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Second time's the Charm--Caving again

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Queen of the Walkabout

Joined: 15 Jan 2004
Posts: 1167

PostPosted: 11/28/2005, 2:12 pm    Post subject: Second time's the Charm--Caving again Reply to topic Reply with quote

Quite a few "wild" caves have small Alice-in-Wonderland like entrances; small holes that are usually crawlers to get into.
The small opening preserves the internal atmosphere, especially in living caves, where water, humidity and evaporation allow the slow growth of sometimes majestic and amazing formations. Even the rock or dirt you walk on is different from the outer world.
No wonder NASA studies so much in caves. It is "the other", the underground world.

We await the unlocking of the cave gate, to push ourselves and our packs through. Helmets are already on, once past the small entrance headlamps are on. The ceiling is low, and immediately beyond the small first room is a drop into space. The experienced ones crawl through the columns and use handholds to swing over darkness. The sloping flowstone is slick and featureless. I am not a rock climber so finding holds is a bit awkward. I start to get the hang of it. We stay high, grasping the holds, and kneel crab walking across, in a free climb high above the floor. Strangely I am not nervous, but excited.
Past this first pit is a pool, some gorgeous flowstone and columns. Shortly is the "gorge"-- a roped up traverse. We study how it is rigged, to learn some valuable lessons here. One day I may be doing this for someone else. It is very slick here, like "snot on teflon" per a caver; I am told this climb in the climbing world would be rated a 5.13, by our lead climber, who is also a lead climber on the rock. I don't know what that means but I guess is a hard climb. I start out on the rope, then my feet suddenly slip out from under me and I am fully supported by my harness, a briefly scary then exhilirating feeling.
Another interesting traverse, then the roped climbing is done. But this cave is one where you climb up or down something pretty constantly. You watch where you place your feet and hands, to avoid damaging the cave, and to stay upright. Its damp in this cave, the millions of stalactites glitter in the ceiling with a single drop of moisture. The columns and stalagmites are glowing in the light, wet as the water slowly flows across. The life giver; for us and for the cave.

The ceiling height is quite nice here in contrast with other caves I have been in. We walk in a cathdral. The walls are seemingly living with all sorts of decorations. Little nooks and crannies, some so delicate no way to approach. Observe and admire from a distance. We are here to work, to survey, but I am sneaking the camera out whenever I can. It's challenging to try to capture this magnificence in the dark.
A few butt slides and then we are to the Geronimo slide. A few of the climbers stuff themselves into the crack, then the inexperienced climbers literally climb over them, till we get to good foot and hand holds. Packs are handed over quite a bit, it is tough to climb with the heavy pack. Essentially a long day pack, but with some vertical gear and extra batteries, lights, so a bit heavier. I am the first down the "slide", at the bottom you lay on your back down a large slab of limestone with about a 70 degree slant, the ceiling is close to your face initially, then the chamber expands. Away you go. You use the rough ceiling to prevent a super fast 30 foot ride. I catch the fast ride of the other's packs. My second time in this cave I missed my footholds and took the ride---prerequiste is to yell "Geronimo!!!".

We are taking survey points once again, the recording of some of the shots is very difficult as you wedge yourself into a million and one weird positions. Above us some folks in the "control room" have disembodied conversations-- "gee, my butt is hanging out in space"; and " s&%$$t, who picked this survey point?" We have a sizable team, two groups, and a third pair working on restoration along the survey route. This is the only way to map the cave, the crazy off shoots, passages stacked on top of each other, balconies, pits, drifts. I am recording this trip so sit in the dark, until the numbers are called out. I love the darkness of a cave, it is blacker than any imagination. Go to your closet, close the door, block the bottom with a towel and go lights out. It's darker than that. Some of us talk about bringing backpacking gear in and staying a night and base camping for trips. How awesome that would be.

