back brushing the top of the passage in several places, I reverted to my technique of exhaling. Before I began, however, I took a minute to lay there in the passage. I could see the glow of B’s flashlight as the rays of light managed to squeeze past my body. I could feel the cool breeze evaporate the drops of dirty sweat on my forehead. I could feel a thousand sharp edges dig into the surface of my skin. I felt the twinge of excitement as I realized that the goal we had set out to achieve weeks ago was about to be realized. This thought alone made me want to keep moving, no matter how tight the passage became. I breathed in and out rapidly for a few moments, then began.
Stop to catch my breath.
After just a few inches of scooting, I could raise my head off the floor of the squeeze and tell that the passage was beginning to open up! I relayed this information to B and we both took a few seconds to celebrate! During the rest of the slide through the passage, B was cheering me on. “Virgin passage!” and “Neil Armstrong territory” were the phrases he kept repeating. I was grinning ear to ear.
Even though the passage was beginning to get larger, it was still slow-going. I had to continue scooting along for another foot and a half before I could slide my arms underneath me to use them to crawl. At that point, I felt my journey was essentially over. I was able to sit up slightly and move the rock “wall” we had erected several trips ago. Those rocks served as a somber reminder that a little caution would be wise.
I shouted back to B that I was through! We both took a moment to congratulate ourselves on our success. B would likely never be able to squeeze through the passage and see what I was seeing, so I gave him a description of what the cave looked like. At this point, I only had my mini-mag, so I could not see very far into the passage. The end of the passage made a gentle right turn and seemed to go for a ways. I was unable to do anything at this point but sit, due to the size of the passage. All of the broken rocks we had pushed through Floyd’s Tomb were around me at this point. There were no other signs of human intrusion. I had to wait until B passed me my helmet light to get a better feel for the cave.
B used the pole we made to slide me the end of a rope. Then I was able to pull all of my gear through the squeeze. The first thing he sent through was my helmet and light. After I got the light fired up I was able to see our new section of the cave. Ours! It was an exciting experience to see the results of hours of hard work over the course of several weeks. At this point, we still had no idea what the cave had to offer. The only thing I could see was the passage immediately following the squeeze. It was a narrow passage with a low ceiling. I would easily be able to get through it, but I would have to crawl. I began taking pictures so I could show B.
I asked B how far he thought I should venture into the new cave, in light of the strange events that had occurred. For the first time he, too, toned down his enthusiasm as he remembered the noises. He slid the pipe through the Tomb with a loosened tip on the end. He said I could use it as a weapon if I ran into an animal or …? He also told me to make sure we could hear each other as I progressed into the cave.
Even though we were at least thinking of the possibility of running into trouble, we never really considered the fact that if I got into trouble B would never be able to rescue me, and in fact, no one would be able to get to me for many hours. If I were in serious trouble, as in hurt, there was no way anyone would be able to get to me in time. But, symbolic of the whole experience, we were focused on our goal, and not the potential dangers we faced. So far we had dodged the proverbial bullet. So far…
I strapped on my gloves and kneepads, grabbed my camera, and began my adventure. I crawled through the passage pictured above which was about 20 feet long. At the end the crawl the cave bent slightly to the right. I would have to climb up a gentle slope, but then I would be able to stand by the end of the next section of the cave. The next section was about 40 feet long. In addition to having a higher ceiling, the walls were a little wider than the section I had just crawled through. Both sections were relatively straight. The floor was covered with a type of rock which crunched as I crawled, and then walked across it. The walls were basically the same as much of Mystery Cave, except pristine. It was obvious no one had been there before me. Upon closer examination of the walls, I found two delicate types of formations. The first resembled several chunks of grated cheese tied together on one end, with the rest of the “cheese” just flopping down. The second formation was just tiny strands of rock, thinner than human hair. It looked pretty cool. I found several examples of both kinds of formations.
I was not even through the second section of cave and I could barely hear B. Caves passages are not very acoustically friendly. I shouted to him that I would go for 1/2 hour then return. He said that would be fine, and to be careful. Then I proceeded to explore some more. I could walk nearly upright at this point. I was on the third straight section of the cave when I discovered a crystal formation on the wall to my right. It was in several layers on the wall, resembling clear candle wax that was allowed to melt and drip down the wall. There were several small stalactite-looking formations formed by these crystals. The longest was about four inches in length. There would have been one much longer, judging by the size of the base, but it had broken off. I looked to see if I could locate where it ended up but I couldn’t find it.
The passages continued on for another 100 feet or so before the cave opened up a little. It was at the end of a short straight segment of the cave. At the very end of the segment, the cave made a bend to the left and opened up into a room. Just at the point where the room began, there was a round rock that appeared to be leaning against the wall. This seemed odd, but singular formations are common in caves so it is by no means unique. I had crawled and stepped over several large chunks of rock that fell down from the ceiling, but this one was more round than the others. Once past the rock, the room opened up to a height of about 15 feet. It was about 15 feet in width and about 30 feet in length. At the far end of the room, there was another passage leading straight out.
As I entered the room I had an eerie feeling. It was like the old saying that I felt like I was being watched. Once again the excitement of the new find faded, and the memories of the mysterious side of the cave crept back into mind. Suddenly I felt VERY alone. Fortunately for my ego, I was nearly out of time and had to get back to B before my half hour was up. I took several pictures of the room. I was going to just get a feel for how long the next passage was when something caught my attention. On the left side of the room on the wall at about eye-level, I discovered what appeared to be hieroglyphics! It was a single drawing that almost appeared to be just part of the rock coloration. It looked like very crude representations of people, standing below a symbol. I was pumped! This meant that there had to be another entrance to this cave. Even if the entrance was closed or blocked it might mean an opportunity to open it and get B into the cave. I took another look at the drawing to make sure I could describe it to B. Then I took some more pictures and headed back to B.
When I got back to the squeeze I could barely talk fast enough to let B know everything I had discovered. He was just as excited to hear about our newly found treasures. As we debated what our next move would be I began to send my gear back through the Tomb to B. I told him it would be best if we got someone else to come back with me, in case something happened. He agreed. Once I got all of my gear through I was face with the wonderful task of having to negotiate Floyd’s Tomb again.
