The following is a true story, only the names have been changed, to protect the guilty.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Training Day

Cave bacon anyone ?
 I've been a member of the Minnesota Speleological Survey going on four years now. In that time I have had a lot of fun heading underground exploring, digging, getting muddy and doing things a little out of my comfort zone. It's also been fun to get to know a great group of new friends.
Canada Scott
 Most of my caving has been in Mystery Cave State Park in southern Minnesota.  In order to get in this cave a plan needs to be formulated and paperwork needs to be submitted to the park by a recognized trip leader. You also need keys, the cave is locked. Over the years, as trips came up I got on as many as I could, usually with "G" Man, my son. He has been caving nearly as many times as I have, and is a good caver. Due to the small 6 person limit in a caving party, Super Y, Big D, and Mrs Death Rider have not been on many good trips. Most people think my youngsters can't handle anything more than walking passage and don't want to give up a day to go see some clean, run-of the-mill tour guide stuff. My kids want to crawl around and get dirty. On the flip side, other trips are in fact, too dangerous. I can't blame the leaders, getting access to the cave is not something that happens all the time and no one wants to waste it.  Subsequently they have not done anything "fun".    Bottom line.... I needed to become a leader, and get the rest of my crew caving.
The Dragon's Jaw

Mr Savage at Mystery Pool
  It just so happens that the day of the Almanzo 100 was the same day as cave leader training. This has not come up in the four years I've been with the club and I figured I was ready. I skipped the Almanzo in favor of getting leadership status and get my kids caving. I showed up at Mystery Cave at 10 am to go over the basics in trip planning, paperwork submission, gear requirements, and general rules. After all the talking it was time to get down to business and get in the cave. Being a leader in the cave really just boils down to knowing your way around and exploring it in a safe and careful manner. The careful part meaning to not break or damage anything in the cave itself.  "Pretties" in a cave take forever to get that way , the saying often passed around is...Break bones, not formations.
Yours Truly

Nadsters at the jump off. It's about 30' to the bottom of the 3' ++ slot she is crossing
 The size of the total group for the day was 8. We had two leaders, K-Haug and Mr Savage. Four of us, Jkellberg , Canada Scott,  El Presidente' and myself, were vying for leadership status. Nadsters and Sh-Sean were just along for the ride. Once inside K-Haug gave a list of places in which we were to safely, and successfully, lead the group to. I took the first turn since I was holding the map. Honestly the map doesn't mean a whole lot. Single, black, two dimensional lines on a piece of paper hardly mean anything when they are supposed to convey all manner of passage from city-bus sized bore holes, all the way down to routes my kids could barely fit into. Add to that the fact that the cave is not on a level plane and often intertwines at different elevations. Although every passage is named on the map, it's not like there are a bunch of street signs in the cave letting you know where you are. It all really comes down to knowing the cave and paying attention to the leaders of previous trips.
Back in the Straddle Galleries

This is one of my favorite spots in the cave located in the Straddle Galleries
  First up was Dragons Jaw Lake, I've been there plenty of times almost to the point that I'm tired of it. The water level was really low so crossing it was not going to happen today. Next we headed to Sand Camp, The Culverts, and The Incline. The Culverts and the Incline are a real ball-buster requiring a massive amount of strength, contortion-ism, some bruising, and pain to pass through. At the end of the culverts is The Incline, a 20 foot chimney. Both of these must be done in order to complete the Door -to Door Route, and is somewhat the "crux" of that trip. The Door-to-Door has eluded me for several years due to bad timing so I wanted to see The Incline and what all the fuss was about. It definitely was tough going through The Culverts, down The Incline, back up, through The Culverts again, then finally slumping down on the ground in Sand Camp. I was pumped out and cooked ! Break Time.  Next was Enigma Pit, and Way the Hell an Gone. I opted not to cross the pit and took pictures instead. I've been across a couple times and we were turning around there anyway. At this time we were joined by Thleen who was doing some survey work in the Labyrinth nearby and wanted to do some sport caving with our group. I think she wanted to spend some time with K-Haug too, either way she's a good caver and fun to have along on a trip.
Don't touch

