Thursday, August 7, 2008

The Crevice Cave of Diiisssspaaaaiiir

December 29, 2004, a nice day. Cold, but not bitter. The day before my birthday. A depressing day, but not in the birthday fashion. More like wondering whether I cared about existing: in the thoughts of Calvin from "Calvin and Hobbes", an infinitesimal speck on an infinitesimal speck in relation to the universe. I rather came to the conclusion that I didn't care, and with this glowing thought in mind, I decided to find the answer to a question which had nothing to do with depression or existence: the temperature of a reasonably deep cave in late December. That said, my frame of mind definitely helped.

I already knew that deep caves aren't much affected by outside temperatures. After all, that's the basic principle of geothermal heating and cooling. However, I had never physically experienced this myself. Too much theory without experience becomes assumption without authority, so it seemed high time to add some bite to my bark.

Here's the thing. I'm no doofus. (Yeah, yeah, peanut gallery.) I well know the dangers of climbing, and in particular, I'm aware of the danger of climbing in a cave...alone...without rope...with only one flashlight. Remember the frame of mind. The only particularly clever thing that I did was calling a friend and leaving a message on the machine saying that I was hiking to these crevices to explore, but there are quite a few of them.

- Trusty AA MagLite with headstrap -- check.
- Extra batteries -- check.
- Extra bulb in base -- check. (Hey, I've successfully swapped bulbs after dark in the middle of a forest, but that's still not complete dark.)
- Proper clothing and shoes -- check.
- A bit of water and food for backpack -- check.

Hiking to the caves was awesome. It was such a nice day. Peaceful, no goofy kids whooping it up, light snow, pretty much a winter wonderland. I had been into several of these caves before, but that was with a group of primarily inexperienced climbers, and not many of them relished the thought of crawling underground. I already had my cave in mind. It was the one which had seemed most promising before, but nobody had wanted to keep going with me.

Reaching the cliff which lead to the entrance, I climbed up and set my backpack in a safe corner where searching eyes wouldn't quickly see it. I again pondered the rope which dropped out of solid rock overhead and then disappeared into solid rock underneath. Apparently, the crevice had once been more spacious than it was now. I lowered myself into the darkness, switched on my faithful light, and headed down.

You can only walk for a few feet before you must drop down to a crawl and start making decisions. This isn't a tunnel, it's literally a crack with many adjoining cracks opening into it. Most of these are too small to explore, so it's not ridiculously crazy. Then again, I often had to squeeze myself through my chosen route, and I'm not a big guy.

I suddenly realized that I had gone in a big loop and was directly under the entrance, albeit separated by quite a bit of rock. The once free, but now tightly enclosed rope, was directly in front of me, disappearing into more rock. I kept climbing down, yada yada yada, until I climbed through a ceiling and dropped into an open area with holes in every wall. It was shaped such that if it wasn't for gravity, you would have no idea where up was. I chose wisely, and stuck my head into a really cool fissure. It had to be 25-35 feet high, was perhaps two feet wide, and had squeeze-through holes every four or five feet at my end. I popped out about three-fourths of the way up. At this point, I could hear running water.

So far the experiment was going well. The air had warmed considerably, and it was getting humid. Nonetheless, I had yet to be properly convinced. For one thing, I was determined to find that water, and what would be the point of going this far only to turn back?

I pulled myself through the hole and into that marvellous fissure. It was so cool. Imagine a giant smashing a rock exactly in half, and then placing the two halves close together. You get an up-close look at the variations within the rock that you can never see from only viewing the outside. Plus, it was just too damn sweet knowing that some massive movement had created this fissure, and probably only a handful of people had ever looked at it.

I climbed down the fissure, since deep was my goal, and arrived at a single hole in the far end. Climbing through, I was disappointed when I hit a dead end after not many feet. But, I found the water! It was just a little trickle flowing across the exact end of my present tunnel. There wasn't enough room to turn around, so I crawled out backwards. I started climbing back out of the crevice, and hit my first minor decision: which hole did I use to get into the fissure?

Choosing wisely once again, I found the rock enclosed rope, and knew that I was in the right place.

"Ah, there's the crack I came through to get here. *crawl, crawl* What the...a dead end?"

I did say that I know the rules, so I began enforcing calmness upon myself. Nevertheless, I definitely picked up my pace.

"Oops, there's my crevice."

I crawled until I hit another solid rock wall.

"Oh shit. God, where is my opening?"

I scrambled out, and started searching other openings: dead end, dead end... By this point, I was repeating to myself, "Panic and you die." The other thought which came to mind was statistics. I could see newpaper headlines: Local Man Disappears in Crevice Caves. Underneath it would go on to say that I was number 6 to get lost, hurt, or die in these caves, and that nationally I was number 54, or whatever. I couldn't believe that I was in a position to become an outdoor stat. Weird, but nobody can predict what will go through their mind in these situations.

My mind was starting to race, and since that wasn't beneficial in any way, I forced myself to sit down and relax. The whole time I had been asking God for help, and trying to stay calm so that I could hear an answer, but nada. Now that I was sitting down, I started to control my reactions in a much better fashion. Once again, I asked God for help. Now, I kid you not. It felt like a hand grabbed my head and pulled it back. Wouldn't you know it, I was staring straight into a hole on the ceiling which I had completely forgotten.

Long story short, as I climbed and crawled I could smell and feel the air changing. What a feeling of relief. Somehow my thoughts about not caring whether I lived or died seemed a little hollow after that.

Peace, I'm out.

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