What the Hell? Below Cave

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What the Hell? Below Cave
Location High Guads
Author Derek Smith
Date February 10, 2012

Friday, February 10, 2012 at 5:00pm LeAnn, Derrick, Travis, Michael and Joseph departed from Lubbock for a weekend at Texas Camp. We arrived and set up camp with no issues. That is, until Travis realized that he had forgotten his helmet. After a long night of a sobbing Travis, light winds and a temperature of 26 degrees, we realized that sleeping bags rated for 20 degrees didn’t necessarily mean that you will stay warm at 20 degrees, but you will survive. The sun crept over the mountain and ever so slowly raised the temperature as we waited for our journey to Hell Below.

After packing and double-checking our cave bags and gear, we heard the rattling sound of a blazer inching down the trail toward Texas Camp. It was not only the sweet sound of a caver’s vehicle as body panels tried holding onto the truck frame for dear life…it was the sound of Phyllis arriving to camp around 10:00am. Phyllis was eager to meet and briefly get to know each of us before heading toward the cave.

LeAnn, Derrick, Michael, Joseph and Phyllis headed to the cave leaving Travis behind to enjoy a day of reading and watching the clouds roll by. After learning that Phyllis knew every rock and tree on a first name basis, we found the ‘Hell Below’ cave entrance. Unfortunately, Phyllis soon realized that she had lost the key to the entrance of the cave and needed to backtrack her steps to find it. Soon after heading back to the vehicles, MacGuyver (Travis) shows up with a lock picking kit to try and unlock the padlock. Without success, Phyllis tracks down the key that was left on the front seat of her Blazer. Finally, with everyone geared up we entered ‘Hell Below’ cave.

We traversed down the steep grade to a narrow spot where Phyllis and Derrick rigged up the 300’ long rope for the first 30’ rappel. After descending down the first 30’ we had to crawl along a narrow path to the second descent of 60’. LeAnn and Joseph are willing to bet that the 60’ drop is bogus and is closer to 75’ or 80’ from the tie-in point to the floor. When we all reached the cave floor we had another 20’ rappel to get us over a large bell.

The cave had a lot of popcorn and a section of gypsum with some amazing flowers in it. Several hours into the rappelling, hiking, crawling and climbing we stopped at the “lunch room” to take a break and have a snack. FIVE minutes later Phyllis wanted to get back to showing us the cave and continue heading deeper into Hell Below. At one point Phyllis stopped and asked that we watch her climb down onto a wet and slippery boulder that needed to be hugged in order to dangle your feet to find a hidden ledge to use as leverage to leap over a 3’ wide gap. It didn’t seem like a bad maneuver in theory and sounded more difficult than it was, however, it looked like a good resting place. LeAnn and Joseph decided to rest for a few minutes while Phyllis, Michael and Derrick continued down the path. After about 20 minutes, the crazy trio arrived back at the boulder that held the black void-o-death. Phyllis, at which point decided to notify us that the 3’ void that needed leaped over was actually a 300’ pit that has never been surveyed because it is deeper than they can physically handle in a days time. This is where we all look at one another and quietly mouthed “what the heck?”. Fortunate to have survived the abyss, we headed back to the bell that needed ascended to the main floor.

We took turns ascending the 20’ bell / wall-climb and mentally prepared ourselves for the 80’ ascension out of the main room of the cave. After double-checking each other’s gear and preparing for the big climb, Phyllis informs us that our chest harnesses were not connected to the right place. The buckles of the chest harness are not to be attached to the back of our waist harness, but, instead to the front leg brace of the waist harness. This lowers the back cross-brace of the chest harness to a point closer to the middle of your back and is more comfortable during the climb. Michael quietly climbs the rope and disappears into the ceiling of the cave. LeAnn begins to head up the rope and has a few choice words to say as she tackles the last few feet before the ledge at the ceiling followed by Phyllis. Supposedly some bets were placed as Joseph began his climb. Phyllis and LeAnn asked Michael, who was strategically tied in above the 80’ drop, how far Joseph was five minutes after he began his ascent. When Michael stated, “he’s right here at the ledge” a loud “WHAT!...YOUR KIDDING!” echoed throughout the cave. Phyllis and LeAnn lost a bet to Michael as to how long it would take Joseph to ascend the long climb. What they forgot was the fact that when someone knows that there is only one way in and one way out there is a lot of motivation to progress quickly up a rope!

The last 30’ ascent was slow and meticulous as all were getting tired. As we reached the gated entrance and exited the cave, a large sigh of relief was felt to know that we were safe on the surface. A setting sun around 6:00pm, a temperature of 23 degrees and calm winds welcomed us. After a short hike back to the vehicles, Travis, who had a long and lonely day regretting his mistake of forgetting his helmet, met us. Minutes later, the winds were 60 MPH and the wind-chill temperature dipped into the single digits. Phyllis said her good-byes after offering us to stay in the small cabin at the base of the fire tower. We all gladly accepted the offer to get out of the wind and have a decent nights sleep. Later that night the cast iron stove grew cold and the snoring grew loud as the wind howled through the front door of the cabin where it was still 21 degrees. Morning couldn’t come fast enough as we again realized that 20 degree sleeping bags only meant that you will remain alive and not freeze to death. The cabin was quickly cleaned and the gear shoved into the vehicles awaiting our departure. There was a big relief when we safely made it to iHop in Carlsbad where we warmed up slightly with hot coffee and pancakes. It was a slow journey back to Lubbock as the roads were covered in snow and ice, but alas, we made it out of hell….below!

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