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TR-The Eye of the Tiger
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tenn_dawg


Aug 27, 2003, 5:25 PM
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TR-The Eye of the Tiger
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This is a true story, as best as I can recall it. It happened a year, ago, so I cannot blame my youth for the stupidity that day that nearly killed my two best friends.

We were lucky, people have died for less, and we should have.

The Eye of the Tiger

********************************************
“Highs in the 90’s? Damn, I’m glad we’re not climbing today!”

I nodded at Jeff in agreement. It was certainly way too hot to climb. It was too hot to do anything outside for that matter. I love living in the south, but our summer heat waves can be a bit much at times. I hadn’t been able to get into my car in a week without searing my legs on the hot leather seats. That wasn’t the case at the moment, however. The sun hadn’t even risen above the eastern horizon.

“It looks like there may be afternoon thundershowers too. Good thing we’ll be out of there by then.”

This time Jeff nodded in agreement. Even though we were not very accomplished cavers, we both knew that caves and thundershowers were a dangerous combination. The cave we were headed to was a typical TAG region cave. It was the deepest vertical cave in Tennessee, and the entrance was located deep in the Smoky Mountains. From the survey, I saw that we had a series of 3 mandatory rappels to get to the bottom. The first was 30’ and trivial. The second was nearly 200’ and ran worrisomely close to the stream passage. The third was 100’ and ran down the same pitch as the stream.

We had no intention of going down the third pitch. All that was down there was several hundred yards of sinuous stream passage that led to the survey’s termination. I had no intention of pushing this lead today.

What had called us to this cave was that second rappel: the 200’ one. From the looks of the survey, it entered through the ceiling of a huge cavern 200 yards long by 100 yards across and nearly 300’ high. The floor of this cavern lie more than 500’ below the entrance of the cave, and required only around 100 yards of downhill scrambling and the 2 raps to get to. Seemed like a perfect morning adventure to reacquaint 3 old friends.

I had just come home from 6 weeks of ROTC boot camp at Tyndall AFB, Florida, and was in the best shape of my life. School didn’t start for another week, and I was trying to squeeze in as much recreation as possible. The heat was driving me from the crags, which was not big deal really, as my grip strength had diminished severely during my time in Florida.

As we pulled in front of Deana’s apartment complex, we looked around, and , not surprisingly, she was nowhere to be seen. I called her room, and a half asleep voice answered. “You’re asleep aren’t you!?”, I accused.

“Well, not anymore, Travis.”

“Get your lazy ass out of bed and get down here, we gotta go.”

“Alright, alright, calm down. I’ll be down in thirty minutes.”

“THIRTY MINUTES? Can’t you go any faster than…”

The line went dead. The heifer had hung up on me. I looked at Jeff, and he rolled his eyes in understanding. We both watched the sun slowly rise above the horizon in the east, and knew that we could have had at least 5 more beers last night. Our early departure had just been blown.

By the time we were finally bouncing down the final gravel road, it was nearly 10:00 A.M. The GPS that had been pre-programmed with the coordinates of the cave entrance was little to no help. The dense canopy of the trees overhead was blocking out the signal. That was okay though. I had a copy of the USGS topo for the area and knew give or take a couple hundred yards where the cave entrance was. “How much farther?” came a voice from the back seat.

“I’m not sure, maybe 5 miles. Give or take.”

Deana nodded and went back to staring out the window. One thing was for certain, we were on the far side of nowhere.

We crossed over a ridge, and the GPS came back to life. It showed our entrance was less than 50 yards away. I pulled off the side of the road, and killed the engine. “Well, where is it?” Deana asked.

“Fifty yards that way.”

We walked to the edge of the road, and looked down. Way down. Sure the entrance was fifty yards away but Jesus, what a 50 yards. We couldn’t see very far because of the rhododendron thickets, but what we could see didn’t look good. A steep muddy downhill slope lead into what looked like a dry creek bed. This creek bed should lead to the cave entrance.

