VII: Someone Else's Caving Book

Copyright (c) 1997 by Ronald Bourret

Ben and Paul arrived while Bill and I were setting up the rappel anchors. They passed the time gnawing on granola bars as Bill described the pitch. It dropped through the waterfall formed by our stream, hit a wide ledge, and dropped again. At the lip of the second drop, where the ceiling curved down to form the opposite wall, it was just possible to reach a tricky thread for a rebelay.

Bill clipped into the rope and slid over the edge. I wormed through a water-worn tube on the right and discovered a small balcony with an excellent view of the descent. Bill was moving quickly down the first drop. At the ledge, he stooped to throw the rope over the second drop, his light winking erratically like a lantern on a storm-tossed sailboat. Suddenly, the light moved straight out from the cliff and began to dance in mid-air. A few minutes later, it vanished from sight.

The rope went slack and Ben, then Paul, followed Bill into the darkness. I went last, rappelling slowly and enjoying the position. The first waterfall cascaded down the face to my left, splashing harmlessly off my rubber boots whenever I swung too close. It joined a second stream on the ledge below, then leapt over the edge in a confusion of icy bubbles.

I stopped at the ledge and reached out to unclip the rope from the rebelay. The sling hung just beyond the tips of my outstretched fingers and I wondered how Bill, several inches shorter than me, had ever managed to place it. It certainly explained the Tinkerbell act his light had done.

I unclipped the rope, leaned over the drop, and strained to lift the rope back into the carabiner. After several tries, I succeeded and started down the second waterfall. It was much wider than the first and, in spite of the rebelay, was impossible to completely avoid.

Halfway down, I could see the main stream clearly for the first time. It shot out of a hole somewhere near the ceiling, crashed onto a jagged pile of rocks, and rushed down a hallway-sized passage at the back of the room. I had seen places like this only in photographs and felt I had been miscast in a book written by someone else -- a book about real cavers.

At the bottom, I stepped out of the water and unclipped. No sooner had I pulled the rope from my figure eight than Bill attached his ascenders and began to climb.

"Aren't we going on?" I shouted.

"No," he yelled, pointing back at the whitewater.

"Oh," I replied. I had been wondering where the room's exit was.

"I waded down that for two or three hundred feet," yelled Ben. "It's waist deep and the ceiling gets low."

"You waded down that?"

I was in someone else's caving book.