9/30/05

I was wandering the trails through the woods by UC Santa Cruz, taking some pictures of trees and stuff and trying to shake off a cold, when fate guided me by sheer happenstance onto this intriguing tableaux:

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Hmmm... a bunch of college students out in the middle of the woods... a hole with a ladder into the ground... me coincidentally carrying a camera... what to do... what to do?

The last in line down the hole invited me to follow them and in a moment I was doing this...

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The kids loaned me a spare flashlight, were astoundingly good-natured about the constant firing of my flash, and led me through room after muddy room of this....

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While we were down there, one of the guys asked if anyone had been to "Hell Hole". He said he had only been shown it once, it was outside the USCS grounds, it was cramped and dangerous, and he wasn't even sure where it was. We decided it needed to be checked out.

And as soon as we climbed back to the surface, some more people were just coming down the trail, and they said they were looking for some some caverns up the creek. So we joined forces. After a ramble through a culvert into the wilds beyond Empire Grade, up the creek and through an enchanted forest...

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...we found this.

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Hell Hole is NARROW. This is what it shrinks to inside that entrance grate:

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...and that's all you get. There's no cavern or open chamber, no horizontal area to explore, waiting on the other side of that cramped opening - or anywhere further down, deep into the earth. It's like this all the way down. It was so small I couldn't even bring my backpack down. The only way for a group of people to explore Hell Hole is to scramble down it one beneath another, single file, as deep as they want to go. Not somewhere you want to go if you're claustrophobic.

I've never been claustrophobic in my life. For no reason, as soon as I was down into the hole, waiting for the last guy to climb in above me, I began to get apprehensive. I told myself, this is safe, hundreds of people have done it, there are six other people ahead of me, plus two more guys we saw go in ahead of us. There was no reason to be afraid. So I told myself, this is a good time to challenge fear, another chance to learn to what I can actually do if I push through the dread. (I do these sorts of things sometimes.)

Once the last guy had climbed in above me, I had an all-out panic attack. After just a minute or two of "challenging fear", I completely snapped. I just freaked. I've never experienced a fright like it. Flight instinct completely took over. I involuntarily said "I have to go. I have to get out. I have to get out" and the guy above me backed up out of the hole, so I could pass back up to the entry grate, there to be greeted with smiles.

How was I going to explain this to the girls?

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Most everybody else resurfaced after 20 or 30 minutes, although the two lead people continued downward when everybody else decided to turn back. They didn't emerge for maybe an hour - they had climbed so far down the hole that they couldn't hear us yelling down to them.

My ego hurt. I want to go back to that damn hole.

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The two guys who went in ahead of us still hadn't resurfaced yet when we left. Imagine how far down into the world they must have climbed.

As we were walking back, we tried to find a shortcut home through the woods, and took the next easy path we could find up the ravine bank. All of a sudden I recognized the woods where we were - I had been right there shooting pictures of the same trees earlier in the afternoon, before I met them.

I looked and the kids were standing in a circle. One of them picked something up off the ground. "Is this yours?" he asked, and handed over my wide-angle lens. I hadn't realized I had dropped it there earlier. Nice. "Now it's a story," he said.

I don't know why it is, man, I always have to leave San Francisco for the magic to happen. Never here.

Later that night I had to deal with this...

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...but that's a story for another forum.