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Tuesday, January 10, 2012
Story of my Death... and ressurection...
I needed a reminder tonight... As painful as this is to relive even being 7 years ago...
This is my story of death. I shouldn't be alive.
“I took the long way home”
It started out as any other adventure
with one exception, my little brother had come down from Michigan to visit and
he wanted me to take him caving. He, his wife and daughter had made it here
late Thursday night. I had to work Friday but had plans of taking him caving
and then take our families to see Burgess Falls and Fall Creek Falls on
Saturday before they had to leave on Monday.
Working Friday was not in my original plan
and I wanted to give him as full of a caving tour as possible, so I decided,
without giving him warning, that we would leave Friday evening instead of
Saturday morning. That way we could have all night and some of Saturday to
explore without canceling our families’ plans to go with us to the waterfalls
on Saturday. I felt that since we didn’t have all day Friday night and Friday
as originally planned, we would still have enough time to take our full fill of
the cave experience.
On long trips, your body’s natural sense of time is thrown
off and exhaustion and dehydration are increased exponentially at night. I had
only a few short hours of sleep Thursday night, had got up for work at four
a.m. and got home around five p.m. As
soon as I walked through the door, I announced that we had to hurry and leave
so that we could reach the cave before dark.
I have to admit, I enjoyed the questioning looks of “Are you
serious?” As we scrambled our gear into
bags and rushed out the door.
wife questioned me as to my lack of sleep the night before. I said I was used to it and that this way we
would have all night and into Saturday morning before we would get back, thus
giving us more time in the cave and without taking up the entire weekend. As we rushed out the door, my wife said to have
fun and be careful. She also said she
didn’t want to have to call my mom and tell her that she had lost two
Two sons is a good description. Better than two brothers. My brother and I had never been close. It was the difference in ages that kept us
apart. He was five or six when I left home,
and besides Holidays, we never took the time or felt the need to make the time
to spend together. We had always lived
in separate states and it was only now that we both had families that we had
something that made enough sense to bring our busy schedules together. Neither of us knew just how close we would
become as we would spend the next 40 hours in the ultimate of caving
As we drove through the last full rays of the day, he
watched in amazement at how rapidly the bustling of the city was replaced by
only the scarcity of civilization. As
twilight was rippling through the valleys, we passed by houses on the ridge-tops
surrounded by barbed wire and no trespassing signs, unwelcome territory. We turned the radio off and drove quietly to
the pull-off by the cave. I proudly
handed him one of my new headlamps. LED
light! Not as bright as incandescent
light, but up to 100 hours of battery life on low. I didn’t know this would be one of the
choices that saved our lives.
We disappeared like
the sun as we dropped deep down into the valley. The moon shone its rays full on us as we
arrived at the entrance under the veil of darkness. The water’s white foam reflected the moon’s
lights revealing the mouth of the cave against the rock face as my brother
looked around for the first time. As was
usual for me, we sat in the darkness letting our eyes adjust, while there was
still some moonlight to use.
One of the biggest feelings of comfort is in knowing you
are alone and far from civilization.
Coming across any other person deep in the woods is always a dangerous
situation. As we sat there in the quiet,
disturbed only by the chatter of the bats, I realized we weren’t alone. I quietly explained to my brother that I had
heard someone and knew that he was 200 yards up the other side of the valley
and to remain quiet. In the cover of darkness, we fine tuned our eyes and ears.
My brother started to shine his light and I quickly stopped him as the wrong
person would take a blinding light as a sign of aggression. I explained that a flashlight was as good as
shooting first, that we needed to wait a minute. “He knows we are here,” I said
“we first need to give him the opportunity to show his intentions”.
Not long after, we could see the light of two
cigarettes. There were two of them but by lighting and puffing the red glow on
and off, they were letting us know where they were and that they were not
interested in us. At that time I told my brother to place a small flashlight on
the ground, pointed into our faces and that would show that we were willing to
put ourselves at a disadvantage, showing them that besides getting our gear
ready, we meant no harm.
Once ready, we headed in.
I told him the stories and showed him where the salamanders and the
angel had been. We then entered into the large collapse dome. I showed him the
huge formations I had found. It was very
satisfying to see the wonder and amazement in his eyes and to answer his
questions as we explored areas of the cave which I was familiar with.
After showing him the
easy to find areas, I asked him if he felt comfortable enough to explore as I
would. He said yes, and so we headed
back towards the heart of the cave. I had
planned on showing him areas that were unmarked and only explored by myself and
as we walked, I explained how a shadow or a crack in the wall could be a
pathway to new areas. I wanted him to
find a crack or a shadow and let him decide to explore it. Even if I had already been in there it would
be new to him and a treasure found by his choice.
It wasn’t far and we came upon an opening at
floor level that he wanted to explore. I quietly was disappointed that he chose
a hole in plain sight that could have been explored by anyone, but it was his
choice. Besides, this path had been marked with red paint by someone and I had
never gone in before thinking that if it was so easily accessible that anyone
could enter, then where would the challenge be? None the less, I agreed to
enter with him as I thought we would be in and out in plenty of time to find
The entrance was triangular in shape, about 2 feet wide and
2 feet tall but quickly opened up to about 4 feet tall and 3 feet wide. Inside the entrance, someone had written in
red paint “DEVIL’S CRAWL”, and also the words “Satan will fuck you” (not my
words). I told my brother that the words
were just foolish vandalism or a warning from a frustrated caver who had taken
this path before and obviously not liked it.
With the hopes that it could be a difficult path, we both agreed to see
where the path led.
We crawled about 20
feet in and came upon a small gypsum room.
The walls and floor were covered in gypsum powder and crystals. The soft clay walls could easily be pulled
carefully apart revealing the delicate crystal formations. My brother, Curt, enjoyed the hunt for the
crystals, finding them in all stages of development and formation. When we were done playing “treasure hunters”,
we started the crawl further in. The
path soon became the “devils crawl”. The
path was full of random rocks jutting out from the floor, walls and ceiling,
making the path more painful and difficult.
About 50 feet back seemed to be the end.
The crawl continued but was only about 10 - 12 inches high. I doubted that anyone else had continued past
this point which is usually all the encouragement I need. I asked Curt if he wanted to get a sample of
the type of caving I do and venture further.
He said if I was willing, he would follow.
I took a few minutes explaining that if we headed in, that
the only direction would be forward. The
path was smooth, solid rock top and bottom and too narrow to turn around or
back up. We would have to commit to
going forward until we found another room or exit. Our feet and heads would have to be kept
sideways. Our breaths would have to be
shallow as the rock would be pressing on both sides. I tried to explain just how important it
would be not to panic. With shallow, restricted breathing it would be easy to
hyperventilate. If you panic and
hyperventilate, you cannot get loose and you will suffocate. I explained that he would have to choose each
and every push forward wisely as there would be no second chances. If you try to back up, your clothes will
bunch up and you will get stuck. He
seemed to understand, so I said “Follow me”.
The path was tight
enough that our flannel shirts had to come off so the buttons would not snag
and twist, painfully pressing into our chests, or getting us stuck on a crack
in the floor. We also had to leave our
packs behind as the path was too narrow and small to wrestle the pack by
pushing it, or my usual method of pulling it, with my foot through the
strap. Now, with long sleeved shirts, we
began to inch our way forward. Each move
of a foot or an inch could only be made by exhaling as much air out of our
chest as possible and pressing forward, to then slowly inhale until the
mountain’s rock would stop our breaths.
In most places it was impossible to take a full breath, so two or three
small breaths were required before each move. The diaphragm is an involuntary
muscle and after many yards of maneuvering to the left or to the right of the
path to try and gain an extra 1/2“ or so of
breathing room, I could feel my chest and ribs beginning to bruise from
the pressure of the mountain’s hold.
“Now this is real caving” I told my brother, “one hundred percent
commitment with no return.”
Soon after, I heard water.
I yelled back to Curt that the water should have carved out a space big
enough for us to breathe and to not give up.
Some relief was just ahead.
Luckily I was right. About 50 feet ahead there was a spot tall enough to
sit up and hang our feet down a 2 foot wide canyon where a stream flowed about
20 feet down. Here we rested and my brother
had now learned to appreciate the ability of expanded chest breathing.
We could have turned back at this point, but we chose to go
on for a couple of reasons. The air
smelled fresh, the path opened up to a hand and knees crawl and I believed that
if there was water flowing, it had to come from somewhere. “Lets just go a little further and see if it
opens up. If not we’ll come back.”
I was basically determined to prove the point that there
was always another way out, plus Curt agreed that he would prefer not to have
to go back through the squeeze necessary to escape. From this point on it was obvious that no one
had been through here in many years. Small stalactites on the ceiling would break
loose on our backs as we squeezed forward.
We were also encouraged to continue as we came across an occasional
painted arrow that someone had left.
The stalactites and soda straws that broke off as we
squeezed our way forward were not the only sign of how long it had been since
this path had been taken. When we came
across the empty spray paint can, we saw that it was probably 15-20 years
old. There was nothing else to indicate
any other visitors. At this point the floor was clay and there were no marks
from clothing or shoes. We continued on
for about two miles, when we seemed to just pop out of the crawl into a large
collapse dome. The room smelled of fresh
earth and was littered with large rocks and boulders never touched and ready to
fall on us if we were to bump against them.
This collapse dome was probably 200 feet tall and had giant
rocks sticking 10 feet out at several points of the clay walls as if a mere
whisper could unlock their hold. There
seemed to be 100 paths out of this chamber and we explored many of them. One of the paths led to a tall round room
full of bats. I remember holding my
brothers feet as he peered inside the opening that was about 20 feet up the
wall and asking him “What do you see?”
His reply indicated that it was a large room and as far as he could see
the walls were not visible due to the total covering of bats. I quickly said to be very quiet and turn off
his light and get down.
I like bats, but if
letting dogs lie is good advice, try a million bats. This would explain the constant stream of
bats that slowed our progress on the way in.
The fly bys were interesting. It
was the spots where the path was narrow on all four sides and the bats couldn’t
find a way past and a traffic jam would ensue.
I wonder what the bats thoughts were as they knew the path from
experience to be clear and then to find it blocked by a living person. After awhile, we had gotten used to them
crashing into our faces and then crawling over our shoulders and backs as we
both scrambled in our separate directions.
At the base of the
collapse dome there was a tunnel large enough to walk through that smelled rich
of water and clay. We are thirsty and I
thought it would be a good idea to fill up on water before we trudged the two
mile crawl back out. Plus I still hoped
to find another route out. “There is
always another way out.” I kept telling
him. Surely we would pop out into an
area of the cave I was familiar with.
Upon exiting the tunnel, we came upon a four way
intersection. The floor and walls were
clay again, which to me means cave system, not cave passages. The ceilings were eight to ten feet tall and
easy to walk through. I was sure that we
had somehow come full circle and one of these paths would become familiar. Plus at the junction of these paths, there
were two arrows, each pointing against each other. To me this meant that we could go back or we
could go forward. Either way we were
still on track to finding another exit and hopefully the arrows meant there was
something worth the trip. Even if they
meant that the caver from long ago had entered and then came back, he left a
mark which to me said “make sure you explore further in before going back. There are sights to see and wonders to
The thought that didn’t cross my mind, was that the caver
who left these marks could have been confused as to the direction to
travel. Perhaps circling and coming
again across his past marks. It was not
long after that this became all too apparent as the arrows began to run in
circles, sometimes mere feet apart, but just out of sight of the other. Curt and I would separate, communicating the
direction of the arrows as we transversed through a maze of water canyons,
close enough to hear and communicate, but even with two people getting a
somewhat three dimensional map of the arrows could make no other sense than
that the previous caver had got lost, panicked, and left too many confusing
clues to make heads or tails of his path.
We met back up and traveled back to the main junction to discuss what to
The junction had four dark tunnels on the outside walls of
an approximately 15 to 20 foot room. At
the center against the wall was a pile of pebbles and clay about three feet
tall and four or five feet wide and long, a great spot to lie back and rest by
wiggling the rocks into a comfortable bed.
