In August 2003 I returned trip to Purgatory Chasm. With a diet of 90% fish and lots of exercise, I had trimmed down a few belt sizes. When I last visited the Damnation Cave, I hit a road block. The passage to the lower level was much narrower than I remembered. Now, I was ready to squeeze through that final obstacle and make it to the inner sanctum. This time I planed on mapping the cave. This gave the trip a useful purpose, but finding my way to the lower chamber was my true goal.
It was a ten foot drop into the gateway chamber. I like to call it ‘The Well of Brave Souls’. Entering this area was extremely easy compared to what lay ahead. In the well there is a log that has been there for over 10 years. Like a long bony finger , it pointed the way to the cave. The entrance to the cave appears far too narrow for any adult to squeeze through. This is an illusion caused by the angle of view and the way the rock overlap.
As I began to measure the depth and compass bearing of the narrow shaft, I accidentally knocked my equipment pack into the cave. Since it now was far out of my reach, I had no choice but to follow right behind. Slowly I began to squirm and wriggle like a snake, making my way through the first of many tight spots. Once through, the vertical shaft was a much more comfortable width of two feet. After just dropping three feet, the temperature had gone from uncomfortably hot to a refreshing cool. Just ahead was a tricky pass. To get by this one, I had to slide diagonally into a large chamber. I was now about 20 feet below the surface. I rested for a minute and enjoyed the silence. While composing myself for the next part of this journey, I couldn’t help thinking about my wing man Chad. Though I was deep in the grimy gut of the chasm, I found my surrounding much more comfortable than the swarms of summer bugs and beating sun above.
Well rested, I collected my tools and proceeded on. Once I reached the bottom of the shaft, I knew the passage to the lower chamber wasn’t far. Now crawling feet first, I slowly inched my way to the passage. In the chasm above there is a spot called Fat Mans Misery. Squeezing through that is a cake walk compared to the close quarters I was in. Trying to measure and plot the cave became very difficult. Each step required complex contortions. Even writing the results proved to be extremely uncomfortable.
After performing the required tasks, I made my way to the route to the lower chamber. I could hear the running water below. Unfortunately, today would not be the day I would reach the inner sanctum. Though I trimmed down quite a but, the path to the lower chamber still seemed dangerously tight. I was sure I could push myself through and drop down below. Unfortunately due to the steep drop and the lack of footing, getting back up might be too difficult to accomplish alone. Once again I had to pass. I was now very frustrated. To make the most of the rest of the afternoon, I focused on mapping the rest of the cave. I proceeded on to the far end of the upper cave and enjoyed a snack and drink by candlelight in the chamber of Schism. Once I had all my measurements, it was time to head back to the surface. Gravity which had once been my ally, was now my enemy. Inching through the same cramped quarters was now twice as hard. Using all of my strength, I slowly scaled upward and back out into the daylight. Much like a vampire, once I saw the first beams of light I shuddered and receded into the shadows. The feeling of its warm embrace soon brought me back to the living!
With extra time on my hands, I decided to find another cave that was nearby. This one was called Hell. Though it too had its tight spots, it was much easier to navigate. I did some preliminary exploration of its chambers. This is one I’d have to map on a return visit. In this cave I could also hear the water. The River Styx was taunting me yet again. When I compared the approximate length and location of Hell and Damnation Cave, I realized that the inner sanctum was right in between. It was now late in the day, so it was time to pack things up and head home. Until we meet again Damnation Cave…. Until we meet again!!
~Tom Sawyer ~ Strange New England
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