We suited up, and I made the call to our surface contact. I crammed a 200’ static and a 60m dynamic rope into a backpack along with spare batteries, rain gear, and all our hardware. The pack easily weighed 80lbs when I threw it on my back. We looked for a decent way down the hill, but I finally decided just to pick a direct path through the rhododendrons. About a minute into the walk, my feet slipped out from under me, and I quickly slid to the bottom of the hill, propelled by the pack, being ravaged by the roho branches all the way. When I stood up, I could see the bluff that marked the entrance to the cave.

“Are you okay down there?”

“Yeah, I can see the entrance, come on down.”

I had just reached the scramble down that marked the entrance to the cave when Jeff and Deana caught up. Something stank. Something really stank.

“Jesus, what’s that smell??” I looked ahead, and saw the answer to my own question. There was a dead fawn, with it’s neck bent back at an impossible angle wedged between two rocks nest to the 4’ by 2’ hole that was the entrance to the cave. There were maggots covering it. You could still clearly see the spots that proved it’s age must have been less than a month.

Life is hard in the wild I guess. The only reason I can think of for its death is if it fell off of the bluff above, and landed in the rocks. No matter how natural, it’s still sad to see something so young meet such a pathetic end.

We decided to go ahead and gear up before we got any closer to the entrance. None of us wanted to stand next to the dead fawn and it’s terrible smell any longer than we had too.

I pulled out the stuff sack that had all of our gear in it, and saw that we only had 2 harnesses. “Damn, I must have left one at my apartment.” I said. Well, we figured that the drops would be pretty vertical, and we could always zip up a harness for the third person. None of us wanted to turn back now. So in a moment, we made the collective decision to continue. Me and Deana put on the two harnesses, clipped our decent and ascension gear to them, Jeff threw on the pack, we all stuck on our helmets, flipped on our lights and headed on down.

We dropped into the small vertical entrance shaft as quickly as we could. None of us even gave a glance in the direction of the fawn. The sight of it up close, along with the smell would have been enough to make me hurl.

A little bit of stemming and a few chimney moves got us to the bottom of the entrance shaft. We are all pretty accomplished climbers, and even with packs and hiking boots, this wasn’t a problem. After this, we had a 45-degree downward sloping scramble over breakdown in a narrow passage for about 20 yards. A quick stem down a hole, and another scramble put us at the top of the 30’ pitch.

Well, at least the survey said it was 30’. To my eye it looked like every bit of 50’ but oh well. I used some 1” webbing to tie a bollard for an anchor, and tossed the rope. I clipped the pack with the rest of the gear to my belay loop, and down I went. Deana came second down behind me. We tied her harness, and figure 8 to the rope, Jeff, hauled it up, and down he came. Everything fine so far.

We did a short scramble over some rattling blocks and found an old 2-bolt anchor. From the looks of it, this was the top of the long rappel, even though the survey said the pitch did not start for another 50’ down. I looked at the next 50’ and knew right away that there was no way I was scrambling down that.

A small stream emerged right in front of me, and rolled over the rocks for as far as my headlamp could see. After that…darkness. I looked at the manky 2-bolt anchor. The hangars were old drilled angle iron that was terribly rusted. By terribly rusted, I mean really, really bad.

As I was standing there staring at this hideous anchor, and scratching my ass, I heard an unholy scream behind me. I jumped, and spun around. Deana and Jeff both had looks of terror on their faces that I’m sure mirrored my own. The screaming slowly subsided, and turned into a raspy screech. “What in the Hell was that?”

“I stepped on a bat!” Deana said. Sure enough, there on the ground was a small brown bat. I couldn’t believe that such a hellacious noise could have come from such a small creature. It looked sick. Well, it may have been sick before, but now it was crushed and writhing around on the floor. I could tell from the look of it, that it would not be getting better. Deana said that she stumbled, and stomped on him pretty good. I told her to look away, picked up a large rock, and with a dull “THUMP” put an end to its misery.

The image of the fawn was fresh in my mind, and now this. Sheesh, what a crappy day.

We all got to eyeballing the anchor again, and decided to trust it because it was in a perfect location for rigging the rap. I backed it up, by tying a large immobile-looking block. There was some extension in the anchor, that’s for sure, but I really expected the anchors to hold. Regardless, I didin’t want to risk anyone else’s ass right of the bat, so I jumped on rappel, told Deana and Jeff I’d see them in a minute, and slowly slid down into darkness.

