Edited slightly, as it was originally sent to friends via e-mail. Asides marked "MD 1998" were written, well, just now.
------------------CAVE: Look, there's a hole in the ground now------------------
First, by caving I don't mean paying a tour guide to take you through a walk-in cave with floors and hand rails. I mean putting a helmet on and just going in a cave and messing around. My father is a genuine Antique Caver. He used to go caving every weekend in his youth, and has been in more caves than I've ever heard of. He was good.
I went in my first cave when I was 4 years old. This is called IXL, and is about 2 miles from University of California at Santa Cruz. I've been there several times since then. The last time was around 3 years ago, and the time before that I was probably 14. I was short when I was 14. When I went in three years ago, it was my first cave trip since getting tall and large. (I'm not huge, but when you're crawling through a tunnel the size of a hubcap, it seems that way!)
3 years ago, I pretty much failed. My glasses fogged up because I was all hot and tired. At one point I couldn't even turn around. It was just me and my father, and there was a very deep hole that you definitely *didn't* want to fall down (since doing so would result in grave (no pun intended) bodily harm). Evenutally he had to crouch in the hole so I could use him as a foothold to turn around safely. When we left that trip I was not happy. In my glory days I was a real caver, I'd braved Church Cave (which we were in for 15 hours, but that's another much longer story). I'd been in several caves, many times. But this time I was too big. I couldn't do it. I wasn't in caving shape (caving requires special muscles not present among the general populace).
This time, I wasn't very optimistic. My father wanted to go to IXL again. He's been in probably more times than anyone else alive. At my request he drew me a map of the cave to refresh my memory. He drew it from memory, first aerial and then depth views. (After we concluded the trip, I realized his map was VERY ACCURATE).
IXL has two, um, interesting parts which are sort of optional. One is called the Bypass, which I had never been up. I'll describe in detail a bit later. Basically you climb up a shaft and rapel down another shaft, and eventually get back to where you started. (That's why they call it the Bypass, duh.) (Probably because you ought to bypass it completely... MD 1998.) The other is at the end of the horizontal bit, there is a part that goes DOWN to the bottom of the cave. This is a very interesting climb. (Hint, in caving talk "interesting" usually means the possibility of death and/or broken bones and other injuries if you make a mistake.)
Those are the two parts you need a rope for. The Bypass rapel obviously requires a rope, but the Bottom climb can be made without a rope (when I was 14 I did it without a rope, but I was extremely scared), but both my father and I are basically cowards so we want a rope to belay.
Belay: you tie the rope around your waist and climb. It doesn't help you to climb one bit, you still do all the work. But if you make a mistake and slip or fall, the person holding the rope (who is jolly well braced up good) will catch you so you don't die. Then you start climbing again.
Coward: a person who for some inexplicable reason, does not relish the idea of having the back of his head cracked open against jagged rocks.
Back to our program: I dug our caving helmets out of the shed. I went and bought a rope. We had a rope, only a year old, but it was a rapel rope, 190 feet long, 10.5cm diameter. Too bulky to drag through the cave. So we bought a new 100ft rope, smaller diameter, and softer lay, so it folded up real nice. Bought a new pack to carry it in. Bought two rapel rings. Everything else we already had.
Regarding Light: someone once said to my father, "going caving? Gets pretty dark in there, doesn't it?" Well, only if you consider 100% lack of light to be "dark." There is no light. Open your eyes. Close your eyes. No difference. Wave your hand in front of your face. You can't see it. Actually, you should be glad there's no light, otherwise someone might see you waving your hand and blinking your eyes and they'd think you were really weird.
So we had three "Just Right" lamps. This is a lamp that clips to the helmet and has a wire running down to a 4 D-cell battery pack at your waist. Advantage: light lasts a long time. Disadvantage: battery pack gets bumped and light tends to go out sometimes. Bump it again to turn back on. Another disadvantage is that it is heavy, and there come times in the cave when you have to take your helmet off to fit through a passage, and then it is really in the way.
