Back to the Desk

Serious Cave

Part Two

©05 Levite

To part 1

      "I've never seen a 'Cave Dog' before." One of the caving members from California said. "How do you keep him from… you know… going in the cave?"
      Brooke smiled and petted Boo on the head. The dog wagged her tail at the attention. Looking at the dog you'd never know they were over a thousand feet inside a mountain, she seemed as happy as she'd be walking in a city park. "Just like you, she's been trained to do certain things at certain times and in certain ways." She held up a large plastic freezer bag with a zipper built into it. "When she lets me know its time, I spread it out with some paper towels in it and she does her business just fine. Then I pack it away and carry it out."
      "Does she ever have an accident in a protected cave?" A rather thin young man asked her.
      "Do you?"

      Brooke and Boo came across each other one weekend when Brooke was exploring a cave that was more of a series of cracks and faults than actual grottos with a couple from the caving group. They had seen the dog outside the cave entrance near their cars. The dog seemed to be a few years old and was very tame. But also very neglected. She looked in desperate need of a good home.
      The explorers shared their breakfast with the dog, then told her to stay and went into the cave. Later, when they stopped for a breather and some water they looked back and there was the dog, gingerly following them.
      "Well. Boo." Her friend had said meaning the dog could be one of the cave spirits they kept hearing about.
      The dog, for her part, perked up her ears and let out a small bark.
      Boo was named and adopted at about the same moment.
      She was very good at following Brooke absolutely everywhere. And was also very adept at picking a sure way across a face of loose gravel or sand. Boo also told them when they were about to be buzzed by a flock of bats.
      It wasn't long before Brooke had her outfitted with 'saddle bags' full of extra rations, a spare flashlight, and other supplies. Soon Boo had her own card and was an integral part of several expeditions to some very deep and remote parts of several caves.

      Not long after she joined the team Boo proved that a mine known as Port Sorrow 2 did connect to a nearby cave called Silver Judy for the vein that was visible in parts of it. Brooke and Boo and a couple of others went into Silver Judy back to the natural crevasses that suggested a link between the two. Bill Anderson and another caver unlocked the gate and went into the mine.
      Then at the pre-arranged time, the two in the mine started calling and whistling for Boo.
      The dog barked excitedly and whined at one of the cracks. The humans couldn't hear anything over the hiss of the wind through the cave.
      "Go on. Go get him." Brooke said after removing the dog's pack.
      Boo didn't hesitate at all, she picked the smaller of the openings and darted into it.
      "I hope she doesn't get stuck." Brooke said shining her light into the hole. It was lost a few yards in, illuminating yet more rock.
      "She's too smart for that. We get stuck more often." He thought about it. "I have."
      Brooke was still trying to listen for Boo in the hole.
      After several more minutes her partner tapped her legs. "Let's go see if she made it."
      They picked up their packs and started out.
      Anderson and Boo were waiting for them in his truck outside.
      "What took you so long?" The teacher asked them.
      "How long did it take her?" Brooke asked.
      "Evidently not very long. Except she didn't come through the fissure I had thought she would." He unrolled a hand drawn map of the mine. "She came through this ventilation shaft. We followed her footprints back."
      "Where does it run into the cave?"
      "No idea." Bill's partner said.
      "For that we'll need a camera rig and maybe a sounding unit." He said referring to the homemade box that sent out a rather annoying 'ping' every so often that helped them trace openings that were otherwise too small or unsafe to explore.
      "You just like to make Boo bark." Brooke smiled.
      Boo, for her part, seemed rather bored by the discussion. She had lain down in the shade of Brooke's car and was going to sleep.

      Brooke's dad had evaluated Boo as "Half yellow retriever or Lab, half just about everything else."
      But Boo seemed to be the thing Brooke needed to get over the death of her grandfather earlier in the year. As his condition worsened he had become unresponsive to everybody else, and then very near the end, Brooke couldn't even rouse him. Finally, he just stopped living.
      Her grandfather's funeral and the dinner afterward was referred to for some time afterward as the best attended caving get-together in the state of Utah that year.
      In violation of a standing order, somebody left a small brass plaque on his formation in Serious cave.
      Brooke didn't go into a deep depression or anything, but the joy seemed to go out of her. She continued with both her studies and her spelunking, but it seemed to be more of a chore than something she wanted to do.
      That is until Boo joined her team.

