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The Inevitable Return to Thunderhole

January 27, 1990

Finally we can walk tall again. Finally we can hold our heads up. Thursday night, I got on the blower to a few trusted friends. I had just one thing to say to them.

"Thunderhole," I said.

Sometimes it seemed like my whole life had been on hold since that fateful day in December when Rick Hill and I, sweating as we tried to force our way through various impenetrable passages, came to the realization that we simply weren't going to find our way through the cave. Two drops in, with three more to go, we were stopped cold.

And so four of us gathered on a beautiful Saturday morning for the inevitable return to Thunderhole. With me were Otis Farmer, the ex-motocross star turned caver, Rick Hill (of course), and the famous Doctor of Doubt himself, Chiropractor Dan Twilley. We were down the 80 foot entrance and 22 foot Flash Flood Drops, staring into the foot high stream crawl that I figured had to be way on, when Doctor Doubt made one of his famous proclamations.

"This is not it," he said, shaking his head. "I don't remember this at all. This is definitely not it."

From where we lay, the prospects did indeed look grim, just as they had in December. Looking ahead through twenty feet of belly crawl, I saw the stream suddenly disappear into a solid wall. This time, however, I was determined not to be fooled. This time, I actually crawled up to the wall in question. And presto, at the very last second, a magic crawlway appeared on the left. Dan was not easily convinced, but after I squirmed forward through the famous "Constrictor" (this squeeze will keep some "stout" cavers out, the guidebook had warned) and run ahead a short distance to the very lip of the next pit, even Doctor Doubt admitted I might be on to something.

The third drop, a 44 footer named Wet Dream by the original explorers, was not as wet as it might have been because Dan rigged the rope over a projection, out of the force of the water. (Dr. Doubt was caving with a carbide, and he wasn't excited about being right in the waterfall.) The next drop was only about thirty feet further, a 96 footer named Neptune Well. Finding no bolts, we rigged a large boulder which put the 120 foot rope directly in the water.

"Better put on your climbing gear," Rick told me as I backed over the edge. "That rope may not reach." Nah, I thought. Twenty feet off the bottom, seeing the knot in the end of the rope waving in air, I stopped and reconsidered. However, by untying the knot I got the end of the rope to within a foot of the floor, which was close enough.

We traveled through about 500 feet of mostly walking passage to the final drop. The passage was clean, nicely scalloped canyon, a miniature subterranean Grand Canyon, my favorite kind of cave. We rigged the drop, a 66 footer named the Maelstrom, and Rick and I descended. This was perhaps the wettest drop of all because of two ledges which threw water everywhere. Very enjoyable. The plan was for Rick and I to do the pit, then start out while Otis and Dan brought up the rear, and this we did.

I climbed the 96 foot drop first, and realized that putting the rope over the lip right in the water actually produced the driest possible drop, since the water shot out from the lip and fell mostly on the far side of the pit. On top, I waited in the dark while Rick climbed. His light dimly illuminated the canopy of water in front of me. The light grew brighter and warmer, then hesitated, until Rick burst suddenly through the canopy like a diver returning to the surface.

We regrouped at the top of the third drop, and left the cave. It wasn't dark when we got to the bottom of the mountain, so we decided, after much discussion, to drive up to Valhalla. As it turned out, Otis parked his truck and he and Dan jogged up. Once Dan had done the pit once, and Rick and done it twice, we all rode down the mountain in the Cave Pinto. Dan and Otis drove off to hike back up to Thunderhole in search of Dan's wallet, which they indeed did find there, and Rick and I headed home, free at last.

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