The area we had been exploring was a maze of water chasms. The walls were one to two feet wide and
rippled from the effects of the water carving its way through. The canyon was 20 to 30 feet tall with openings
at the bottom where streams flowed in levels even further below. It was easy to keep our footing as the
rippled walls were much like steps and we would walk forward with one hand and
foot on each side. The only problem was
that the water canyon was so narrow, that to move forward, would involve
climbing up or down until we could find a spot wide enough to squeeze
Some levels involved
sliding forward horizontally with only our shoulders and hips grabbing the
sides and our chests and heads open to a 30 foot drop. If we were to loose our grip on the slippery
rock and fall, we would surely break many bones as the jagged sides would twist
and contort us as we fell. Just as
frustrating, was finding our way 20 to 30 feet forward only to find the space
too narrow to continue. It would be a
real memory game to remember the ups, downs, forwards, backwards and other
movements it would take to backtrack to find an alternative route.
After meandering like a marble through a maze, we came to a
spot where the path opened up to the top and also to the bottom, where a small
stream flowed. We first went to the
stream, found a clear pool and filled our dehydrated bodies with as much cool
spring water as we could hold. A lone
red salamander watched as we quenched our thirst, surely wondering what we
were. I wondered if he was lost, being
this far back in the cave. I never
thought that if he had thought the same, that both of us may have been correct.
There were many water channels and cantilever breakdowns
that we explored at this lower level but they were all dead ends and each one
had arrows pointing in both directions.
There seemed to be no way down so we decided to try climbing up to see
if that way showed any promise. About
thirty feet up a chasm crag there was a room that seemed large enough to
possibly be a way out. I told Curt to
stay at the bottom and I would check it out to see if it was worth both of us
checking out. We were getting cold and
dehydrated, our stomachs had turned to acid from the exertion and we had
started taking turns to save energy. We
were either going to find a new exit or have to make the two mile crawl back.
As I climbed up to check out the room, I was pulling myself
up to the top when a large rock I grabbed near, let loose and fell straight
down to where Curt had been standing.
There was no warning. It hit the
side walls maybe twice, and within half a second the two foot by four foot
chunk of limestone smashed into the floor.
I yelled down “Are you all right?” and only heard silence. I was definitely ready to panic, but calmly
called his name. “Curt”. Soon after I heard a soft answer of, “I’m
okay”. “Are you sure”? I asked. “Did it hit you anywhere, your foot
or your arm? You could be in shock,” I
said. The answer was no and that he had
looked up just as the rock came straight for him only to have it veer off the
wall landing just to his side. “I’m
coming down, stay there.”
When I reached the bottom, he was shaking like a leaf and
his face was ghastly white. I tried to
lighten the mood by asking if he got a
good adrenaline rush out of it, but the fact that his head could have been
crushed and he would have never even known was too distracting. To be honest, I was probably just as white,
as I could tell by the twisting of my stomach, that I came all too close to
killing my brother. There was nothing I
could have done differently, I am always careful to make sure my foot and
handholds are secure. The rock that fell
was balanced so well above that it was only the slightest touch of my elbow
that set it free. We took some time in
discussing how to prevent a falling rock injury and that neither one would
stand anywhere close to directly below the other and would proceed one at a
time on any climb until the “all clear” was called down from above.
We didn’t talk long, but soon realized that talking was
difficult as we were both shaking uncontrollably. We were both drenched in sweat and water and
the airflow in this part of the cave was cooler. I have a small thermometer and it read 43
degrees. Another problem was
exhaustion. By now I thought it to be
well into the early morning hours and we both agreed that it was time to find our
way out. The room above was a
possibility and the long crawl out was another?
One thing was for sure. We were
dehydrated and exhausted, and if we did not rest, we would not have the energy
to make it anywhere. I asked him if he
was having trouble with acid in his throat.
I had been for awhile, but he was too.
The copper tasting bile in our mouths throats was a definite sign of
fatigue, overexertion and dehydration. I
knew that our decision making abilities were already getting foggy. Curt was still in a daze from the rock, so I
decided to head back to the main junction.
It would be warmer and dryer and we could rest long enough to make a
proper decision. I asked Curt to
lead. He could maneuver through the
slender water crevices easier and he seemed dazed and lethargic. I need him to stay with me. To be honest, it wasn’t just him. I could feel my own body begging to give
in. This was not the place to rest. “Come on, let’s go back to the crossroads” I
said “we’ll decide what to do there.”
It was not an easy path through the thin water canyons maneuvering
up, forward, down, backwards, forwards again.
Sometimes having to backtrack, but it warmed us up. We began to think clearly and Curt took the
lead, remembering the steps made on the way in, and after only a couple more
back tracks, was able to lead us both back to the crossroads. There was comfort in the smell of clay and a
familiar space. Here we rested. We felt comfort in the fact that we could maneuver
through such a difficult maze and end up exactly where we wanted.
Before long, we began making the decision of our next
move. We had left our supplies back at
the entrance of the devils crawl. We had
no food, no water, no candles for warmth and no batteries. The LED lights we were using had high and
low. We switched to low to conserve
battery life. Our MAG lights had
already grown dim long before, but we had only been using them occasionally to
look around so the normal four to six hour battery life was no indication as to
how long we had been in the cave. I was
thinking eight to ten hours and knew our main concern was dehydration. Neither of us wanted to take the long crawl
back and from my experience the shortest path had always been forward. But we were fatigued and I could see the
worry growing and the trust fading in my brother’s eyes. I decided not to gamble with his life and
take the guaranteed way out with one exception.
We had to find water first. We both had the copper tasting acid in our
mouths and throats that came from dehydration and hunger. We had burnt so many calories that our
stomachs had begun to absorb their own linings and we needed water as soon as
possible and food soon after. I was
worried about my brother’s lack of body fat for energy. Not that I’m fat, but he is a twig and I’ve
got a couple extra cells to burn if needed.
With energy in mind, I stated that we must conserve our energy and rest
at least 15 minutes of every hour from here on.
Well, once rested we headed back up the tunnel and back
into the collapse dome from whence we both knew we had come originally. Unfortunately, we had a problem. The hole in the floor that we had come out of
was not where we thought it was supposed to be. The only confusion was that the hole was not
there. We both had walked blindly,
directly to the spot we both remembered as the way out. Why wasn’t it there? Logic, reason, rational thinking? All for naught. We both individually retraced our steps and
plus our memories only to come up with the same conclusion, “the hole was not
where it was supposed to be.” How could
this be? How could I have been so
irresponsible? I guess for one, I didn’t
plan on coming back out the same way.
Two, I could picture in my mind the way out, the hole, the exact
position I was in as I climbed up a small incline and emerged between two long flat
rocks into the collapse dome.
Looking around, we recognized enough features of the room
and areas that we had explored to know without a doubt that we had definitely
come from this room. The only
possibility I could think of, that I could give him, was that there could have
been two collapse domes and in our fresh, excited, exploring minds we may have
traveled through one of the tunnels we had explored on the way in, and entered
this collapse enough times to have accepted it as the first one and not a
second one. With this in mind, we began
exploring tunnels one after another looking to verify this theory and find the
familiar territory that would lead us back to the long crawl out.
At first, we would find a tunnel and both of us on hands
and knees would crawl over the rocks and clay to see if this was the one. The first problem we ran into was that almost
all the tunnels seemed familiar or unfamiliar.
In the ones we remembered, we would gain momentum thinking that since we
remembered it, that it was the way out, only to find a dead end and realize
that the familiarity came from our explorations on the previous night. The tunnels that we went into that seemed
unfamiliar, we would both agree, that since we didn’t remember it, that it
logically would not be an exit and didn’t waste time exploring it. After as many as 20 dead ends, we began to
tire again. Exhausted, frustrated and
tired we would take turns. One of us
would check the tunnel and the other would rest his eyes and body until one of
us would emerge with the bad news of another dead end. Sometimes the person doing the exploring
would come back and say that the tunnel was long enough that we should both
check it out. The original “devils
crawl” in had only one fork and if a path had a fork, we would turn back not
wanting to take the risk of another maze that might be too confusing to find
the return path. The fork we encountered
on the original devil’s crawl on the way in was a good mile in and had a stream
running below in a crevice, so we remembered what we had memorized on the way
in and only took paths without forks.
Some of the promising passageways were so promising we would both travel
for hundreds of yards only to come upon a dead end. These dead ends didn’t even make sense as
there was no water flow, and no breakdown to explain why they stopped.
One path went for about 300 yards only to circle back to
the same room. All these crawls were
either hands and knees or belly crawls and were slow moving. We had even begun to prefer the slower belly
crawls, not due to the fatigue, which had set in long before, but due to the
bruises on our forearms and shins. I had
begun scooting on my sides letting my hips and shoulders take the brunt of the
pain, but before long nearly every bone, front, back and sides were screaming
with pain at every move.
After exploring more
than 30 tunnels, I had started exploring a new tunnel only to stop maybe ten or
fifteen feet in from frustration and exhaustion. The rocks in this tunnel were three to four
inches, sharp and square. The pain
required to move forward was too excruciating.
It was as if I hit a nerve complex on every rock. Funny bone or not, I found no humor in
this. We both lost all sense of
adventure and just wanted out. I knew by
the sharp edged rocks that this was not the path, but did not even have the
energy to go back the ten feet to where Curt was waiting.
He could hear me talk to him, even with my voice weary and
low. We talked about the possibility that at this point of fatigue, our
judgment was probably affected and unless we could find water and rest, we were
probably wasting our time. We may have even gone into the same tunnels more
than once. We had such a haze in our mind from dehydration that it had become
difficult for either of us to focus as our vision was beginning to blur along
with our memory.
As I lay there resting, I thought that my shoulder was
getting wet. I took my glove off and felt my right shoulder realizing that this
rocky floor was moist with water. I hurriedly called for Curt to come down. The
tunnel was uphill and this was the only wet spot. We separated the rocks and
dug a small hole in the moist clay but could not get the water to pool at all.
The moist clay would just wick it away as fast as we could try to gather it.
We did the only thing we could do as our thirst crazy minds
told us both. We picked up each rock and licked the bottoms of them getting
nothing more than a clay flavored, moistened tongue. It was impossible to even
gather enough for a satisfying drop to quench our thoughts that seemed glued
together with stomach acid, but the moisture soon eased the taste of bile in
our mouths and renewed us to move on.
We sat for awhile at the base of the collapse dome and used
our MAG lights to light the room and searched our memory for any recollection
overlooked before. Both outer sides sloped steeply upward and seemed steeper
than we would have remembered if we had emerged from the topside of this room
instead of the bottom as we had remembered. Of course “as we remembered” wasn’t
doing us much good at this point. By now we had probably spent 8-10 wasted
hours in dead end tunnels and crawls. We were exhausted beyond measure,
dehydrated to the point that our breath wreaked of bile. Our vision was
blurred. We were both having trouble focusing our eyes and now as we talked, we
realized that our mental fatigue had hit a level where we were having trouble
finishing our thoughts and sentences. Our speech was slurred by our swollen,
dehydrated tongues which just made the effect worse.
Sitting at the base of that room, we both decided that
climbing the steep slope to the back wall was our next step. This time we
separated, with Curt taking the left slope and I took the right. We would meet
back at the base as soon as possible and proceed on together if another avenue
was found. Up was good if we wanted to find another exit. At this point we
would have been happy to be lost in the woods, even if miles from the original
entrance. Up could also put us back up into an area of the cave that I was
familiar with as I still hoped.
