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126 A Lost Story 2009-09-18

entrance to cave

Once upon a time...

Back when I was in college, one Sunday evening we recieved a call from the wife of the leader of the outdoor program. Her husband, Gabe, had gone caving that morning and had not returned home. Worried, she wanted to know if we had heard from him.

That phone call started a manhunt. Gabe could have gone to any of the couple of dozen caves located in the immediate area. He was always exploring new areas and was also quite secretive about his findings. After rounding up a few other students we talked over where we should look and made a plan for who was checking out which cave.

Through the night we drove checking the parking areas of each cave and then if there was any doubt, walking to the entrance of the cave to see if there was any signs of Gabe.

By morning we were all tired, but were granted permission by the Dean of the College to continue to search for Gabe. Over breakfast we went over a check list of the area caves and each team recapped their investigations. Gabe had just disappeared.

The real problem was, we could not even find which cave he had entered. We couldn’t find his truck. Caves generally have an access parking area. However, sometimes the approach to the cave would be convoluted due to accessibility issues with property owners. Gabe was quite resourceful at working around no trespassing signs and could have parked his red truck almost anywhere.

We went out again, but we had re-divided the cave list so that fresh eyes could search each area.

Steve, my partner, and I went to two caves that morning which the parking areas were at farm houses. No one had checked the sites the night before for fear of buckshot. Both land owners said they had not seen anyone.

On the way back to campus, we stopped by a well visited cave located close to the college. It was notorious for being the tunnel of love but wasn’t much of a cave for serious spelunkers. There was a car at the parking area but Gabe’s truck was not to be found. Steve had never been to the cave, so I suggested that we stretch our legs and go exploring.

At the mouth of the cave was an Army surplass shoulder satchel. We perked up immediately. It looked just like the one Gabe normally carried. I ran back to the car for some additional gear while Steve poked around for more evidence. We were excited that we probably found him and scared as to what exactly we had found. The cave was small and it would have been almost impossible to get lost while exploring in it. He was injured or maybe worse.

Quickly we donned our coveralls and boots, lit our carbide lamps, and secured our helmets. "Gabe," we called as we started our quest. I led the way on the familiar path. No good thoughts of a happy ending seemed possible. He definitely needed us, if he was indeed inside the cave.

As we neared a mud room (a room filled with sticky mud) we heard calls for help. We had found Gabe and a friend he had talked into going with him. They were uninjured, but had been in the small cave for over thirty hours.

So the story was: Gabe’s friend had driven to the cave. They left Gabe’s bag at the mouth because the cave was so short. Only one light was working, they did not have a back up light. Gabe fell in the mud room clogging the tip on the carbide lamp. In the total darkness they had no idea of time or space. Trying to crawl out, they found that the walls appeared and disappeared. They soon had no sense of direction. The constant dripping sounded like rescuers entering the cave. They were cold, thirsty, hungry, practically nuts and very grateful.

So what did they do wrong...

They didn’t tell anyone where they were going. Just telling your wife you are going caving doesn’t really qualify.

They didn’t tell anyone they were not going to drive Gabe’s truck.

They entered the cave with only one light. Each person should have a lamp, spare parts, batteries, and backup lights. Light is survival in caves.

They didn’t carry the essentials. Even on short explorations, the essentials are essential.

Happy subterranean trails!



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