What a great experience it was to lead a group of excited new cavers through Northern Utah'’ Blowhole Cave.5 of the members of our group had never been in a wild cave before and they were excited with the prospect of heading subterranean.
As a group of Boy Scouts, you can’t just say, “Hey let’s go explore a cave next Saturday that includes a vertical 80 ft. rappel into the earth.” The BSA has wise put into place special restrictions and guidelines to ensure that only experienced participants take on these great risks. I was contacted by this local Varsity Team a few months back with their goal of being able to cave and we started the training wheels in motion. They already had done canyoneering which included lots of bouldering, climbing and rappelling, but they had never learned how to ascend a rope and they were clueless about the challenges of heading underground.
Blowhole Cave is a cave that I manage the access for and I am very involved in granting access to only those groups that are prepared for the experience. That includes helmets, sturdy boots, gloves, and three sources of lights. It also includes learning how to ascend long before you drop through the Blowhole locked gate. These young men started off with 12 young men and 5 leaders and throughout the process it was trimmed down to 3 young men and 2 leaders that were physically prepared and emotionally ready for the experience. You might think that is a sad turnout, but this is actually for the best because those that are not fully prepared should stay home, until they are ready. The 5 successful cavers will return to their group of young men and inspire the rest of them to greatness and probably get 80% of them to go on future caving trips. Let’s face it, some people should never attempt wild vertical caving, and that’s okay.
Blowhole cave is a difficult vertical cave that offers few rewards other than personal satisfaction. The rappels are obstructed with obstacles, the passages are steeply sloped requiring being on rope the majority of the trip, and the vertical ascents are just plain difficult because you can’t just use the “Frogging” method due to the rock obstructions and angles of the ascents. It is about 70 degrees inside, even though it was just 24 degrees on the surface. There was slick geothermal moisture on every surface, which made everything slick and slippery. But for some reason, successfully emerging back to the surface hours after entering brings great satisfaction.
THE NAVAJO BLANKET - Blowhole cave is remembered for a unique cave feature that is not found anywhere else, yet if you are concentrating on your every footstep you never even see it. That’s right, the “Navajo Room” is situated about 2/3’s of the way to the bottom of the cave and is a steep slippery sloped room that gets you looking downward trying to keep yourself upright as you descend. Once to the lowest “Miner’s Pit” the new caver will finally stop and look at their map and realize that they have already passed the room and will have to look at it again on their way back up. It is usually about 90-120 minutes later when they once again return to the Navajo Room, but this time you are on rope trying to navigate Batman style up the steep slippery angle. At this point you are also exerting a lot of energy in the form of heavy breathing, sweating, and moaning, from the slips that allow for shins and knees to absorb the bumps and bruises. One is not usually in the mood to stop and explore the wonders when they are figuring out how to ration your energy for the ascent that seemed so much easier when coming down.
Take a look a the colors seen in the lower Navajo Room portions of the cave...
The flash washed out those colors a bit, but give you the clear reason as to why they refer to the feature as a “Navajo Blanket” as you see all the multi-layers of the cave. Here is a more vibrant close-up...
The oranges, brown.s and white, combined with the purple make for a stunning effect that I have never seen elsewhere...
And all of this is on display in the portion of the cave when one is concentrating on the rope and boots while trying to maintain verticality. That is almost a bad trick being played by our grand Creator. If one is not careful, then they will visit Blowhole Cave and only remember it as a hot, muddy, slippery, hole in the ground with no beautiful features. It is only when we read the map, prepare for the sites along the way, and actually take the time to stop and soak it all in that the beauty really can be enjoyed. The freeway effect is all too common in life. This is when we get into the speeding mode and concentrate only on the final destination and miss the sites along the way. Just think of all those parents who equip their cars with DVD players to pacify the kids as they drive past the real sites of life just outside their windows.
STOP AND ENJOY LIFE’S BEAUTY - I watched closely our five new cavers yesterday, and only one really showed the desire and ability to enjoy the journey. The other four were like most other new cavers. They were concentrating on each footstep, and missed most of the beauty.However, this one young leader was much like myself. He carried a camera and was heard to comment on the sites he found with every new passage and footstep. “Wow, look at these colors.” “Look at that purple!” “The crystals were everywhere!” “I think I liked exploring the upper passages the most in this cave.” All of these are close quotes to what I heard him say throughout the day. Being the camera man for his group meant that nobody was going to see him in any shots, so I took it upon myself to get some pictures of him throughout the day...
Drew will appreciate those three pics as he can add them to all of the images he snapped of the rest of his Varsity Team. I know what it is like to get back from a trip and see great keepsakes of everybody else and yet none of yourself. His group should count their blessings that they have him along to document, motivate, and excite with his enthusiasm for his current environment.
RABBIT TRAP - You have to feel sorry for the poor rabbit that obviously slipped down the opening of Blowhole Cave. He managed to keep tumbling and exploring all the way to the bottom of the Navajo Room where he ultimately passed away from injury, hunger, and thirst. What a way to die, in total blackness with no hope of escape.
LIGHTING THE DARKNESS - I had a great moment in with their Team at the Miner’s pit entrance. I told the 3 young men to navigate their way to the bottom of the main cave passage and then turn their lights off and make their way back to our position in the dark. “But how far is it?” They asked. “I don’t know, I’ve never been here,” I said. That was the 30 upteenth time I had uttered that phrase during the trip as I like to allow the first time visitor the chance to explore and discover for themselves. To my surprise, they made it to the bottom okay and then 3 of us leaders sat around the Miner’s Pit entrance in the dark and listened to the young men as they shut their lights off and made it back to us. They said nothing and you could hear them approach as they crawled up the steep and muddy slope. My fear was that they might actually stumble into the pit, so I was sprawled out forming a protective barrier. They were right next to me and yet we were in complete darkness and silence other than our breathing. We turned out lights on and I asked how they made it back up so quickly, and out of the mouth of babes came, “We just followed the iron rod!” Yep, prospective miners had left 1” cable in the cave back in the 40’s or 50’s and it ran from the bottom right to our location... Profound wisdom from this group reinforced the fact that these young men really do listen and learn.
Next came the lighting lesson as we viewed the 35 lumen LED lights available at every 7-11. Compare that with the 120 lumen handheld that one leader spent twenty some dollars thinking it was going to be bright. It was one step above the 35 lumen model, but completely ineffective at lighting a passage, yet this is what would have been used for decades in caves as the best alternative to carbide lighting. Next came the typical headlamp you would buy from Black Diamond or Petzl at the mounatinaeering shops. They are modest performers, but really are very lousy alternatives when you look at their pricey price tags. Next came the headlamps that I go 3 or 4 years ago that are great and durable performers and were mind blowing when I made their purchase. And yet all of these pale to the current crop of handheld lights and headlamps available for China suppliers. My current headlamp is a torch when compared to the lights of others. My 3 handhelds and 80% of my headlamps brightness and they all really light up a room. We compared all of these to our testimonies of faithfulness as we navigate through early life with a 35 lumen light and as we grow and develop we strive for the massive 900 lumen flame thrower. Yes, early on we rely upon the light of others as we make it through each footstep and we desire and cultivate brighter and stronger lights. Armed with stronger and brighter lights, we can also help others stop and reflect on the beauty around them and more fully appreciate all the creations that our Heavenly Father created for our appreciation.
Make it a great day!
Michael Leavitt - Orem, Utah - www.TheHomeInspector.com - Michael Leavitt & Co Inspections, Inc.