Well, only one of these "JustRite" lamps worked good. So I pulled out my headlamp I'd bought for that 24-mile hike I went on a few weeks back (very fun trip but probably not worth writing about. Basically, did a lot of hiking through the mountains, about 4 hours of it in the dark MD 1998). Advantage: No battery pack. Uses 4 AA batteries, all in one unit. Advantage: bright light, multiple angle. Disadvantage: After 3 hours, the light basically gets immediately dim, then goes out.
I decided to try it. My father said we'd only be in there a couple of hours (heh, heh). I strapped it to my nice green helmet I've had for 15 years, and then duct taped it on to be safe. In the rope pack I put 8 AA batteries as backup, and my little hand-held flashlight.
Pack in the boots, gloves, and carabiners, and we were ready. I wore my fairly new contact lenses (I figured this way my vision wouldn't suffer because of fogged-up glasses). Left the house at 8am Monday morning. Got to UC Santa Cruz at around 9:15am. Another couple of miles and we parked. You used to be able to park fairly near the cave, but not anymore. We drove another mile and parked across the street from Empire cave (a dinky little thing).
It was here my father realized a tiny flaw in his plan. He was wearing sweat pants, and forgot to bring a belt. The 4D battery pack wasn't going to hang on his waistband, it would have gone down around his knees. Fortunately he'd brought a shoulder-strap drink carrier, which worked okay. I was wearing my painting jeans (it gets rather muddy in there).
We then walked along the poison oak (see my http://knoledge.org/oak/ which is soon to be mentioned in "Wildlife Firefighters Magazine" a monthly print periodical (Already was featured heavily in said magazine, check out the website now! MD 1998)) laden creek bed for 10-15 minutes and walked up the hill to the limestone rocks, and there it was. We rested, stashed a couple of sodas, and I got to go first.
The entrance is a round hold about the size of a manhole cover. (I don't care if the politically correct police say "person-hole cover," it sounds dumb.) It goes down at a nice angle. Basically put your feet in and slide, trusting friction to save you.
Now, I can't adequately describe the topography so I won't try. It goes down at around 60 degrees for a ways, then there is something called the Keyhole. This is a hole that you can only fit through if you take off your helmet, turn on your belly, and slide down feet first with your arms straight ahead of you. Your feet soon are hanging in mid-air. This is a bit scary your first time because for all you know, the ground is 100 feet beneath you. And once you start, there is no way to go back up from that position. You have to keep going, and eventually you find something solid to brace against, and you climb down. It's like the Keyhole is a window about 5 feet above your floor. You slide out and drop down to a semi-solid surface. Climb down a ways, and then its time to crawl.
We crawled along on hands and knees, through some tight spots. Then there is another "where did all the footholds go?" flail about, and then we got to the bottom of the Bypass without too much further incident. My father says, "Go up there, and go up the left side."
Well, I start climbing straight up this chimney-like passage. I should mention a bit about climbing technique. When you're on the rock face like a mountain, there are rules for climbing. You never use your knees to climb, for instance. You just use your hands and feet. But in caving, there are no rules. You use any and all parts of your body. A common saying is, "Your next foothold is six inches above your left ear." If you're hanging there above a drop, and there is a little rock outcropping, you hook your nostril around it and be thankful. Knees work well for caving because it is mud-covered rock and your knees won't slip too much.
So I go up this chimney area, and look to the left. There is no way. I can't get up that. He couldn't mean go THAT way. I go to the right. I reach a dead end, and a place to sit down. (only 65% from the horizontal, it's a chair.) My father comes up amid my cries of "I can't do it!" He gives it a shot. He fails. His feet slip around, while I worry and almost have a heart attack. Basically, think of your kitchen doorway. Did you ever climb up the doorway when you were little? It's like that, except it's 15 feet drop beneath you with large rocks, and the "doorway" is only about 18 inches apart. He came back safely, and went down. I started to go down, and on the way looked at it from a different angle. Actually, I think I can go down, I said.