The water ran over my boots as I backed down the initial slope. Not much water, but water none the less. As I turned the lip at the bottom of the scramble, I looked down. All that was illuminated in my headlamp was the white rope descending and undulating downward beyond the farthest reaches of my bulb. To the sides, nothing. Maybe a glimmer of a wet reflection here? Maybe not. I took one look back up to the fading headlamps of my two best friends, and pushed off.

Down and down and down. There was a sprinkling of water from the stream above slowly wetting my legs. The only sounds I heard were the gentle “Whirr” of the rope through my rap devise and the smattering of water on my helmet. Down, down, down.

“GISH!”

My feet touched down in a shallow pool that marked the bottom of the rappel. I unclipped my figure 8 and screamed “OFF RAPPELL!” as loud as I could. My voice reverberated in the huge room. For the first time, I looked around at my surroundings. Giant blocks of breakdown the size of a small house covered the floor of the huge room. I say huge, and I mean HUGE! You could easily have fit a Boeing 757 in here. I could not even see the ceiling above me. But using a halogen bulb, I could see all the walls of the cavern.

I heard some echo’s slide down from above, and noticed my rope was beginning to wave. Deana was coming down.

About this time, my headlamp started to get a little sick. I had been using the halogen bulb quite a bit, and it had put the hurts on my batteries. No problem, I opened my small pack, and dug around for the batteries, as the faint glow of Deana’s headlamp came into view above. I had dumped a couple boxes of AA and C batteries into a Ziploc bag, with some old spares in it prior to the trip. I pulled out 4 new C’s and stuffed them into my DuoBelt while my AA powered maglight burned in the background. I tossed my used C’s into the Ziploc just as Deana touched down.

She was a bit wetter than me. Being a less experienced rappeler, she had gone much slower, and spent a lot more time in the water. No worries though, we were both plenty warm . I took off my harness and figure 8 shoved them into a small stuff sack, and clove hitched them to the rope. I yelled up to Jeff, and up they went.

I remember feeling a little bit abandoned as our only link to the surface slid up out of my sight. A little bit of fear slowly crept into my veins at the sight of the glowing white rope sliding out of view. What if Jeff hurts himself? What if something happens? Just as I began to form the words to voice my concern, Deana spoke out, “I need some new batteries.”

Sure enough, her headlamp was a little dim. She was carrying a spotlight lantern as her secondary light. We were going to use it to try and see some high climbing leads in the upper parts of the big room. I tossed her the Ziploc and she swapped out her batteries. There is something comforting about a bright light in a cold wet cave. The reddish dim light that is put out by a dying battery is scary. I always feel rejuvenated when I replace bunk batteries.

“What do I do with the old ones?” she asked.

“Oh, just put them back in the bag, that’s what I did.”

“How do we tell the used ones from the new ones?”

“…oh, …”

“Well, we’ll be okay, me and you both have fresh batteries, and we aren’t going to be in here much longer. Surely Jeff won’t need batteries too.”

At that moment, I heard Jeff yelling down from above. It was nearly impossible to discern words from the echo that reverberated down. Can’t what? The rope? … STUCK.

That last word hit home, as the enormity of the situation suddenly became apparent. The sack with the gear had become stuck at the bottom of the watery scramble. Jeff couldn’t pull it up, and he couldn’t throw it back down.

This wasn’t good. From the noise above I heard him suggest that he would scramble down on a body rappel and free the bag from the lip of the 150’ drop. “NO!” I screamed. That slope was way too dangerous to try and scramble down. One false step, and he would fall through 150’ of darkness without a sound for 3 seconds then crash into the puddle next to Deana and I. Unacceptable. I would rather die down here than have Jeff risk himself like that. I couldn’t communicate this though; the echos and reverberations of the cavern were too bad to even understand single words.

The last thing I heard was Jeff screaming in anger. Then silence. Long silence. Deana and me sat together on a rock. Our fate suddenly had been taken from our hands. I felt rather hopeless. Jeff was 200 feet above us without a harness or any gear necessary to ascend a rope. He had no way of getting back to the surface for help. The first rappel was short, yes, but it was free hanging. There is no way he could have climbed that rope. Even though we were deeper, we were all in an equally bad position.

