In my first adventure, I described how I was introduced to spelunking, more commonly known as caving. The Sinnett/Thorn cave was the first cave I ventured into but certainly was not the last. In fact, the very next day, Bob and I went down into the bowels of the earth once again.
Sitting in the middle of a farmer’s cow pasture, we entered into a huge sinkhole. To prevent the farmer’s cows as well as other four legged creatures from falling into that sinkhole, the farmer built a wooden fence around it. On one side of the fence, and built into that section was a ladder meant for brave or naïve (take your pick) two-legged creatures to climb over in order to drop down into the sinkhole. Greeting the two legged creatures was a wooden sign. Burned into that wooden sign were the words, “Prepare to Meet Your Maker.” Those chilling words were meant, I’m sure, to chase off anyone naive enough to drop down into the sink hole with no gear, the wrong gear, or with rope too short to reach the bottom.
As Bob and I sat on one side of the massive mouth dropping small rocks into the hole, we could see the bottom. The mouth was so gaping and the sun so bright, that the bottom ground of the hole was illuminated. Yet, it was hard to tell how far down the cave floor was.
We had 100 feet of rope, and Bob, feeling like a seasoned caver, decided to go back to our vehicle to get that rope. Being the novice, it was determined that I would not be going down on the rope. So I sat in the same spot and waited for Bob to return. Seasoned or not, something, however, told my mind Bob’s idea was not a good one. Yet I waited.
Luck, or manna from the Gods, prior to Bob’s return, I heard someone whistling the tune from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, “Whistle While You Work.” I stood up and faced the direction from which the melody came, when over the hill and above the fence appeared an older, white haired gentleman, a younger man and a younger woman all dressed in jeans, plaid-flannel shirts and carbide lamp helmets on top of their heads. The two younger people had backpacks on as did the older gentleman who also carried climbing rope which was draped over his left shoulder. To me, the rope appeared to be a heck of a lot longer than the 100 foot rope Bob had gone back to the car to get.
Just as the three greeted me and began climbing the fence, Bob walked back carrying our rope. I’ll never forget the look on the face of the the older man or the question he asked Bob.
“Son, what do you intend on doing with that rope?”
Bob answered, “I was going down to see what was at the bottom.”
The man squinted his one eye and half smirking asked, “How much length do you have there, son?
Bob answered, “100 feet.”
The man was still smirking when he said, “Well, son, you need at least another 100 feet to reach the bottom. It’s farther down than it looks.”
All I could think was, thank god for small miracles!
It turned out the sink hole was approximately 150 feet deep. The man, his son and his brand new daughter-in-law had 300 feet of rope; enough to secure to the tree that sat on the outside of the fenced land and drop down into the hole with some to spare at the bottom end. For the new daughter-in-law, this was her virgin voyage into the guts of the earth. The father and son were avid spelunkers, had been in this sinkhole numerous times as well as many other advanced caves in the area over about a span of about fifteen years.
Oh …did I mention that the name of this particular sinkhole was Hell Hole?
As the father and son prepared a separate rope contraption with carabiners, the father sized us up. He certainly didn’t want to take two inexperienced and slightly naïve people down with them. That was far too much responsibility for anyone to take on. Thus, after much talk, he determined my adventure through the Sinnett/Thorn cave system the day prior was good enough to qualify me in the same category as his daughter-in law. Bob, he could tell was a smart fella who had been in some of the more advanced caves in the area and had survived. So, we were invited to accompany the party of three.
Going down into the cave was fairly easy and was actually fun. When my turn came the father hooked me up to the main rope and guided me into the hole as he talked me in. His son was on the floor of the cave and was holding the bottom of the rope steady.
The first 100 or so feet involved repelling off the rock wall where you used your feet to spring you back away from the wall so you could drop a few feet and then used your feet again to brace yourself so that you didn’t slam into the wall. There was a bit of strain involved, but nothing I couldn’t handle. The last 100 feet, however, was where the fun came in.
The rope contraption around my body and which was hooked to the main rope allowed me to drop down through the openness of the fall as fast or as slow as I wanted to drop. The decent was all controlled with carabiners, my hands and arms. Thus, once I had cleared the rock wall and was dangling in mid-air, at first, I decended slowly; however, once I felt confident, I dropped faster allowing me to experience the thrill of free fall.
When we were all down on the cave floor, it was time to do a little exploring. From the floor angle of the cave, the mouth at the top seemed tiny while the cavern on the floor seemed huge. During the course of the next few hours, we climbed. Then, on our bellies, we squeezed under rocks in order to stand up on the other side of the squeeze. Some of those squeezes were pretty tight. Then, it was time to eat a snack.
We all stood at the bottom of a huge slope and began climbing up to the top which sat just under the ceiling of that particular room where a few bats hung upside down. Once up there, we sat down, pulled out our water and snacks and began eating. It was there, in the middle of snack time that the father told us we were sitting on a slope of petrified bat dung. We all broke out into laughter as we chewed on our snacks. As I drank my water I thought, how grossly fascinating.
It was getting late and we still needed to repel out of the cave, which would take us longer to do than it took to descend into it. However, before we ascended, the father mentioned one more feature of the cave he wanted us all to experience. So, off we trekked down a path climbing up then down, squeezing through several tight spots until we came upon a waist high hole in the wall which oddly resembled a church window. It could have had stained glass in it for the shape was a perfect arched window. On the other side was a bumpy but slick rock slide. The father enticed each of us to climb through the window and sit on the slide. We were secured to a rope that fit snuggly around our mid-section. The other end of the rope was held tight by the father and his son. They didn’t want any of us to slip too far down the slide because at the end it simply dropped off into darkness. I was the first to take the short plunge only to be told that no one had ever been down in the chute of blackness; at least no one who went down and made it back out to tell.
It was about 3 p.m. and time to climb out of the hole. The father went up first, then the daughter-in-law. Bob went up next when it was time for me to climb out. Again, the son stayed on the bottom as he kept the rope steady.
The son helped me into the same apparatus I wore on my decent. He explained that I should slide the top carabiner up the rope, raise my knees to a sitting position, then moving the carabiner up the rope even higher, straighten my legs out as if I were standing. The ropes attached to my feet served as stirrups. The objective was to keep doing the same sequence of motion as I soon realized I was basically walking up the hanging rope. All went well until I reached the first 100 feet in the air and was now standing on a ledge. That’s when the lack of the safety of my past life caught up to me. I panicked.
I had learned from my past to never trust anyone and here I was not only trusting Bob to get me out of the hole, but I was trusting two strangers as well. I looked down at the rope apparatus and became convinced that it had come apart. I honestly thought I was stranded between the floor of the cave and the pasture above. I worked myself into a frenzie as I thought I was going to die in that cave. Thank my lucky stars for the father, who had no doubt been through these types of situations several times, because in a calm yet steady voice he talked me down from my fear, convincing me I was still intact and encouraged me to continue climbing. I did and soon the tiny faces of the father and of Bob were life sized and looking me straight in the eye.
I had tackled another physical feat; but, more…I had tackled another emotional feat called trust.