I met him at the bottom, and I said, I think I can make it. I'll take the pack, go to the top, and belay you up. He said with a safety rope he could make it. He used to run up it without a second thought in his younger days, but after all he's 57 years old, and hasn't been caving in a while. So I gave it another try. I failed. I was too tall. There was one foothold I could have used to make it, but once I got my foot on it, I couldn't stand up because I was too tall. So I decided to cheat. There was an old pipe just stuck there in the wall about 6 feet away, and that was what we were trying to get to. There used to be a gate there, that's why the pipe is there. Once you get to that side and get up so you're standing on the pipe, you're home free. The problem was I couldn't get over there. So I took a sling out, and tried to loop it round and make a foothold lower down. Failed. Got the other sling. Dropped it like a fool. Luckily my father retrieved it (of course he had to climb all the way back up the chimney to give it to me). Tied two slings together with a femmish bend, and attached a carabiner for weight. Succeeded in looping it around the pipe. Used the sling as a foothold, and managed to get up on top of it. Then it was still an interesting climb up, but not bad. Finally got to a good belay position and sent the rope down to the Old Man. He now had to climb up, not using the sling, but rather, he had to climb up on his own, and UNDO the sling and bring it with him. Thus he had a much more difficult climb to do. But of course he was much more experienced. So he did it the hard way on his own. He just wanted a belay (and I wanted him to have it too) because he's old and cowardly now (as am I).
So we got up to the top, which flattens out, and then we looped the rope around a rock for the rappel down the other side. Both ends of the rope we threw down, and rapelled off a double rope. This has the benefit of being able to pull the rope down from the bottom and not climb back up for it. So he goes first, and then me. Then the rope won't pull down. Stuck, or twisted. Brand-new rope. My father was going to climb back up the other side and get it. I didn't want him too. I was ready to let it go. But if we didn't have the rope, we'd chicken out of the dangerous Bottom climb at the end of the cave.
He slid past me and then down the flowstone to the main passage. (Once you slide past the flowstone, which is *tight*, you can't get back up.) I went up a bit and tried pulling the rope, but it didn't come. Then we simultaneously had an idea. One of us could climb back up *this* side of the Bypass. However, that was a virtually impossible climb. So I hooked my rapel rig back up to the rope, and he sent up the other sling which had a Prussik knot. This was a safety knot which moved up the rope but not down, so if I fell the rope should catch me even if I let go. Of course, this meant I had to stop every foot and tighten move the knot up and tighten the rapel rig. I had about 25 vertical feet to climb. That's 2 and a half stories to you and me.
Halfway up I ran out of footholds, and the wall started angling *in*. I lacked the skill. Plus, it was extremely difficult to get to a stable position to tighten my safety, which mean I could fall several feet or more before the rope caught. Finally I reached a point where the other rope hung down.
See, there was an old rope already there. We almost pulled it up so it wasn't in our way, but it's a good thing we didn't. I wouldn't trust it to hold me, but since I was on a safe rope, I used that rope to climb up. It happened to have loops tied in it about every 4 feet. I used those as footholds and climbed up.
I got to a part that angled *out*, so I sat down. I tried my rope, and I could now pull on it and it moved. Remember, that's why I was climbing back up, to get the rope unstuck so we could pull it down. Carefully keeping track of which end of rope and keeping it untangled, I then took off my rig and undid the Prussik knot. (Yes, this was dangerous, considering my precarious perch, but what else to do?) My left foot was shaking (we call it "sewing machine leg") but I glared at it and forced it to stop. My left arch was killing me, because it was my brace leg.