“I’m getting kind of cold.” The words broke the train of thought in my head. I looked at Deana. She looked cold! Shivers were slowly starting to creep up her spine. I put my arm around her and rocked her back and forth. I could feel the tremors coming from her. “Come on, we’re down here, we might as well explore a little bit.”

We walked around the big room, scrambling up and down the big boulders. I found a registry that the CRF guys probably put down here, but sadly, it was rusted, and I couldn’t open it. The movement had warmed Deana up, and gotten my mind off what Jeff was doing above. Suddenly, there was a splash.

The end of the rope was back in the puddle, and Jeff was not far behind.

“Thank God” was muttered under my breath, but what came out was more like, “Jesus, it took you long enough, we’re gonna miss The Shield! It comes on at nine o’clock you know!”

Jeff laughed and jumped off the rope. He had gotten the pack to come unstuck using a secret, potent combination of profanity, prayer and violent shaking. We showed Jeff around the big chamber for a minute. He gave the registry a try, but couldn’t open either. We had originally intended to search for missed leads, but our motivation was gone, and we just wanted to get out of this damn place.

We wandered back over to the rope and Deana got rigged to ascend. Something was different though. The trickling drops that were coming down from above, were now starting to resemble a real live waterfall. We had left the rain gear that I brought for just this, up at the top of the pitch. We were going to have to get really wet.

Deana manned up, and clipped her ascenders onto the rope. A summer of setting around had taken it’s toll however, and she was taking longer than we though she would to get up. By about 50’ up, she yelled down that she was soaked through, and by 100’ we could no longer see her headlamp. A few minutes later, the methodical movement of the rope stopped. We could tell that she was resting. Seonds turned into minutes, and minutes turned into 10. I yelled up to Deana, “Are you OKAY??” She yelled back something I couldn’t understand. “Damn, I hope she’s okay…DEANA, ARE YOU OKAY???”

This time I heard the reply, “I’m too tired…cold.”

“Come on baby, you gotta keep going. Just keep jugging, one move at a time, just go, and we can be outta here!”

“…Help me…”

My heart dropped into my stomach. Deana was in trouble.

“Deana, you can do it, I know you can do it, baby. You’re the biggest trooper I know. You’ve got this! This ain’t nuttin!”

The rope was still for a moment, then moved slightly.

“Keep talking Trabby, I don’t want to be here by myself…”

“Deana, you’ve got this! Just keep moving! Move, and you know you can keep going.”

Jeff jumped up, “Come on Deana, you’re a HARDASS!”

The rope started moving again. Back and forth, back and forth…

Me and Jeff patted each other on the back and shared a “Hell yeah!”

Then the rope stopped… “Where are you Trabby?”

So I looked at Jeff, and did the only thing I could think of…I sang. At the top my lungs, I sang, and Jeff quickly joined in the words we both knew by heart. A youth full of Rocky movies had not left us unprepared.

“…IT’S THE, EYE OF THE TIGER, IT’S THE THRILL OF THE FIGHT… RISING UP TO THE CHALLENGE OF OUR RIVALS!!!!”

Well, maybe we didn’t know all the words, but regardless, the rope was moving again. We kept on singing. You name a cheesy 80’s song, and we belted it. For possibly the first, and probably the last time, that great hidden chamber resonated the worst music two 19 year olds are capable of creating.

Finally we heard Deana yell from above, OFF ROPE. Before the words even stopped echoing, I was off. Jeff and me had decided that one of us would jug, then rappel with the second harness, and jug again. It was inefficient, but I was unwilling to risk sticking the rope again. I was the reason we were here, hell, this was my idea, so I would do the work.

So I jugged. The waterfall turned into a damn torrent higher up, and I instantly saw where Deana had become stalled. Thank god, she started again because if she had stayed on that rope much longer, she surely would have become hypothermic. My bicepts were burning, and I was out of breath. My heart pounded so hard that it moved my chest, but I kept on going. When I finally got to the final scramble, Deana already had the harness off ready for me.

She looked bad. Her knuckles were bloody from smacking them on the rock during the jug. “Are you okay Deana?”

“Yeah, I’m getting cold again though.”

She was soaked to the bone, and wearing cotton clothes. Damn, I didn’t count on us getting wet, this sh*t could be deadly.