When we met back up around ½ hour
later, we both had hoped of another path. I had found a large opening which I
though could lead to other large rooms and Curt had found a small hole like the
one we had first emerged from that opened up into a larger room.
both wanted to take the route we had found. We nearly argued over which path to
take. Curt nearly won; we went my way first. Curt’s argument was convincing but
I thought that I smelled water, which at this point we needed as much at this
point or more than a way out. We crawled
up the steep slope to a large crack in the wall that was hidden from our view
below by a large rock about 4 feet square that stuck out of the ground straight
up to a pointed end nearly 20 feet above.
Like entering a secret passageway, we were
able to walk upright as if along a hallway for about 50 yards when the path
turned to the left and a few yards later opened into a large room with the
blissful sound and smell of fresh running water.
We took no time to
look around at what would be the most beautiful of rooms we would encounter,
but both went straight up to the waterfall we saw straight ahead and drank
until our bellies bulged from the cool, refreshing water. We drank until we could drink no more and then
sat back to look at and enjoy the falls.
We realized soon after that we should have been more
careful not to get as wet as we sat shivering from the cold. We already had the
shakes from dehydration and now we were freezing as well. Happy to shake
uncontrollably is what we felt though, sitting there feeling as if we had
finally accomplished something positive.
I knew that with something in our stomachs, our digestive process would
kick in and would soon compensate and warm us up, even if our core temperature
was lower than it should have been.
Now we had a chance to
look around and reflect upon the room which may have saved our lives. The room was only about 100 foot deep by 150
foot wide but an amazing 250-300 foot tall. It was what I call a rain room. A rain room always has a constant rain fall
from the ceiling. Some are like a light sprinkle and some are like a summers’
rain with many large drops. This room had
a steady summer-like rain falling from the center of the ceiling from a flat
spot of granite about 30 feet in diameter. This “rain” then fell on the top of a giant
mushroom-head. Well, not an actual
mushroom, but a mushroom best describes the 40 foot wide platform.
The rain fell onto the
top of the mushroom shaped platform into a pool of water that collected on top
and then equally and smoothly flowed over and down the rounded sides of the fringed edges of the mushroom or maybe
better described as a toadstool, shaped platform from where we had drank our
water. This toadstool platform was about
ten feet off the ground and was protruding 30 feet out from the back wall with
only about ten feet supported in the rear leaving an open canopy of at least 20
by 40 feet under the waterfall, which gently flowed from all sides equally onto
the pebbled floor below.
Although precarious looking, Curt and I felt comfortable
going behind the canopy of water and under this giant “Mushroom” since if it
was to fall, it would have done so long before from the water strain. We quickly found comfort nestled into the
“soft” small pebbles underneath the canopy.
It is not often that you get a storybook-like chance of us relaxing
behind a waterfall, hiding behind the curtain of water. How amazing it was for us to find a
waterfall, after roaming for miles under the earth’s surface and to watch it
fall more than 200 feet to gather in a pool, and then cascade over this magic
mushroom’s fall and enjoy it from underneath.
We were feeling pretty good at this point. Our bodies had finally had the chance to rest
and recuperate. The air was very cool in
this room with the waterfall, but underneath the falls we found relief for our
dehydrated and weary muscles and bones.
The foggy haze had dissipated from our brains and our vision had begun
to clear. We had everything we wanted in
a caving trip, except warmth and of course a way out.
We discussed our next move.
Curt described the hole he had found.
It opened up into a small room with a hole in the upper wall which could
lead to another area, but was definitely not the crawl we were looking
for. He also said that there were no
arrows or signs that anyone had ever been in there. The only positive sign that his find could
lead to another possible way out was bat guano on the floor. If there was a lot of bat traffic, they had
to be headed out, because there was no signs of any bats after exiting the same
hole back into the collapse dome. The
last place that we saw arrows and did not continue on was where the rock almost
fell on Curt’s head. We were refreshed
and of good spirits so we decided to try that new area and see where it led or
if we could find any other arrows. Of
course, we would keep our eyes open as we traveled for the original crawl and
take it if found.
And so we began again, out from under the waterfall,
another good drink of water, out of the rain room and through the hallway to
the collapse dome. Then down the steep
outer side to the base exiting to the familiar four way junction; Through the
twisting water chasms to the end of the path that opened up at the top.
This time, Curt stayed out of the way until I reached the
top and called for him to come up. Once
up, we both sat intrigued by what we saw.
Across a ten foot wide canyon 30 to 40 feet deep was a
large room that seemed to light up like daylight as we peered inside. The room looked like the moon, soft and
grey. The water chasms and even the
climb up was smooth and black with no debris other than a pebble here and
there. As if crossing into a new
dimension, this room was different.
Different even from any clay dirt or rock found in any cave I had seen
before. It was too far to jump safely as
the soft grey mud was rounded and smooth at the edge of the other side, giving
us nothing firm to grab hold of to avoid a deadly fall. There was, however, a log like crossover from
our side to the other side. It was about
two feet around and long enough to straddle our legs around and scoot to the
other side. The problem was that we
couldn’t tell if it was a long skinny rock covered in this grey mud or just a
clump of mud that would break as soon as we were halfway across. I dug my hands five or six inches into the
soft mud and found no rock. I climbed underneath
and looked and felt for rock, but only found mud. I call it mud, but it would best be described
as lunar dust. You could make a
footprint in it three or four inches deep just like the one you see on the moon
landing pictures. If was soft and light
as dust, but as soon as you went to pull your foot back out, the moisture was
present enough deeper in the mud to cause suction as you pulled your foot back
We were both interested enough to want to explore this
room, so I held on as best as I could and cautiously pressed my weight onto the
mud log, which was the only path to this room.
Although it seemed to be only a stick of mud, it seemed willing to hold
my weight, so with one leg on each side, I slowly straddled the mud log to the
other side and then told Curt to do the same.
Even though the top layer was soft, dry, grey, moonlike dust, we called
this the mud room because our feet sunk sometimes to our ankles as if we were
walking in a swamp. Plus the mud
collected on our boots causing every step to be a slippery situation. We would have to kick the mud off the soles
of our boots, as it would collect thick enough and heavy enough to make walking
The room was a delight to behold. It was 30 feet tall and round shaped, probably
about 300 feet across. There were large
rocks here and there as if placed around the room so that none would touch the
other. It looked like the moon. The rocks, the walls, the floor and even the
ceiling seemed to be totally covered in this grey mud as if it fell like dust
upon the floor. It was so powdery and
dry on the surface that it would blow away like lava dust, but would cake into
a wet mud once pressure was applied. I
didn’t want to leave a bunch of deep ugly footprints to stay forever and ruin
the unique “lunar” look of the room, so we stayed to the outer right wall and
rounded our way to the back.
At the back, right-hand side of this lunar-like mud room,
there was a large opening into a large room that was made up of familiar
looking rocks and clay. The only question
as to move forward or not was that the opening we were standing at was at least
20 feet up the wall. This would require
what I refer to as a leap of a faith. I
explained to my brother that if we jumped or slid down into this area, there
would be little hope in getting back up.
I have made many “leaps of faith” in my adventures and I
have never regretted them, and even if I could have, I had never had to go back
the same way. On one adventure, my leap
of faith was a 30 foot drop from a hole in a ceiling into a stream. I knew that stream had to lead somewhere, and
after two days in the cave, that particular leap of faith landed me within five
minutes of the exit.
We both knew that we were totally lost. This new area looked much like the heart of
the cave and there seemed to be good airflow.
Once we both agreed to the chance of no return, we took our first leap
of faith together.
We landed without injury in a large clay room of another
cave system. The room was long and wide
and we walked for a short while in what we felt was the right direction, but
nothing was becoming familiar to me. At
the back of this room there was another opening that had a steep clay slide
deep down into another room. To me this
was a good sign. The rocks, walls and
floors were all the “regular” cave type and I felt if we continued on we would
be at least making progress in a new direction in which we hadn’t already tried
a dozen times. But, as before, we were
up against another leap of faith. We
would have to slide down a steep clay slope into a room where we would not see
the bottom. I told Curt that I felt we
could survive the slide without any more pain than the previous leap of faith,
and if we needed to get back up we could dig out foot steps in the steep clay
wall and possibly make our way back up.
Curt said that one leap of faith was enough and he was unsure about
another. He said that if we could make
it back to the collapse dome that he would like to try his hole he had found
before we risked a leap of no return.
Since this new cave system seemed to be headed deeper and we were trying
to work towards the surface, we both agreed to head back. We just needed to jump 20 feet back up into
the mud room.
When we reached the back wall, we were faced with a
vertical climb of only 20 some feet, but the wall was mostly smooth and there
didn’t seem to be any hand or footholds.
There was a rock sticking out about five inches, 15 feet up, but even if
I could get Curt up there or my shoulders there would be no way for him to lift
me up hanging onto a five inch rock.
There was, however, an indentation to the left and a crack to the right
just big enough to get my fingers in.
Since the indentation for my feet and the crack for my hands were about
six feet apart, I had to very slowly work my way up with my body in a
horizontal position until I could place one of my feet on the rock that stuck
out about 15 feet up. After falling two
or three times, I had just about had enough when I tried a different
approach. With my back to the wall and
doing the splits to the point I felt my pelvic bone would break, I managed to
inch my way up with Curt’s help. Once I
inched my way to the rock 15 feet up, I could then pull myself up to stand on
it and pull myself up into the mud room.
That was a long and painful trip back up a leap of faith.
Curt came next. He made it in one try. It must have been my coaching. Ha, more like learning from my mistakes.
Now we were back in the mud room and crossed the beam and
down and through the maze of water chasms back to the junction where we
rested. We had no trouble falling
asleep, but we did have trouble waking up.
I woke up and couldn’t move from the hypothermia that had set in to our
muscles. I had to talk Curt awake. I would have feared he was dead if I hadn’t
heard his shaky voice telling me that he couldn’t move.
That’s when I broke prison rule #1. Never spoon another man. I told him that we had to be in the spoon
position and try to warm each other up.
We held on to each other and tried to absorb each others body heat,
rubbing arms and hands to get the blood flowing. Within a few minutes we were able to stand up
in a hunched over position as the deep shaking of our stomach muscles shook to try
and warm our body temperature.
“So, how do you like caving now?” I asked him. His unintelligible chattering teeth clattered
back nonsense. “We need to walk back and
forth, jump up and down and warm our body temperature,” I said. We paced back
and forth silently until we could stand up straight. We were both still shaking uncontrollably but
started moving as that was the only way to warm up. We headed out to the collapse dome and up the
steep wall to the left, to the hole Curt had found earlier.
The entrance was a narrow crack maybe ten inches tall by 24
inches wide and eight to ten feet long before it opened up into a larger room. Since it was such a narrow entrance, I suggested
he check it out first and let me know if it was worth coming in. The narrow part was difficult but descended
down into the room making it easy to get in.
It was not long until I heard Curt call back that the room
was not large but had another opening into a larger room and he thought that I
should join him.
I slid down the narrow entrance, the solid rock on top and bottom kept me from
breathing anything but a shallow breath.
To make it worse, there was a bump on the floor that made my ribs on my
right side crackle as I did my best to expel all air and slide and pull myself
down. This was definitely not the
opening we were looking for as Curt had hoped it would be. I gasped in gratefully, large gulps of air as
I pulled myself free from the crushing hold of the rock. I looked over to see Curt about 10 feet up the
side wall where there was another hole.
“This is up and could be another way out” he said. “Climb up here and hold my feet so I can get
a better look”. I climbed up and pushed
his feet as he pulled his body up with his arms to get a good look into the
next chamber. “Bring me back down” he
said. It was another chamber of sleeping
bats. A good 10 feet tall pyramid of
guano meant lots and lots of bats. While
the bats were obviously flying out somewhere, it could have been through a
small crack and was not worth disturbing them.
Curt headed out of the room first wriggling up the narrow
crawl. Even though there were not any
falling rocks, you don’t wait to be stuck behind someone when you can’t take a
full breath. Like I stated before, when
in such a tight squeeze it is usually impossible to back up as your clothes
will bunch up wedging you in to slowly suffocate.