Time passes quickly, we have been under 8 hours as we finish. We decide to take a shortcut out and the lead climber is my hero. A difficult little climb almost trips me up when my foot slips and my handholds were not secure, he grabs and steadies me to prevent the fall. Another spot I am very tired, but gut it out on the climb. I am so glad I have decent upper body strength, when your feet are wet and muddy climbing is supposed to be mainly legs, but handholds become critical. Even as tired as I am the beauty is so overwhelming that it cheers me on. One place we leave a room by scaling a wall, climb a little saddle and gasp as we straddle the entry way to a massive room. We come in just below ceiling height, the array of stalactities hanging almost in our faces is staggering. Dave H says "this is my favorite spot in this cave"--he knows it well and is a world class caver, so this is an impressive statement coming from him.

We are out, the sun still barely up and it is cold. We retreat back into the cave anteroom to await the others. It is warm and we stretch out and talk idly in the darkness. I curl up in a rock depression that feels like an recliner chair. I drift off. Suddenly lights and talking, I struggle to return to reality. We have another night hike out, manage not to get lost this time. It is cold, and some of us are wet with sweat, so we make haste to the cars. A physicallly demanding and rewarding day. Daddee is right, caving is very demanding; I would liken it to hiking Rincon Peak a couple of times, once in the dark and with ice on the rocks on top. It's a lot tougher to me.

You can rest when you're dead
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Joined: 06 Jan 2003
Posts: 3515

PostPosted: 11/28/2005, 2:47 pm    Post subject: Reply to topic Reply with quote

Letty, thanks for taking us in the caves with you, it's probably the closest I'll ever get to going in one...and as long as you provide the narration of your trips, I'm okay with that! Ok It's fascinating stuff, but way outta my league!

“Friends make the bad times good — and the good times unforgettable.”
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I'll make rain with my spaceman powers!

Joined: 20 Sep 2003
Posts: 1296

PostPosted: 11/28/2005, 6:05 pm    Post subject: Reply to topic Reply with quote

What a magnificent time to LIVE! - Everett Ruess.

Since my house burned down, I now own a better view of the rising moon. - Masahide.
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Joined: 05 Jan 2003
Posts: 1714

PostPosted: 11/28/2005, 6:21 pm    Post subject: Reply to topic Reply with quote

While returning home from camping a couple of weeks ago I stoped in Payson and had lunch some folks next to me were talking about Flowing Springs Cave. I have not been to the cave but near by are some outstanding pictoglyphs.
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Got Supes Juice?

Joined: 04 Jan 2003
Posts: 1741
Location: Mesa, AZ

PostPosted: 11/28/2005, 7:09 pm    Post subject: Reply to topic Reply with quote


Hope it warms up by this weekend Beam me up Beam me up Smile
Our lives are not determined by what happens to us but by how we react to what happens, not by what life brings to us, but by the attitude we bring to life.
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Joined: 08 Feb 2005
Posts: 4144
Location: Las Vegas

PostPosted: 11/28/2005, 10:03 pm    Post subject: Reply to topic Reply with quote

Great story.
I love caves.
"Surely all God's people, however serious or savage, great or small, like to play. Whales and elephants, dancing, humming gnats, and invisibly small mischievous microbes - all are warm with divine radium and must have lots of fun in them." John Muir
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The dangerous place where the winds meet

Joined: 05 Jan 2003
Posts: 1375
Location: Tucson

PostPosted: 11/29/2005, 4:16 pm    Post subject: Reply to topic Reply with quote

Amazing worlds down there as evidenced in your photos and words. I have a book that I will get to you after I can get to it and read it, Cave Passages, Roaming the Underground Wilderness –Michael Ray Taylor. He goes all over the world to do this.
Seize from every moment its unique novelty and do not prepare your joys
- Andre Gide
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Joined: 01 Feb 2004
Posts: 535
Location: Mesa AZ

PostPosted: 11/29/2005, 6:32 pm    Post subject: Reply to topic Reply with quote

Awesome!!! You are one tough woman.
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