Theoretically, a person should be able to get out of a passage he just crawled through by simply reversing what he just did. If he contorts his body a certain way to get in, he should be able to get into the same position to get out. In practice, this may not prove to be possible or practical. Such was the case with the Tomb.
I determined in advance that I would attempt to go head first back through the squeeze. I knew that I could definitely make it by going feet first, but that would mean backing up all the way through the Tomb. That would take a long time and be very exhausting. My only concern in going head first was when I got to the end of the squeeze. I would have to get through the hole we had made without the benefit of being able to twist my body. Oh, well. I chose to go head first and deal with the exit when I got to it.
I started into the squeeze very close to the tight spot, so at least I would have it over with soon. It turned out to be tricky getting through. I had to shift my hips to the right a little to get through. But I just kept plugging away at it. My hands were once again by my side. My head was turned to the right and I was scooting with my toes. And once again I was using my head as a gauge to tell when I was at the tight spot, then when I was past it. I seemed to get tired a little quicker on the way out. Must have been from all of the work we had done to get through.
I was a little over half way through when something bizarre happened. I was laying there taking a brief break when I heard a sound deep within the cave. It was the faint, but distinct sound of rock sliding on rock. My blood froze in its veins. I couldn’t move. I just lay there straining to hear the sound again. Nothing. I quickly began to scoot toward the exit. I didn’t mention the sound to B, but I did recall one of our earlier trips when B said he heard the same thing.
The task of getting out of our hole turned out to be as painful as I thought it would be. I had to put my arms overhead and force my shoulders through the hole. I definitely left some skin behind as I slipped through. B helped me as I wiggled my upper body out of the passage. Then I could catch myself and ease my lower body out of the Tomb. I was out!! B and I shook hands and began to load up our gear. I was trying to listen to any sounds coming from the hole, but we were making too much noise gathering our stuff. As much as I looked forward to getting into the passage, it was a relief to get back out. That is pretty much how I feel about caves in general. I love to go in, but I feel good when I get back out again.
Something strange happened with the pictures I took in the new part of the cave. The pictures I took in the passage leading up to the large room all turned out just fine. Strangely none of the pictures taken in the room turned out! Pictures of the round rock, and more importantly pictures of the “hieroglyphics” I saw. Pictures taken before and after the room turned out great, but the negatives of the photos taken in the room were clear! Nothing. I remember what the hieroglyphics looked like so I drew a picture to give you an idea of what I saw.
April 14, 2001
Only a couple days elapsed before B found someone who wanted to explore the passage with us. B told me he talked to a few other people who couldn’t make it because of scheduling conflicts. He said they really grilled him for information about the cave and about the passage. He would not tell them which cave it was to ensure that we explored it to our satisfaction before we made it known to the public. Even the guy who ended up going with us did not know which cave until we were very close to it. And he was sworn to secrecy that he would not reveal the location of the cave to anyone on the planet. I won’t identify him by name, so I will just refer to him as “Joe”. Joe, B and I set out early in the morning to make sure we could spend all the time we wanted in the new passage. When we got to the cave we were able to rig up and descend rather quickly. It helps when you don’t have to haul half a hardware store down into the cave. Joe was impressed by our work. Even B and I took a minute to pat ourselves on the back for all of the hard work we put in. And for the fact that we made it through!
Joe is a rather thin caver who has had a lot of experience in caves. He said this might be the tightest squeeze he had been in, but it didn’t bother him. I knew that physically he would be able to make it, since I was bigger than him and I made it. He was just as excited as us to get through and get caving. Maybe more. He quickly got ready and was waiting to hear what the plan of attack was going to be. I figured I would send him through first, since he was ready, and I would follow. B would pass our gear through and wait for us outside the passage. B would give us two hours to return. That was nice of B to go down into the cave and babysit us. It gets boring sitting there in a cave. With our plan set, we were ready to roll.
It was, perhaps, irresponsible of us not to tell Joe about all of the unexplained events that occurred in the cave until after he had gone through. But what exactly do you tell someone? How many of the weird things did we need to reveal to him? We did not feel that we were in any danger or we would not go in the cave ourselves. So we did not tell him a thing prior to him entering Floyd’s Tomb. Of course, when we did tell him afterward, it was too late.
I couldn’t believe how easy Joe slipped through the passage. He said it was tight, but it sure didn’t look like it. Once he got in we passed him his gear, then I started in. Even though I knew that I could fit through it was still a slow trip through the Tomb. You can only go so fast when you’re scooting with your toes. When I reached the tight spot of the squeeze I had Joe snap a picture of me. I thought it would make a good photo. Once I got through B started to relay my stuff to me. Then disaster struck. I had gone all the way in and turned around to pull my gear through. I had to kneel down and still crouch down low. I had just got my helmet (ironically) and light and was turning around to feed the rope back to B when I smacked my head on the top of the passage. Human skull vs. solid rock. Rock won. I told B what had happened so he sent my first aid kit through. I was bleeding, but even worse I didn’t feel too good. I patched myself up, then told Joe I didn’t think I’d better continue. He looked like a little kid who was told that Christmas would be canceled. Although I didn’t like the idea of him exploring the cave without me (for selfish reasons, of course), I wanted him to at least see part of the cave for making the trip out there.
I told him how far to go and how long it would take, then I sent him on his way. As I laid there I could hear him crawling into the darkness. His light disappeared after the first turn. I rested a minute or two, then began my journey back through the squeeze. It was disappointing to get all the way to the cave and then not be able to explore it to its end. Actually, it is killing me! After I got through Floyd’s Tomb (which was painful) I sat down and munched on a Clif bar while B and I chatted. I told him I would pay for a motel room if he would stay overnight. Then we could see how I was doing the next day and make another attempt at the cave. I felt goofy for having smacked my head on the cave wall. B said he was willing to give it another try tomorrow. He was just as anxious to put some closure to this cave. As long as Joe would stay overnight, we determined to wrap things up the next day. Once this was settled we just sat back and enjoyed the darkness. We could hear no sounds coming from the passage. The silence reminded me of the scraping noise that I heard last time we were out there. I brought up the subject with B. Since I had not explored the cave completely I could not offer any explanation of what could be making the scraping noise. Or the change the wind strength. Or the rumbling. Or that terrible scream that we heard. Suddenly we both wished we had not sent Joe into the cave alone.