With my head and feet turned sideways, I headed up at a
safe distance behind Curt. I soon caught
up as he was having trouble. Sliding
down hill ten feet through a narrow slice in the rock is easy. Moving back up, however, takes the use of
fingers, arms, legs and feet. Just the
flexing of the muscles was causing the passage to be too tight and the
additional effort was causing him to have additional trouble breathing. He said that he was stuck on that bump I
mentioned and wanted to come back down and after a fresh breath try again. This unfortunately, was not an option and I
could tell by the frustration in his voice that his panic instincts were
starting to take over. If I could not
talk him calm, he could hyperventilate, suffocate and trap us both. I asked him how close the exit was and he
replied that it was only three or four feet away, that his hands were able to
reach the opening, but there was nothing to grab onto. Also, he said that there was nothing to press
his feet against and if he tried to press forward with his elbows, his chest
would expand and cause him to be stuck more.
He was unsure how or why he was stuck, when he was so easily able to
slide down. But that was exactly the
hard lesson we were now learning, that to slide down an opening as tight that
you had to let the air out of your chest would be unwise as it would take some
chest expansion and much more effort going back out as you can’t slide up a
hill no matter how smooth the slide.
There was only one option I could see. That was for me to move up close to him and
let him use me for his footing. I told
him to spread his knees as far as he could like swimming the frog-stroke and I
would move up and holding his feet he should be able to push his way forward
out of the hole using only his feet. I
became some what worried as to how I would get out, but did not express it at
that time. Curt was relaying to me that
the bump in the smooth rock was causing him pain and he was having more and
more difficulty breathing. I explained
that because your heart and pancreas are located on the left side of your
breastbone, there was less room to flatten your chest and get over that bump
that was now on our left side. Unfortunately,
there was no way around this bump. On the count of three, I took as deep of a
breath as I could to wedge myself in between the crack and to give Curt the
leverage he needed to use his feet against my hands to get out. After a few seconds which seemed forever, he
was past the bump and able to pull himself out of the hole.
As I lay there listening to him catch his breath, I began
to ponder a solution as to how I would escape this crag. I knew that if the lump was painful for him
that it would be near impossible for me.
I thought about trying to go back down and then head uphill backwards,
pushing with my hands to keep the bump on my right ribs but the path was too
steep and there was no backing up. I
told Curt to stay put until I got out and I began to inch my way up the narrow
slope. There was nothing to use as a
handhold or a foot hold so I made my way using my stomach muscles like a snake.
I would pull my stomach up an inch than
let the air out of my chest and press my stomach against the floor to push
This worked ok until I came up to that bump in the rock. There was no way to avoid it. It would press directly on my sternum or on
my ribs just to the left of center. I pushed
and pulled and tried with no success.
The path seemed impassible but there was only one choice, to move on no
matter the cost.
I had begun to notice the pounding of my heart in my head
had decreased and that the pressure from the lump was causing my heart to
pulsate rapidly. I knew the feeling of a
heart that was about to explode from pressure as a humane way to finish off a
rabbit or a bird while hunting. I told
Curt that it was an emergency to get me out.
I could black out at any second due to lack of blood flow and that my
heart could pop like so many of the feeder rabbits that I used to kill. I told Curt to brace his feet on the rocks at
the exit, grab my hands and at the count of three and I would let all my air
out forcibly. Since I would probably be
passing out he would have to pull me out no matter what. Curt probably weighs 30-40 pounds less than
me, plus I would be dead weight that was also stuck literally between a rock
and a hard place. I told him that my
ribs could break but no matter what noise I made, he had to promise to pull me
out or I would exasperate on the spot. When
ready, I took one last small breath using my stomach muscles not my lungs and
said “Now” as I forcibly pushed all the air out of my chest. I felt the ribs on my left side separate from
the cartilage on my sternum and felt and heard several loud cracks.
It took everything and more for Curt to pull me out. He had to pull so hard that he dislocated his
shoulder pulling me out.
I felt something new at this point, as I sat leaning
against the edge of the hole. As I relaxed against that wall, as I felt the
pain of a newly freed heart beating like thunder against the inside walls of my
broken ribs, as my body shook violently (this time from shock not dehydration),
as I gasped in painful gulps of air ; I felt hopelessness ; I felt defeated.
Up to this point, no matter how desperate the question, I
was always able to answer Curt’s questions with faith and hope and experience
that this was a normal situation. That I
had been this way and felt this way, in caving adventures, a hundred times
I don’t know how long we sat there silent, trying to get
past the realization that the rest of our journey would be accompanied with the
pain of our injuries. I thought mostly
of how foolish I had been to have made a mistake that not only could have cost
my life, but one that had also changed me from guiding my brother in an
adventure, to just a partner in a duel with a mountain that was now gaining an
advantage in this game of live or die.
When the silence was finally broken, it was Curt who asked
“Are you ok? “. I tried to control the
shakiness of my voice as I leaned my head against the wall, closed my eyes to
the mountain above and simply said “No”.
“What about you?” I asked. Curt said that he had dislocated his shoulder
when he was pulling me out. He was trying to push it back in and I told him to
stop, that he was doing it wrong and could damage his socket. I told him how he needed to put his right fist
on his chin and using his left hand, push his right elbow up and over his head.
After a couple of tries it popped back into place.
I tried to come up with something positive to say, but
nothing said could quite motivate either of us to want to move on. I asked him if he was feeling better. He said that he was fine. Fine?? All I could think about was the acronym of
Freaked out, Insecure, Neurotic and Emotional. Yeah, we were both feeling
F.I.N.E.. I stood up and tested the
ability of my broken lungs. Actually
ribs were all that were broken, but it was my lungs that took the beating. One thing that made it somewhat easier is the
hyperventilating type of breathing that you have to do in a cave. Between the exhaustion and especially the
100% humidity our lungs were filling full of fluid from the moist air that we
were breathing in. We breathed in short
steady gasps using our diaphragms as if our lungs were being pumped by our
stomachs and not our chests. Besides the
pain, a deep breath would cause us to cough, gagging on the fluids built up in
our lungs. This pneumonia like affect
would last a few days after any humid cave adventure.
At this point we didn’t want to move, but we also did not
want to stay. We decided to rest before
we ventured further and we felt most comfortable resting at the junction.
I am not sure why at this point that we always felt safest
at the junction. I think that we knew we
had the most options from that point and it was a good starting spot. We both felt for some reason that if we could
choose the right path from the junction, we would find our path out.
As we lay down on our resting spot, we lay on our sides, I
raised my knees and wrapped my arms around my brother knowing that the rest we
needed could also be our death from hypothermia. It was almost involuntary action to hold him
tight as my muscles shook from dehydration and hypothermia. Soon our bodies would warm each other and the
shaking would subside in our stomachs allowing us to drift off into death’s
slumber. Before we drifted off I told
Curt that I was sorry; that I never intended or even expected us to get
lost. He wasn’t overly concerned about
being lost yet but asked if we could just stay there and rest until help
arrived. He knew that both our wives would
start worrying by Sunday night and send out a rescue party. He thought that it would be best to rest here
until help arrived. “Wish-full thinking” I said. For one thing, we were not in the main cave
system. There was little chance they
could find the small hole we had entered without a dog and no dog larger than a
dash-hound would be able to make its way to us. We had to face the fact that we were more than
two miles from the normal cave system and in an area only one other person had
been in and that was long before. “No one will find us” I said. It was definitely up to us to escape.
Knowing that we would be disorientated by the hypothermia
when we woke up, we decided to head through the water canyons to the mud room,
take that second leap of faith and see if we could make any progress that
way. All other ways had been explored to
Here we lay ourselves to sleep and quietly prayed for the
Lord to keep, to wake us with our minds bright, and lead us to our exit
I am not sure how long we slept, probably only 15-20
Long enough for the heat we
gave each other to have dried out the moisture in our chests and backs. Not too long though.
I literally shook myself awake from hypothermia. My arms and legs were still wet and my
muscles seemed frozen as I tried to move my hands to Curt’s shoulder so I could
wake him. It seemed that several minutes
went by before he started to move. I was
worried that he had passed away in his sleep.
My hands were too shaky to check for his pulse and the haze in my mind
did not allow me to recognize any movement from breathing. His breathing and heartbeat were undetectable
to me. I took both my hand and clenched my frozen
fingers to a fist and pounded him on the back calling his name. “Curt, Curtis,
wake up Curt.” “I need you to wake up
With more of a low groan then a verbal reply he told me to
leave him alone, that he wanted to rest just a little longer. I told him that his mind was playing tricks
on him and that if he did not wake up, he would die and he would not see his
wife, Mandy or his daughter, Dakotah.
I’m not sure if he understood what I was saying or if my
relentless pounding was what finally woke him but I was able to get him to sit
up. He sat there in a daze and said that
he was having trouble seeing again.
Besides the mental haze that we both suffering from, Curt also had
contacts in that were clouded from two days without eye-drops and from the
By this time I was on my feet trying to stay up-right on my
shaky legs. I reminded him that we both agreed before
going to sleep that we would go through the mud room to the other cave system
and that to keep our minds clear we could not change our plans. I told
him to stand up. That we would have to
stay standing up, shaking until we could walk without falling and then we would
walk in circles back and forth in the junction room until our minds were clear
and the exertion had let the blood flow back into our arms and legs so that we
could continue on.
After a few minutes of stumbling around our junction room,
it was time to work up a sweat and head toward the only area we had not fully
explored. I said that I would lead as I
could tell he was still in a fog. “Come
on. We have to stay moving. I know you are tired” I said to him as we
headed once more to the water channel maze which we had almost memorized by
this time. Truth be told I don’t know
that he was any more tired than I was at that point. All I know for sure is that we almost didn’t
wake up that last time and that our time was running out.
We made it through the maze of water channels, up to the
mud room, across the mud log and back around to our first leap of faith we had
taken before. I was worried that this
time our strength had been depleted enough that we would not be able to climb
back up this one, let alone the next one.
Well, we came to the spot that we had both agreed not to
take hours or days earlier because it was a long clay slide and it would
probably be too steep to climb back up. We
could not see the bottom either. I told
him to control his decent by lying on his back with his arms and legs spread
apart, that his pounds per square inch would be less this way. If you sit up and try to stop with your feet,
as your instincts tell you to do, then all your weight is placed on your butt
and the heel of your shoes giving gravity the luxury of less friction, to pull
you to the bottom, which at this point neither of us could see.
I still had my bowie knife and I assured him that we could
cut steps into the clay to get back up if we needed. “Ready?” I asked. With nothing further to say, we both
instinctively took in deep breaths and began our blind slide down. Good news is that the clay slide only lasted
around 30 feet; bad news is that we couldn’t see the bottom from the top
because of the straight drop off at the bottom that we could only see as a
We both hit bottom at about the same time and were
instantly reminded of our earlier injuries.
Holding my ribs with my right hand, I rolled over to see how far we had
fallen. It felt like thirty feet, but
was luckily only around ten to twelve feet.
Do-able if we needed to climb back up.
We quickly gathered our wits and looked around. We were both excited to see that the floor in
this area was made up of all small rocks.
I hoped that they were river pebbles and that we could follow this dry
river bed out of the cave.
Unfortunately, after a couple of hundred yards, we came upon another
Dead would be the appropriate word if we were to take
another leap of faith. The wall was
directly in front of us as we came up to an opening to our right. The opening was a vast, seemingly bottomless
pit. On better days and only by myself,
I may have looked for a way down to unseen depths below but we were in no shape
to make such a difficult climb. Plus
even if this could turn into a way out, we wanted to go up and out. This was
not up and was way, way down.
Exhausted beyond measure, we said nothing as we turned
around to head back. I remember looking
down that abyss and feeling the mountain as if it was saying “Check” in a game
of chess. It was undeniable, and the
heaviness of my heart felt the nagging pull of helplessness. I was not afraid but we needed more than
courage to proceed. We had to
concentrate on our families at home waiting.
