Twenty-four hours without food or water. Luckily, they found a waterfall and drank the water.
Ryan and his friend had entered the well-known cave at three in the afternoon on a Saturday with headlamps, a bottle of water each, and no food. They were not planning on staying long, only about two hours or so, and had been in the cave before. They planned on going to the main waterfall, the most popular route in the cave.
Climbing down from the large passage near the entrance they worked their way down, looking for the stream that would lead to the waterfall. After taking a tightly twisting passage and getting turned around, things no longer looked familiar, and after trying to backtrack, they concluded that they were lost!
There were lots of arrows that normally showed the way out of the cave. The arrows kept changing colors and directions, making them almost impossible to figure out, ending up in a large room. They followed a side passage, and then after 30 minutes ended up in the same exact room. They traveled in circles over and over again until they were worn down.
They found a very small hole that didn't even look like a passage at all, shaped like a triangle that they had to squeeze to get into. In the crawl was a white arrow and a circle, which pointed down an area with one passage on the right and another passage on the left. There was also an orange arrow pointing down yet another passage. Following the white arrow on hands and knees for about three minutes, they ended up in a room with three huge formations. There were large obstacles to climb over, and a cliff on the other side. On one side, there was about a ten-foot drop into a small stream passage. Ryan slipped and slid down into the stream. A short distance down the stream, a huge rope reached about forty feet up. Downstream from that was a small waterfall with a rope next to it. By this time, they were exhausted, dehydrated, and thirsty. Desperate, they drank the water.
They knew they had to find a way out, but they did not want to stray from the waterfall as it was their "safe place" where they could get hydration. The cave was over seven miles long. They kept following passages that they thought would lead out and kept going round in circles. They went back to a nasty mud area with a tight squeeze and spent several minutes crawling on hands and knees just to get through the mud, hoping it would lead them out, But once again they reached the dreaded "white arrow room." They just kept ending up in the same big room. They tried to find passageways that went up and that might lead to the entrance level, and hopefully would not take them farther into the cave.
They kept close to the waterfall, thinking that if anyone went down there, they'd probably end up at the waterfall. They had to keep moving, though, to keep their blood flowing. It was freezing cold, and the roof was "raining" on them. Apparently it was raining pretty badly outside the cave. They kept wandering and wandering, making sure not to stray too far from the waterfall and become even more lost.
Ryan slept near the waterfall, and when he turned off his headlight, he saw lots of hallucinations and images, probably a result of staring at the spot of his light for over 20 hours.
Sometime the next day, after wandering, crawling, climbing, and looking for the exit, they thought they heard voices. At first, they thought they were hallucinating, but then they started yelling as loud as possible. The voices got closer, and then a light! They were relieved and happy to be alive.
Between them was a huge cliff and Ryan and his friend were on the wrong side of it. To get to the other side, they had to crawl halfway on a ledge as wide as a coffee table, then they had to cross a forty-foot chasm on a small natural bridge of about the same width. Once on the other side, they crawled on hands and knees over to the muddy, steep hill on the side of the cliff. There was a rope there, and they had to make their way down that muddy hill diagonally, making sure not to lose their balance or foothold. Once they made it to the rope, they had to descend about forty feet to the ground, where a group of cavers were waiting.
They introduced themselves and told them about their situation. There was a good group of cavers from the Dogwood City Grotto. The two leading the group, Chuck and Pete, were the most helpful. Cutting their cave trip short, they turned around and helped the lost cavers find the way back to the pancake squeeze and into the main entrance room. They made sure they were alright after getting out of the cave. Ryan and his friend expressed their appreciation and thanks to the members of the Dogwood City Grotto. Without them or their love of caves, they would not have found their way out, and would have been another accident statistic on the charts.
Copyright © 2015 Hubert Clark Crowell
Copies can be ordered from:
Posted 1st August by Hubert Crowell