B went to the hole and yelled into it. “Joe”. No answer. Not surprising. You just can’t hear each other when you are very far apart in a cave. We nervously awaited any sounds (Good sounds, that is. Joe type sounds.) The twenty-minute time limit we had set passed. Then twenty-five minutes. I really had no desire to climb back through the squeeze. My head was still throbbing and the squeeze looked tighter than ever. Still, I knew I was going to have to make sure Joe was safe. Just as I was getting prepared to go back through I saw a light deep in the passage. “Joe?”, I called out. Nothing. “Joe!”. Still no answer. The light got brighter and I could hear the noise of someone crawling across the broken rock that lined the cave. “You o.k., Joe?”
“No”, was his weak reply. When he got to the other side of the Tomb he said he was not feeling well. He quickly took his gear off and put them in the bag so we could pull it through. As I pulled the bag through the passage he began to climb back through the Tomb. We didn’t even get a chance to question him about what he saw before he was coming back through. He quickly slipped through the squeeze and the hole and we finally got a look at him. He looked terrible. His face was pale and he was out of breath. The dust that covers the floor of the squeeze left its mark on his face and clothes. He had numerous small cuts and scratches on his face and arms. Probably from his rapid exit from the passage. His eyes were open wide.
We only had a brief moment to look at the change that had occurred to Joe before he started to head up and out of the cave, without saying a word. While Joe and B started for the surface I took a minute to gather our gear. Then I stopped to listen into the passage. I heard nothing. AND I FELT NOTHING! The wind had stopped! Part of me wanted to get out of the cave as fast as possible. But another part of me wanted to immediately climb back through the passage to find out what made this cave tick. Then was not the time, though. I still felt a little dizzy from my injury. At that moment I noticed B and Joe had made good time getting up the cave passage and I was left alone. Chills ran through my body as I scurried to catch up with them.
Once we got outside the cave I figured we would be able to find out more from Joe. But when he got up the final climb he just unclipped from the rope and went straight to the truck. In the light of day, he looked even worse than in the cave. B and I gathered up the rope and our gear and headed for the truck. Joe said he did not want to stay overnight because he felt terrible(and we believed him), so we headed home. We could get no more information from Joe. He just stared straight ahead. He was shaking like a leaf, and he said he was not cold. When we tried to question him, his answers were short. I asked him if he saw the hieroglyphics. “No.”
Did he hear us yelling? “No.”
Did he see the round rock? “No.”
Did he see the crystals? “No.”
He said he just went a little ways in and started to feel sick. Something was fishy about his answers. He would have had to have seen the crystals if he got far enough into the cave that he couldn’t hear us yelling. But why would he not elaborate?
The rest of the trip passed in eerie silence. Joe didn’t say much else. We gave him a brief outline of the strange events that happened in the cave. He didn’t reply. As we were dropping him off we asked if he wanted to go back in the cave. He shook his head and ran into his house. I tried to call him later in the day and the next day but only got his voice mail.
April 28, 2001
In this journal entry, I discussed briefly the feelings B and I had at this point. I would like to elaborate on those feelings and set the mood for this part of my journal. I hope I can successfully convey our exact thoughts and feelings as we contemplated our next move. If not I’m afraid we will appear to the average reader as being ignorant, naive, or downright foolish.
This cave represented to us the culmination of weeks of hard work, complete with an array of emotions. From fatigue to fear. Anticipation to pain. From frustration to glory. To us we were not standing on the brink of possible destruction, but rather honoring an unspoken commitment. Much like a parent of a wayward child. We were not about to abandon our “child” out of fear of the unknown. Like it or not this cave had become a part of us. And now we must see this adventure to its fruition. Additionally, verbose explanations aside, we were being eaten alive with curiosity! Despite the overwhelming number of unexplained occurrences we experienced, we HAD to go back into this cave. What was making the rumbling noise? What caused the change in wind strength? etc, etc, all the way down to Joe. What could have possibly happened to him? What did he see? Or experience? We had many lengthy discussions about what our next move would be. We kept coming to the same conclusion: We had to return to the cave. We could offer no possible scenarios that would solve the many riddles held deep within the cave. The only way we could hope to complete the puzzle would be to conquer the cave. We were going back to Mystery Cave.
Two weeks after our trip with Joe and we were on our way back to the cave. To prepare for this trip we contacted the local cave rescue group and got permission to borrow their low voltage two-way phone. The phone consists of two transceivers and a long spool of thin wire. I would then be able to unwind the wire as I went into the passage and stay in contact with B the entire time. We also thought it would be a good idea to take a video camera into the new passage. I purchased a case that would protect my video camera from dust, as well as sharp rocks. I was more than willing to pay the cost of the case just to make sure B got to see the entire passage.
My head was doing fine. I still had a light red line to mark the spot where I tried to break the rock with my head. I never went to a doctor, but it was a very painful experience. I have thought about what would have happened if I had been able to go in the passage with Joe. He was a changed man after he came out. I have been calling his house nearly every day trying to talk to him, but he won’t answer his phone. B called his work and a mutual friend told him that Joe called in sick two weeks ago and hasn’t been in since. He said Joe warned his boss he might be out for a while. I even stopped by his house twice. The first time it looked like someone was home, but no one answered the door. The second time his car was gone and there were no lights on. I hoped to talk to him before this trip, but it didn’t work out.
As we were rigging up the rope to descend into the cave I felt something for the first time. I DID NOT WANT TO GO INTO THE CAVE! It was not a feeling of foreboding. I was not receiving some premonition. I just had no desire to enter the underground world of Mystery Cave. I didn’t share this feeling with B at that time. Even though I had no desire to go into the cave, I knew we HAD to. So I double checked my gear and slipped over the edge of the cliff.
Right from the beginning, it seemed like the cave did not want us to be there. Nothing went smoothly. Every time we tried to clip a carabiner or tie a knot or attach something to the rope we had to do it two or three times to get it right. Fortunately, we recognized this and made sure everything was safe and secure. As we slowly made our way down we were continually bumping into the side of the cave, or stumbling as we walked, or dropping things. We finally reached a point where we stopped to gather ourselves before continuing. Our load was relatively light but we were taking forever to get to the hole. Finally, we made it.