“Look sweetie, you gotta keep moving, OKAY? Keep walking around, jump up and down, just keep moving, you can’t let yourself get cold!”

She smiled and nodded, and with one last look at her, off I went, back into the darkness. I could smell the burning from my glove on the rope. I could feel the heat burning my hand. I didn’t care. This time, I screamed down the rappel. At the last second, I locked off, and the rope stretch allowed me to smack my ass on a rock next to the small pool. Jeff was setting there in the dark.

“My headlamp batteries are going out. I turned it off to conserve. It’s dark down here…bats everywhere, I can feel them.”

Jeff’s backup light and the spare batteries were in the pack I just jugged to the top. This was going from worse to worst. Jeff looked kind of bad. I had the feeling that there was something wrong with him, but I just didn’t have time.

“Here’s my Minimag Jeff, It’s not much, but it’s all I got. I’m soaked, and I can’t stay still for long. I’m sorry, but I’ve gotta go and take care of Deana now. She’s cold and looking like death, do you mind me going first?”

“Go ahead Trav, just hurry…”

Before the words were even out of his mouth I was 10’ up the rope. My entire body was steaming from the heat. I pulled for all I was worth on those damn jugs. My shoulders sagged, and the water from the waterfall ran down my back and chest. I didn’t care. I just had to go. The only sound in the darkness was my breath, and the mechanical sound of the jugs sliding on the rope.

When I finally got to the top, I was horrified. Deana was laying on the ground on her back next to the rock that ended the brown bats life.

I screamed, “OFF ROPE” for all I was worth and ran over to Deana, already taking off my harness.

“Come on Deana, you gotta go, take my harness and get on rope, and get out of here. Me and Jeff will meet you on the surface.”

I was beginning to panic. Everything was going wrong; this wasn’t supposed to be so dangerous. Deana, my best friend forever was laying on the ground looking at me through glassed eyes and not talking back. I loved her, she couldn’t be hurt…Please just let everyone get out of here…please…

I shook her, and she jumped with a start. “Where did you go…”

“I went to give Jeff the harness Deana, get up, we’ve got to get you out of here!”

“Why…why did you go down in the…the…”

Sh*t, this is bad, really bad. I picked Deana up to her feet she wavered, but stood on her own. I hugged her, and started rubbing her back hard. I pounded her arms, and back and shook her around trying to warm her up. Hell, at least it was keeping me warm. I was starting to shiver from being still. My saturated clothes were dripping water. I was wearing cotton too. Stupid, stupid, stupid, how could I have been so stupid. 2 harnesses for 3 people in a multidrop vertical cave. Mixed up good and used batteries. Cotton clothes. Dynamic rope.

It reads like an accident report. We should have died in there that day. People have died when less went wrong…

I could hear the stream raging in a parallel passage. There must have been a storm, and the dry creek bed that ran into the cave was dry no longer.

Thunderstorms in the forecast…

I continued to shake Deana. “I love you sweetie, I love you, you gotta get better. You gotta warm up and climb out of here. You’ve got too”

I made the mistake of falling in love with my best friend. I always knew it would never work out. We both did. Still, I poured my entire heart into that girl over the last 4 years. I held on to my silly notions that everything would work out if it was meant to be. I just knew that her and me were meant to be. We had to be. I was in love. We had simply grown apart. She stopped seeing in me, what I still saw in her. We saw each other less and less, and there was suddenly tension as I pushed her to make a choice that she couldn’t make. I knew better.

I had decided to walk away. Just like that, I had to leave behind years of invested emotion. To keep the friendship, I had to leave my love behind. No closure, no crying goodbyes. No fit of rage. No blind drunk to forget. Just nothing. I alone had to turn and walk away from the love of my life. What meant the world to me, faded like a dream. Shimmers of happiness glimmered in the mist, but it was gone. It was the hardest thing I have ever done.

“I…love…you…too…Trabby”

In her eyes I could see that she was telling the truth.

I was already putting the harness on her. She tried to help, but her limbs seemed not to cooperate. It was like fighting with a 4 year old in a dressing room. I buckled her harness, smacked the ascenders on the rope and said, “Now go, and don’t stop until you get out of the cave. Jeff will meet you, and get you out.”