I then rappelled down to the so-called "flat spot about 10 feet from the bottom. I then straddled the pit, hooked on to the other rope, the looped one, for at least some safety, and managed with difficulty to pull my rope down. I then looped it round the loopy rope, but didn't rapel that last 10 feet, I climbed down vertically and just used it for safety. During this I dropped one of my rapel rings, but fortunately, the Old Man retrieved it and it didn't fall in a crack never to be seen again or anything.
I got to the bottom, pulled the rope down *again*, and took off my helmet so I could slide down the flowstone. We were now back in the main passage. "Let's rest" I said to my father. I was tired.
We went on. We got to "The Corkscrew." This is where you push the pack ahead of you, with arms straight out ahead of you. With cave wall completely surrounding you, it is hard to move. Now, we used to have Cave Muscles. Like a snake, unknown muscles the length of your body would propel you. Now we laid there like slapping a pile of hamburger meat on the counter. We called down to our muscles and we got a response like when you call a non-existent phone number: "Doo-Daah-Dee... We're sorry, but those muscles have been disconnected. Please get in shape and try again." So we had to work. It was very difficult, especially for me because I'm too big. Along the way, one of my cave muscles returned. It had apparently been on a three-day bender, because it was not in the best of form, but it was better than nothing.
We got out, and then it was mostly normal cave until the end. Except when we got to the part with the Deep Hole, where I couldn't turn around last time? I could turn around. I did fine. Didn't need any help. I was tremendously pleased.
We looked down the Bottom passage. It was all climbable that we could see. It was only around the corner, 60 feet down, that we would need a belay and it would be hard. My left arch was really on fire. We were both tired. We'd done the bypass. We consulted and decided we wouldn't feel bad about chickening out going down the bottom. Next time we'll do that but NOT the bypass. Doing both is too much for one trip (when you're not in Caving Form). So we made our way out. I led the way out, and everything went okay until the Keyhole. The Keyhole is VERY hard on the way out. There is a nice long stretch where you are just kind of stuck, unable to move. Evenutally, with the nice elbow hold on the right, I wormed my way through, but it took forever.
Amazingly, about halfway through the way out, my vision started getting foggy. I said, "You're not going to believe this, but I think my contacts are fogging up." Eventually I realized our breath was becoming visible. I don't know why. The temperature in caves is constant, and it wasn't very cold this trip. But anyway.
We got out, drank our drinks, groaned a lot, and started back. Took longer this time. Washed a little in the creek. After successfully making it through the entire cave, my father just fell over on the trail for no reason. Fell on his hip, and boy did he yell about it. Slipped on a leaf I guess. Glad he didn't do it in the cave or it would have been bad. When we got to the car we had fortunately remembered to bring a jug of water and a complete change of clothes, because we were basically covered in mud. Plus we wanted to wash off in case we'd gotten in any poison oak.
We were both as sore as can be. Mass of bruises, especially around the joints. Knees, elbows, had lost a lot of skin. I had to drive back. Reached over my shoulder for my seat belt. My arm stayed there. Uh-oh, I don't think that was a good idea. Ow. It hurt. But we got home and moaned the rest of the day, and I went to bed early.
Well, I did warn you. It's a long story. I'm still sore. But it is a good kind of sore. I *earned* these bruises. I'm still a caver. A real caver. Maybe not a caver in the greatest caving shape, but I can still do it, I'm not too big.
If anyone reading this wants to go caving, let me know (not really. This was originally sent to my real-life friends via e-mail. I'm not taking YOU caving... MD 1998). We can skip the Bypass and the Bottom and just go in and out. No danger that way. If you're, er, any bigger than I am I wouldn't reccomend trying it. I had a tough time. But some of you should do better than me (you know who you are, the shorter ones. Now you know why I envy short people!! My father's a good 6 inches shorter than me, and he's fortunate.)
For those who heard about the 24 mile hike, that was a walk in the park (no pun intended) compared to this trip. I was *exhausted*. The 24 mile hike was nothing as far as physical strain. But I like the feeling. A feeling of accomplishment.