      Though for Brooke's biggest caving trip of her life, Boo wasn't invited.
      Even years later, Brooke was quick to tell everybody that when she had the chance to join a team of graduate students on a run into Lechuguilla that Boo had spent the week at her parent's house being spoiled.
      The trip in and out of Lech was one of Brooke's dreams. And it happened suddenly and without any promotion by Brooke herself.
      The university had a couple of spots on the team that was going in to collect a couple of long term sampling devices for testing and do some other work. They'd only be in the cave for about forty-eight hours, moving as fast as a low-impact team could move and still reach one of the northwestern arms of the cave without anybody falling off an underground cliff. One of the people already approved for the trip had withdrawn due to some unfortunate personal business only a few days before they left, the organizer asked for a quick replacement who was qualified, they'd fill out the forms later. And Brooke happened to be in Dr. Fielder's office when he got the call. He asked her, she said yes, and she was in. Just like that.
      Since only about two hundred people a year are allowed in the carefully controlled cave, Brooke considered it a blessing from on high that she had this chance. She managed to get permission from her professors to go on an almost 'once in a lifetime' trip. She had time to get her best gear together, including her new and rather expensive waterproof digital camera, make arrangements for Boo, and catch the van that was heading south to New Mexico and that was all.

      They spent the night in the campground at the park then met the rest of their team at the administration building.
      There was a long speech from one of the park managers about 'We are attempting to maintain the environment of the cave with minimal human impact'. Then a safety drill and an explanation of their cave rescue arrangements including self rescue that went back to when a famous female explorer broke her knee in the cave.
      Finally, they were off.
      She faced the heavy steel door and tried to calm herself. "This is IT!" she whispered to herself.
      As Brooke rappelled down into the opening everything she had ever read about the cave came back to her. She saw all the pictures. She even had the three-D map of Lech in her mind and knew exactly where they were going in the Northwest Territories.
      "Clear." She called out from force of habit, but there was no need. As soon as Brooke's feet had hit the bottom the next caver was on his way down.
      "OK. Clock's running. Let's go." The leader of the expedition said.
      They picked up the few items that had been dropped down beforehand and with a quick nod as everybody turned and checked their lights, they were off.

      Brooke only got quick glimpses of some of the formations as they almost jogged through the passages and rooms. But even here in one of the most controlled access caves in the world, there were obvious signs of human passage. But once they were past the Western Borehole area things began to look like they were in their more untouched state.
      The pace slowed down as they had to belly through a couple of long crawls and then negotiate a narrow canyon strewn with everything from small rocks to car sized boulders.
      "Look up." The person behind Brooke said.
      She was awed by the sight. Above them the ceiling appeared to be nothing more than a collection of boulders just waiting for a chance to fall.
      "What's holding them up?" The person asked her.
      "Habit." Brooke said trying to keep up with those in front of her.
      Some of the rooms and passages were plain with nearly smooth walls and only an occasional formation to break up the monotony of endless rock. Then the next room might be thick with aragonite formations as intricately dazzling as anything she'd ever dreamed of. They only saw one or two side passages off their path,
      They had been trekking quickly and steadily for several hours, they climbed up a hill of loose rock and gravel, then back down the other side with only inches between them and the jagged ceiling. Brooke was starting to feel the need for a break even though they had all been reminding each other to take a small mouthful or two of water every chance they had.
      They squeezed through a crack just beyond the hill and came out in a room that was big enough they didn't feel oppressed by the rock walls that had been closing in on them for the last hour or so.
      "OK. Break." The leader said. He was as out of breath as everybody else. He bent over with his hands on his knees and panted for a minute or two.
      As they stopped moving Brooke could feel a light breeze blowing from behind them.
      She took several deep breaths and then a drink forcing herself to relax a little by looking around the chamber. "Look." Brooke said. "I'd heard about them, but…"
      "You'd never seen them before." The other woman on the team said. "I've only seen a couple… But I don't think I've ever been here before." She looked around. "I'm almost sure I've never been here before."
      "I don't doubt it." Their team leader said. "This lead hadn't been explored until about three months ago. Everybody's just gone right by the opening to that first crawl for the last ten years. Awhile back my brother noticed the dark crack behind a rock he'd sat on a dozen times had a breeze coming out of it. He looked in and… The rest is history." He chuckled. "It took us three days to survey this route and the three leads off it. They're dead ends. This passage is simply a highway from the Borehole to the Northwest Territory. Like the M13Z pit to the Ruby Chamber." He looked up and down the passage, "We're almost there. We'll get going in a minute, then we'll take a real break there."
      Brooke nodded and took pictures of the formation she'd spotted. Hanging from a seam in the ceiling above them were a row of green icicles of rock of varying sizes. Her flash seemed to make them glow.
      Bright green stalactites. One of the most unusual formations in the world from a geological point of view. They had only been reported in a couple of other caves worldwide, and in a few scattered places in Lech. Even as they watched a small drop of water formed on the point of one, shimmering in their light.
      "Yeah. Those are almost worth the slog down here to see." The leader said. "Ready to hit it again?"
      He was looking at her. She took one more picture of the formation then nodded.
      "Give me a sec." One of the others said. He pulled deeply at his water bottle then he took a deep breath. "OK."