I imagined their worry of safe return to be worse than ours and felt
compelled to ease their burden not mine.
Courage is not the absence of fear but the strength to overcome that
fear and move on. This time fear was
embraced as a will to survive. The push
from the darkness behind to take one more step. One step at a time, one step towards
When we finally made it back to the junction, it was only
met with total exhaustion and the mind numbing blur that this was probably the
end of the line.
We had managed to make it up both of our “leaps of faith”
with each others help. The climbs were near impossible with our injuries and
fatigue. We had drank water from the
bottom of one of the water chasms but we were sweating so much from exertion
that we were steaming more water than we could take in. At the junction we collapsed on our resting
spot unable to move any further. We had
explored and re-explored all areas enough that we felt the only way out was through
the collapse dome.
Our escape had to be in the collapse dome also, because
neither of us had the energy to travel to the other areas again. Death’s slumber was upon us and we could do
nothing but rest if we were to have any chance of survival. By this time we had
been in each area six or more times and had come back to rest. One definition of insanity is trying the same
thing over and over and getting the same result, but expecting another outcome.
This time as we curled up, we knew it would probably be our
last. As our pulses began to slow we
seemed only able to talk in whispers. I
told Curt again just how sorry I was. He
said that he placed no blame on me and that if this was his time to go, that
his heart was ready and eager to meet his Lord and Savior. Curt asked if I was sure that Heaven was my
next step also. I said, “Yes”. I explained again how in the cave I am always
100% sure. I reminded him of my thoughts
and asked him if his were the same; that while in the cave I am in constant awe
of the Great Creator and it is the one place where I felt totally in tune with
the Spirit. That in the cave I
understand the term “praying without ceasing”.
That in the cave I am in constant, silent prayer. Even my short breaths breathe in and out to
the tune of the hymns of old; Mostly “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty”. Not a step is taken without a silent “Thank
you” to God for the last step.
It was at this point that I believe Curt finally gave in to
the fact that we were in a real death situation. He mentioned that he had been holding on to
the hope that I had known where the exit was all along and that I just wanted
to give him a “total” caving adventure and would now say that it was all a test
and show him the way out. He didn’t know
and could not imagine how bad I would have wanted that to be true also.
Our worries at this time were not for us, but for our
families. We talked about how our wives
would react. The denial of our death
would be the hardest for them to overcome. How could they give up on us if our bodies
were never found? We discussed our lack
of anger and emotion. We were overcome with an overwhelming sense of peace,
that somehow this was God’s will. We
just couldn’t understand what benefit or lesson God could use to benefit our
families. Our families on both sides
were of strong Christian backgrounds.
Our father and brother were pastors, our families were Christians, plus
how could it be God’s will to take two sons when He had plenty of previous
opportunities to take mine. If I died,
it would be my life taken while doing something I loved. I accepted the risk of caving. Why would He want my brother also?
I learned from the Bible in the book of Job that the most
important thing to say and truly believe that it is God’s will to be done, not
ours. I told Curt in a whisper “To Him
be all glory and praise.” Curt said that
he wanted us both to pray out loud, and he began to pray. I listened to his prayer as he said “Lord, we
need your help. We are lost and cannot
find our way. Our energy and hope have
depleted. We have tried every avenue,
but cannot find our way. Without you
there is no hope. Please light our path
and show us the way. It is in You that
we place our hope and trust. Show us the
way and give us the strength to take your path. Thy will be done.”
Curt then said I should also pray. I told him that I had no fancy words, but that
I had a prayer that I prayed every day. He wanted to hear it, so I prayed my simple
prayer I had memorized. “Dear Lord, please
forgive me for everything I’ve done against your will up to this very second. I’m sorry for my sins. Please help me live a life that is honorable
to You. Help me to shine like Joseph in
the workplace and please help me stand out like Joshua at home.” Then I added “No matter what the outcome,
all glory, honor and
praise.” It was silent for a moment as I
fought the lump in my throat as I said “Please take care of my family”.
Curt asked if I would pray the “Lord’s prayer” with him so
we recited together: “Our Father, who art in Heaven, Hollowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on Earth
as it is in Heaven. Give us this day our
daily bread, and forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver
us from evil. For Thine is the kingdom,
and the power and the glory forever. Amen”.
It is amazing how each sentence seemed to apply even to our
situation. We felt alone. His will would be done. What we wouldn’t give for a simple piece of
bread. Deliver us from evil. On Earth,
In Earth? Our only hope was in the
physical salvation of Jesus Christ. Only
He could show us the way.
Curt said that he had a secret that he might as well tell
me since this seemed to be our end. He
told me that his wife, Mandy was pregnant. That they were going to wait three months at
least before the announcement as she had previously miscarried and had lost the
last child. We felt some comfort in
knowing we would see our families again, even if it was to be in Heaven.
We talked about what options our two families would have to
survive. All of our parents would be
supportive enough to take them in. I
even thought that with Paula’s two degrees, she could work and Mandy could
watch the kids. Either way they would
probably end up closer to family, but could become good friends as a
result. Somehow we knew that if this was
God’s will; that He would provide a solution.
“Just be quiet and rest now” I said. We were both too tired to even talk. “It won’t hurt, we will just go to sleep” I
said to him. He grabbed my hands and
held them close to his chest. My chest
shook from a couple of silent sobs, but was covered up by the shakes. My body was too dehydrated to shed a tear. Tears were not necessary though for we had
been given the gift of peace, and peacefully we went to sleep.
Or so I thought. Curt stayed awake mentally enough to keep
These are his words from a
letter he wrote our parents:
“That is when I began to
pray. Pray for peace; pray for help;
just pray for a way out.
Not too many people can
say that they have ever had a time in their life when they knew, beyond a
shadow of a doubt, that they were going to die. I have. We both had given in to the fact that
we were going to die down there, but we may as well keep moving and going as
long as we possibly could.
If you remember, we
didn’t have our packs of food, water or emergency blankets with us. We were licking water off of rocks just to wet
our throats. Yet through it all there was a peaceful feeling in my soul.
Even when I thought we
would surely die, I knew God was in control. You know the Bible says, ‘Ask, and
it shall be given unto you’. Do you know
how unrealistic that is? If you were to
ask for a cheeseburger, would you get it?
Not unless you were driving to that fast food joint yourself with money
in your pocket. If we are not in the
right line with God our prayers will seem to be unanswered. So how do we get in the ‘right line’ with God?
I found two things in
the dark that made me calm. One was a story of a man at the bottom of a ladder
that leads to Heaven with Jesus sitting at the top. Jesus looks down and says, “Come to me, but
you can’t use the ladder.” The man sits
down and for years does nothing, but thinks through all of the world’s
knowledge of flight, religions, etc.., anything that we know on earth to try
and figure out how to do this. Finally,
in utter frustration, he throws up his hands and says, “I can’t do it!” At that very moment, Jesus reached down and
said, “That’s it!” and brings him up.
The point was WE are nothing. We
are pointless. We can’t do it. There is no power in ourselves. Yet, there is a power in God that can move
mountains. When we realize that it is
not US showing people God that we reflect Jesus like the moon reflects the sun,
only then will people be changed. “Not
by works that any man should boast…”
The second thing that I
found was this: We don’t ask right. Once we have given all to Jesus we then are
prepared to ask. What does the Bible
say? “Ask in the name of the Lord Jesus
Christ…” We can’t go near God. We have no right to ask anything of God. But through the High Priest and Mediator Jesus
Christ, who we can hide behind, we can go into the Father’s presence and ask
I thought of these while
in the cave that we thought was our tomb.
Isn’t that ironic on
God? As if to say “Give it to ME and let
ME show you how to get out. That way you
can glorify ME and not yourself.
The next time when we
went to rest, for five minutes or more I kept repeating, “In the name of the
Lord Jesus Christ, show us the way out” – over and over, again and again.
At one point, when I was
praying down there, my brother said, “You realize, greater men than us have
asked for a miracle and not gotten one.”
So why would God choose to hear our prayers?
This one thing, I
know: when life has you down, think – “I
am alive!” I know I will because I have
seen death and felt its talons gripping my life. I have watched as the life drained from my
body. I once was dead, but now I am
resurrected! To what reason and for what
purpose is for God to know and to reveal to me in His time. Until then, I will tell the world of Him, and
the mighty, marvelous and miraculous power of prayer.”
Soon after, he was calling my name. I woke and sat up in a daze. I wasn’t sure if we were dead or alive. We agreed to try one more, small trip into
the collapse dome. We got up, stumbled
around, but couldn’t move enough to walk more than 15 to 20 feet before giving
up. We couldn’t stay alert enough to
know which direction to go and were worried about looking our way even 20 feet
back to our resting spot. We were at near
total mental breakdown. We couldn’t keep
a thought long enough to even complete a single sentence. All we could do is look at each other in the
dim haze of our run down LED lamps and say “what?” and “I don’t know.” I would try to say something, but could only
mumble unintelligible sounds not remembering what I intended to say. With no mental or physical stamina we
stumbled back to lie down. This time we
Sometime after, I heard a voice as of wind whispering my
name and felt someone behind me grasping my ribs. I could not move as I was at first frozen by
fear. I asked “What is your name and who
sent you?” What seemed to be a female
voice answered “I am Wendigo and I am here to help”. “Great,” I said and I turned to look at this
gift of God.
When I saw her, I recognized her not by sight, but by
remembrance of a prior meeting when she held me back from saving a cousin from
her clutches, as a young 9 year old drowned, in a lake years earlier.
This creature, angel or spirit, had features strange to
behold. I could see right through her
and yet she was solid, made of crystal ice or glass. The robe she wore waved as if blowing in a
strong breeze, as did her hair, but the ends of her robe crinkled and crumbled,
falling to the floor, although never getting any shorter. She was cold as ice, but seemed more like
clear water glass that flowed down to the floor in constant motion. She had black eyes, but a calm face.
Without voicing my question, she answered “Like with
Jessica, I am here to ease the suffering and give Curt a peaceful death.” “What?” I shrieked. “Not Curt, take me instead, take both of
us. Better yet show us the way
out.” “I’m only here for Curt. His strength is depleted,” she said.
She had hands, but her fingers were like long shards of
glass. She put her hands through me and
was reaching into Curt when I yelled “NO!”
“You will not take him without taking me. I will not go home to give Mandy this
news.” She said, “But it is not your
time.” I grabbed her hands argued with
her, wrestling her glass, knife like fingers away from Curt. She was immovable as rock and she never lost
the calmness of her voice.
She said: “Death is
inevitable, we all die. All that you are
and all that you have done is culminated in your death. You have been fortunate enough to have some
prior warning to become more truly who you are.
If you can see death as a friendly companion on your life’s journey, you
will not want to wait until tomorrow.”
I said: “I recognize you
and feel your comforting folds of friendship.
We have had many adventures together and I am better for it. I have learned to tune out life as most know
it. I have taken further notice in the
budding of spring leaves, I wonder at the beauty of the sun rising each morning
and night. Only in embracing you as my
friend and companion have I learned to appreciate life.”
She said: “Curt is coping well
with his own approaching death. You must
resolve the crisis of his dying in a dignified way.”
I said: “Curt and I have
shared our “secret” fears and joys. It
is in our faith that we found something in common. Our faith in God is the wondrous ingredient
that, in sharing, gave us the realization of our own humanness. We want to live and have something to show
God, that we have not wasted our lives.
You cannot take him without explaining why.”
She said: “Everyone must
die. The only reason it is hard to die,
even when you have accepted death as reality, is because you can’t see beyond,
and find it hard to give up life on earth.
I said: I am finding
difficulty coping with the fact that we are both dying and yet you are here for
him and not us both.
She said: It was your choice
to take this adventure to commune with natures’ Creator. I know you will feel insecure and alone without
Curt. Just admit that you care. You may
ask why, but we don’t give answers.
