The Kentucky Caver Quarterly Proceedings of the
Bluegrass Grotto: the North Central Kentucky Area Chapter of the National Speleological Society
page 09  [contents] (< prev) (next >)
 vol. 40. iss. 1, December 2005
I had already chosen my route across Echo Auditorium, planning on leaving the herd in my unseen dust the moment darkness fell.  There was an audible “chunk” when Pat shut off the lights, like something heavy dropping from above, burying us in impenetrable blackness.  I immediately broke from the pack, hearing the collective chatter falling ever farther behind me.  From the sound of them, they were mostly huddled together like musk oxen and proceeding with baby steps in no certain direction.

It was a long trek crossing the Auditorium in absolute darkness.  I was sort of power-walking, quickly but carefully feeling each footfall on the gravelly floor, my arms outstretched, aching to touch the far wall of the room, yet fearing collision at every step.  Finally there was rock, moist and cool, like some immense abstract sculpture beneath my hands.  I could hear the pack as they slowly progressed behind me.  I read the wall with my hands, following its undulating contours to the left, searching for the void that would signal the
passage to the outside.  The cave wall was far more convoluted than was readily discernible by eye; it was hard to know when I was rounding a corner or merely feeling my way into one of the innumerable crannies pocketing the cave wall.

I could hear the group sniggering about their inch-wise progress.   Then all at once they seemed to be traveling at quite a clip.  I couldn’t imagine why they were suddenly moving so fast, hearing the clatter of their little booted feet scampering over the stones.  As Bart Bledsoe—the first out—explained to me later, Daryl Robinson, upon encountering a boulder followed by a drop-off, had started flicking a Bic lighter which gave enough of a flash that they could proceed with haste.  Bart had also broken from the pack; now that the lighter was being struck, he could nearly dash into the passageway in front of him.  I

never saw the flash, being pointed the other way, having made a rather elliptic swerve to the right during my plunge across the unfathomable gloom.  Distance is really hard to gauge in complete darkness, by the way.  I chuckled to myself, thinking the group was way off course, trusting my own evaluation of the geography before me.  But when their voices were swallowed up en masse, signifying that they had made it into the exit passage, I realized it was I who was off course and not the lumbering herd. 

I “corrected” my direction, reluctantly leaving the cave wall and heading once again into the void.  This is creepier than you can imagine, walking sightless across so vast a space.  I was using my ears to guide me toward their voices, but they sounded impossibly distant now and the room rebounded with faint, confusing echoes.  The floor was also becoming irregular, each step requiring more caution than the last.  “Where am I?” I thought, just before stumbling forward and landing painfully on my hands and knees.

Cursing, I crawled around on all fours, trying to determine my location with my hands.  Finally I came across wooden planking, smooth and alien against my palms.  “Oh great,” I thought, “I’m in the saltpetre
mining exhibit area.”  An obstacle course of display cases, leaching vats and assorted mining memorabilia, it was definitely not a place to be without illumination.  I crawled backwards until I felt the rise of the floor taking me out of the museum area and once again into Echo Auditorium.  

I’m left to guess that this is where I got completely turned around, heading off in the wrong direction entirely.  All I knew was that, after a bit more fumbling forward, it seemed that I was finally in the right passageway, or at least a passageway of the proper dimensions.  I could hear the reverberations of