      The final couple of hundred meters to the area they were heading for were an adventure all to themselves. There was a sideways crawl through a series of cracks that looked to be too small to navigate, but without pack, and with a vivid imagination, and some mild double jointed-ness, it could be done. Then there was a wild scramble through another 'canyon' full of large sharp rocks.
      Then another squeeze through a crack.
      "Welcome to the Northwest Territory." The leader said. "That short cut saved us almost a full four or five hours off the normal route. Twice that if we had walked a normal pace."
      They all more or less fell onto the soft silica of the room's floor. Water bottles and snacks appeared from packs. Even the leader slouched onto a boulder and sighed.
      Brooke caught her breath and looked around. The room wasn't as extraordinary as she had hoped it would be. She looked at her printed map and tried to remember the survey coordinates he had said they were going to.
      "You, are here." The team leader said pointing at the map. They were a couple of passages away from where she thought they were. Some of the others moved to look over her shoulder at the map.
      The team leader rattled off some survey marker alphanumeric numbers then pointed his flashlight at a small flag. "We'll be heading off down that way after while." He smiled, "If you want to see some aragonite bushes and stuff. Up in there. But don't take too long." He pointed up a slope toward an opening.
      Brooke was the first one up the short climb. It was a dead end room except for a possible lead that was nothing but a long narrow crack near the ceiling, but almost every surface that could be called anything like level was sprouting crystals in an endless array of white formations. Brooke was crowding the red and white off limits tape while she took her pictures.
      "In case you're wondering, that lead up there gets too narrow to survey about ten meters in." The team leader called up to them.
      "You tried it?" One of them asked.
      After some pictures and rest they set off again.

