The Cast: Cave (spelunked), Erich (tunnel rat), Myself (frustrated).
“I don’t know.”
“We might get stuck.”
“Wanna risk it?”
Risk is part of almost everything. Some might argue that it is a part of everything. I would, however—like I just did, state that it is part of almost everything. On this particular excursion, we did find some risk, until the end.
I have lost count of how many times I have gone over the time I spent hiking in the mountains. If I wanted to, I could probably just do a quick search of my blog and use the keyword ‘hiking’ and then read through those and count which ones were relevant. But, that would take more time than I wish to devote (maybe later). If you want to, go ahead. If not, just keep reading.
At any rate, there was a time when—in a desperate bid for fun and thrills—Erich and I found a cave. Now, sure, I’ll bet that many of you have found a cave opening when you were young. Maybe you have gone spelunking (spelunking: spi-ˈləŋ-kiŋ, the hobby or practice of exploring caves). Maybe the cave you found was nothing more than a shallow indentation in a rock wall. Whatever the case for you was/has been, for Erich and I, we really wanted to find a cave. A real cave. A cool cave.
We had a waterfall. A stream. Woods. Ledges to climb up and slide down. Multicolored dirt. We had all manner of amazing things just on the East edge of our little burg. But, what we had not encountered yet, was a cave. On one misadventure we did encounter an opening into a deep cavern full of stalagmites and slippery slopes. That find was completely on accident and we were not equipped to get back out had we entered in. See, the opening dropped off into a large open cavern. The floor was covered in spiky stalactite formations (we would have been pincushioned had we jumped—if we survived the drop). Near the opening, there was a stout tree (about my whip’s distance away). All we needed to do was come back with a rope and we could lower ourselves in, then climb out when done.
We never found that cave again. We looked and looked. We thought we knew our mountain like the back of our hand. But finding that secret cavern the first time proved that we did not, then, add to that the fact that we could never re-find that spot again only reinforced we did not know our mountain as well as we thought. I know I’m off track (on topic, but off track), but, you gotta understand that for two explorers like us, we needed to find things to explore. Caves are perfect for that. Watch any movie with caves in it (The Goonies, 1985). Monsters and/or treasure are found inside. Good times.
Okay, where were we? Oh, yes! The first cave we found. Just for clarity, it was not the massive opening underground that we never found again. That one was cave number two. Cave number one, like cave number two, was a fluke find. Erich and I were returning back from a failed-excursion-turned-adventure (Where There’s a Whip, There’s a Way), when we came across a small opening at the base of a sheer cliff. This rock wall went straight up and straight down. However, at the bottom, there were no boulders or collection of large debris, just small pebbles. I would almost say it was unnatural, except that it was all natural. Dirt: natural. Rock: natural. Nearby stream: natural. Trees and shrubs at the top of the cliff: natural. Like I said before, it was all natural. It just didn’t feel that way.
When you find an opening in a wall, that you have never seen before, what do you do? If movies have taught us anything, you look. And, you look because you know that nothing can go wrong. Movies have taught us this as well (House II: The Second Story, 1987). We wanted to go into the small opening, but, we were not geared up for it. In order to see into the cave, we had to lay on our bellies, and that would also be how we would have to enter the cave—it was a very small opening. Given its proximity to the stream, the size of the opening, the fact that we could only see two feet into the cave, we knew that we needed the right equipment for this. We were not going to be caught off guard.
A few days later we returned with some flashlights and my whip—the right kind of equipment. The flashlights were so we could see (duh), and the whip was our ‘rope’—it was twenty-two feet long, it’s practically a rope (duh). Erich had a couple of knee-pads that he put on. He had noted that with all the rocks that we would have to crawl over, they might be useful. Good point. We almost didn’t find the spot again, despite our tremendous efforts to memorize the surrounding area (lesson learned from the other cave). But, we did find it again, and, in we went.
Positioning ourselves into an military low crawl, one at a time we snaked our way into the tunnel. I was first, Erich right behind. After several feet of scratching our bellies on stream sediment and gravel, we discovered that this cave had issues.
“Can you stand up yet?” Came Erich’s inquiry.
“Nope. It looks like just one long tunnel.” My flashlight was not unveiling any promise of low crawl relief. The cave just went on and on and on and on… A small confined space that seemingly never ended. This was a great phycological study for claustrophobia. I, myself, was feeling more cramped and disappointed than anything else. Erich was handling himself alright, only because he knew he could get out first—if needed.