She tried with everything she could to climb, but she just couldn’t do it. She didn’t have any experience with the kind of ascending system I was using, and in her state, she couldn’t learn. I picked her up with one arm, and unlatched the jugs with the other. I didn’t know what else I could do. I was helpless. I continued rubbing her and hitting her, it seemed to help a little, as she was starting to shiver again, and she could make reasonable sentences.

I screamed to Jeff, “Where are you buddy? We gotta hurry!”

In an answer, Jeff stuck his head over the top of the scramble. His headlamp was completely dead, and the minimag was hanging around his neck on a string pointing down.

“I couldn’t see to jug, there’s bats everywhere.”

I ignored him, and grabbed his ascenders for the Frog system, and smacked them on Deana’s harness. I smacked her on the back side and said, “Now go, don’t stop until you get to the top!”

She did her best, and somehow managed to get to the top of the pitch. I stuck new batteries in Jeff’s headlamp, and he went up on my ascenders next. He looked bad. I’ve never seen him look so exhausted. I can only imagine what that jug would have been like in the dark. When he got to the top, he found Deana struggling to get the Ascenders off the rope. She couldn’t do it. While Jeff was ascending, I was hauling up the long rope, and coiling it as fast as I could. I stuffed it and all the left over hardware into my pack.

Jeff threw down the harness and jugs, and was getting Deana ready for the last hundred yards of uphill scramble.

The pack was too heavy for me to wear and jug, so I tied it to the end of the rope, and started up. It had the last of my spare batteries in it…

When I got to the top of the rope, I finally noticed the bats. Hundreds of them. Thousands of them. Hell, Millions! It must have just hit dusk outside because every bat in that cave was flying through the 20 square feet of passage at the top of that jug. They hit my poly top, and clung to it. I brushed them off and spat, “Go on you guys, I’ll get this stuff, you two really need to get out of here.”

I was facing down the pitch we had just jugged, and was hauling up the rope hand over hand. The bats were all over me. I could feel them on my neck, and on my back. I didn’t care. Jeff and Deana turned to leave. I didn’t care about myself anymore. I was so scared that my friends might die because of my stupidity.

As I hauled the bag, with the bats flittering in and out of my headlamp, I thought, “Thank God, this is finally over.” Just then, the bag hung up. “DAMNIT, AAAAAHHHHH!!!” I dropped the rope and let my pack crash back down to the ground below. I smashed at myself trying to get the damn bats off of me. I leaned out, and turned on my halogen bulb to see what my pack had hung on and my headlamp went dim.

I was out of juice. One of the batteries I put in, must have been used, and it drained the power from the others. I was putting on a harness to rappel when a voice spoke to me.

I would die if I went back down that rope. I was shivering uncontrollably, and was about to rap down with no headlamp to retrieve batteries from a closed pack at the lip of a 200’ dropoff. Jeff had left with my backup light.

I threw down my figure 8, and started after Jeff and Deana with the dim brown light of my Duo.

I caught them after a couple of minutes. Deana gave me the lantern, and we all squeezed up the final little bit.

Sometimes, I can still smell that dead fawn.

*********************************************

There had been a storm while we were in that cave. It took us nearly an hour to find the road in the darkness. It was nearly 10:00PM when we got back to the car. My cell phone had the messages from my surface contact. We were hours behind schedule. She had called the park rangers, but been unable to find a person to talk to, as they had all gone home for the night.

Regardless, it would have been the next morning before a rescue could even have been started. To find that cave in the dark would have been impossible, and rescuers with the requisite vertical experience would have taken hours to even get to the Smokys. Deana would have been long gone by then. There is no way we could ever have warmed her in the dark.

We could have, and probably should have died in that cave that day. We did everything wrong. People have died for less. The drive home was surprisingly quiet. Jeff and Deana both thanked me for doing that second Jug. Jeff said that he would have not been able too. He said that truly, the main thing the kept him going durring the dark, wet, jug was the thought of Deana needing help up top.

I dropped Deana off at her apartment with a hug, and took Jeff home.