      "Here." Was all the leader said after another couple of hours of quick marching, and occasionally, climbing up or down.
      They had reached the Northwest area standard bivouac.
      The schedule said they were to unload their camping gear, take a very short break. Then break into the two four person sampling teams. One was to climb down an off limits shaft to retrieve the sampling gear left there, the other had about an hour of steady crawling to another walking passage where another piece of equipment had been taking a long term sample of an active archaea growth area for almost a year. Brooke was nominated to the crawling team and accepted it without qualms, she was far better at that than free climbing down a nearly bottomless open shaft.
      They made themselves take another drink of water, then they set out. Before the crawling team worked themselves into the low narrow fissure they made sure everything they needed was in the drag packs they would tow behind them on long cords. The team leader got on his hands and knees, then onto his belly and wiggled himself into the space that Brooke didn't even see when they entered the high arching passage. Once his feet disappeared the pack cord played out, then the pack slid into the fissure.
      She was to go second after giving the leader a full minute head start. She started counting as she got onto her hands and knees. At fifty seconds she dropped to her elbows and checked both of her lights one last time. "OK. I'm going." She said and started crawling. As soon as she was in the passage she felt a light but steady breeze blowing from behind her. There had to be a lot of cave ahead of her.
      There were marked leads in a couple of places running to one side or the other, or once, up, but they had been told that their path was pretty much straight ahead.
      Brooke crawled and crawled. In a couple of places she was actually flat on the sand and gypsum floor wiggling like a worm, then a little later there would almost be enough room to crawl on hands and knees. After a long time she ran into the leader sitting in a slightly more open area catching his breath.
      "Almost halfway there, but this is the only good rest stop."
      She nodded and panted. "How long do we sit here?"
      "Until Jimmy gets here, then I'll go on. You stay until Terry comes in."
      Brooke looked around while she rested. "Anybody push that lead?" She asked pointing up with her head lamp.
      "I tried. Just beyond that ledge on the left it's a serious freeclimb. I had a highbeam with me, and still couldn't see the top." He tried to pierce the darkness with his small light. Then he looked at Brooke. "You wanna try it with me next time? We'll need a lot of rigging."
      "Sure!" She said. Brooke promised herself that she'd learn all she could about climbing if it meant a chance to come back and do something like that.
      "I'll let you know when I arrange it." He looked up again. "I'd love to know where it comes out." They were quiet for awhile. "Jimmy's taking his time."
      Brooke knelt and looked back up the crawlway. "I see light." She said, then she spoke louder, "Jimmy?"
      "I'm coming. Took time off to visit an old friend."
      The leader laughed. "Damned fine time to use a relief bottle."
      "You're the one that passed out the coffee this morning." Jimmy called back using the leader's caving nickname that is best left unrepeated in non-caving company.
      They spent a couple of minutes talking about Brooke's camera. The leader was amazed that a digital would work at all in the humidity and dust of Lech.
      Brooke grinned broadly. "It's a diving camera. I killed about six regular ones before I bought this one. One exploded." She said with a chuckle then showed him some of the features and the depth rating of the unit.
      They sat silent for another minute.
      "You can wait on him. I'm going." The team leader said and dropped back to his hands and knees. He tugged on his pack cord and launched himself into the slightly larger opening that continued on.
      Brooke was alone for a few minutes then Jimmy struggled out of the opening and stood up gratefully. "Hello beautiful." He said. "Fancy meeting you here."
      "Hi Jimmy." She smiled at his offbeat personality.
      "OK you two, break it up." Terry said from the opening.
      "I'm going." Brooke said and moved to the next passage.
      "Now see what you did. I finally get to talk to a pretty girl and you interrupt."
      Brooke laughed and crawled into the dark tunnel.

      When they emerged from the other end they still had some way to go. But now they could walk, albeit sometimes sideways and always either up or downhill, mostly over loose stones and boulders, but walking was better then crawling in any case.
      Finally the leader dropped his pack and they took a break.
      "OK. The sample is up there." He pointed up a slope of punk rock and loose stones and debris. "That's Jimmy's baby."
      Brooke stretched and looked up. Her back popped a couple of times and she sighed from the relief. Then as she bent backward a little more she saw what looked like a lead above and behind her. "What's up there?"
      The leader turned and looked. "I dunno. I don't remember ever going up there." He pulled out the map and the chart of numbered leads and ran his finger down it. "There's nothing on the chart. It hasn't been surveyed." He rummaged in his pack for a flag. "Go see if it's promising." He wrote a number on the flag and the chart. "If it is, we might give it a look before we go back."
      Brooke tempered her enthusiasm with a quick runthrough of her equipment. Then she thanked him and took the flag. It was a short but intense free climb up to the small ledge and indentation she had seen from below. Once she pulled herself up onto the shelf she got that same thrill she had in Serious Cave. There were no tracks or other evidence in the thin soft layer of gypsum that anybody had ever been there. She took a deep breath and turned on the larger light hanging off her belt and shown it back into the narrow crack leading back from the ledge.
      She looked some more, it led in and then down and seemed to widen out a little.
      "Maybe, give me a second to see if it’s a dead end."
      Brooke had to step up and into the crack, then she had to wiggle a little to get through the narrowest part. But it did widen out. Then the rock in front of her disappeared.
      She took a long look around. There were no tracks or flags. The room was about the size of her bedroom, but the ceiling was fifty or sixty feet high and the room was wider at the top than the bottom where she was which was littered with broken stalactites and small rocks. Several possible leads opened into the shaft. She took several pictures and squeezed back through the fissure.
      "Oh yeah." She said and gave them the thumbs up sign. "There's an elevator shaft in here."
      She carefully climbed down and showed them the pictures and told them her guesses for the dimensions. The leader wrote the words "Elevator Shaft" next to the lead's survey numbers.
      "OK Jimmy. You go get your samples. We'll do a quick survey and mark the new leads."
      "I knew you couldn't resist exploring." Jimmy said while the leader passed out flags and measuring tapes and other gear.
      "Damned straight." He pointed back up to Brooke's fissure. "Let's go."
      The three of them squeezed through the fissure. Then they stood and marveled at the room no other humans had ever seen. The leader quickly drew out a rough sketch of the room and marked the important features. Then they measured it and planted survey markers at various points. Brooke took picture after picture, even posing for one near a fallen stalactite that was embedded in the soft floor. Terry worked up to a small opening and pronounced it a working lead and gave it another numbers flag. One of the others turned out to be an immediate dead end, but another dark crack near the fissure they had come through was a walking passage that led down from floor level to more darkness beyond.
      "We don't have time to do that justice." The leader said with a disappointed voice. He marked the last number on his chart and they turned back. "I'll be back." He said trying to sound like a movie character.
      Jimmy had gotten his samples and was waiting for them.
      "Now we head back to camp." The leader said after making sure everybody drank some water.
      They were all tired, but now they were excited as well. They started back as a group still talking about the promising leads and when they might be able to get back to check them out.
      "Now I'm serious about it. As soon as we surface I'm filing for a date for a major expedition down here and we're going to push them. And Brooke, you've got to come since you found it. I'll let you know when the permission comes through."
      She smiled all the way back to base camp.