We checked the camera and phone to make sure they survived the trip. We tested everything and I gathered the gear I wanted to take into the passage. Then it was time. We looked at each other, but said nothing. Then I turned to face the passage. As I twisted my body to begin entering the Tomb I desperately hoped it would be the last time I would contort my body to enter this claustrophobes nightmare.
The trip through Floyd’s Tomb went smoothly, figuratively speaking. After I got through we took several minutes to get everything passed through to me. I got suited up and tested all the equipment. The phone worked like a charm. I videotaped the squeeze, and then the first section of the new passage. Since I would be unable to tape while I crawled my plan was to crawl to the next section then stop and film some more. I could video what I had just been through and then video what I was going to crawl through next. That way I could get each section from both ends. I was starting to feel pretty good about the trip. I felt a sense of personal satisfaction at being able to provide a way for B to see the fruits of his labor. It was awkward lugging the camera and unrolling the phone wire while trying to crawl. I knew it would be worth it, though.
The small formations were too small to show up on the video. With normal outside lighting it would be no problem but with my headlight as the only source of light they effort was futile. The crystal formations turned out quite nice. They were easily large enough and made for some pretty good footage. I took advantage of the film stop to check the phone. It was comforting to hear someone’s voice deep within the passage. We chatted briefly then I unplugged the phone and prepared to continue. The phone resembled an oversized regular phone. More like the ones you would see in war movies. When I wanted to talk to B I would just plug the phone into a special jack on the spool of wire. The power source was on B’s end of the phone so it was always turned on. The reception was as clear as a normal phone. I continued forward.
Even though progress was slow it was steady. Things were going pretty good until I reached the round rock. Once again I got a strange feeling, just like the last time. I looked around carefully but saw nothing to be alarmed about. I proceeded to film the entire room. I got good shots of the round rock from all angles. I got the walls, ceiling, and floor to the best of my ability. I even got some pretty good tape of the figure on the wall. It was difficult to make out exactly what it was on the video, but you could definitely tell something was there. After I taped everything to my satisfaction I moved toward the end of the room to prepare to explore new territory.
At the far end of the large room was a passage that led to darkness. The entrance was about a foot lower than my head and it looked liked it continued at that height for as far back as I could see. I ducked under the ceiling and prepared to see new sights. The walls of the new passage were darker than the rest of the cave to this point. The floor was made up of the same type of broken rocks. The ceiling had the same type of near-perfect arch as in the old section of Mystery Cave. It almost seemed out of place in the jagged atmosphere of a cave. I could only see back about 30 feet or so where the passage appeared to make a right-hand turn. I thought this would be a good place to check in with B.
It took a couple of beeps before he answered the phone, but once he did his voice was still crystal clear. It sounded like he might have been snoozing. (Had I been gone that long?) He said he was doing fine and that I could take as much time as I needed. I thanked him and hung up. His patience has been wonderful during this whole project. He has spent a lot of time just waiting for me while I explore the passage. I was glad he was still willing to sit and wait. I hung up the phone and started to film the new passage, then it happened…
From behind me, I heard the scraping noise. It was loud. It was close! It was coming from the large room I had just left! I wheeled around to face whatever had made that noise. When I did I lost my presence of mind and stood up at the same time. Crunch! My helmet crashed into the passage ceiling. My light broke and I was buried in the heavy darkness. Pain shot through my neck and down into my back. The helmet had protected my head but my neck was nearly numb from the impact. Fear enveloped me and my knees began to weaken. I slowly and involuntarily slumped to my knees. I gently set the camera down as I began to see stars from the pain in my upper back. The scraping noise lasted only a second and now the only sound I could hear was my own panic-inspired breathing. Not only could I feel the fear thick upon my chest but the darkness seemed to hold me in place. I felt like I was vulnerable from every direction. I wanted to turn and look behind me, and to the side of me, and in front of me. Everywhere I looked I saw black. Finally, I broke the stupor of terror long enough to reach for an alternate light source, the mini-mag on my helmet. I twisted the light to turn in on, and when I did I nearly cried! I had forgotten to put fresh batteries in and now I could barely see more than a few feet. Still, it was better than nothing. I immediately began shining the light with all my might into the large room. I strained to get a glimpse of any movement in the room. Nothing.
I was shaking violently as I sat there trying to figure out what to do. My mind was not thinking clearly. I honestly thought I was going to die right there in the cave. For a fleeting moment, I wondered how B would ever figure out what had happened to me. Then it hit me like a boulder: THE PHONE! My mind must have been clearing up at that point because I also thought about my glow-sticks. Without taking my eyes off the large room I felt around in my pack for the glow-sticks. Since I was carrying the phone and video camera I removed as much as possible from my pack and one of the things I left with B was my backup headlamp. Thus I was left with only the glow-sticks. I found one and ripped it out of the package. I could tell something was wrong by how it sounded. It has been inadvertently broken and was now useless. I chucked it on the ground and searched my pack for another one. I took my eyes off the large room only to check the passage behind me occasionally. I found another glow-stick broke it to light it up. The soft green glow created eerie colors on the walls of the cave. The stick provides barely enough light to see the immediate area, and provided no hint of what laid ahead. I felt the pack for one more light, again without taking my eyes off the room. I felt a third glow-stick and ripped it out of the package. After breaking it to make sure it worked I hesitated, then threw the glow-stick into the large room.
The throw was a perfect one and the stick sailed through the length of the room. In the brief moment that the light traveled through the room, I saw nothing but cave walls. The absence of anything unusual did nothing to ease my state of panic. At the far end of the room, I got a brief glimpse of the round rock as the light bounced on it. Then the light went behind the rock and seemed to disappear. I was still shaking, but at least I didn’t see anything. Still, there was the noise…
I used the glow-stick to light the phone real quick, and with fumbling fingers, I managed to plug my phone into the jack. I put the phone to my ear and heard… NOTHING! The usual beeps to indicate a connection with the other phone were not there. Terrified I pulled the phone from the jack and re-inserted it. Again, silence. The line was dead. What could have happened?! I JUST talked to B! I found myself nearly sobbing with fear. I knew the only way out of here was back the way I came. But something was there! A third attempt at making contact with B met with the same results. I tried to think of another plan, but I could only focus on the memories of the grinding sound that I had heard. In my weakened state, I slumped against the side of the passage, breathing as if I had just finished a race, never breaking eye contact with the shadows of the large room. As my shoulder touched the wall I had a powerful jolt of pain remind me of my collision with the roof of the cave. Despair, agony, terror.
