Sullivan Rise/Colossus – Nov. ‘04


Secret Agents: There have been some mysterious activities reported at the Sullivan Rise. Your mission is to travel to the area and investigate.

Investigation (By Nate Newkirk):

I knew this mission would be tough, I’d done it before. I knew what it would take. Early attempts failed to make it to our destination, the Sullivan Rise. Later attempts we would succeed, but would result in a life altering experience. An experience, at the time, that was completely miserable, hypothermic, near drowning, dehydrated, hungry, wondering if we would ever make it out of the cave. When we finally exited, it was snowing outside. We had to wait on Jamie to exit the cave, soaked, in the snow, before we could get into his car. While taking off our caving gear, a complete zombie, I somehow managed to zip my penis in the zipper of my wetsuit. My first thought was, “I can’t believe I just did this!”, then I got the mental picture from the scene in the movie “There’s Something About Mary”. I was wondering how I was going to explain this to the emergency room doctor, why was I playing in a wetsuit in the winter? Luckily, I got things under control and no damage was done in that area.

I headed down the night before, due to the 9:00 a.m. meeting time. I wanted to get as much sleep as possible. I stopped by a nearby spring to check out water levels. It had been raining all week long and I was beginning to wonder if the low airspace bathtubs would be sumped. The spring was pumping out more water than usual, but not quite enough where I thought it would be a problem. I then heard from a group that was in the cave earlier that day and they reported high water levels. They were expecting it to peak and start receding throughout the night. My heart was still set on the rise.

I pulled into a discrete parking lot, got out my sleeping bag and crawling into the back of “Hotel Xterra” for a great nights sleep. I awoke and realized it was past our meeting time. Luckily I was right there by Golden Corral. The all-you-can eat buffet was definitely a good idea especially considering we would be burning an insane amount of calories fighting the 55 degree river for 10 hours and traversing one of Indiana’s longest caves.

After having everyone sign a release and waiver of liability form, A.K.A., sign their life away, we were off to Sullivan Cave. Brian and Sean were also meeting us at the cave and were going to go along with us. They are both excellent cavers and was looking forward to experiencing the rise with them. I called Brian’s cell phone because we were running late. They were already suited up when we got to the cave. Brian and Sean were growing impatient with our slow pace getting ready and determined they wanted to go on their own trip to the rise. I said that was ok, because we had a large group and would be moving pretty slowly. Brian and Sean disappeared into the entrance gate…

Myself and the POC, suited up. Someone said that I looked like a “Ghostbuster” in my all yellow PVC coveralls. We took a group shot at the entrance and people started dropping down into the hole.

It had been awhile since I had been to this cave. I didn’t realize the entrance section was so mazey. I remembered going through the walking tight canyon we were in, but that turned into a belly crawl, then hands and knees. I left my pack and told everyone to wait while I went ahead and “route finded”. I think everyone was getting a little worried that I was already lost at the beginning of the trip!

I went ahead and the passage just kept going and going. Finally I came to the conclusion that I had gone too far and somehow missed the “backbreaker” passage. I turned around in going passage…

I thought it would be best to head back towards the entrance and watch like a hawk for the “backbreaker” passage. Looking up, I saw it. I climbed up to see if it was the “backbreaker” passage, indeed it was. Everyone climbed up.

The “backbreaker” passage is a horrible passage. It’s too short too walk and too tall to hands and knees crawl. It’s very awkward moving through it. We would move through it a ways and then stop to catch our breath. I pointed out some gypsum crystals and flowers along the way.

It finally opened up into walking passage and I knew that the short belly crawl leading to the “mountain room” was nearby. Somehow I missed it and it took a little time route finding to find it. Soon, all of us were in the “mountain room” and ate some lunch. I headed down a long steep breakdown slope into the “flood route” to make sure I knew where I was. Everyone soon caught up and we were soon on our way to the “Quarry Room”.

At the “Quarry Room” are very large slabs of limestone that had peeled off the ceiling. It made for a perfect changing area into our wetsuits. Beyond this room is where things get WET and DEEP. We all went around and did a little strip tease, while getting naked. “Life’s Short – Cave Naked”.

We soon plunged down into a hole of waist deep water. Soon, we were tip toeing and swimming in the deep river. Everyone let out all kinds of “hollas” as the cold 55 degree water started working it’s magic on our mental abilities. Justin informs us that, “Theres two kinds of people, those that pee in their wetsuits and those that lie about it”. After much wading, we soon came to our first bathtub.

