Dark Cold Places

I have been moving this week so blogging has been light.  The bad news about moving is that you gotta move all that stuff. The good news is that occasionally you find stuff you didn’t know you had.  This is a blast from the past and is only timely because Doug and I got to talking about it.

My buddy Doug and I were cops together in the mid 70’s.  Being macho 20 somethings we pursued macho hobbies, tried sky diving, white water canoeing down the Rio Grande, and finally settled on SCUBA diving as a steady thing. The guy that owned the local “DIVE SHOP” was Don Dibble a slightly deranged former UDT guy now running his own shop and teaching SCUBA at the local college. Don was our mentor and we listened to him for most things having to do with diving.

Being hard charging Cops with balls that clang when we walked, we decided to take our SCUBA diving to the next level, cave diving.  We had just the cave, just down the road, Jacob’s Well.  When we started diving in Jacob’s Well it was not restricted.  We each made a couple of forays into the depths.  It was an interesting dive, as far as it went.  That proved to be the problem.

The water is crystal clear and a constant temperature.  There is a safety down line installed from about 30′ down to 90′.  At 30′ you can see the light from the surface.  At 90′ the cave narrows to the extent a casual diver would need no urging to turn back. If you were to take index finger and middle fingers on each hand and put them tip to tip and spread them that gives a pretty good approximation of what the cave looked like at 90′.  The outer edges might be a foot high while the middle varies from 18″ to 5′ as it slopes down at a 45 degree angle. Just at the furthest extent of a flashlight beam is a hint that the cave levels off and opens to another chamber.

We decided to try for this distant chamber real or imagined.  We made it a night dive, after all it was always night in the cave.  Our safety line wouldn’t reach from the surface to our destination, but we reasoned, we didn’t need a safety line for the last 30′.  You can always see the light, except it was night.

We didn’t make it to the forth chamber.  We discovered that the floor of the 45 degree slope was made up of gravel and silt and if you touched it, that would set off a land slide.  The gravel obeyed the laws of gravity and slid down the slope.  The silt did not and soon we were immersed in zero visibility.

I found the safety line and followed it to the 30′ foot terminus.  I put Doug right into the opening and he made his way to the surface, sure that I was right behind him.  Except I wasn’t.

I generally knew where I was and kept swimming in circles crashing into the walls and ceiling and then finding my way to a known point and trying to hit the entrance and missing.  The visibility was so poor I had to put my air gauge up against the face plate of my mask in order to read it.  The only saving grace was that I was late getting to the dive shop, it was closed and my steel 72 scuba tank, typically pressured to 2700 PSI was locked up inside.  Instead I was using a buddy’s brand new aluminum 80 pressured to 3000 PSI. After about 8 circuits of the first chamber I made it back to my known point, pictured the entrance, ran out of air, and set off free ascending for that imaginary point and hit it.

A reasonable person might assume that the events recounted here might cause other the people involved to find other pursuits.  Neither one of us ever dove in Jacob’s Well for recreation again.  However, within months I found myself involved in a body recovery operation at Jacob’s Well.  This was a pattern that repeated itself throughout the late 70’s into 1984.   The article in the San Antonio Light March 4 1984 Jacobs Well attests to the fact we are slow learners.  This story documents our last venture into Jacob’s Well.  

Why did we do it?  Because we could.  Nobody but the Game Warden was getting paid and he couldn’t do it alone. We were there, better suited than most for the task in hand.  Dibble would bring $30,000 of equipment and years of experience to a recovery and never charge a dime.  I guess it got down to somebody had to do it, why not us?