Miles and Miles, ala Miles
June 29, 1995
We cast our last glances toward a gloomy sky, thunder rolled in the distance. The stream was clear, we hadn't had any rain for a few days so things looked good, so far. Pete Penczer and Dwight Livingston had gone in a few minutes ahead of the rest of the party and were rigging the first drop. It was 11:40 when I followed everyone else into the Friars' Hole entrance.
The permanently rigged ropes were removed in favor of our own. Pete and Dwight did a great rigging job. We were into trunk passage in no time and headed upstream. Our goal was the stream entrance to Snedegar's, eight hours away.
This trip was an orientation for Dwight and myself who had volunteered to guide pre-convention trips for visiting cavers. We would be shown the route through the cave and return in July to lead a half dozen rugged cavers back through on our own.
First stop was at the beginning of the downstream end of the Dung-Ho Way where we checked out a few of the domes in this complex area. It had been said the the Dung-Ho had lost some of its teeth in recent years but Miles Drake felt it was living up to its former glory this weekend.
Beyond Dung-Ho Way we reached Connection Rock, there high on the wall was the passage leading into the Rubber Chicken section of the system. From there we made it to the sheep dip in short order and I learned that "first" is not the way to cross this puddle. Making a valiant effort I missed my mark and cleaned myself of Dung-Ho Way mud clear up to my chest.
Dwight lent a hand and Madeline Li, Joanne Smith and Miles made it across with no major tragedy. Dave Crenshaw took a slip but didn't get cleaned as well as I. I recognized the opportunity to rig a permanent handline and may do so on my next trip through.
The next obstacle was a very exposed traverse across the top of a pit. A handline is rigged permanently along the wall and came in handy to tie into as a belay. A short climb down later and we were off and running again.
We were into more big stream passage, funny though, this time we were moving downstream. We came to a large side passage and followed it to the Shark Room. I never saw the shark. A little breather here and we were ready for more. We moved up the R survey and hit the connection, a horrid crawl through breakdown that rivals the Asshole in Simmons Mingo. Beyond the connection we encountered the Promised Land and lots of stooping. We had been bent over for quite some time now and my back was getting sore. At the Breakdown Room I checked my map and saw that it wasn't much further. Seven hours had gone by and entrance fever was setting in.
Onward, through the misnamed "Sloppy Crawl" and into the Snedegars stream passage. HORRORS! The stream was muddy and high! This didn't bode well. Our last real obstacle was the Snedegars sump, described as having 12 inches of air space on its best days. We scrambled on upstream and after both Miles and Dwight scoped it out we decided four inches of air was a bit dicey. We looked at our variables. Four inches of air, the sump now extended well into the cobble crawl upstream, fatigue, the potential impassability meant one person would have to get drenched, and no takers for an exploratory plunge.
Fortunately we had asked a friend of Dwight's to lower four of our sets of ascenders down the Crook Shank Pit entrance. We turned down stream to find our ascenders and attempt to climb out. We were stopped at the first plunge pool. A raging torrent of white water, the wall to wall caldera was stirred by a 15 foot waterfall pouring into it. All this water blocking our way put me in mind of the "Poseiden Adventure".
Only one safe option remained, head out the way we came in. Spirits were pretty low at that point and the tension was palpable. We left a note at the end of the Sloppy Crawl to inform of our where abouts. It was 8:30 p.m. when we started back.
The tension was turned up a notch when early in our retreat Miles started to feel ill. After a few moments of wrenching guts he seemed to recover but obviously felt drained. We all felt some effect from his bout with discomfort. It added an edge to the tension.
We set goals and made frequent rest stops. We inventoried food and water and began cutting back on our consumption. Everyone wanted to save something for that last push we'd need to get out of the cave.
Dwight said he'd feel like he was almost home once we made the Shark Room. So that's where we headed. I knew I wouldn't relax until we'd crossed that hairy traverse near the sheep dip. I tried to make good use of this second pass to thoroughly memorize the route through the cave.
Back across the miles with Miles. We got beyond the Sheep Dip and into the Dung-Ho way. Everyone was really tired but we knew we were physically close to our goal and the mood had lightened. We hit the Friar's Trunk and bounded downstream, it seemed much longer than when we'd come in that way earlier.
It was 3:45 a.m. when we stopped at the intersection of the Friars Hole Trunk Passage and the infeeder from the Friars Hole Entrance. We had made remarkable time for the circumstances, 7 hours and 15 minutes. We all took a breather, gobbled up our energy food and downed some water. I managed about ten minutes of sleep in my space blanket.
We had brought three sets of ascenders into the cave with us "just in case". Well "in case" was the case and we had to move seven people up two ropes with those things. Pete's Frog System and Dwight's Rope Walker were very popular. I managed to get up rope on my experimental Texas Toad Bastard.
The first drop was no real challenge other than nuisance spray pouring down the canyon. The second drop however was more dramatic and challenging. Water levels were definitely up and a tremendous crash of water poured from the lip thirty feet above. Deafeningly loud it was difficult to communicate. We crowded together in the tight canyon, trying to stay dry as we waited for our turn up the rope. I jammed myself into a small niche and dropped off to a few more moments of restless sleep. The constant roar of water had increased the tension again, its ceaseless pounding was driving me nuts.
My turn came, I was tired, tense, wet, cold, hungry and thirsty. I had to be really careful not to screw up on this ascent. Dwight did a great job of spotting the rope to keep the climbers out of the water. At the top I found it a little difficult to climb over the lip and get off but I just muscled it and climbed into the rigging alcove. I spelled Pete who moved toward the entrance. On his way he dropped his pack and it was swept down the falls with a crash. Dwight fished it out and tied it on rope with mine.
Dave came up next. The fatigue was visible on his face. He got into the alcove behind me and rested while I lowered his ascenders to Dwight and Miles. Once he had spried up I headed for the entrance. The fever was bad!
I nearly bolted up the last part of that canyon passage and as I turned a corner I was met with one last indignation. The entrance stream had risen and was pouring down the boulder climb that lead out of the cave. No choice but to go for it. That water was cold! It fell so fast you couldn't look up to see where to put your hand next. I actually got diverted off the climb and into a blind canyon. Correcting myself I bullied my way up to the top and found daylight coming in the entrance. Daylight? Had we been down here that long? I stepped from the gloom and carefully picked my way up to the road where Jo, Madeline and Pete waited. It was 7:01 a.m., I had been ninteen hours and twenty minutes underground, a personal best.
Thanks to all those on the trip with me. The first traverse was a sporting trip to begin with, the second traverse was almost more than I care for. But it was endurable because I was surrounded by an outstanding set of companions. Every member of the trip is a great spelunker and I'm fortunate to have shared that little odyssey with them.
Devin S. Kouts