Side Note: In our training for superhero-ness, Erich and I would take turns tying each other to chairs and then practicing our escapes. Erich always (always) got free. He explained that his limited claustrophobia worked to his advantage: He never wanted to not get free. I could handle almost making it—even though I always wanted to get completely free. Erich would not. He had to be free. This… desire, worked to his advantage on more than one occasion.
There we were, slightly wet, a little muddy, in a dark tunnel that was probably no more than two feet high (at best, it was probably closer to a foot and a half), with no end in sight. We crawled and crawled and crawled and crawled and crawled. Yeah, we crawled. For what felt like hours. The cave-tunnel just went straight. If there was an incline, either up or down, we didn’t notice. If it veered slightly to the left or right, we didn’t notice. The tunnel just kept going and going and going. What do you do in a tunnel that looked more and more like it was drilled and then, over the years, had stream sediment slowly deposited into it? Note: That last part is more of a hindsight sorta thought. Like, in that moment, we were not thinking that that almost perfectly domed ceiling may have been part of a drilled cavern. Or that years of the stream’s sedimentary deposits may have filled the tunnel and that’s why the tunnel opening was so small and that there wasn’t a lot of debris around the opening. Although, also in hindsight, we should have… No, really. We should have.
So anyway… Erich and I just kept crawling along. In the dark. On the rocks. What? You’re wondering why it was dark? Yes, we had flashlights, but we had turned them off because they apparently didn’t have fresh batteries and the lights were getting dim, so we decided to turn them off until we absolutely needed them. Did I not mention that? Oops. Sorry. So, yeah, in the dark, on rocks, on our bellies, we low crawled. I already mentioned that? Yeah, I guess I did. Sorry. Moving forward… (which we also were doing, in the dark, on our tummies, over rocks, and mud)
Eventually, our eyes adjusted to the dim lighting and it was getting easier to see, then, my hand felt it: The end. Well, more specifically, a rock. Well, more specifically, a larger rock than what I had been feeling for the last half-hour. This one was large. And, it blocked our way.
“There’s no more tunnel.”
“No more tunnel.”
“I heard you, I just don’t understand. What do you see?”
“Nothing much. It’s dark in here.”
“How about you use your flashlight?”
“Oh, yeah! I forgot.”
As I shined my light about me, I was unfortunately correct. There was no more tunnel. Ahead of us. After some discussion with Erich, I twisted about and noticed that the tunnel continued, but, went straight up. Straight up! Like the cave was an capital ‘L’ shape. An almost perfectly round tunnel—not much bigger than what we were already in—going straight up. And, at the top we could see what looked like a flat rock capping off the tunnel. With this new revelation, Erich endeavored to move forward, making things more close-quarters than either of us preferred—he wanted to see for himself. Sure enough, the tunnel went straight up. Straight up. Did I mention that the tunnel went straight up? Yes? Good.
“I don’t know.”
“Well, we could try and sit up and maybe climb up the tunnel to see where it goes?”
“We might get stuck.”
“Wanna risk it?”
And with that, we crawled back out. Due to the size of the tunnel, we couldn’t turn around. So, we had to exit in the same position we came in. Fun! No. But, we had decided to do a rudimentary measurement of the tunnel length. We used the toes of our shoes to ‘draw’ a line in the gravel, then crawl backward, and, when our head reached that line, would count a body length. We roughly estimated each measurement to be about five and a half feet. Do I remember the approximate tunnel length? No, sadly. No, I do not. But, we did use that rough measurement at the top of the cliff.
Since the cliff was relatively straight up and straight down, Erich and I climbed to the top of the cliff, and, lining ourselves up with the edge, made our way to the ‘end’ of the horizontal tunnel. And, after estimating the height of the vertical tunnel, then comparing it to the cliff, we determined that the top of the vertical shaft was probably only three to five feet below where we were standing. But, why? Why was that tunnel even there? What purpose did it serve? Why did it go straight up but not all the way through the ground? Was it actually capped off and the capstone buried by dirt (over the years), or did it just look that way from inside? It made no sense. It still doesn’t.
So, kind of like the tunnel, this story has an awkward ending—leaving you to wonder, “Did I just waste my time on this?”