Enigma Pit. Note the water pouring from the left side. The next day a lot of the cave was underwater not sure if this area was though
  The last part of the trip/training was one I was dreading. We were headed to the Bear Crawl and The Flake. I hate the Flake! I scared the shit out out of me the first time and even more so the second time. Let me paint a picture for you...... After a leisurely crawl down a tight, one arm forward one arm back, laying on your side, head facing solid stone,cave pack tied to your boot to make room, please nobody fart,  for 150-180' you emerge at a junction known as Standing Room Only. This is the enjoyable part. Next comes some easy walking through a little underground stream in narrow but tall passage. As the floor starts to drop out, a small ledge emerges. You walk along this ledge for a while with your now muddy and slippery feet. As the floor drops further the space below becomes narrower, but not to the point in which you wont fit. In fact it's just wide enough to fall into but not wide enough that you can breath easily if it should happen. While suspended above this stone constrictor, feet pointed out, on the brink of slipping, the thru-passage comes in on the left side, perpendicular to the one your on. It's even worse, the small ledge disappears, the tall narrow passage is now slightly at an angle and even tighter. You now have to traverse the really narrow stuff by smearing on the walls to get to a point where you can drop to the floor to pass a constriction at your current height. Smear on what ? it's mud on mud and is much worse than it could be if you had not just been walking through the water.
Almost out 

Now the tough part begins, dropping down into the slot was scary, I fit before but it looks super narrow now. I can really only fit in one spot in which I can still breath freely. It's now time to climb back out of the slot at an angle, up to a ledge, and over The Flake. Being a bit of a fat ass makes this super fucking hard for me. I have absolutely no wiggle room and nowhere to leverage myself on the slimy smooth rock. With much effort, using snake-like moves, I mange to get my self off the ground about three feet. I now have to start traversing as the space above and below starts to narrow. I slip many times, and feel as if I will fall into the slot below and suffocate, there is just nothing to hold on to. Nadsters is right behind me and is able to use her hand and give me something to push off of. I get further up and further over the narrowing slot but still cannot reach the bomber hold that is taunting me just out of reach. I'm getting super freaked by now and pumped out. I keep sliding back down into the slot with the walls pressing on my chest and back, it's like a fear factor episode but I can't call uncle. Canada Scott now trades places with Nadster. I'm not sure where, or what body part I was standing on, but Scott is able to help me through the tight spot and onto the ledge near the Flake. I'm relived. It took everything I had just to go up 7-8 feet and over about 9. Once on the ledge I help Nadster over. She has a way easier time with it. Next is El Presidente', he goes over the top of Sh-Sean and Scott and gets help from K-Haug now standing on the Flake. I am tired and of no use so I move down the passage and hang out with the girls. All that can be heard is El Presidente' yelling and cursing as he moves through The Flake. He had a worse time than I, but still made it. Scott is next and requires some help but makes it through. Sh-Sean is a climber and seams to have made it through effortlessly. K-Haug was first through and made it look easy, he's like a cave super hero or something. Thleen was just in front of me and needed only my hand to push off of with her foot and a brief hand from K-Haug who was standing on the ledge just forward of the Flake. Mr Savage and Jkellberg are spared the nasty traverse by aborting just before the bear crawl and will meet us later, above ground.
  I vowed to never go back there again but probably will just to see if I can do it clean. I'm chalking that one up to being drained by the Culverts and the Incline I had done a few hours earlier. With everyone through it was time to get the hell out out of there. The rest of the cave was easy going compared to what we had just done. We reached the super easy tour route and exited the cave. Eight and a half hours in the cave and I was exhausted but happy I passed the test. I thought I was dodging a bullet by pulling out of the Almanzo 100 my friends had finished hours ago........ was I wrong!     Thanks    K-Haug and Mr Savage.  It was great caving with the entire crew, and I look forward to more adventures with all of them. 


  1. all right, ill buy a helmet. get me in this club...

  2. hells yeah all you need is 20 bucks