A day in a Cave in the Rocky Mountains Essay
A day in a Cave in the Rocky Mountains
The soft morning breeze blew over the peaks and through the tall fragrant evergreen forest. Just outside the small mountain town of Idaho Springs, Colorado on a warm mid-summer morning back in 1991 I stood on my porch watching the wildlife busily starting the day. I stepped back into my little trailer house and picked up the land line and dialed the Hunt brothers’ number. Dan picked up the phone with a cheery “Hello.” “Hey bud” I said, “are you and Devan ready to head out on this weeks spelunking adventure?” He laughed loudly and replied “We’ve been waiting for you. Let’s go.” “Okay,” I stated “I will meet you two at the bottom of the hill in fifteen minuets” and we hung up.
I got my things together and hustled out the front door. I heard barking up the hill behind the house and called “Coda come.” And my four-legged Chow-mix buddy came charging down the hill full of vibrancy and joy. Coda and I walked on down the road and met up with Dan and Devan at a clearing on the other side of Clear Creek, which was the local river that eventually furnished the Coors brewery in Golden. The four of us headed up the hill through a valley to a tailing pile that laid in front of the entrance that awaited us.
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The entrance beckoned our arrival with a musty damp scent from years of still life in darkness. We had explored this mine a few times before and found it to be the biggest one accessible to adventurers like us needing to fulfill our desire of adrenalin brought on by the many aspects of danger that lie within. Coda led the way and I carefully ducted through the low overhead opening of rock and stone that was the entry to the bowels of this mountain.
The feeling of the cool damp air on my exposed skin ran a shiver down my spine as I moved forward leaving the morning sun and safety of the outside world behind. The sound of crushed rocks under our feet echoed off the solid stone walls stretching far into the distance before fading away in silence. After about 200 feet the passageway turned to the left and the day light from the outside was lost. With the flick of a switch my three-cell Mag-Light broke the darkness and the sparkle of mica and pyrite reflected off the narrow walls and ceiling. In previous journeys through this mine we had found and traveled several levels and what seemed like miles of tunnels. Coda was leading the way and every once in awhile I would call him, “Coda come.” And a moment later his soft brown eyes would reflect in the glow of our flashlights.
After about 30 minutes of travel we came to the main shaft that led to the upper levels, It was about fifteen feet in diameter and had an old wooden ladder on the left side with its rugs full of crushed rock from years of deteriation and on the right side was a chute that ore from the upper levels was dropped down and loaded into the ore cars then taken out of the mine. We decided to take a water and smoke break here and sat ourselves down on the cool rocky floor in a small circle. Dan pulled out the water bottle, took a drink and passed it around while following our traditions I lit a candle and placed it in the middle of our circle. Devan then pulled out a joint and Dan’s Bic-lighter flicked as he lit up the joint and we passed it around heightening our experience with the mind altering effects of natures own.
We absorbed the stillness hearing only our own breathing and the rustle of Coda’s feet investigating the tunnel around the next corner ahead. It wasn’t long and I became aware that I could no longer hear the noises of Coda up ahead. I called out his name, “Coda” waited a moment for the sound of his paws coming down the tunnel but in return all we heard was the sound of a few stones falling and a splash. We all looked at each other in the glimmer of the candle light with the same thought. Ahead in that tunnel there was a large hole in the stone floor going down too far to see with a light. It was one of the few spots we had not ventured yet because on a previous tunnel quest we had tossed some rocks down and after watching them bounce their way down beyond the reach of the lights we heard the splash of water from below.
The light of the candle was overwhelmed then extinguished as our flashlights came to life and we moved toward the hole to a lower un-traveled existence. I called for Coda again after we rounded the second corner where the cavern opened up wider, about twenty feet wide by ten feet high and there was merely a two foot wide ledge that gave access to the tunnel ahead. The rest of the ground gave way to what looked liked the throat of Hell ready to swallow its victims.