I said: Wait! Don’t go away, all I want to know is that you
will be here for me when I need you. I
am afraid. Death may be routine to you but it is new to me. I have come close enough before to know of you
but this time is unique. I don’t want to
die alone. I don’t want either of us to
die. Give us another chance.
She said: Everyone must die. Human mortality cannot be denied. Death is not the end, but a transition from
your human state to another.
I said: In faith, I know
that Curt and I are ready to transcend. It
is our families with which we are concerned.
She said: Death is the natural
end of human existence. It comes
inevitably and is accepted at the decree of the Eternal and Righteous Judge. It is the end of one stage and the beginning
of another. These last moments before
death help you affirm your faith in God precisely when it is most challenged.
Death’s journey is the most mysterious and unknown experience a human will
experience in life. I am only here to
comfort you as you share in Curt’s vigil.
I said: I can see Curt
dying. I can feel myself dying. I can deal with that. How can my family come to terms with our
deaths if our bodies are never found? It
will be hard for them to accept the reality of our deaths.
Dying is easy,
living is hard. I am willing to take the
hard road. Let me have the opportunity
to live. Where is MY choice? I accept God’s judgment. I hear you speak, but why is my voice not
was fighting back the tears. Not because
I was afraid to cry, but because if I did cry, it would make death real. I was not ready to say good-by. Death and
grief can be our curse or our glory depending on how we choose to handle it. I understood that what was happening was
supposed to happen. This death angel kept reminding me of that. Such helplessness I have never felt at any
other time. When this Wendigo said again that it was Curt’s time, we both wept,
Wendigo and I.
kept talking, this death angel and I, we stared, we talked, and we shared. Most
of all she took the time to help me though my shock and disbelief as I began
the emotional acceptance of what was happening. I had to come to grips with the reality of his
I said: When will you let
She said: I don’t want him to
die but He has already decided.
I said: I cannot deny
God, and intellectually I understand, but emotionally I deny it. It is tragic, horrible and unwanted.
She said: You have been given
peacefulness and comfort. What more can
I said: I will not accept
his death as justified. I see no purpose
served. I can’t handle the guilt of his
death. The shame of bringing him on my adventure, and then to have his death on
my hands. So quickly I learned to love
him and want him to live, only to be faced with his death.
She said: Only God knows why. He is the Righteous Judge. Experiencing this grief is wearing but it is
also enriching and fulfilling. Some of
the most beautiful people are those who have suffered and known defeat. To have
known loss and to have found their way out of the depths and the nooks and
crannies of life’s experiences gives those people a new appreciation and
understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep
loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.
I said: You speak as if I
am to understand my family’s loss. Am I
now to die also?
She said: Growth comes in many
ways. If there is love, there is love in
life as well as in death. If we choose
to love, we must also have the courage to grieve.
I said: Why him? Why not me?
She said: Death follows no
predictable timetable, but chooses its own time and place.
I said: I don’t
understand why this is happening to me, but it is out of your comfort and your
tears that I have found beauty in death. I am just not ready to let go. This can’t be true. There has to be hope. I won’t give up now.
She said: There IS hope in
Christ. Don’t give up now. Think of this experience and what you have
I said: Let go of me. I can’t take this pain. I’m tired of fighting.
She said: If you are tired of
fighting then there is no more hope, and I will have to let you go.
I said: Not yet. I don’t
want to be alone. If it has to be his
time, then don’t let him suffer. He is too young to die.
She said: Who is to know when
it is the right time to die?
I said: I feel so angry.
For some unknown reason it is his time
and not mine. I do not know why. I don’t want to disappoint him. I want to be strong for him but his death is
too much for me to comprehend.
She said: Will you forge
I said: I will do
whatever I can to the best of my ability. I will not give up. I can accept the fact that I will die, but I
cannot accept the fact that he could die at such an early age. Even if he has accomplished his goals, I
cannot let him go, even if there is not much hope. Give me the courage and strength to make this
final journey with dignity and let me try to find a way out. Dear God, please
help me find the way. (I never thought
that she would show the way)
She said: Stand up on your
feet. If you stand up on your feet, you
will not fall on your face.
I said: I can’t, I am
trying to. But my legs will not move.
She said: Tell them to move! Never mind the rocks and stones; I have a hold
of you. Come on Chris, you can do it. Wake up!
She finally pulled her
hands out of me and backed up. She ever so softly said over and over again as
she drifted away; “Ok Chris, if you want to live, wake up. Chris, you need to
wake up now. Come on, wake up,,,, wake up”,,,,,,
The helping spirit was
gone, but something was tugging at my arm. It was Curt! He was standing at my feet,
pulling on my arm saying “Chris, wake up, come on, you have to wake up now.”
“I thought you were
dead,” he said, as I tried to decipher dream from reality.
I stumbled to my feet
as he helped steady me as my legs seemed to be made of rubber. He said that he didn’t think we were going to
wake up and we needed to move around to get our blood circulating. Even with his concern, he had no idea just how
close to death he came.
I rose to my feet and
stumbled around enough to become somewhat alert, but by then we were so tired
that we both just sat down.
As I sat down, there
was a light bluish glow reflecting off a grey rock about twenty feet down a
narrow hallway that led to the collapse dome. Although my headlamp was on, the refection
seemed to stay, even if I turned the light away. Curt was having trouble seeing again and I
told him to stay put, that I was going to check something out and would be
As I headed down the
hallway to the collapse dome, I knew for sure that we had tried this path at
least a dozen times before, but I had never seen this rock shine blue. The rock stood three feet tall and four foot wide,
and at eight inches thick reminded me of a tombstone the way the front was
shining. All of the other rocks in the
collapse dome were different shades of brown. Even in my weak mental state, I knew this rock
had not previously been there as this was the same pathway Curt and I had taken
so many times to the collapse dome room and was also the path taken through the
collapse dome room to the waterfall room. We had taken this path dozens of times. This rock that was not in my memory was now
blocking the normal path as if it had fallen from the ceiling, which would not
have happened as this hallway was only ten foot tall and five-six feet
wide. It could have fallen from the roof
of the collapse dome and then rolled down here, but it was standing upright and
was imbedded into the floor. Out of
curiosity, I tried moving it but it would not budge. There were small rocks littered around the
base as if it had always been there. In
my current mental state, I could dismiss my memory to be in error, but my mind
seemed clear, and I remembered nearly every other rock and feature from our
many times of passing through that hallway from the junction to explore both
the collapse dome and the waterfall room.
No matter whether the rock had been there or not, it did
not explain the blue luminescent glow emitting from the rocks’ face that had
first got my attention. I got back to basics and sat down in front of
this curious illuminating oddity to discover the source of the bluish haze.
There was a coating of blue luminescent powder on the rock
face. I turned my headlamp, but it still
glowed. I rubbed the front of the rock in disbelief as
the powder brushed off the rock landing on the ground. There was not enough to pick up and
save. It just seemed to disappear. I left some of the blue, luminescent powder
on the front of the rock to show Curt to make sure I wasn’t the only one to see
it and moved around to the back side to see if this bluish haze was also on the
My feet rested down a small crevice, allowing me to sit in
a comfortable position, as I checked the back of the rock. I found no other
blue luminescent powder. I wanted Curt
to see this conundrum to hopefully raise his curiosity as it had mine. Curiosity is also the mother of adrenaline as
well as invention. Perhaps the angel had
been right and this mystery could be the awakening of our spirits that would
allow us to see clearly.
There were previously four times that I had thought we would
not wake up from our rest. I knew that
if I could get Curt to move that it would be our very last chance. I said a simple prayer for guidance. I always say that I will try never to pray
for silver or gold, but only for guidance, so that in times of need I may be
found worthy of my request. I prayed for
guidance and guidance I had been given, as I would soon find out.
I thought of Curt’s prayers earlier and how I listened to
him asking of God to open our eyes. That
we knew we were in the right place, but felt that for some reason our path had
been hidden from us. That there was
nothing we ourselves could do, but with prayer for guidance, God could light
the path, and show us our way home. It
is amazing just how true this proved to be.
The glowing rock that appeared out of nowhere and the angelic spirit
that told me to wake up and move, that a path would be laid out for me, but
most of all that we had to humble ourselves to deaths embrace in order to be
given our guidance.
As I struggled to stand up and go rouse Curt, my feet
knocked loose rocks that rattled down the crevice my feet had been resting
in. Although this just looked to be a
space between two large boulders, the small rocks fell out of sight. The rock furthest from me was covering a hole
that could not be seen from above, but only by sticking my head down between
the two rocks that I was sitting on. I
remember coming out of the small long crawl in an upward way between two rocks,
but did not realize the effect of the camouflaging, the rocks surrounding the
crevice had used, to hide this exit. The
crevice between the rocks was maybe twelve inches at most, but shining my
flashlight, while lying on the ground, with my head stuck down in that crack, I
could see that although narrow, it did continue on.
The small crawlway also matched my memory of the sharp
angle at which we originally had entered the collapse dome. Although my mind
and body were too weary to show my enthusiasm, my eyes had been opened and my
heart beat out in faith and gratitude to the One true Light that granted our
prayers for guidance.
As I approached the
pile of pebbles which had been our resting spot so many times before, I saw
Curt, lying on his side, curled up motionless on the mound. He was shivering
violently from everything; hypothermia, exhaustion, dehydration, muscle fatigue
but he was alive. Curt looked at me, but was unable to speak. I leaned over and
made eye contact with him and told him that I thought I had found our path. He
may have felt hope for me, but he told me later as he warmed up that he thought
his time had come.
I was warmed up from my activity and curled around him to
try to warm him back to full consciousness. I couldn’t help but wonder if I
would be able to rouse him. The angel had given us another chance, but I had
gone on alone. I couldn’t help but to think of “sweater man” in another upper
part of the main cave. There was a ledge that was very difficult to reach, but
on this ledge there were what appeared to be the remains of a man. Nothing but a pile of calcium dust and an
empty sweater. I wondered what our bodies would look like, frozen in time,
holding one another as we tried to stay warm, most likely never to be found. I made sure to stay awake as I let his body
absorb my extra heat. I whispered enthusiasm and faith and hope into his ear as
he slowly became more alert. There were no great words of courage emitting from
my mouth. No military-like pitches of “On your feet soldier” or “LET’S MOVE”. Just the quiet calming effect given by the
Holy Spirit and the sentence that I could not keep my mind, soul and tongue
from proclaiming. “Trust in the Lord, always, and lean not unto your own
understanding. Acknowledge Him in all your ways, and He shall direct your
There was no doubt in my mind that this path was given to
us in a supernatural way. My only doubt was as to whether this path that God
had given to us was to lead us to freedom from the cave as an exit, or as a
path to our final resting place. Either way we were at peace knowing that since
we had no energy to walk twenty feet, let alone a two mile crawl, that we were
held in the comfort of our Creator’s hands and we would follow the guidance He
There are no words that could begin to describe the peace
that we felt, wrapped up, totally encompassed by the Holy Spirit. I asked Curt
again if he could also feel the comforting presence of the Holy Spirit. He said
“Yes, totally”. Silently I tried to deal
with the guilt that I may still be walking my brother to his final resting
place. God’s will or not, I still felt responsible for this adventure.
Our last conversation before leaving our resting spot in
this junction room for the final time was of our new understanding of the
“fruits” of the Holy Spirit. The Bible says the fruits are “Love, Joy, Peace,
Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faith, Gentleness and Self control. Each one of
these “fruits” is so similar that it can be difficult to tell the difference,
but we could understand now that each one, while similar, represented emotions
and feelings distinctly different from the other. It made sense now why the Bible broke it down
LOVE: We learned that
beyond the love for our wives and our children, there was love for our Heavenly
Father and a brotherly love that I know I had never experienced before.
JOY: There is joy in
salvation, there was joy in our memories of our children’s innocent faces and
even joy in knowing and accepting death as the end of our adventure. Joy
PEACE: Peace was the most predominate fruit we experienced as all
worries were placed in the Father’s hands, knowing that no matter the outcome,
He would stay with us and our families as we were locked into His will.
