Ask Cavers: What are the Most Unexpected Situations you’ve Experienced?

January 23, 2013
A Tour Boat entering Santa Cruz Island's Painted Cave.

A Tour Boat entering Santa Cruz Island’s Painted Cave. Photo by mikebaird/flickr

With the recent unfortunate incident when a vehicle fell into a cave, it reminded us that many unexpected things can go wrong during a caving trip.

As a result, for this week’s Ask Cavers question, we want to hear about some of the strangest most unexpected situations that you have experienced while you’ve been caving?

Share your thoughts and comments in the discussion below.

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Comments (18)

  1. Brandon Johnson
    January 23, 2013 at 8:49 pm

    About 3,000 feet into an underwater cave my regulator mouthpiece detached from the regulator and I breathed/choked on a mouth full of water.

    I quickly realized my regulator was missing but the mouthpiece was still in my mouth, then I swapped to my other reg and fixed the mouthpiece.

    • Caving News
      January 23, 2013 at 8:55 pm

      Wow, that must have been a scary few moments.

      • Brandon Johnson
        January 23, 2013 at 10:52 pm

        It was more shocking than scary. When a regulator breaks it’s designed to free-flow and provide an abundance of the gas from your tank, not water. So I was very very confused for a second until I realized the mouthpiece had detached. Plus I had a secondary regulator and a buddy as one always should. 🙂

  2. January 24, 2013 at 7:53 am

    In the early 80’s, while stationed on Okinawa (Japan), I had contacted a Shintu Priest who was known as an active caver. He had access to many caves that I would not have otherwise been priviledged to see. His english was minimal; therefore, while in one cave he made sure I was aware to be very careful entering the next chamber. I was rather puzzled until i saw what I feel confident was live, unexploded ordinance from WWII. I took pictures and gingerly stepped over the shells before continuing our exploration.

    • Caving News
      January 24, 2013 at 11:28 am

      What an exciting experience!

  3. Suzanna Langowski
    January 24, 2013 at 10:50 am

    400 vertical feet and many hours into a cave with a team member who got rather severe food poisoning from his in-cave meal of canned fish.

    • Caving News
      January 24, 2013 at 11:30 am

      Were you able to “leave nothing behind?”

  4. Steve S
    January 24, 2013 at 6:10 pm

    Once while caving in massachussetts we had just entered the main room of the cave through a VERY tight and nearly vertical 15 foot drop. So tight you couldn’t turn your head. Not one you can get out quickly thats for sure. We came face to face with a very big and very pissed off bobcat. And we were blocking the only way out. Fortunately he stuck to the far side of the cave and let us escape. It’s amazing how fast you can climb out when your being growled at by a wild animal lol.

  5. Paul
    January 25, 2013 at 6:51 am

    While pushing a lead with good airflow a buddy and I came into a small room with about a half dozen Northern Longear Bats. They started flying at our carbide lights, kind of like large moths to a flame. I could smell hair burning so we shut off our lights briefly to let the bats settle down then fired them (the lamps) back up and exited. On subsequent trips I used electric lights in that area and seldom saw any bats, but on one other occasion I had bats flying into the front of my light.

  6. Nathan
    January 25, 2013 at 10:24 am

    Never had anything happen to me, but older people in our outing club remember in 1991 when a beaver dam broke upstream of a cave in NY and caused a sudden flood in the cave. Fortunately another group from a different club exited the cave before the dam broke and saw the lake at the entrance and were able to call for help. Some quarry trucks dumped a bunch of fill in front of the entrance to block the water going in and everyone got out alive with only some hypothermia.

    • Caving News
      January 25, 2013 at 4:49 pm

      That is definitely unexpected. Glad everyone got out ok.

  7. Mic Campbell
    January 26, 2013 at 3:53 am

    Well nothing happened to me but check out the neil moss story he got trapped in my local cave peak cavern Derbyshire sadly lost his life check out this link
    Some great old tv news from 1959

  8. Thor
    January 26, 2013 at 2:59 pm

    After finding a tight entrance while ridge walking, we entered and found a tight crawlway leading off a small, low room. The passage was less than 40cm (~15″) high, but had several large cave cricket colonies, making for slow crawling. The passage led to a small room, and we started to crawl around until we found a nest of semi-fresh, green material. No one thought much of it until we peered around a rock and saw its owner staring back at us. At the same time, her smell started wafting our way. Yes, it was a skunk. We left quickly.

  9. Ernst Kastning
    January 29, 2013 at 12:59 pm

    On 19 May 1974, Ralph Batsche and I were at the Little Gem Caves in the Hill Country west of San Antonio, Texas. I was the first to light up my lamp and enter the two-foot-high crawlway into one of the caves. About 15 feet in, I noticed what appeared to be a three-inch-thick organic pulsating mold on the ceiling. At that moment the ‘mold’ broke apart into massive gobs that fell all over me. The gobs immediately disintegrated into thousands of harvestmen (daddy longlegs) that then totally engulfed me and my face. Many kamikazied into my carbide light. I was entirely covered by a matte of crawling and running creatures. I could not even see ahead of me. This was highly disconcerting, but I kept crawling along with the hoard until I reached the first room. Meanwhile, a stampede of the arachnids headed for the entrance. Ralph saw this mass exodus belching from the entire periphery of the entrance. He was aghast and overwhelmed. I yelled for him to follow. Although harvestmen have one of the most potent poisons known among arachnids, they can not physically bite humans. Good thing. Ralph finally got up the courage to enter, and after brushing off, we had a pleasant trip into this nice little cave.