      The rappelling team had gone to their pit and collected their samples and didn't do any real exploring. They had their share of excitement having two people hang from ropes over a hundred foot pit collecting samples from small outcroppings without falling to the jagged aragonite bushes below.
      Brooke's pictures had to be downloaded to three different palm sized computers so everybody could see what they'd found before anybody could either eat or rest.
      But then they had to settle down and get some rest before part two of the adventure.
      Brooke was far too excited to sleep. But every bone in her body was tired and she found the softness of her foam pad seductive. Soon she was asleep as was everybody else.
      The cave was pitch black beyond the small LED camp light they had left on. Dark, but far from still.

      They all heard several watches beeping.
      The cave was still as dark as it had been four hours ago.
      "Oh. Geeze, just ten more minutes ma?" Jimmy said through sticky teeth.
      "I wish." Somebody answered.
      "OK. One hour. Then we're moving. If you're still here, find your own way out."
      Brooke didn't need any more incentive than that to unwrap herself from her thin blanket and try to freshen up a little while trying to remember not to brush her hair and other 'pristine and wild cave' protocols they swore to live by.
      The party was ready to go nearly half an hour early.
      "OK. We're going back to about here." The leader said pointing to the map. "Then we'll cutting through here, a short climb, then back down that way. We're supposed to verify a rock slide and some missing markers. I personally think the team that reported it thought they were someplace else but we have to check. Ready? Let's go."
      And they were off.
      The leader looked at his watch. "By my mark, we're almost three hours ahead of schedule. Let's keep it that way."

