This was my first trip with the Grotto’s. Brandon Kowallis was running a training trip to teach people the basics of cave survey, and was willing to let anyone interested come along. I quickly found someone at the grotto meeting willing to let me borrow a helmet, and arranged a meeting place with Brandon for Friday.
At the time I was essentially unemployed, so I was available to meet up earlier in the day on Friday to help deposit gear for the Saturday trip. I found Brandon and Sam in the designated parking lot, we grabbed some Subway sandwiches and piled into one truck.
We reached our campsite, grabbed our gear, and headed further up the mountains. Brandon quickly proved he was in better shape than Sam and I, carrying on a conversation while we were busy gasping for air. Eventually the hillside levels out a bit, and we were able to at least admire the scenery.
First stop was one of Brandon’s ongoing survey projects. I hadn’t had the vertical experience to feel comfortable dropping a couple hundred foot pit yet, and didn’t have my own vertical gear anyway. Brandon handed me a map with a few nearby pits plotted on it, and said they would be back in 30 minutes or so. Sam and Brandon rigged the pit, and dropped down into the void. I hadn’t mentally made the connection of how deep the little crack we were looking at could really be until I saw Sam’s light fade away completely.
Having family in the populated valley below these mountains, I had spent considerable time years before hiking these mountains and meadows. I had heard rumors of caves at the time, but never really seen any except one prominently gated along a highway. I took Brandon’s map, and set out to see what these little dots looked like. Several were within a half mile or so, and looked like good targets to check and still be back when my guides resurfaced. I couldn’t find the first one, chalked it up to inaccurate plotting, and headed off to the second. It was a black fracture heading into the earth. Remembering Sam’s voice fading away, and light dissappearing, I was impressed that there could be more than one of these pits so close.
I found the third point, appeared to be a choked out hole similar to the others. At this point I decided I better head back. I was just straight line following my GPS for simplicity at this point. As I crossed back near the first point I couldn’t find, I discovered a hole near the base of a boulder and next to a tree. I had missed the hole the first time simply by being on the wrong side of a car sized boulder. It was a pitch black hole, and a small rock bounced out of earshot. Amazed at how deep such a small hole could be, I headed back to meet Brandon and Sam.
The emerged and pulled their rope back up. I confirmed I had found a few holes, and we talked as we headed over and stashed the rope near the next days adventures. We ran back downhill to camp much faster than we had come up. As people arrived we spent the evening getting instructions on how to use survey instruments and practicing our survey skills by “mapping” a course through the campsite. Talk around the campfire followed, I met several people that would become familiar friends in years to come, and we crashed into our sleeping bags.