I can’t say exactly how long I sat there, but my feet were tingling and my knees were sore. The pain in my back crept lower, although my neck felt no different. I resolved to make an attempt to exit this evil passage. I knew if I waited too long I would lose what little light I had. I attempted to stand, but did not have the strength. I crawled slowly to the near end of the large room, dragging my pack beside me. Using the walls of the cave I was able to slowly stand, though not straight due to my sore back. Still breathing rapidly I slowly advanced through the room. I wound up the phone wire as I went. My eyes were staring straight ahead, straining for any signs of movement. With every step my light would cast ever-changing shadows on the wall, keeping me busy trying to look at every one. My eyes burned as I realized I had not blinked for many minutes. How many? How long had this been going on? The only sounds I could hear were the crunch of my feet on the broken rock, and the wheezing of my breath. As I wound the cord I could hear the squeak of the wheel, with each turn bringing me closer to the Tomb. Closer to B. Closer to safety.
The short trip through the room took an eternity. As I passed the crude drawing it seemed to glow, as if offering some sort of warning. I didn’t know what the drawing represented, but everything about this cave seemed to instill fear. Toward the far end of the room, I could see the round rock dimly at the far reaches of my light. Something seemed different about it, but I couldn’t tell what. When I got within a few feet I could finally tell what had changed. It had moved! that was the sound I heard. Again terror gripped my entire body as I realized how close I was to… something! I had no choice but to continue. Still, it was not easy. I inched toward the rock, holding the glow-stick ahead of me in my shaking hand, using it to pierce the darkness. I stopped just this side of the rock and wound up the slack in the phone wire. Then I realized why I had lost contact with B. The rock was now sitting on the wire! I gave it a tug and the thin wire snapped. My only hope of contact with the outside world ceased to exist when that wire broke. I had never felt so alone and helpless. Buried deep within the earth. I had voluntarily descended into my own grave, with a casket of solid rock.
With the phone now useless I set it down in the passage. My gaze fixed on the round rock, I proceeded forward. My breathing was rapid, with my throat dry and aching and my mouth dusty. With every crunch of the rock below my feet, my heart seemed to stop. No movement could be seen in the green glow of my stick. I got to the rock and peered over the top. Seeing nothing I took several rapid steps past it. When I reached the other side I recoiled in horror at what I saw. In the side of the passage near the floor was a hole, with another passage revealed. It had been covered by the rock! BUT NOW IT WAS EXPOSED! The rock could not have moved by itself.
I backed away from the hole and collided with the opposite wall. I had not been paying attention to the pain in my back, but now it came back to me in all its fury. I stared down the newly discovered passage. It went down at a 45-degree angle and continued straight for as far as I could see. Several feet down I could see the glow-stick that I had thrown. It illuminated the passage enough that I could tell the walls were fairly smooth. The floor seemed to be the same way, unlike the rest of the cave. The passage was about 3 feet in diameter as far as I could see. It would have been an easy passage to explore if I had the least desire to do so. Right now I wanted out of the cave and into daylight. I slowly backed away from the hole toward B. I never took my eyes off the abyss. I nearly tripped over the phone wire as I turned to leave this devils lair. I noticed my mini-mag was practically dead, leaving me only with the glow-stick. I wanted to sprint to Floyd’s Tomb. Just hearing another human being would help alleviate some of the fear I was experiencing.
As I turned away from the large rock and the hole, I felt an overwhelming sense of panic fill my soul. It felt like a legion of demons was about to attack me from behind. I felt like my salvation lie ahead of me in the darkness, and Lucifer was behind me, trying to keep me from safety. I found myself moving much faster than I should have been in that cave. My only thought was to get out as quickly as possible. I passed the crystal formation, barely even noticing this beautiful creation of nature in the green glow of my light. Every time I ducked to avoid a rock I felt my back scream its reminder of my injury. When I got to the point in the passage where I had to crawl I flung myself down on all fours, barely slowing down as I dropped. When my hands came in contact with the cave floor I felt an electric shock shoot all the way down my back, and simultaneously down my arms. For the first time since this nightmare had begun I let out a scream. I crumpled down and lay there on the rock, with new levels of pain manifesting every time I inhaled. Whimpering from fear and pain I tried to listen to any other noise in the cave. I could feel the silence pounding in my head. I knew from previous trips that B was still out of earshot. But I was close.
Forcing myself to move I winced as I pulled my body onto all fours and started to progress along the cave. I still held the glow-stick in my hand, but I had ceased checking behind me. Now my focus was ahead of me. I reached the point where I could yell to B, but I didn’t make a sound. I didn’t want to stop long enough to talk. Finally, I reached the last stretch of the cave before the squeeze. As I was crawling toward the beginning of the Tomb I called to B. He answered back. I screamed to him to get everything ready to go. He asked if I was O.K. (since he hadn’t heard from me on the phone he had gotten worried). I told him “no,” and to get everything ready to go. When I reached the rope I flipped off my helmet and shoved it into my pack. For the first time, I realized that I had forgotten my video camera! It was a fleeting thought. I cared no more about that camera than a passenger of the Titanic cared about a hat or a coat. I tied the pack to the rope and told him to pull it through. Then I told him to start heading toward the surface as soon as he pulled the rope through. He asked why and I screamed that there was something in the cave with us.
My back ached with every move I made. I knew it didn’t matter, though. I was going to get through the Tomb as fast as I could, injuries notwithstanding. Just as I started into the squeeze I felt the wind in the passage increase, and with it the most nauseating stench I have ever experienced. It smelled like damp, rotting, rancid, putrid, death. I almost started to dry-heave. I pulled my shirt up over my nose to shield me from the over-powering smell. At this point, B smelled it too. He yelled, “What is that?” Then he yelled at me to hurry up and get through. I told him I was coming, then I took a deep breath through my shirt, and started back through. B’s yelling had intensified my fear and panic, as if I needed any help. I knew he could sense the urgency in getting out of this place. Still, as I worked my way through I yelled at him to start up, that I would catch up with him when I got through. He said he would. He placed my glow-stick inside the passage, then began to climb out.