      Once again they quick-marched through tunnels and passages and rooms. Some absolutely remarkable with formations and colors, others just a room with rock and stone for walls.
      They took a break by one of the rare water features in Lechuguilla. A small but deep lake with several different names depending on who you talked to. They all got to peer into the perfectly clear water, but they had to be very careful about knocking anything into it that may have ever touched a human. Once again Brooke took picture after picture.
      After more water and another check of equipment they headed off again. Right after the short climb up a fixed rope they turned down a passage that had been marked off as closed by the park management.
      "They didn't need to close it this far up, but, I guess they want to be safe." The leader said as they all stepped over the tape and continued down a long flowstone slope. "Give me a minute. I haven't been over here for a long time." He said at the junction of several passages in a room within a room.
      They others drank some water and chewed beef jerky or other snacks while the two most experienced Lech cavers poured over the maps and charts.
      "This isn't anywhere near where we're supposed to be." The Leader finally said. "According to the note, the rockslide should be…" He took off following survey markers down a passage. "Here."
      Not only was there no rockslide at the coordinates from the note, there was nowhere around where any rocks to have slid, the walls and ceiling were solid uncorroded limestone. They scouted around in case the person who wrote the note had been confused and simply wrote down the nearest marker.
      "I think they either transcribed letters or numbers or something. This is wrong."
      Brooke was delighted with the chance to see more of the cave. The team leader picked her and her camera to go with him to check one more location for the possible rockslide. They set off while the others checked survey markers to make sure there hadn't been some mischief with them.
      The wide tunnel they were in permitted them to walk side by side.
      "So, tell me about Serious Cave." The leader asked her.
      "It's nothing like this."
      "There is nothing else like this."
      "Well. So far its turned out to be one of the largest caves in Utah."
      "I'm impressed. You've got some nice caverns up there."
      "It is nice. You have to come up and see it." She told him about Grandpa's House and the Caravan he named and some of the other features.
      "I'd love to." He checked his bearings and they turned down a slightly narrower passage. "Did they really drill a well through it?"
      "Yes. And I guess I'm lucky they didn't find anything."
      "There it is." He stopped and pointed. "They simply wrote down the wrong letters."
      The rockslide wasn't as bad as the note made it out to be. It did partially block a passage, but it wasn't a major thoroughfare and it wasn't totally blocked.
      "Lech isn't dead. And it isn't static either. This is a living cave and it is always growing and changing."
      "I can tell." Brooke said as they heard several small stones rattle down a slope. But no matter how hard they looked, they couldn't see movement anywhere.
      He picked up a piece of crumbling limestone that had turned pink. "Rock eating bugs, hard at work."
      She took pictures and he checked markers and documented it all.
      "Some punk rock and corrosion residue couldn't hold itself up any more. I just hope somebody wasn't trying to crawl up it when it came loose." The leader said.
      "I'm sure you'd have heard about it if they were." Brooke said.
      She took a picture and turned to look at him. He was looking at her.
      They stood there for a long minute with their headlamps shining on the other person while the rest of the cave was dark around them.
      "We should get back to the others." He said in a minute.
      "Yeah." She answered, then she nodded to the slide. "At least we know where it's really at."
      They walked back to join the others a little more slowly than they had walked to the rockslide.

      The leader checked his watch. "Mickey's Big Hand says we've got about four hours before we have to start out." He looked around the group. "I know where there're some of the more spectacular sites in this area of Lech that wouldn't be too much of a problem getting to."
      "Let's go!" One of the others said.
      The vote was unanimous. They got organized and were off for parts unknown in just a few minutes.

      "It was wonderful. Thank you So Much." Brooke said to the leader as the team took turns on the freeclimb up to the stainless steel portal that was the only known way in and out of the cave.
      "My pleasure." He smiled. "And I meant what I said. I'm already putting together an expedition to push those new leads. And I want you."
      He was caked with grime, he had scraped the side of his face against a particularly sharp rock at some point. And his mustache that had been carefully groomed was now as wild as the cave had been. His clothes were a wreck of new tears in old patches and deeply caked slowly drying muck.
      Brooke knew she looked about the same, if not worse. They hadn't bathed or even brushed their teeth since the night before they entered the cave. She smiled in spite of it all. "I'd love to come." She said.
      The leader looked at her. "I… we… you…You're …." He couldn't say it. Not here, not now.
      Brooke blushed anyway but you'd never have seen it. "Let's go take a hot shower."
      "And get some real food. I'll buy you…" He looked at his watch… "A late dinner. We'll look at your pictures and talk about it."
      "Great." Brooke said with a knowing smile. Then she clipped onto the fixed rope and began her assent to the portal.

      "Amazing what a little sulfuric acid can do isn't it Brooke?" The leader said.
      She laughed and brought up the next picture.
      "Aragonite as far as the eye can see." He said.
      "At least as far as my flash would reach." She looked at him. "I'm sorry. What's your name again. I can't say…. that in public." She whispered his cave nickname under her breath.
      He laughed and laughed. "That was hung on me by one of the original explorers. Right in the middle of the Aragonitemare." He chuckled. "I'll tell you that story After you climb it." He looked at her. "My name is David… Dave."
      "Dave." She said with a gentle smile. She grinned. "I'm glad we were on the same team."
      "So am I."
      They engaged in smalltalk and cave talk and ate their sandwiches almost completely unaware of the others in the midnight crowd in the diner.

      "Just who I'm looking for."
      Dave blinked and looked up. "Stan..." He got a look at the expression on his friend's face. "What happened."
      "Survey team. Guy's got a hundred and four degree fever." He made motions with his hands.
      "We just got out after…." He sighed. "OK. When?"
      "Now. They were just beyond Castrovalva. They're on their way in, he's not going to make it."
      "Where you want to meet?"
      "Truck's outside. We've got gear for you."
      "Who else?" Dave asked as he took one last drink of water and dropped some money on the table.
      "Got any ideas? We're a little short."
      He looked at Brooke. "Let's go."
      Stan looked at him. "Is she good?"
      "Am I?" Dave said seriously.
      Stan didn't say any more.