PATIENCE: We learned
patience as we waited to die each time we had exhausted all hope and energy. We
learned to be patient in faith that God would give us guidance, even while
running into so many dead ends.
KINDNESS: I will never forget the kindness my brother showed me as he
continually placed no blame on me when I expressed my guilt for taking him on
an adventure that would end in his death as we both believed to be the case,
time after time.
GOODNESS: No matter what they were, our past sins were forgiven, and we
felt whole. Goodness was of a giving perspective also as we gave each other
comfort each time death approached us. The goodness of our souls, cleansed by
salvation, and the goodness that we knew would give our families peace if we
did not survive gave us relief if we did not survive.
FAITH: We never lost faith
in God, even as we gave up on life so many times. It was in faith alone that we
entrusted God to be the only answer in our quest for a path out. I faith alone
we knew that God’s will would be done and our families would be protected, no
matter the outcome.
GENTLENESS: Although every inch
of our bodies were in pain, there was gentleness like a cushion given each time
we laid down. It was as if in resting the rocks would form to our bodies shape,
giving us temporary ease of pain. I was amazed at the gentleness of my
brother’s spirit as he held on to my arm and held it close as we rested. That
gentle touch, I needed to know that he did not blame me. He trusted me as much
as a lamb unto the slaughter.
SELF CONTROL: We never
lost ourselves mentally to fear or panic. We were never even emotional. We were
never overcome by a selfish desire to live. We were given self control over our
physical capabilities to continue each time, to get up once more, and take
another path and try again.
With these “fruits” we rose from our resting place at the
junction with our eyes opened and tried once more. This time with the knowledge
that even not knowing the outcome, this path was our final answer to our
prayers for guidance. Once again I led my brother on another path. The
difference this time? The path was not
my own, but was guidance from my normal caving partner. I showed Curt what was shown to me. He to saw
the blue luminescence on the rock and rubbed it in amazement. I showed him the small crevice that was so
easily overlooked as the small pebbles between looked just like floor ruble and
the path could only be shown to him by putting my arm underneath the second
rock. Curt was still weak as sat leaning against the glowing rock. I offered to
check the path on my own first to let him rest for a few minutes
Entering this crevice
was a difficult task. The crevice was no more than twelve inches wide and no
more than 18 inches deep before turning 90 degrees back to a horizontal tube.
To enter, I first sat on the first rock with my feet in the hole as I had
before, Then I had to cross my feet so that I could hold myself up with my
hands, cross my legs Indian style and lower myself until my knees touched
bottom. Then I moved my knees forward as I lowered my butt to the floor. I sat
there for a moment with only my shoulders and head exposed. I rested my arms,
crossed over the rock in front of me and told Curt to pray that this would be
the path. Knowing that Curt was silently praying, I stretched my legs out straight
and turned my toes upright to check the height. Unfortunately my toes touched
the top. I put my feet back sideways and wriggled myself down, turning my head
sideways to allow space to make the sharp turn.
I just laid there for
a while looking up through the crack into the collapse dome. I said a silent
prayer of “Please Lord, let this be the right path.” As I thought this prayer,
I felt a long smooth breeze drift from my head to my toes as if the mountain
itself had breathed a deep sigh of relief. This was all the encouragement I
needed as even the mountain now seemed to breathe again as if back to life. A
mountain does breathe in and out, regulating temperature, and it’s breathe
flows from its mouth.
I started down at a
slight incline almost 50 feet before I reached an area that I could finally sit
up in a stooped over position to rest. This path seemed so right in faith and
in memory but I still wanted to make sure before calling Curt. I looked up to
see if further travel would require another belly crawl and my headlamp lit up
a bright white arrow on the opposite wall just a few feet away!
Looking at this arrow in disbelief, I quickly thanked the
Lord for His guidance. There it was, a bright whit arrow, painted on the wall
pointing towards the collapse dome. I nearly burst as I shouted “Halleluiah”. I
don’t think I have ever shouted that before but it busted out in joyful praise.
I thanked the Lord again over and over as I crawled back to Curt saying again
and again “To You be all glory honor and praise” for I had not found this path;
it had been given to us. I felt physically born again my body and mind flowed
with adrenaline as I headed back to the collapse dome. I still felt rushed with
Curt and hoped I would not see death’s angel around Curt again. It was too far to yell so I made my way back
up to Curt to tell him of the good news and that our prayers had been answered.
When I reached the small crack entrance to the collapse
dome I told Curt that I had found the way out. He was still too weak and he
asked me if I was sure. I told him to praise the Lord; I had seen an arrow and
felt the mountain’s breath so “Come on”.
After Curt began to move forward towards me I took one last look at the
bluish rock, looked towards the dark hallway as said a silent “Thank you to the
Wendigo, the helping spirit, and headed back down to the arrow to wait for
Curt. He yelled down asking how far I
was and to wait on him. I said that it was not far and to hurry up so I could
show him the arrow.
When he reached the arrow his tired daze turned to bright
eyed hope. Looking back, I was easy to see how we entered the collapse dome and
went straight through the hallway to the junction room and how near impossible
it would have been to have found the crevice we had come out of. To me the
hallway, at first, seemed to be a continuation of the long tunnel. It never
occurred to me that I couldn’t just turn back around and go back the way I had
come. With renewed bodies and minds, we
began the narrow crawl back.
It had not been more than twenty feet of crawling on our
hands and knees that the mountain reminded us of our injuries, sore muscles and
sore bones. With two miles to go we were
already needing to stop and rest. Curt
asked if we were going to make it. I told him that we had miles to go and
promises to keep, that I knew we could make it, even if it was one inch at a
time. I told him not to think of the
pain or the distance, to only think of proceeding one inch at a time. We had too much to loose by giving up. We could rest after each inch or foot if
necessary, but if we would persist, we would succeed. We could not let failure and doubt enter our
minds. All we could do was pray for the
strength to make the next movement and take the guidance that had been given to
For about 100 yards, the roof was three to four feet tall
and we found that we could scoot forward in a sitting position using our hands
and feet to move and receiving the benefit of sitting as we moved. It was not long though that we began to remember
more vividly “the devil’s crawl” as the path’s ceiling lowered and did not
raise more than twelve to eighteen inches at the most.
We moved ahead switching from our bellies to our backs as
the pain would become unbearable. I looked back at Curt as we began
squeezing through passage sections too tight to breathe freely and said “What
were we thinking?”
Our lungs were so full of fluid from the humid air we had
been breathing for so long, that the narrow squeezes seemed impassible. If we had not been 100% sure that this was
our path we would not have even tried to risk such narrow crawls, especially
now that we were injured. It was the
same as on the way in. The path would
have several hundred yards of spots so narrow that our heads and our feet had
to remain in a sideways position. In
these spots we developed a system of helping each other. The path was smooth, top and bottom, but
varied in an inch here or there. I was
leading and would scoot from left to right, sometimes zigzagging from side to
side to move forward. The path varied
from two-four feet wide. There was nothing to grab a hold of with my fingers so
I had to pull forward an inch at a time with my forearms.
could barely breathe and my feet would flail out in vain, gaining no advantage. This is where Curt grabbed my feet with his
hands, giving me the leverage I needed to move forward to breathe. We were too weak to keep moving further on
our own, so our system was in helping each other, inch by inch, by inch. Curt would hold my feet and I would pull
forward with my forearms using his hands as leverage until my legs were
straight. Then Curt would grab a hold onto the top of my boots and I would use
my legs to pull him forward. Then we
would repeat the process, over and over giving each other help with each inch
of the way.
opportunity came, we would turn our heads to face the opposite direction to
ease the stiffness and claustrophobic feeling of not being able to turn our
heads. If we could reach a spot where we
could breathe freely, we would rest. We never stopped to sleep and never rested
long before one of us would say that we needed to keep moving. We both knew we
had a long way to go.
Near the halfway
point, the roof opened up to two or three feet and after a few unrestrained
breaths we would travel through these areas on our backs. Our clothes were soaked with sweat and clay
and were stretched out and ripped from the narrow places. Such a grand adventure on the way in. Such a torturous crawl on the way out. Even knowing we were on the right path it was
of great comfort reaching a point where we could sit up to rest and see the old
bottle of spray paint we had found on the way in. Not much was said as we proceeded on, I just
kept saying occasionally, “This is it Curt.
We are going to make it!”
“We are going to make it” became a statement of hope more
than a statement of fact a the pathways seemed to stay so narrow that breathing
was constricted more often than not and moving forward was done only in the faith
that we had passed this way before, for the path that we were in and the path
that lay ahead seemed impassable. Hours
passed as we proceeded inches at a time.
Our minds began to cloud over in the mists of exhaustion. If the path would have been more than a few
feet wide or had any forks I don’t think we would have made it. I could not concentrate on the paths as a
whole, but could only see the path in inches and feet. Inches and feet needed to move forward so
that we could reach a spot open enough to breathe at least a half breath and
occasionally a beautiful full breath of air.
It became morning on night, I couldn’t tell which one, but
I could tell the change in time by the bats which began to stream around
us. Most of the bats would recognize us
as an obstacle but there was the occasional bat following the lead of another,
not paying attention that would smack into my face before realizing something
new was blocking the path. I was in the lead and I could see a swarm of bats
coming blindly at us, but all Curt could rely on was my voice saying
“duck”. The bats were fast enough to
move around me, but not effecting a second obstacle would crash into Curt. This became comical after a while and I
stopped saying “duck!” to Curt unless it was after the bats had already crashed
into him. Like before, the passages were
at points so tight that there was no where for the bats to fly an after landing
on my face, or shoulders, they would crawl over us as we traveled in our
Soon, we began to hear water and knew it to be the small
water chasm about a quarter of the way from the entrance to this “Devil’s
Crawl.” I suggested that we rest and
fill up on water before moving on. We
were so tired, but were filled with such hope as we knew that we were getting
closer to the exit. Although we felt
rejuvenated, this section had a fork and we double and triple checked our
memory as to the correct path. Our minds
were alert enough to know for sure the right path, but we did not feel
comfortable in proceeding without double checking our memories. Our bodies could not withstand any more
With our thirst quenched for the moment, we were anxious to
move on. The last quarter of the path
was the toughest part as rocks jutted out in every direction in paths that were
already twelve to eighteen inches tall and we made our way by slithering as
snakes through this maze.
With great relief we reached the gypsum chamber, soft and
pleasant to sit and rest in, not just physically, but mentally as we knew now
for sure we had escaped the Devil’s Crawl.
We rested against the soft clay walls for quite a while thinking about
how fortunate we were to be alive. We
wondered as to how long we had been lost.
Curt thought one to two days; I thought three to four days. With more experience, I knew most that time
is irrelevant in the cave. Either way we
knew that our families were most definitely worried by now. We did feel rushed to get home, but still
rested for a good thirty minutes before emerging from our long crawl. Being men, we imagined a tearful and
heartfelt reunion from our worried wives.
Realistically, we hoped they would not be mad at us for our late return. We figured they would be either mad or glad
since they would not have undergone the emotional trauma that we had gone
through. We decided that if they met as
with great worry and relief as they were worried of our loss, we would tell
them of our worry also, without too much detail and enjoy the hugs and love
felt of a heartfelt return home.
If they were mad, then as men we did not want to go into
detail of our emotional death trial just to feel humiliated. I didn’t think so but as Curt had said, it
could possibly only have been two days; the physical exertion could have made
it seem longer. If this was the case
then to Paula it would have seemed normal and if they showed no worry then we
wouldn’t tell of our secret trials.
We gathered our gear with candles blazing light and heat
warming us in this soft chamber. It was
such a pleasure to be able to sit up and rest, especially knowing that we were well
on our way to the cave entrance.