This time through the squeeze I had no regard for the tightness of the passage. I was scraping my face, ears, arms, and shoulders. Every inch of the squeeze meant numerous scratches on my body, but I barely noticed them. My back was nearly paralyzing me with pain. Once again I felt the rising need to vomit because of the odor being delivered to my nostrils by the breeze. Halfway through Floyd’s Tomb, I took a break to catch my breath. I was approaching exhaustion and my respiration rate was through the roof. The top of the passage seemed to rest my cheek, and the floor felt like broken glass on my opposite cheek. As I paused briefly to recuperate I heard the scraping noise coming from deep within the cave! It continued for several seconds, then silence. I let out a cry which startled me. I was no longer consciously reacting to the noise. The cry was a subconscious response to the fear which flowed through my entire body. In a panic, I began to scoot through the passage. As I reached the largest part of the Tomb I quickly slid my arms under my body to get into position to exit through our hole. I grabbed the rope and pulled with all my might. When my shoulders reached the hole they lodged, and I was stuck! I dug my feet into the rocks and wiggled my way back into the passage. Then I turned my body slightly and tried again. This time I was successful in pulling my upper body through. Normally I would carefully work my way out, since there is a 3-foot drop on the outside of the hole. This time I kicked with my legs and pulled with my arms and PLOP, I dropped out of the Tomb, right onto my shoulder. I tried to roll to soften the impact, but was unable to do anything more than take the blow. Strangely the pain was focused on my shoulder, apparently not affecting my already sore back.
I rolled over onto all fours, then slowly rose to my feet. The smell was much less intense outside of the passage. I grabbed the glow-stick and used it to find my helmet. I began to head for the webbing to climb up while strapping on my helmet. When I got to the webbing I reached up to grab hold and recoiled in horror. In the glow of the glow-stick I could see for the first time the injuries to my arms. My forearms were covered with deep cuts and scrapes. Much of my arm was covered with blood. The wounds were not deep enough to bleed freely, but rather ooze the blood. In that brief moment that I stopped, I noticed that there was silence in the cave. No sounds coming from the passage and nothing from up ahead. Once again the feeling of being alone returned, motivating me to proceed. Climbing up the little drop-off proved to be difficult in my condition. Having the glo-stick as the only light source added to the challenge. Once on top I scrambled to catch up with B. I was impressed with the speed of his ascent.
Although I did not mention any more of my physical condition during my exit, I was hurting! With every step I took, pain shot through my lower back and my neck. My arms were shredded and my shoulder had a nice gash in it. I honestly believe that were it not for the terror I felt at the time I would not have the energy and the motivation to climb out. I was running on pure adrenaline. Unfortunately, the adrenaline surge was about to end.
I did not see or hear B until I reached the small area at the bottom of the drop. He was on the rope and climbing out as fast as he could. I could hear him moving quickly and breathing heavily. I called out to him and his startled reaction told me he was nearly as tense as I was. He told me to get on the rope and start climbing. We both knew that would be dangerous and not something we would ever normally do, but this was different. I stood there looking up at where the rope disappeared into the darkness above me. It danced around as B made his way to safety. He was out of sight but I knew he was close. I knew the rope was my lifeline to the outside. To light, safety. Behind me was darkness, fear, the unknown. I had the fleeting thought of a movie scene where the actor had outwitted the monster and had reached the front door of the haunted house. Just as he reaches for the knob he hears a sound behind him and turns, only to see…
I slid the glow-stick into the cord on my helmet and reached for my harness. Then I thought I would let B get a little bit higher while I pulled the rope up that was stretched down into the cave. That would make it easier to get out once we got to the top of the drop. I chose not to wind the rope around my arm since it was sore and bleeding, so I just pulled it into a pile on the floor. From above I heard B warn me, “rock”, and I ducked under the ledge as several small rocks landed on the floor near my feet. I quickly went back to pulling the rope in. I had about half of it in, about 50 feet, when the rope hit a snag. UGH! It was solid. There was no way I was going to crawl back in to release it so I decided to just forget the rope and get my harness on and get out of the cave. I quickly threw the harness around me and started to buckle it. Before I could secure it I heard a strange noise at my feet. My pulse began to quicken. I looked down at the rope only to discover to my horror that the rope was disappearing down into the darkness. SOMETHING WAS PULLING THE ROPE BACK INTO THE CAVE!!!
I let go of the harness and began clawing my way up the rope. The unbuckled harness fell to the floor. Fortunately, I held on to an ascender. At the moment I could not think straight and began climbing out of the cave without being attached to the rope. I had climbed out many times without using an ascending device, but I was always attached to the rope, just in case.
I was climbing as fast as my battered body could haul me up. I was in a near panic state again and consequently was scraping, bumping, and gouging my arms and legs. As I climbed I screamed to B that something was pulling the rope. He yelled back to hurry up. Luck was with me in that I didn’t slip and fall back down into the hole. If I had I would have bounced several times against the sides of the cave before smashing onto the floor. The injuries would be fatal. Without the necessity of having to stop to slide the ascender up the rope I made excellent time getting up. I could see rays of light above me, coming from the entrance to the cave. That told me exactly where I was in the cave.
I caught up to B on the “ledge” below where our re-belay point was fixed. I told him to keep going. It would only take him a few minutes, but every second would be torture because I had to wait for him to get up. I watched the rope that we had just climbed up. I expected to see some creature from deep within the earth climb up and make me its lunch. The rope moved around a bit, in rhythm with B’s climbing, but did not appear to have any tension on it. As I stood there waiting for B I kept watching the rope for signs of anything bizarre. I didn’t know if my heart could take any more stress. I could not have been more wired. I tried to relax a bit to make sure I was thinking rationally, but my poor brain had reached sensory overload. As B reached the top of the last climb I got ready to clip on my ascender and get my sorry butt out of there. It was then that I noticed that the rope began to tighten from below. I could feel the tension on the rope, but it was a steady tension, not like someone was climbing up. Either way, I wanted out of there as fast as possible. I clipped on and scrambled up the rope. I hadn’t noticed but B had kept on moving toward the entrance. I got up the last few feet in a hurry. I just unclipped and kept on moving, leaving the rope behind.