What I feared was true and we could hear from below the whimpering of a scared friend. I shined my light down the hole and to my hearts content I could see the small
figure of Coda just at the last reach of my light. Behind me I heard the sound of a zipper as Devan got into the back-pack and pulled out a rope that was always kept in our survival bag. One end of the rope was tossed to Dan and he quickly tied it to one of the ore car tracks running along the floor. We all knew that this time in this mine we would see what lied beyond our view. Devan tossed the other end down the shaft and when it reached Coda he tried to catch it like a bone, lol. I called down to Coda to ensure him I was on my way down. Then I grabbed the rope in my hands turned around and began a decent down the hole as Dan shown his light below me so I could see where I was stepping.
After the first hundred feet the degree of decent decreased and I was able to release one hand off the rope without slipping down to join Coda. I turned my light back on and shown it in Codas direction and another 30 feet away he was excitingly hopping up and down like a lottery winner. I moved closer towards him and when I reached the 3 foot ledge that kept him at bay from jumping on me I hopped down and praised, and cuddled him in a loving nurturing way “You are such a brave dog” I told him.
Devan called down inquiring as to the plan and I hollered back that everything was ok but I would need some help getting Coda back up. Devan started carefully back stepping down the shaft and I decided I would take a quick look around. This was the level we never seen so no since in wasting the trip. The tunnel was about three feet wide by six foot tall. The walls were very damp and the splash we heard was a stream of orange rusty water running right down the middle of the floor. Devan reached the bottom and I directed his attention toward the liquid rust flowing on the floor and the view of the unexplored tunnels in both directions.
Our thoughts were on the same path as usual and we called up to Dan telling him to grab the bag, he had to see this! Upon his arrival we made a mutual decision to travel to the right, the direction the flow was coming from. We followed the flow about 70 feet till the tunnel ended abruptly. The sight at the end was something we had never seen before. The whole back wall was covered with an orange, brown and black buildup that looked like it was oozing out of the wall. From the ceiling there were stalagtites of iron rust hanging down, some of them all the way to the floor. Water dripped from the ends of each of them and a stream came from out of the wall and
flowed evenly over the rusty buildup there. We took a couple pictures of this unique and different scene that was in front of us. We poked around there for a few and turned down the other way to see where this flow of water was headed. As we passed our rope leading back up the shaft the flow path of water widened on the cavern floor gradually from the 12 inches to 18 inches and 50 feet further it covered the entire floor. We stood there a moment looking down at our boots submerged in the water past our toes. The decline was gradual and within another 100 feet the water was up to our ankles and rising. Coda stayed behind not wanting to get in the water, and 50 feet further we were knee deep in water. Again we all thought the same and decided that we wouldn’t go any further with out our inflatable raft and it was time to conclude our adventure and return ourselves to the reality of the outside world and allow the sun to shine upon our skin again.
When we got back to the rope and Coda was anxiously waiting to get out so we daisy chained our way back up the shaft, pushing and pulling on him till we crested the top and pulled our little friend over the edge. After a short rest and the re-coiling of the rope I led the way back toward the outside world. We halted at the main shaft going to the upper levels were there was another opening on the side of the mountain but with careful consideration the decision was made that we had had enough adventure for one day and we should just head out the way we came. Around the last bend the afternoon sun burst into view and Coda was making a break for it. I stepped out into the hot afternoon sun and looked to the clear blue sky. I thanked God for keeping us all safe one more time.
When Dan and Devan came out we headed down the hillside trailing behind Coda till he spotted a rabbit and took off after it. We never made it back down to that lower level to sail forward and see where it led because soon after that trip something happened in that cave and the county department had blocked off both entrances and posted no trespassing signs on them. It’s been awhile now since I’ve made the opportunity to travel back to that community and indulge in a spelunking adventure, but I to keep in touch with the Hunt brothers via land line and again someday soon, I will make the time to experience that thrill again.