I’d like you to listen to me. I’m not asking for much. Just a few moments of your time to hear my side of the story.
In 2009, my best friend (and co-worker), Dave, convinced me to go spelunking in some caverns.
At the time, we were both working as tour guides at Mystic Cave.
Back then, Mystic Cave was a popular tourist destination near the Colorado Rockies, but in late August the visitors usually became less frequent. To make matters worse, the cabin where we waited for guests before the tours started didn’t have internet access and our phones rarely had service. This led to a lot of downtime (or boredom) for Daniel and I.
On a warm summer evening Daniel suggested that we go spelunking in some of the smaller passages in the cave. As you can imagine, exploring these tiny crawling spaces was not a part of the regular guided tour. I told Daniel that I wasn’t sure about it. However, on that particular day we were bored as hell. No one had shown up to the cave that day and it was almost time to close up and go home.
Full disclosure here: I have always been claustrophobic. I can’t stand small spaces. I already know what you’re thinking, “why work in a cave then?” Well, most of the cave itself is quite large and doesn’t require any crawling. There are a few tight spots where you need to shimmy through, but most of the “rooms” throughout the tour have 20-foot ceilings.
We grabbed our headlamps, flashlights, kneepads, twine and headed off down the gravel path from the cabin to the entrance of the cave.
“Are you alright, big fella?” he asked playfully. “Shut up,” I said as I opened the metal gate to enter the cave.
The strange thing about caves is that they are somewhat cold. Mystic Cave was usually about 49 degrees Fahrenheit year-round. Not too chilly, but not very warm either. Most of the air in caves is saturated with water vapor, which makes the relative humidity close to 100%. This creates a particularly eerie, cold, and damp environment.
Mystic Cave essentially has two levels. The entrance into the cave opens into the first level, which is an auditorium-sized area full of stalagmites and stalactites. Visitors were always in awe as soon as the lights were illuminated and they could appreciate the massive size of the cave. However, Daniel and I weren’t here to admire the upper level — we had seen it thousands of times. This time we were there for more of an adventure, you could say.
In the middle of the first level are 200 wooden steps leading down to the second level, or the “basement” as we often joked on tours. Because of the humidity in the cave, the steps were starting to rot and were slippery.
As we silently traversed down the steps, water droplets from the ceiling dropped on us and soaked our clothes.
We followed the familiar, well-marked path until we arrived at the “Wishing Well.” The Wishing Well is a pool of water that naturally collected in a bowl-shaped crevice in the the cave. Our managers thought it would be a good idea to put up a sign to encourage tourists to toss coins and “make a wish.” Initially it was a painfully stupid gimmick. However, on more than one occasion, Daniel and I used to scrape the coins out to buy beer.
Just behind the Wishing Well is a crawlspace that is about two-foot high. This area extends for 20 or so feet and leads to narrow tunnel.
I nervously fumbled with my headlamp and instinctually tied the twine we brought with us around my ankle to a large rock outside the Wishing Well. Daniel did the same. This would help incase we got turned around or disorientated while exploring.
“Here goes nothing,“ he said.
Again, I was hesitant. But before I knew it, Daniel started crawling on his stomach, squirming through the passageway and was out of my sight in seconds.
Stay tuned for Part II to be released next week.