On the drive home, I pulled over to the side of the road. How could I have been so stupid. I could have killed my friends. Never mind their reassurances that we were all there on equal terms. Bullsh*t. I was their guide, I should have known better, and if anything would have happened down there in that hole, I would have been the one to blame.

I had toed the edge of survival that day. Had I not been able to keep going, Someone would have died. I would have killed one of my best friends...

Deana never remembered what she said to me in that cold darkness, but I can still hear her shaky words in my ears some lonely nights.

“I love you too Trabby”

Travis


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Aug 27, 2003, 11:49 PM
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This is a great trip report Travis, well done.


ropeburn


Aug 27, 2003, 11:56 PM
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jesus.


passthepitonspete


Aug 31, 2003, 7:51 AM
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Damn. You really should have died.

A few thoughts:

    [*:4668bb3a2b]Obviously it was not smart to go down with only two harnesses. Perhaps you could have tied one from the 1" webbing you had? You only need about 12' to tie a good harness, like what you saw me use in Roppel Cave. It's a good trick to have up your sleeve

    [*:4668bb3a2b]Having both of you rap to the bottom of the pit with all of your vertical gear wasn't too smart. You should have sent it up the rope first, just in case it got stuck, which it did

    [*:4668bb3a2b]Why didn't you wear your rain gear? Just forgot it? Did you forget it a second time when you went back down?
    [*:4668bb3a2b]Bringing the vertical gear back down to Jeff, rather than trying to lower it on the rope, was a good idea

    [*:4668bb3a2b]When working in wet vertical caves, or any cave for that matter, you should have three sources of light with you at all times. It's too easy for things to go wrong in the water

    [*:4668bb3a2b]It's quite possible if you weren't so fit, you could have ended up dead. If Deana had been unable to ascend the rope, she could well have died on it from hypothermia. Man, your singing must have been awful if it got her to the top of the pitch!

    [*:4668bb3a2b]You've got horseshoes up your ass, and God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life, or you'd all be dead by now!


That trip report should make the "accidents and injuries" publication. People can learn from it. Especially you. Excellent story. We'll be back to Roppel Cave in early November after I'm home from Yosemite - you should come!

And what about the heroine? Maybe it isn't too late. "Cherchez la femme," dude.....


tenn_dawg


Aug 31, 2003, 4:09 PM
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I kind of wrote this story with the intention of getting reamed for being stupid. (I was being stupid) But it's good for people to see. Re-reading it, it's hard to fathom how far we were up the proverbial creek without a paddle.

We came really close to having a nonfunctional member. Had she not been able to function to jug, I would have been able to rig a haul, and get her up the second (short) pitch, but the clock would have been ticking as it always is with hypothermia. There is a good chance that she would not have been able to physically climb the last 50 or so yards of scramble after that much time. Not to mention that we were a harness short, and Jeff who was also soaking wet and getting cold fast, might have had to stay in longer.

As it was, the long jug was enough to keep you warm enough, even in the water. I was able to stay out of the worst of it, and was never cold on the long pitch. Doing it back to back helped as well. The problem was with sending Deana up and her having to wait. No physical activity soaking wet in cotton in a cave....well, anyone who has been in that situation knows how it can be.

As for your questions...

In reply to:
Having both of you rap to the bottom of the pit with all of your vertical gear wasn't too smart. You should have sent it up the rope first, just in case it got stuck, which it did

This never really occured to me until just now. That really would have been a better idea. Duh...

In reply to:
Why didn't you wear your rain gear? Just forgot it? Did you forget it a second time when you went back down?

Just forgot it the first time, and I didin't really need it the second time. I never got cold on the Jug, just because of the physical exertion. Had Deana worn it on the way up, however, we would have been MUCH better off. Duh...

In reply to:
It's quite possible if you weren't so fit, you could have ended up dead. If Deana had been unable to ascend the rope, she could well have died on it from hypothermia. Man, your singing must have been awful if it got her to the top of the pitch!

Thank the Air Force. I was less than a month out of boot camp, and I was in really good shape.

Deana would have been SOL if she didin' t make the jug, and yes, the singing was indeed terrible.

The cold truth hit home hard when she got funky on the ascent. I was really truly scared to death. It really does read like an accident report. The only difference is shown in your next quote...

In reply to:
You've got horseshoes up your ass...