By the time I got to the entrance of the cave, and daylight, B was almost up to where the rope was anchored. I wanted to get up so bad I almost started to free climb, without clipping on to the rope. I could see B was almost up, so I clipped on and started up. I almost didn’t make it up. I had just started up when I nearly collapsed from exhaustion. I managed to recover enough to pull myself up the last few feet. As I climbed I could hear the tension on the rope manifest itself by the stretching noise in the rope. I prayed the rope would not break with me attached to it. The second that I reached the top I unclipped the ascender. I could see B kneeling down by the tree, so I limped over to him and collapsed. For the first time since I went through Floyd’s Tomb, we could see each other. We just stared. I knew I looked pretty bad, but didn’t know that B was in such bad shape. He had cuts and scrapes on every exposed surface of his body. His face was pale, almost white. His mouth and his eyes were wide open. He was breathing heavily. Almost gasping. The shock we shared at the other person’s appearance was broken when we heard the rope around the tree stretch and the knot B had tied tighten. I was frozen in place. Overwhelmed with fright. B seemed to be transfixed on the knot. Then in one motion he produced a pocket knife and began to work on the rope.
It is amazing how a person’s state of mind can alter the perception of time. I’m sure it only took 4 or 5 seconds to severe the rope from the tree, but it seemed like an hour. When the rope was cut, the knot fell to the ground, while the end of the rope zipped across the rocks and over the edge of the cliff, the speed of it causing a humming noise as it went. As soon as the rope was cut, B let out a cry. He dropped the knife and fell backward. Watching the rope fly over the edge brought the feelings in the passage back to me. I got up and headed toward the truck. I noticed B was still laying there, wide-eyed, staring at the point the rope disappeared. I called to him, which seemed to break his trance. He got up and hurried away from the tree, the cave, the nightmare. Neither of us said a word all the way home.
It is now 4 days after our trip to the cave. It has taken me 4 days and dozens of attempts to get this entire experience written into my journal. Every time I started to write I recalled the terrible feelings I had and couldn’t write anymore. I felt compelled to continue, so as to document the unbelievable events while all of the details were fresh in my mind. I can still feel the pain. Still smell the stench. Still experience the terror. Even typing from my journal has taken hours. I would like to write more, but it will have to wait. Even now, with several days between me and the event, I can’t relax. I can barely concentrate. That’s all for now.
It has been three weeks since our last visit to the cave. I want to update everyone as to my condition, my plans for the cave, and the events of the past few weeks. I apologize for not returning your phone calls. I have been getting all of your messages, I just haven’t felt up to calling back. Steve and Marc, thanks for your words of encouragement on my answering machine. I know you two are sincerely concerned for me. You are awesome friends. Marc, I know you stopped by the house a few times, and I’m sorry I never answered the door. It really helped me just knowing you dropped by. Sis, I can hear the worry in your voice. I’m o.k. Don’t worry about me. Just take care of those nieces and nephews of mine.
I figure if I can get this site updated I can let everyone know at once about how I am doing. A lot has happened in the last three weeks, so I’ll do my best to cover everything. I guess I should start where the last entry left off. It took several days to get the last journal entry written down. I was so shaken up from the experience that I could do little else but sit around and ponder what had happened. Right now I am on long term medical leave from work. I tried to go to work several days after the event, but my boss sent me home. I couldn’t concentrate and I looked terrible. I’ve even been to the doctor, but I couldn’t tell him about the experience, so I just told him I was under a lot of stress. He recommended rest and gave me a prescription to help me relax. Mmmmm! Good drugs!
When we left the cave I was nearly in a state of shock. I could not think clearly and was having a difficult time trying to understand what had happened. I didn’t eat much nor did I get any sleep. I was glad I had the presence of mind to write down my experience while it was fresh in my mind. As I re-read what I wrote I feel like I accurately portrayed what happened in the cave that day. I wouldn’t change anything I wrote. Even though it took three days to write it, when I finished writing in my journal I felt much better. I guess it was kind of therapeutic. Unfortunately, it didn’t last. In fact, it was after then that things got really bad.
B and I parted company after the trip and I didn’t see him again until yesterday. I didn’t try to reach him, and he didn’t try to get a hold of me. Nor did either of us try to contact Joe. B just dropped me off after the trip and I spent the next several days by myself in my house. I tried to eat but had no appetite. I was restless, but I couldn’t find anything to do to take my mind off the experience. That’s when I determined that I should write it down. As I mentioned, that helped me think a little clearer, and I seemed to be a little calmer, but it didn’t last. I went to work the next day but was sent home. The day after that I had an overwhelming feeling of anxiety sink into my soul. I was depressed and confused and had no one I wanted to turn to for comfort. I was getting all kinds of phone calls from people but I just let the answering machine take the calls. I even changed the message on the machine to let everyone know I was alright. I continued in this miserable state, eating and sleeping whenever I could manage, until a week after the trip. Then things started to get strange.
At first, I was hearing sounds in the house that had no explanation. Footsteps. Shuffling noises. Creaking doors. You know, the typical horror movie fare. Only the sounds were not distinct. It was as though I wasn’t sure I heard what I thought I heard. I would be eating or getting out of the shower, and stop, thinking I heard something. But the sound would not repeat itself. In fact, if it weren’t for the fact that it happened frequently, I couldn’t be sure there were noises in the first place. Either way, I was scared. It was as though I had been caught in a spider web for the last week. Feelings of anxiety, foreboding, and tension filled my life. Then came the hallucinations.
I began seeing things in a manner similar to the sounds I was hearing. Just a glimpse of something in the corner of my eye. When I would turn to look, nothing. I had been sleeping with the lights on in my room, but now I kept all the lights in the house on from before dusk to after dawn. When I started to see things on a regular basis I purchased a gun. Got it from an ad in the paper so I didn’t have to wait for a permit. I went to the doctor but didn’t mention the details of my life. Just told him I couldn’t relax, and I walked out of there with a prescription. Fortunately, my wounds and injuries were pretty much healed by this time. My back still hurt a little, but the prescription took care of that, too. When I was on the medication I felt great, but I didn’t want to walk around high the rest of my life, so I would only take it at the end of a tough day. Unfortunately, the severity of the sightings increased, giving rise to a need for the medication.