      The six member team dropped into Lech on a caver assistance mission. They didn't want to call it a rescue unless it turned into one. If they could assist the sick man out under his own power, everybody would be a lot happier and it'd be a lot safer as well. An actual rescue carrying somebody out in a 'rescue wrap' was dangerous for the patient as well as the rescue team.
      They started off and had just rounded Lake Lebarge and were heading into the dark passage toward where the other team was supposed to be when they ran into a member of the sick man's team.
      "Oh good. He's getting worse. We're getting worried."
      They went into high gear. Moving quickly and expertly along rope traverses and through tight passages.
      Brooke was carrying some of the EMT gear for Cliff. An appropriately named National Park staffer who also happened to be a Paramedic. She tried to stay up with him as they passed fascinating formations and gaping pits as they worked toward the Jungle Room.
      Finally they reached the man and the medic went to work. Brooke volunteered to hand him things and keep track of information.
      "His name's Charlie." One of his companions said to them.
      "I remember him from check in." Stan said. "What happened?"
      "We had just finished photo survey of the Chandelier Ballroom when he said he didn't feel good. We took a break and he got worse. He started getting chills and…" He shrugged.
      "Did you go swimming?" Stan asked.
      At first the companion wouldn't say, finally he nodded.
      "Could be septic shock." Cliff whispered. "But… down here…" He continued his exam. "Oh damn." He pulled a medic alert necklace from around the man's neck. "Diabetic."
      "Has be been eating?" Brooke asked the companion.
      "We… I don't remember."
      Cliff sat back on his heels. "I want to stabilize him a little before we move him. There's a saline IV in that bag. Then we'll need the wrap."
      "I'll go get it." Stan said.

      Cliff got Charlie hooked up and after he got him comfortable and calm got some information out of him and part of a candy bar into him.
      Dave and Brooke went to check out the ballroom and the lake. Maybe there were clues back where they last stopped.
      The group had been observing the 'minimal impact' standard in the ballroom, but they hadn't been able to resist a dip in the lake in spite of posted warnings about contamination of the lake.
      "If he was already weak and dehydrated from exertion down here lugging around all that camera gear…" Dave started painting the picture.
      "And he hadn't been eating regular or taking his insulin."
      "Then he gets a belly full of our more unusual one celled cousins in here." Dave nodded his head lamp at the water. He frowned. "We'll get him out." He looked at Brooke. "You ever skinny dip in the pool in Serious Cave?"
      She grinned. "Only once. There's a stream that flows out of the cave that's better, but I don't get to very often."
      "Shame we don't have time to do it now." Dave said with an evil grin. "Maybe next time."
      "And risk contamination?"
      "Then we'll go to Lake Meade."
      Brooke laughed.
      In a few more minutes they started back.
      Charlie was still feverish, but better.
      Cliff ran his vitals one more time after listening to Dave's report. "I'm betting on your side. Let's get ready to go. We'll pack the IV with him."
      Brooke was as tired as she had ever been. The adrenaline of the rescue was wearing off. She fought to stifle a yawn as she helped Cliff close up his gear.
      They all took turns manning the stretcher-like apparatus. Then about halfway out another team met up with them to help. With extra hands it went smoothly, but even then several of the rescuers ended up with bruises and some had scrapes that needed Cliff's attention once they were clear of the entrance.

      "Thanks. Thanks a lot. You were right Dave. She's damned good." Cliff smiled as they loaded Charlie into the park's four wheel drive that doubled as an ambulance. "And she's a hell of a lot prettier than you are."
      Brooke said she was glad she could help.
      They watched the truck try not to jostle the patient too much as it made its way down the pitted road.
      "Cliff was right."
      "About what?"
      "Couple of things." Dave said and worked his hand where his fingers had tried to cramp as they worked the rescue wrap through the portal. "You were a lot of help down there. And you're really pretty."
      Brooke smiled.
      They were basically alone, the others were still ferrying gear out or packing Stan's truck. Dave wiped his mouth on his sleeve. Then he kissed her.

End part 2

Continued in part 3

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