Saturday, July 26, 2008

Clarke's Caventure, Part II: The Fit Test

(Editor's Note: If you haven't read Part I, do that first.)

By the time I reached the cave opening, there were already 15 or more people from the first group inside and 10 people from our group ahead of me.

As I climbed up into the mouth of the cave, I noticed that the opening was from left to right. At about 7' high on my left was a 3' opening at the top that came down to my left shoulder, then opened directly in front of me about 5' and narrowed down to about 1' moving 8' to my right. This means one has to duck into the cave, lean one's body against the rock with one's head and torso into the 3' area, and slide one's feet in, which would be in the 5' area.

Entering this way is necessary because the rock slopes down to the right, requiring would-be entrants to lay their bodies against the rock in order to maintain balance.


Note: This is the larger part of the entry into the cave. Climbers traverse about 20' into the cave in this manner, which allows ample time for folks like me to begin contemplating, no dwelling on, their claustrophobic tendencies before they even get to the tight spot.

Prior to navigating this portion of the cave, I was standing on the ledge looking at people from the other group who didn't go in the cave and were waiting for their group outside. There was a man about my age whom I believed to have a slightly smaller chest size than mine.

He said, "I don't think you will be able to fit."

He then went on to say that he figured we were about the same size, and he couldn't fit.

At this point I was trying to determine if he was just more claustrophobic than I was, or if he truly couldn't fit.

While I was contorting my body to conform to the larger opening in the cave, things got worse: Two of the female teachers, who were a little larger than your average person, determined they could not fit and had us move back out of the cave so that they could get out of line.

Once we got back into position and traversed to the tighter section of the cave, the man began to offer more advice.

"Maybe if you take your long sleeve shirt off, it will give you a little more room."

"Could be that if you exhale all of your breath, you may be able to fit through."

As I traversed to the end of the large opening of the cave, my daughter entered the tight part, and I had now formed several conclusions:

1. The guy who couldn't fit is smaller than me, but possibly more claustrophobic as well.
2. I am going do everything I can to get into that cave, and
3. Boy is that a small area to try to squeeze through and
4. I'd have to squeeze for another 20' before I even got into the cave.

My daughter, all 100lbs of her, easily slid into the tight crevice. Next, it was my turn, and my daughter was directing me like the person before her directed her. I had to lie on my back or stomach on a 40 degree angle and slide my body 20' to get into the open cave. But first, I had to slide over a two foot chasm while already in this contorted unbalanced position.

As I attempted to slide over this chasm, I decided not to turn my headlamp on because I overheard one of the ladies mention something about it dropping down into the abyss. At this point I felt no need to deal with my fear of close confinements and my fear of heights at the same time. The thing is my daughter was telling me I had to place my foot on a ledge down in the chasm in order to get a foothold to boost myself into the crevice. I attempted to find the ledge by waving my foot in the air several times with no success and finally decided I had to turn my headlamp on. Much to my surprise the chasm was only 4' deep.

I attained my foothold and began to force my body into the crevice so I could get into the cave. I tried and tried to fit into that small crack that I needed to traverse through.

Ready?  Exhale!  Go!

I followed all of my daughter's directions, I slid up higher, and I slid more to the right. My daughter kept pleading with me, "You can do it, Dad." I couldn't.

Then I decided to lie on my stomach. With my back pressed tight against the top of the crevice, my pectoral was hitting solidly against the bottom of the crevice. I could not get my chest in, let alone begin to traverse.

"Come on, Dad," my daughter kept pleading.

"I can't, honey, I just can't fit," I replied.

Officer Corcoran, already inside the cave, yelled out for me to try it on my back. I turned around and tried some more.

I was still not fitting, but I felt like it might be possible. I tried the whole exhale thing and pushed really hard. I got my chest in as far as my nipple and found it now difficult to take a breath. I made it in a whole 6" and only had another ¾ of my body and 19 ½ feet to go.

There was no way.

I tried to explain to my daughter that my body was tight against my back and my chest. The only way I could move in was if I could lift the mountain.

I had to give up. I knew she was disappointed, but I encouraged her to go on and take some pictures inside for me. When she went on, I worked my way back to the ledge and sat down.

(Editor's Note: All that effort for this? Can Clarke rise above the gloom and find another way to reach his goal? Stay tuned.)

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