Saturday, April 21, 2018

Don B Snyder. Part 12: Caving

Don B Snyder

This is Part 12 of a 13-part blog series sharing my Grand-uncle Don’s life story, in his own words, via an autobiography sent to me by Don’s grandson, Ron Oldfield, after Ron stumbled across one of my prior posts about his grandfather. It is shared with the permission of both of Don’s children and Ron Oldfield. [Note – Anything in brackets with green type is my added explanation of something in Don’s text.]

Don’s story: 

Part 12 - Caving

          Exploring caves became my next venture. I took an interest in the ‘wild’ caves. That is a cave that is not commercial. You should always explore with someone in case of an accident or getting lost. I didn’t care for that, so mostly I caved alone. I remember once I was in a wild cave alone and I couldn’t find my way out. Three other guys entered the room and were also lost. They went off and down a level. I’d go down a passage and it would end with a tight crawlspace. I’d go through this and end up where I started. I did this three times and was getting nervous. I thought I’d go down to a lower level. There were a lot of stalagmites in the room I was in. If I’d been experienced I’d have known that most stalagmites are in the upper levels because of water seeping down, forming them. Anyways, I had nothing to lose so I saw an opening to another lower level. I thought “I’ll follow the stream and see where it goes.” The water was above my knees and I hoped it wouldn’t get deep. It didn’t and after going a ways I went around a bend and glory be, I saw a pinpoint of light. Now I hoped it would be big enough to get out. It was and it taught me a lesson. After that, I’d put little cardboard arrows on rocks pointing out.


          There was a stream below Sandy Cave that went into a hill. The water reached the top of the rock and I couldn’t go in it. At the side of the hill, I found an opening maybe two feet high. It had about two inches of water in it. I crawled back in it to see if a cave was there. I didn’t see one, got nervous and crawled out. Dumb. If I’d have gotten stuck or a rock came down they never would have found me, just like Floyd Collins. Other times I took chances. Some paid off, some didn’t.

Cavers do a lot of climbing and repelling on ropes, 200 or 300 feet more or less. Sometimes at the bottom, one might find a new cave. I’ve only did a bit of that. Ninety feet is the most I’ve done. I had the karabiners etc. plus 80 feet of rope like they did in mountain climbing. It’s a kind of rope that is strong and won’t spin you around. Some cavers in our grotto think nothing of going down 300-400 feet. I knew one young fellow in our grotto who was hooked on repelling down and climbing up in pits. He really knew the caves and pits. One day we were out looking for caves and pits. He lived in Huntington, West Virginia with his father. He said, “let me show you our old family farm.” We went down a back road and he stopped and pointed to a house on a hill. No one was living in it, as his father still owned. He said there were two pits there about 50 or 60 feet deep. His great-grandmother and grandfather lived there. The grandfather was mean and had pushed someone or a relative down in one of the pits. Of course, it would kill him. It got his wife mad and one day she pushed him down it. Spider Hall went down all pits, so I asked him if he went down it. He said no and let the matter drop. Maybe he thought there were ghosts there as no one ever went down the pit. I wondered if the law ever investigated it. I doubt it as this was pretty hilly, boondock country and I rather doubt if the law paid too much attention to the area. 

Sand Cave KY By Nicholas Frost
CC BY-SA 3.0, from Wikimedia Commons 
I mentioned Floyd Collins. He was trapped in a cave in Kentucky. They tried to get him out but new cave-ins blocked the passage. It made all the papers countrywide. I was just a kid, but I remember, after dark, paper boys were going through the neighborhoods shouting “extra, extra, read all about it.” It was about Floyd Collins, but I don’t remember what it was all about. They had to call in the National Guard to keep order as crowds and a carnival attitude had gathered. This was hill country and there was a lot of moonshine in the crowd. One little reporter got to him and handed down some soup, etc. His feet were tied down by fallen rocks. More cave-ins stopped them from getting to him. Heavy equipment was called in and a parallel shaft was drilled to him but he was dead, having drowned from seeping water. His family had his coffin put in Crystal Cave, which they owned. I was in that cave once and have a picture of me standing by his coffin. Also a picture of me crouching down in the cave he died in. I kind of wanted to go in aways, but I decided no way. 


(Watch a three-minute news report on The Unfortunate Fate of Floyd Collins)

I’ve sometimes wondered why anyone would take the chances of exploring caves. I’ve heard of people asking “why do you like that?” The reply is “if you have to ask, you wouldn’t understand,” and I believe it. If one couldn’t cave anymore, one would enjoy just being near the entrance, it being quiet, hearing only the dripping water, etc.

One time I met two guys (not cavers) and we went into Sandy Cave together. At the back end of the cave (one-quarter mile back) were two pools of water separated by a mound of dirt. In the right pool was a mudslide down and a little tunnel to the left. They stayed standing above the slide looking down. I told them I was going to check it out to see if it connected with the cave on the other side of the hill. I took off most of my gear as the tunnel was too small. I crawled about 20 feet and found a tunnel (same size) going to my left. I went that way and came to a tunnel going right again. I went in that and it ended in about 15 feet. I looked down and found a flashlight which meant someone else had been there. All of a sudden I discovered it was my flashlight. Then I remembered. Above the left pool was a small tunnel and I had crawled back in it the year before. Then I went back to the pool, went around it and over the mound of dirt. There were the two guys I had been with, looking down the slide. They were probably wondering what had happened to me. I got an idea. I quietly came up behind them and yelled “hey!” They almost jumped out of their shoes. I remember it well and I bet they still do. We left the cave and I never saw them again.


I’ve heard an old tale of using a divining rod to find water. You take a coat hanger one wire in one hand and one wire in the other. Walk slowly and when you get over water it will bend down. I tried it at home and it worked. We tried it on a hill. I walked with it and it went down. I didn’t know of any water there but I remembered it was over a cave.

I’ve caved several times with an elderly lady named Sarah Corrie in our grotto. Although up in years she loved to climb ropes. As a caver, she was almost a legend in the caving circles. Small but agile. I’ve known her to repel several hundred feet. Her one ambition was to repel down Angel Falls in South America. No one had ever done that, as it is I think over a thousand feet. I think she could have done it but, unfortunately, she got sick and died of cancer.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Hello! Thanks for stopping by and choosing to leave a message. I read every message and I usually reply via the comment thread. [I recently discovered that I've been having technical difficulties with receiving notification of comments for the last year (2019 through Jan 2020). I think I've fixed that now. I hope. My apologies if you were caught up in that. I think I"ve caught up with, and replied to, all the comments now..]