  10. Ernst Kastning
    January 29, 2013 at 1:59 pm

    On 4 September 1967, Wayne Foote, his son Tommy (about six years old), Rodger Smith, Frank Vacante, and I were surveying in Church Cave, Albany County, New York. While in a small room, I was sketching at one end and Wayne, about 30 feet away, was chimneying up a narrow part to check for upper leads. I was facing away from Wayne and heard a sliding noise, a very loud thump, and a spontaneous exclamation from Wayne. I turned and saw that a large piece of the wall (about 400-500 pounds) in front of Wayne had given way while he was climbing; however, he had pushed away from it and was crouching unhurt on the floor. We immediately wondered where Tommy was. It was then that both Wayne and I simultaneously saw cloth protruding from under the large fallen boulder. Each of us stood motionless and breathless as we looked at the boulder with Tommy apparently crushed beneath it. A few seconds later (it seemed like minutes of deadly silence), Tommy, who was off in another corner of the room piped up with, “what happened.” Our accelerated heartbeats continued as we both sighed relief and tried to recompose ourselves. To this day, the cave pack I had set down on the floor, prior to the mishap, is still under that boulder.

  11. Bruce Zerr
    January 30, 2013 at 12:26 pm

    Not quite caving….!!

    While on the island of Guam (1965-67)my two brothers and I used to go spearfishing at the north end of the island – on the coral reef. We used to peer over cracks in the reef. Some places there were what looked to be caves underneath.

    This day the waves were bad, fishing poor. The spot up ahead was not good , but it had fish swimming right in the entrance of a big cave entrance some 6′ underwater. The cave though would suck HARD if a big wave (4′) came crashing over the reef.

    I told my brother to watch out for the waves, that I was going to crawl down
    into a slot and try to get a shot about 6′ away as the suds clear. Suddenly the water level dropped way, way down – leaving me exposed above water!
    I looked seaward and a 6-7′ high wave was right on top of me. I was in the trough already…no time to move or run.

    I braced and held on. I took the first blow, but the surge got a foot loose – then a hand loose. My other foot came loose. I was gone. I let loose of the rock with my remaining hand, turned the speargun into the coral wall and FIRED. The 150-lbs-pull speargun fired the steel spear 6-8″ deep into the soft coral rock. I held on until the wave reversed. I got up and ran – as the next big wave of the wave-set was coming in.

    Bruce A. Zerr

  12. Bruce Zerr
    January 30, 2013 at 1:01 pm

    My best friends caving tale on Guam:

    Caving in the boondocks of the island of Guam could be hazardous to your health back in 65-67. (Even though we took Guam back from the Japanese in 1944, we still had a couple Japanese soldiers running loose then. The last couple didn’t surrender until 1971!)

    Meanwhile my best friend heard about a Japanese cave below the village of Yeti. Him, and two other friends decided to go look for japanese souvenirs.
    They found the cave, but is was very tight – only the size of an ammo box in places he said. The big friend turned back – but the other two crawled in.

    The cave went back 100-yds my friend said where it turned 90-degrees to the right. Here it looked thru a very tight slot into a 40′ long room with a long pool of water at the back. The two made it in barely.

    The room was just tall enough to stoop/stand in, wet and muddy.

    The pool of water
    looked to be about 30′ long and upwards of a couple feet deep toward the back. Meanwhile, looking around, all they saw were a couple of fired brass cartridges and some rotten leather straps.

    The other guy decided that he had had and seen enough. (He wanted out, now!) So he said he was leaving and plunged up into the exit slot. He immediately got pretty stuck and asked for a push. My friend came up and tried to help, but got kicked as the guy flailed about. Suddenly his free foot
    kicked a stacked pile of rock next to my friend, at the side of the slot – and a japanese grenade, with no pin, falls out. BOOBY TRAP! Five, Four, Three…

    My friend looked at the grenade, said that he realized they had tripped a booby trap – that if anything was going to be done it was up to him. So he grabbed the grenade, rolled over on his back and threw it at the back end of the room. He said that he heard it hit the wall and heard the splash as it fell into the deep water there.

    Nothing happened!

    Then his stuck friend hears the commotion – yells back, “What the F*** is going on back there!”

    Bruce A. Zerr

  13. Rodney Tennyson
    April 7, 2013 at 2:03 pm

    A friend of mine [Rick] and I were checking out a small crawling stream passage once, when we heard a low growl between us and the entrance! We didn’t see what made the growl, but after Rick asked, “Did you do that?” and I said, “No.” We got the hell out of there, never did go back, and it had decent air flow where we stopped…


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