I told everyone to wait and not make any waves while I got out my “trusty” dive light and started investigating the bathtub. To the right, I yelled out, “It’s sumped”. I then went to the left and things were looking good. It was about 10 inches of airspace on average. Looking ahead, it looked like it might sump or come awfully close to it. But, Brian and Sean must have gone through it since we hadn’t run into them yet. I yelled out for assistance. I was going to push the 2-3 inches of low airspace and hope I popped up into the other side. Johnson was right there ready to pull me out if I started to drown. It was an awkward 2-3 inches and was easiest to just hold your breath and go for it! Soon both Johnson and I were through it and went back to tell the others that it was possible and we both had just done it. After getting our packs and helmets, we all started single file, one at a time, head turned to the side so your lips could get air at the ceiling, through the low airspace. I went to get out my camera, extremely excited about capturing such low airspace on camera, only to open my dry box to find my digital camera completely submerged in water. I guess it’s time to get a new dry box…

Everyone was through except for Tom and Sarah. Aaron had told me that Sarah wasn’t going to do the low airspace and was terrified. What to do? I went back through the low airspace and coughed as I swallowed some water. I got to Sarah and began asking her what exactly was bothering her. She didn’t like water and can’t swim and the idea of low airspace scared her. I told her she could wait there until Brian and Sean got back. Then, I asked her if she would be comfortable going through it with me as I held her hand and promised not to let anything happen to her. She finally agreed to try it. We were moving through it and she started to hyperventilate somewhat. I told her she was fine, had plenty of air, and could touch the bottom. It was slow moving through it and constantly assuring her that she would be ok. She again got anxious as the ceiling lowered and it gave her confidence to move forward, seeing that the ceiling got a little higher up ahead. We were now at the 2-3 inches of airspace. I had someone on the other side ready to help pull her through. Figuring that she would never be ready to go through that, I just went for it and pulled her along with me.

The trip up to this point was going very well. Everyone was enjoying themselves and spirits were high. It was at this point that the group started moving very slowly and moral started to drop. The low airspace sucked a lot of energy out of everyone. Everyone was shivering and huddled together while waiting on everyone to get through the low airspace.

We very slowly made our way to Colossus. Constantly stopping and waiting for everyone to catch up. The waiting was beginning to take a toll on the more speed cavers. On a trip like this, you got to keep moving or you will freeze to death. Slightly beyond Colossus, Johnson and I found a huge steep mud slope that you could splash water on and use it as a mud slide and go crashing down into the stream. While doing that and waiting on everyone to catch up, people wanted to know how far away the rise was. I told them we were “half way to the rise”. Haha, whenever anyone asked how far we were at any point during the trip, I would always say, “half way to the rise”. The joke was no longer funny to the exhausted, miserable, hungry, hypothermic, bleeding and bruised POC’ers. They majority wanted to turn back. They especially weren’t looking forward to the 400 foot long bathtub just before the rise.

I asked if anyone wanted to continue onward to the magical Sullivan Rise. Johnson was in and only Johnson. I decided Johnson and I would continue forward while everyone else started making their way back.

Some would question my decision, especially as trip leader. Given their slow pace, I was confident that Johnson and I could reach the rise and catch back up to them before they reached the bathtub. I had pointed out all the Y’s along the way. There were several people in the group that had done caving before. As a group, I was sure they could route find their way back. If they made a wrong turn, I was sure they would catch it and most of those passages end. Also, when in doubt, follow the black cable.

Johnson and I hauled ass to the rise. I didn’t actually intend on going to the rise but we emerged in the massive room just before the rise quicker than expected and both determined, “We have gone this far, no sense in turning back now”. We were unable to actually see the rise. I expect we were about 50 feet away from it. Either there was a recent collapse or the water levels were too high to get to it. We also didn’t have time to waste trying to find it so we headed back. We ran into our own set of problems along the way.

Johnson and I reported hearing voices and dismissed it as his stomach growling for food. We both then agreed that it was indeed voices and yelling. I was hoping nothing bad had happened. We ran into Aaron and Sarah just before the “mountain room”. They said the main group vanished and that they were lost. The four of us shortly emerged into the “mountain room” to find the rest of the group waiting.

Shining my light around the room, looking at peoples faces, I could tell everyone was very miserable. Everyone was ready to get the fuck out of the cave, so I lead the way. We were all in the “backbreaker” passage and were not enjoying it. It was very awkward and tiring moving through it. As a group we all stayed together. Finally I found the hole that leads to the entrance. Thinking everyone was caught up, I went down and knew the quicker way to exit this time. Tom and Justin remembered the climb up to the gate before I did. Soon, four of us were standing outside and no one else ever came out.

I knew I would have to go back in. This sucked because, I had to piss like a race horse, and theres something about making it out of a cave that is relieving and relaxing, especially given the state I was in. Going back in just sucked. I figured and hoped they didn’t crawl the wrong way in the entrance maze like we did earlier. The other option was that they missed the drop down from the “backbreaker” and kept going. I thought the most strategic point to wait was at the “backbreaker” climbdown. I would give out yells periodically. Finally, I hear, “Nate, Where the FUCK are you!”. It was Anna’s voice and was not happy. She got to me and wanted to beat me with her Nalgene and said a few unpleasant things.

We were all finally out and survived. It was about 4 a.m. on Monday now. It was apparent that some of us were going to miss class. All of us were exhausted, cold, mildly hypothermic, dehydrated, hungry, bruised, bleeding, hallucinating, battered and stumbling. The trip was a success.

Pictures from this trip

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