While preparing to leave Curt reached for my Bowie knife
that was suppose to be on his belt. It
is one of my favorite knives and accompanies me on all my caving trips. While pressing through the narrow crawls the
latch had broke on the sheath. Curt and
I took turns carrying it on our belts while we took turns exploring tunnels, so
that it would not get lost. Of course,
when Curt reached for my $100 knife, it was not there. He asked if I wanted to go back and try to
find it and I replied, “Are you crazy?” The chances of finding it are slim to none and
we were too weak to make any more side trips.
I said I would come back for it in a couple weeks when our wounds were
healed. It would be like finding a
needle in a haystack but I love my knife.
(P.S. I found it 2 weeks later about half way back in the crawl.)
I checked the watch in my bag. It said it was 8:30. I did not know if it was a.m. or p.m., or
This and more being said, we headed on out of the gypsum
room to the entrance of the “Devil’s Crawl”, we looked again at the warning
written in blood red paint of what Satan would do to us and gave praise for our
Salvation now felt physically as well as spiritually. “We still have a long way to go” I said to
I thought back to the beginning of our great adventures,
and of promising Mandy that I would bring Curt home safe. I felt a sense of relief as I now know this
was possible. I was twice as glad
thinking how close I came to giving her bad news that now would not
happen. We would make it out of this
cave, up the steep mountain and back home.
Curt and I gathered our packs and began our path out through the
familiar parts of “my” cave. We had not
gone far when I realized that our minds were not fully clear. We had traveled in a circle and come back
across the entrance to the “Devil’s Craw”.
At that time I was convinced with my familiarity of the Cave and at
first dismissed it as if we had exited early and had taken a shortcut. We sat down again to reflect on the entrance
and the red blood warning just inside when we realized we had come full circle
This may have been a
good thing though because it made us realize that we were not as mentally alert
as we thought we were. This also worried
us as to our physical condition and the difficult path that lay ahead of
us. We thought it could be dehydration,
but we only knew that we had better move on before the mountain took a hold of
us again. I took the lead and we
proceeded slowly. There were many forks
in the paths and although I normally knew this cave like the back of my hand,
each fork was met with a mental challenge as all were familiar. I had almost every rock in this main part of
the cave memorized by sight or feel but I had to concentrate on every step,
every rock, and every feature to try and remember the correct path. I apologized to Curt for going so slow but it
was necessary to proceed one step at a time, with extra thought in order to
stay on track. We made good progress to
the large cantilever breakdown that meant we had made it halfway out with only
a couple of backtracks.
We took one more short break to watch the continual rainfall
as we had on the way in. There was fresh
water at the bottom. I would normally
not hesitate in attempting the steep slope down and back, but I didn’t trust
our physical condition any more than our mental condition. Plus, as thirsty as we were, the fresh
natural springs near the entrance would entice us to keep moving; and keep
moving we did.
The springs flowed from rocks close enough to the entrance
of the cave that the air had warmed up to 60 degrees and we sank our faces into
the cold water and filled our empty, dehydrated bodies with fresh, pure spring
water. Soon after we were at the
entrance of the cave, the bright morning sun blinded us with its gentle warming
rays. With our deluded minds, we were
glad that it was 10:30 a.m. and not 10:30 p.m. as losing our way in the words
was something I knew we didn’t want to face physically, let alone
mentally. Now the mountain climb stood
as an opposing giant in the path to my truck in the sky, 800 feet up, up, up.
Up we began. I grabbed the heavy pack and gave Curt the
lighter one and we exited the mountains mouth born once again. About 50 feet up we were already convincing
our legs that they were to carry all our burden when we stopped, and turned
around to look at the beautiful “exit” of the cave and although nothing was
said aloud, I know that we both thanked God for his guidance and I felt a huge
sense of gratitude for the direction we had been given and felt humbled as to
how it had been received. “To you be all
glory, honor, and praise” I silently said.
“Let them not see me lest I should boast for it was not my credit to be
taken.” I missed the comforting folds of
the death angel and yet felt as if I would bust from gratitude that of all
people who did not emerge from their death beds that morning, I was given the
gift of another day. And this day would
be the greatest day of my life. I would
not take the mornings light for granted any more and would greet each new morning
with thankfulness and gratitude as I was given the gift of a new day when so
many greater that I, did not wake up this day.
Each day I am given, I will try to make the greatest day of my life.
I turned back and looked up the steep climb to see Curt 20
foot up clinging to a tree as he rested waiting for me. This was to be how we both proceeded, a few
climbing steps to reach a tree that was also clinging to the side of the
mountain to hold us up as we rested more frequently then we wanted. There’s really no need to mention how many times
we lost our footing and would tumble back down until a tree would lend a hand
in stopping our fall. The sun warmed us
and our blood flowed and injuries pulsated with pain. It was mentally that we conquered the climb
for physically our bodies did not want to follow directions. I was amazed at Curt as he took the
lead. I had trouble keeping up even
after we switched packs so I would have the lighter one. Curt even took on the extra weight of both
mag lights and batteries and I still was always 20 feet down from him. About an hour later we had reached the top
and the truck.
When we finally reached the truck we quickly threw our
packs and equipment in the back grateful beyond any measure that the truck
would carry us and our burdens home. We
got in the truck and before I turned the key I looked at Curt and smiled and
said, “Watch it not start now”. I turned the key as he said that wasn’t even
funny. We sank into the soft seats as
the truck pulled out of the woods onto the small gravel road that would lead us
along the ridge of the mountains top to a long narrow road that I would have to
ride the brake all the way down two to three miles
to reach the road that would take us home.
About 5 miles up the road was a small country gas
station. We wanted to hurry home but
wanted to know what day it was and needed some caffeine. We parked right in the middle of the
lot. I don’t think it was a parking
spot. Everyone pumping gas looked at us
like we were going to rob the place as we screeched to a halt and burst out of
the truck as we rushed for the door.
No one answered as we rushed for the door asking, “What day
is it?” “What day is it?” We didn’t stop to think or realize how bad we
looked, covered in water and clay, bruised and scratched all over as we only
received blank stares. There was a
newspaper stand and as I headed for the door I told Curt to go look at the
paper and see what day it was. Curt
nearly pressed his nose on the glass as he said that he couldn’t tell that
everything was still too blurry to read anything. I looked from Curt to a young, blond haired
boy trying to sneak past me to the door.
His eyes were wide with fear as I said “Hey!” He tried to run for the door, but I grabbed
the door handle first and asked him what day it was. He said it was the 19th. I said, “No, What Day? Saturday, Sunday, Monday?” The boy said it was Sunday as he squeezed
past me and hurried into the store. I
told Curt to come on as we rushed into the store and back to the sodas.
Everyone looked at us
like we were madmen. We didn’t even realize
or care why. Curt grabbed a Mountain Dew
and I grabbed a Pepsi, and we were gulping them down immediately. We walked through the store bent over close
to the racks, as if half blind. Such
sweet pleasures. We filled our arms with
the packages of small chocolate and powder coated doughnuts, candy bars,
anything that looked good. We headed
towards the counter to pay and everyone in the store was watching us as if
bewildered. I remembered thinking
“What’s their problem” as they all separated and backed out of line. We put all
of our pleasures on the counter in a pile.
The lady said nothing as she quickly rang everything up. “Curt”, I said. “Look, homemade jam.” There was a rack of jams and pastries on a
wooden rack by the counter. I needed
that jam. “We gotta get some of these,”
I said. Man, Country homemade raspberry
and blackberry jam with seeds. I put one
of each on the counter. The jam was very
reasonable at two something a quart and two minutes and $35.00 later we were in
the truck absorbing the sweet pleasures as if we had eaten dirt all our lives. Several calories later, I looked at Curt and
was like “Man, no wonder they were looking at you crazy, you look like
crap. You look like a crazy cave man.” He muttered something undetectable as his
dirt and clay covered hands shoved powdered doughnuts into his clay covered
face. I think it was something like
“Look in the mirror fool.” We had a good
laugh, spitting food crumbs and then stopping from the pain of our
injuries. How much more joyful could life
be. So much that we take for granted.
Time wise, we would get home about 12:15. We wondered if they would be at church. We imagined showing up at church right at
alter call, both our wives up front praying for our safe return and we could
walk up and put our hands on their shoulders.
Talk about an answer to prayer!!
But we knew that if we went home their prayers would be answered at the
door when we got home or when they got home from church either way.
When we pulled into the driveway, both vehicles were there
and we almost burst into tears of joy as we imagined the front door flying open
and our families piling out to smother us with a warm welcome home. We sat in the driveway waiting for about five
minutes and nothing happened.
Curt and I sat in the truck relieved to be home and
expected the front door to fly open at any moment. After about five minutes we decided to keep
our struggle a secret and just go in since no one was worried enough to come to
the door or window. Surely someone had
heard us pull up. Maybe we would be in
trouble for ruining everyone else’s weekend.
With this in mind, we went up to the front door and started to go
in. Our wife’s came down and asked if we
were ok. Then she told us to come in through the garage so we didn’t get the
entryway dirty, to come in through the garage.
We were met at the garage door with a pair of clean shorts for each of
us so we could strip our clay caked clothes off in the garage. Then, the garage door closed and Curt and I
looked at each other somewhat puzzled.
“I guess it will be our secret,” I said.
“There’s no reason to worry them.”
“If we do, then they might not let us go next time. Let’s just play it by ear.”
As we took our clothes off Curt laughed and pointed at my
jeans. The rear end had totally ripped
out and I didn’t even know. That
probably was one reason people at the gas station were staring. It’s a good thing we didn’t meet them at
church with my butt hanging out.
Our wives now greeted us with questioning faces. Questions were asked like “Did you have a
good time?” “Did you get lost?” “Do you realize how long you were gone?” I answered the questions with “Let’s just say
we had good adventure caving.” All said
and done, Curt and I just wanted a nice warm bath or shower. Except for the fact that we had ruined all
other plans for the weekend, it was only Sunday after noon and was not any
longer than some of my caving adventures.
Maybe our wives weren’t worried.
Curt went with Mandy and Paula came into our room and asked
me if we got lost in the woods or what.
She told me that Mandy had begun to worry late Saturday night and that
she, herself, also was worried, but played it off as normal. When we still weren’t there Sunday morning,
Paula had explained to Mandy how sometimes if it is night time I would wait
until sunup before heading back as it is easy to get lost in the woods. If this was the case, we should get home by
9:00 a.m. When 9:30 and 10:00 came
around, Paula said she called my friend John and asked if he could find the
cave using his G.P.S. and the coordinates I had left her. She told Mandy that if we were not back by
12:00, she would call the emergency numbers I had left for her. At 12:00 they gave us 30 more minutes and we
made it home before 12:30! Paula said
she would have come after me herself no matter how long it took. I was a little surprised as I could imagine
her outside the cave, but not inside the cave.
I felt blessed that she would be willing to risk something so unknown to
find me. She said that she wanted to at
least see if my truck was there. That
way she would at least know we were still there. I realized how hard it would be to accept our
deaths if there were no bodies to be found.
Both our wives lovingly ran a warm bath for us. Curt was in the guest bath and me in our
bedroom, master bath. Paula sat on the
edge of the bath and I kept no secrets.
I summed it up with “We got lost and I didn’t think we were going to
I am convinced that my experiences with the reality of
death have enriched my life more than any other experiences I have had. Facing death means facing the ultimate
question of the meaning of life. If we
really want to live, we must have the courage to recognize that life is
ultimately very short and that everything we do counts. When it is the evening of our life, we will
hopefully have a chance to look back and say that our lives were worthwhile
because we have really lived.
P.S. When I went back to
the cave to get my knife the red blood words of warning were not on the wall
and there was no trace of the words at all.
Death is no longer just a word, it is an experience which I
felt as I lay by and hurt and agonized as Curt was engaged in the act of
dying. I felt the pain, the frustration,
the fear and the anxiety. I felt my soul
bared as it had never been before.
Surely those were by far the most emotion filled moments of my life. I shall be richer all my life for this
sorrow. In what way will I live my life.