I would be lying if I said I enjoyed spending time in the deep dark. I am not a fan. After five years of avoiding the South Fork Spring Cave near Buford, Colorado, I decided to commit to my entry-level spelunking. It was a good day to escape the Wild West's July heat, and a trip down into the caverns seemed to do just that. Ryan and I met up with his long time friend and my newly adopted older brother, Luke Trout. Luke is not only perfectly comically, but he is also a brilliant archaeologist with a background in Anthropology and a Masters in Archaeology, he now resides as an impressive staff member of the Bureau of Land Management in Meeker, Colorado. Along with his other archaeologist friends––there were seven of us total––we began our hike up from the campground below.
At this point, images of the 2005 thriller, "The Decent" began to play in my thoughts. Caves are not my thing. If you haven't watched that film, I encourage you not to. It didn't do me any good and quite frankly added trivialities to my caving experience. Hiking up to the cave entrance, I played a friendly game of what if? What if there was an earthquake while we were there? What if all of our headlamps simultaneously ran out of battery? What if I became separated from the group? There were lots of lovely open-ended questions that sped up the cadence of my heart. Some would call me a wimp in this situation. Headlamp and two left-handed gloves, we headed into the mouth of the cave. Ah, yes, it was dark. Nearly fifteen steps from the entrance, the daylight had vanished. With the collection of our headlamps, we were able to see reasonably well; we progressed to a series of turns and a ladder placed by the Forrest Service to take us deeper into the cave. The air began to dampen, and the limestone walls began to appear moister. We came to many sections where we all had to kneel and duck through the nature-made obstacles. In the distance you could hear rushing water, we were nearing the underground Spring river.
Don't let the picture fool you, it was very dark in there, and we had to play hop-scotch with the rocks to stay above the flowing stream. The two left-handed gloves worked in my favor giving me more grip to hang onto the walls. Scooting through the tiny crevices, I practiced controlling my thoughts and not allowing myself to succumb to the looming claustrophobia. We had been walking deeper into the cave for just over an hour when we came to a thin crevice we were going to have to climb up. It was very narrow, and gravity worked against you to pull yourself up towards the next stretch of the cave. Feeling winded and overwhelmed, I proceeded to go up the narrow crevice inching myself through and up to Sarah and Ryan, waiting at the top section. A moment of panic swept over me as I felt stuck in between the two slabs of rock blocking everyone's route. I had to stop to calm down and relax before I could pull myself all the way through.
After that episode, I was tired. I felt my adrenals pumping, and I was running on anxiousness. The seven of us made us through what they called the most challenging section. Fifteen minutes later, we made it to the final stopping point, called "The Lake." The end of the cave met crystal clear water that meant we could no longer proceed without wet suits and masks. I made it to the end, yet I was still preoccupied that I was going to have to make it out of the cave, but somewhat better knowing I didn't have any surprises waiting on the way back. All seven of us had a moment of silence and turned our headlamps off at the end of the cave. I closed my eyes shut and counted to thirty, as I did not want the impending fears to take over. With a celebratory Gingersnap, we headed back to the opening of the cave.
Shuffling through the tiny tunnels and crawling through the water-drenched floor, I was able to appreciate the experience more on the way out. Less fixated on the lack of noise or the growing echos of the rush of the underground river. We visited what they call the "Clay Room," a small inlet housing a massive pile of natural clay. In the walls, you could see people had traced their names; we were able to find little Luke's signature, a Wix signature, and several others. The clay was a velvety texture, and the sand on the floor could compete with the isles of the Caribbean. Nearing the end of our route, we came to a two-way path diversion, where you could stay about 15 feet in the air and straddle a cave ledge or climb down a rope and walk on the floor towards a ladder you could climb up. I mistakenly followed Ryan on the more difficult route above the elevated ledge. By this point, I was drenched with water and gritty with sand, tired, and worn out. Shuffling across the shelf, I realized we were quite a bit higher than I had assumed. I had my left leg on one ledge while my right leg braced me on the parallel shelf, my left hand had to extend across the cave, so I could begin to shift all of my weight over to my right leg and sit on the ledge across from where I currently stood. When I tell you I was sweating, I was, beads of sweat rolled down my forehead, I could sense Alex Honnold's embarrassment for my terrible climbing skills. Snapping at Ryan, I wasn't even sure how to backtrack I became more stressed out, where he finally hurried to the end of the ledge and reached for my hand to literally pull me up and over to where I needed to be, marriage am I right? The whole ordeal left me with several gray hairs and an exciting story about my lack of agility.
Alas, the most difficult sections of the journey out were complete. We wandered through the final stretches of the cave, and I was met with the glorious warmth of sweet, sweet daylight. Here's a captivating photo of yours truly, modeling a dazed and confused look complete with several pronounced bumps on my head from greeting the cave's ceilings. Some may even note a cross-eyed appearance; I suppose that is what three hours in a cave will do to someone.
I want to add it was Luke's 33rd Birthday Celebration, and it was a real experience getting to learn about the history and minerals that created this cave. Thanks for including me as a member of your birthday adventure.