The flashes in the corner of my eye continued, but then I began to see shapes and shadows. They would be outside my windows, usually at night. I still couldn’t make out anything solid, so it was hard to pin down what was I was seeing. Soon I began to close all of my drapes and blinds so I could remove the possibilities of seeing something. Doing so did help in that respect, but my life was still a mess. My daily routine was mechanical and empty. I would sleep in as long as I could, usually out of exhaustion. Then I would get cleaned up and try to eat something. I lost a lot of weight, so I tried to get as much as possible down me. Then I would exercise a little and nap a lot. I’d only been out of the house a few times in the last two weeks. The store, the doctor, the gun purchase. I didn’t watch much t.v. because I couldn’t concentrate. I spent a lot of time on the internet. I was doing research on caves and cave myths. The only story I could find was the caver folklore about the Hodag. The Hodag is supposedly a creature that roams caves.
Two weeks after we went into the cave, and a week after I began hearing things, I began to have nightmares. Extremely lucid nightmares. No specific theme or recurring events. Just plain terrifying. Sometimes I was in my house and someone was trying to get me. Only I couldn’t run because I had no legs. Other times I was in a vat and someone was pouring a syrup-like liquid on me, filling the vat. I would wake up in a panic. I would stay awake until exhaustion forced me to enter dreamland once again. A brutal routine. It continued for several days, until it reached a climax on the sixth day (yesterday). My dreams seemed so real I had a hard time telling if I was awake or not. I was beat, really drained of energy and spirit. I was going from the living room to my bedroom in the early evening when I looked down the hall and saw a dark figure toward the end. I thought it was a thief and began to back up slowly. It didn’t move. As I was backing up the lights flickered off and on. Every muscle was tense. I stopped to stare at the figure. Just then the phone rang! It startled me so bad I stumble over the chair. When I got up I wheeled around to look down the hall and nothing was there! I grabbed my keys and left the house. I felt compelled to get in the car and drive. My pulse pounded in my temples as I got in and started the car. I wanted to drive to Overlook point to see the city lights. I didn’t know why I needed to go there, but I knew I had to go. The closer I got, the more urgent the feeling. When I arrived at the point, I saw something that at first startled me, but then caused me to be more relaxed than I had been in a long time. Joe was there! He was out of his car, standing, looking at the lights. We looked at each other. I could see from the tired look on his face he had been going through the same miserable trial that I had been experiencing. He could tell from the look on my face that we had shared some terrible experience. Our conversation was unbelievably brief.
“You been back?” he began, even though he knew the answer.
“We need to return.”
“Tomorrow good?” I asked.
“Yeah, noon.” He got in his car and I got into mine. I hadn’t even wanted to talk to him about his experience. Obviously, he didn’t want to know mine. I drove over to B’s house.
When he answered the door I thought that B actually looked like he was doing fine, somewhat happy. One look at me and his disposition changed. Our conversation was also succinct. “I ran into Joe, and we’re going back in tomorrow at noon.” B looked dead serious. He just nodded his head. I asked him if I could spend the night at his house. He eagerly let me in. I didn’t notice until later, but every light in the house was turned on. He led me to his spare room.
“Thanks.” I washed up in the bathroom, took some medication, and got the first decent sleep in a long time. I awoke early this morning and came home to get ready for the trip. I thought I would send out this update so no one will wonder what’s going on with me. I suspect that by the time most of you read this I will be back home and will have a great story to tell. I promise that if you haven’t heard from me by now, you will very shortly. It is now 10 a.m. on Saturday the 19th. We will be leaving for the cave in two hours.
Preparing for this trip will be like no other trip I’ve been on. For the first time in my life, I will carry a gun into a cave. I will also carry a knife, an extensive first aid kit, plenty of food and water, and a camera. I will take several sources of light, and a pad of paper and pencil. I will have to take all of my climbing rope since B lost his in the cave. I will carry a good length of rope with me on the other side of Floyd’s Tomb. (This is the first time in three weeks that I have heard any reference to Floyds Tomb. It sent shivers up my spine just typing it.)
There are so many things I hope to accomplish this day. So many answers I hope to find in a tiny passage hidden from view. Reflecting on the events leading up to today leaves me feeling dizzy. Was this all a bad dream? Unfortunately, I am wide awake, and still, in a few short hours, I might face my nightmare. The thought of having another person with me in the passage does nothing to alleviate the fear I feel. I almost chuckle as I ponder a childish notion that we will have to consider: Who will enter the Tomb first? Who will lead the way into the dark unknown? Who will decide when to turn back? Foremost among the questions in my mind is, What about the video camera that I left behind? It is supposed to be able to record in complete darkness. I left the thing running, so what might we find on the tape. Darker questions follow – What if the camera is gone? What if it is destroyed?
Although it is difficult to put an exact name on my motivation, I think “closure” fits quite nicely. I need to find out a few things about this cave. The main thing, believe it or not, is to find the end of the cave. With all of the bizarre things I have witnessed these past few weeks, it would seem a bit trite to want, as a primary goal, to get to the end, but that is what I want. To be sure, I will be seeking other bits of knowledge along the way. If, however, I find the end to the main passage, and an end to the passage hidden by the rock, I will be content to never return to the passage of the cave again. Never!
It would seem to me that crawling head first through a tight passage into the darkness is an unnatural thing. Just like crawling up the side of a cliff for recreation. Or jumping out of a perfectly good airplane and floating to the ground. We do these things to satisfy our hunger for adventure. This sub-conscious desire to conquer our own little Everest. As B is fond of saying, “Caving is the last opportunity for exploration for the person with modest means.” True. Just a short drive from just about anywhere in the country is a cave waiting to be explored. Even a cave well-known among the general public can be approached by someone for the first time as an adventure, something new, something to overcome. Because it’s there.
Many of you don’t agree with my decisions to pursue this cave. I know this from the messages I have received. I’m afraid I don’t have a choice. If I am ever to experience restful slumber, I must return. If I am ever to walk the halls of my own home in peace, I must return. If I am ever to exit the overworld and enter the subterranean world of a cave, I must now return. I no longer feel that I have a choice. I MUST return.
For my family and friends who are reading this, I say, be at peace. I will conquer this cave. Then I will return and update this web site immediately. I will include any photos we take in the cave today, and if you stop by the house I will show you the video I will have. I expect to be home later tonight, or tomorrow at the latest.
See all of you soon, with a lot of answers!
Credit: Ted Hegemann
🔔 More stories from author: Ted Hegemann
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