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Travels in America Part III

By Rich Long

I'd been in a New Mexico a few weeks by now and was getting to know various people and how things worked. Firstly, we may have bit of a moan about getting a key for a cave or having to arrange a leader, but to get a permit in the States you have to have a degree to be able to fill out all the paperwork.  Even then you may only get in to clean a bit of stal. with a toothbrush for four hours. Fortunately for me, not being blessed with either good looks or intelligence, God has made me rather lucky, as Mr. Wilson will bear out by my getting into Glover Chamber in Gaping Gill, purely by accident.

Well, as my luck would have it Stan Allison of Carlsbad Cavern and Lehuguilla got me fixed up on a dig in Big Man Hole, along with my new pals Aaron and Gus, both extremely bad influences on a poor Englishman, I'm glad to say.

We arrived up at the meeting place in the Guadalupe's at about 9.30.  Already there was lots of activity with about 15 people strolling around on this already very hot morning.

Jim Goodbar with whom we had already caved greeted us.  Jim was the co-ordinator of today¬ís dig.  In typical cowboy politeness he took us around the group, introducing us to people I had seen on the Discovery Channel and read about in books.  Firstly there was Dr. Mike Queen, he was the guy who helped Ronal Kerbo fix up the parachute line and kiddy's helium filled balloons to snag stalagmites in the Big Room in Carlsbad and then ropewalk up into the Spirit World, some 230' up.  Now anyone who goes up that height on an unknown rigging point deserves a pat on the back and an appointment with a psychiatrist as soon as possible.  Next guy was Dave Belski, as we approached he was talking to a group of people and his wife, "Get off this Goddamned mountain woman and take that goddamned dog with you!"  I don't think Dave and Germaine Greer would have got on too well.

So, introductions over we trekked to the cave mouth, it is very similar to the entrance to Lechuguilla, a small slot on the anti-cline of the mountain.  It is situated not to far from Lech's entrance.  While in Jim's office he had shown me a Geophysics report and illustration of the cave system.  Where we were to dig today there was about 30' between us and a 300-metre void.  The trouble was the geo. plan shows the voids but it can't show you relative depths, so this huge area could have been on the same level or as easily 300' down.  Still we just wanted in and the excitement was growing.

Dave Belski rigged while we made friends throughout the group and while we were waiting to rappel in, Mike Queen invited us on another trip later in the week.

Well, it was Gus's turn to go in, the abseil was about 80' through the slot, when you went in you were actually right in the middle of the roof of a big egg shaped chamber about 60mtrs by 35mtrs.

In the midst of these top-notch cavers you didn't want to appear twerps, unfortunately Gus and I both failed.  Gus was on a borrowed rack instead of his usual figure of eight and miscalculating took out a bar instead of adding one, so while we watched from the top he began a very swift rappel and to compensate he whipped his rope down and behind him, i.e. Fig. of 8 style.  As you can imagine this didn't help and he proceeded to descend at about a hundred miles an hour, yelping like a ten year old girl, whilst contracting a severe case of abseiler's hand.  He corrected about 10 feet off the ground to much applause and cowboy hollering of "Rock and Roll!"

Unfortunately as some of you are well aware, any cave with a nice straight down abseil is not only frequented by cavers but by non abseiling animals and this one was no exception.

Big Man Hole had porcupine, rabbits, calves, etc., the latest acquisition was a ring tailed cat and a big one as it had tended to puff up a bit while it had been lying there, waiting for Gus to abseil right into it.  Whew, did that cat stink!

It was now my turn and I wasn't going to make a fool of myself, famous last words.  Rigged on with my cows tails, then check my trusty Fig of 8, no problem, Jim was the last in behind me, "See you in there Jim." Down I go. About 2 feet, then nothing, jump up and down on the rope, nothing.  Check I'm not hooked up, no, clear, just dangling with Jim watching and chuckling.

"I should unhook your long cows tail Rich." Smiled Jim, helpfully. "Christ!!!"

O.K. down I went red faced and England totally embarrassed.

We soon split into two teams, one filling a previous shaft and one digging towards the void.  I knew which one I wanted and scuttled off with my new friend Dave Belski.  The rule was you did 15 minutes and no more, digger goes to the end of the line and wait to dig again.

I was third in line, the first guy did his dig, second, after about 10 minutes, hit through and there was the most enormous blast of air.  It kicked up dust out of that hole like it was the Intercity 125 blasting through.

Now it was my turn, I never really knew what Gold Fever must have been like until that minute.  I dropped into that small shaft and I went at it like a man possessed.  Dust, rock, wind blasting, I had only been this excited on the outside of a cave before!

All to soon 15 minutes raced by.

"O.K. Rich, times up!" Dave called.  I chose to pretend I didn't hear him and continued frantically as I could now get my hand and most of my forearm into a cubby hole I had made.

"Rich come out!" called Dave.

"Carry on Richie boy!" I thought, this is it.

"Goddamned Limey B*****d!  Come out, NOW!  Or you won't go in again!" Dave bellowed.

Common sense prevailed!

We dug all day and the wind continued to howl, sometimes sucking and then blowing.  We made about four feet and we were getting to the point of whole arms being thrust up the tunnel and being able to move them and loose rocks around, it was definitely going.

We all got out around 6.00pm.  Said our good-byes and went home, Jim told me that even if we had broken through we wouldn't have been allowed in.  Apparently NASA has first shout, as they believe there could be organisms, fossilized or otherwise that may be similar to life on Mars or Titan, one of Saturn's moons.

Ah well, it had been a good day.

I guess that will do for now, time for my medication!  Oh, Nurse!