The trick is to kind of start on one of the ends, and work them around and in. If you try to go all at once, you're asking for trouble.

I really don't think that 90% of the people that read this will truly fathom the danger we were in. You can't shrug off cold and wet in a cave, had one more thing gone wrong, deana would be in a box, and I probably would have dropped off the face of the earth. Hard to kill your best friend, and still get by.

I'll say any day of the week that caves are at least 10 times more dangerous than climbing.

I think few people would disagree.

Travis


jughead


Aug 31, 2003, 5:57 PM
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could someone just give me the highlights or the paper back version :lol:


Partner philbox
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Aug 31, 2003, 9:03 PM
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In reply to:
could someone just give me the highlights or the paper back version :lol:

Two boys and a girl go into a cave past a stinky dead deer and very nearly don`t come out after a rainstorm almost traps them underground. Leader boy has forgotten that you need 3 harnesses (harnii) for 3 people thus exacerbating the dramas down in the big dark scary hole. To top it all off they almost run out of lighting and some of the drama was played out in complete darkness. All were lucky to come out of this epic with their skin intact. Leader boy wrote long exciting story that really should be read in its entirety for the lessons thereof to really sink in.

There ya go, short enough highlights.


poiboi


Sep 1, 2003, 1:27 AM
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Thats a scary story... Very well written though...

You should turn it into an epic. :lol:


flamer


Sep 1, 2003, 7:32 AM
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Travis,
I'm not a mud jockey, but I sure enjoyed your story. Good stuff.
josh


passthepitonspete


Sep 1, 2003, 5:22 PM
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What the average climber doesn't realize when reading this is that it all takes place in darkness. I'm not talking about "Gee, honey, it's pretty dark out tonight..." but rather "so dark you can't see your hand in front of your face" dark. In other words, real darkness.

If you've never been in a cave without a light, you've never experienced real darkness.

There is a synergy of errors that can occur while caving, and you guys had 'em all - inexperience, bad judgement, bad weather, water, darkness, exhaustion, cold, lighting problemsb - every time I read your story I get sweaty hands!

When it comes to dying, it isn't usually one mistake that kills you, but rather a combination - a synergistic effect whereby the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

There's another caving accident report linked on this website, but in this instance the victim wasn't so fortunate. He died. And he died in such an amazingly stupid way, it just tears your heart to read it. If you want to learn how someone else blew it, and hopefully learn how not to blow it yourself, I invite you to check out Mistakes + Synergy = DEATH.

I've asked everyone to offer a comment about one mistake that Joe made that contributed to his death, and although many contributing mistakes have been pointed out, there is still room for one or two more that have been missed.

The post linked above should be required reading, not only for cavers, but for outdoor lead climbers.


camhead


Sep 2, 2003, 11:54 AM
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Two boys and a girl go into a cave past a stinky dead deer and very nearly don`t come out after a rainstorm almost traps them underground. Leader boy has forgotten that you need 3 harnesses (harnii) for 3 people thus exacerbating the dramas down in the big dark scary hole. To top it all off they almost run out of lighting and some of the drama was played out in complete darkness. All were lucky to come out of this epic with their skin intact. Leader boy wrote long exciting story that really should be read in its entirety for the lessons thereof to really sink in.

There ya go, short enough highlights.

hey phil, could you do that for some of my school books?


jclowder


Sep 3, 2003, 6:50 PM
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Ok, Everything Travis said was completely true. Why, because i was there, i was freezing my cajones off in pitch blackness. Except for the fact that i had to pull my self hand-over-hand out of the cave with Travis and Deana on my back and all our gear hanging from my harness...oh and went back the next day rescued Travis's and my gear because hes a baby and was scared...ok well maybe it happend more like what Travis said but i only was crying while i was stuck down at the bottom of that damned cave by myself, with no light and i swear to this day that i heard footsteps down the cave, i SWEAR...well thats what it sounded like...until travis came back down the rope and shined his light an abandoned piece of plastic tarp. Oh well, good story travis, i forgot about singing that day.
-Jeff-


overlord


Sep 5, 2003, 7:34 AM
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  • You've got horseshoes up your ass, and God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life, or you'd all be dead by now!

  • hehehe, thats right.


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