caving carries the lure of the unknown and the thrill of discovery.
What do you find down there? The answers are as varied as the caves themselves: mud; beautiful rock formations and rubble; water and dust; vast rooms and tight crawl ways; awesome rivers and puddles; strange and fragile animals; deep pits and waterfalls; and, of course, strange people like yourself.
One finds, eventually, whatever one is looking for inside your self.
(for a warm up and because this is the true background of this story)
I was remembering back to my first year at college in west Virginia,
I wanted to have fun, but I also was thinking of the future.
Its my Dad’s fault, looking at my dad, married steadily for many years, I wanted to know who I’d be compatible with, So I came up with a test I called the WATs “Wife Achievement Tests”, Although I wasn’t ready to be married, I wanted to find a compatible partner, one that could cook, setup a tent, and enjoyed Adventures.
This one woman college girl I dated, and she was always around, laughed at my jokes, was cute, easy to talk to.
So I told her that I was going to be away Saturday looking for an adventure,
and she said “can I come”. Well wow, this is a good sign.
The True Story or "The Tell"
Pulling to the side of west Virginia rte. 33 in Monongahela forest where the river bends and a cliff rises up. I got out with the backpack full of picnic stuff. Helping my girlfriend out of the car,
I handed her a hat …pause… with a big coper head lamp.
She looked at the large cave opening in the cliff, looked at the hat and looked at me, .. “You’ve done this before, right?”
....Well see I went far away to college to get experiences. I knew my Hopes and dreams, and in the back of my mind I knew that I wanted to meet a wonderful woman that I could talk with, that I would be compatible with, and most importantly had a sense of adventure. I was dating this young woman, she was really nice, we went everywhere together, she listened to my stories, laughed at my jokes, and one day I said that I’d be away for the weekend looking for adventure and she said “well can’t I come” ….p… well this is an encouraging sign.
So here we are lighting the carbide head lamps, caves are so so dark, there is no light at all in a cave, and a carbide lamp which puts out a small gas flame that throws a very bright light.
We started the way into the cave, walking, soon stooping around the fallen rocks, then crawling on hands and knees, then on our bellies. But it opened up into a large cavern, We held our breath in aww, and walked into the big room, There was flow stone, stalactites and stalagmite, our lights couldn’t even reach way across the cavern to the other wall. But we could hear a roaring river in the distance. The river was roaring through a fisher, a slot canyon carved in the floor of the cave. But following it up into a large tunnel, there were shelfs cut in the wall we could walk on above the river. Soon the shelf got smaller and smaller till we had to jump to the other side. Then that shelf got smaller and smaller till we had to jump back. Finally, we reached the head of the canyon where the river rushed out of one wall and down into the slot. It was wonderful, it was beautiful, it TOOK OUR BREATH AWAY. We had our story so we turned and started back,
Suddenly there was a POP, looking up I saw that my girlfriends HAT had extra flames coming from the base of the light, then mine popped, I knocked both our hats to the floor and they burst into flames! OH NO! ..p..
As I watched the small fire consuming our head lamps, I felt an increasing severe pressure on my arm, turning towards it, I saw that my girlfriend was squeezing my arm and looking back down the canyon at our long and lengthening black shadows from the dwindling fire.
Quickly I pulled 2 flashlights out of the bag and we turned them on. But they threw a yellowish light, then her light flickered and went out!!! With the last flickers of my light I found 2 candles and the matches, lighting them
I stared at this small flickering lone flame and felt the loneliness of the miles underground and hours away from daylight!
Walking carefully along the shelf, shielding the tiny flames, hearing the roar of the river, now even more terrifying, below us the rushing cold black seemed to pull at us. Then the shelf got to small, we would have to jump across. I jumped first and the flame blew out! Carefully lighting the candle in pitch blackness was tricky, I caught her as she jumped, and relit her candle. Now she was doing a kind of staccato laugh, he-he-he-he-he , very weird, very annoying, … Finally we reached the main room we walked across towards the wall with the crawl way out, then I knew we were really in trouble.
There wasn’t just the one crawlway, THERE WERE MANY MANY CRAWLWAY'S.
My girlfriend was just frozen staring at the wall of small openings, I sat her on the floor with her candle and started trying the small passages. Not one seemed right, one was too steep, one was too muddy, one was to small, finally finding one that seemed to keep going up I called back to help her encouragingly
“this one is going up, it might be another way to the surface” the I could see light, “I see light” I called back.
Finally, it opened up into a room, and there was another caver in the room!! “hurray” I called out, “we’re lost and …p..” then I noticed the caver was crying, sobbing, then I noticed the caver was alone, “ and I noticed the caver was my girlfriend.
I turned with horror and looked at the wall I had come out of, the crawl way I had taken had curved back to this same room, and it was the last one to try.
Going close to the wall I held up my candle and moved it slowly back and forth, what could we do now, and noticed that there was a small shadow that moved differently from the others. Going closer I saw that there was a large rock, and behind it there was the well-worn crawl,
When we came in it was so beautiful and breath taking that we didn’t look back to see ..pause.. that we had stepped over a rock.
On the ride back to campus, she wouldn’t talk to me, I never saw her again, in fact I heard a rumor that she transferred to a different college.
Although she failed the compatibility test, and although I knew my hopes and dreams, I also failed,
I failed to see with the eyes of my heart,
her souls hopes
AND her FEARS.
Thank you all, Tom Ostberg
Note that it was said recently to me "so how much of this is true". Well all of it. BUT NOTE that in our lives, in our heads, when we are going through an extreme situation there are multiple voices.
This day in this cave when the lights started to go out there was,
- a voice of calm reason
- a voice of absolute panic
- a voice of abstract outer view
And probably many others. I have actually told this story from those other internal voices to people and groups. These are what I call the "Colors" in a story. For example if you stare at a tree in the fall, it is full of colors, it is a beautiful fall tree, a beautiful vibrant red leafed tree, it is a beautiful forest floor of fallen yellows, a tree of gently falling sounds, and on and on .... The story then is the same, but can be seen through different colors, or voices.
In this story, as the lanterns where on fire, one voice said to my self, "have to put on the prep list to check carbide lantern gaskets , and later "have to put extra batteries on the check list" and finally "have to remember to alway look behind you". And abstract outer type voice. But the best most liked voice is the voice full of emotion and energy, this is the voice most of us can identify with, because this is the voice that echo's our heart rate and the voice we try to control.
And to these internal voices I give some credit that in future caving experiences where survived. (I am still here) And survived with less of a close call, auuu not totally true, at least not close calls of the same kind. It is said often (might be just by me but I might have heard it somewhere) "A lesson learned the hard way is a lesson learned forever". Enjoy.