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UC Writer, Photographers Go Underground
To Stay on Top of Biology Research

Date: Oct. 4, 2000
By: Chris Curran
Phone: (513) 556-1806

"Just get on your stomach and slide in head first. It will pull you right down."

Those were supposed to be words of encouragement from biology graduate student Molly White. They didn't quite have the right effect.

view of cliffs

After climbing about 500 feet down a steep cliff face, we discovered the entrance to Overlook Cave appeared to be little more than a rabbit hole.

Now, she expected us to blithely slither through this crevice into the darkness below, keeping our bodies and our precious cameras safe from obstacles we couldn't see and couldn't imagine. Photographer Colleen Kelley managed to ignore her mild claustrophobia and take the plunge. I didn't have much choice after that. Down we went.

Underground, it didn't seem so bad after all. We found ourselves in a roomy cavern, and the lights on our miner's helmets made it easy to scan the nearby walls. That prompted a quick warning from our team leader.

image of Molly White

"Don't wake up the bats. They'd start flying around, and I hate that." Ah, Molly had a weakness! Actually, we all had our weaknesses. At the height of ragweed season, my asthma kicked in full force in the dusty scrabble to get over the rocky debris piles to the research site a quarter mile away.

Photography intern Jacob Hand and biology grad student Adam Hott really didn't have a weakness -- just a natural flaw. They're both over six-foot tall, and it was a seesaw battle to see who would claim the prize of Most Bumps on the Head. Those miner's helmets definitely did their duty on this trip.

As we crawled and climbed through the cave, it turned out the biggest obstacle to reaching the research site wasn't the two-story crumbling piles of fallen rocks known as "breakdown."

image of Molly White It was a ledge about five feet high. We needed to get up on the ledge to continue the trip. Molly's gymnastic training came in handy. Pushing one leg against the cave wall, she flung the other up and over the ledge in a nearly complete split. Ouch! That wouldn't work with the 40+ crowd. I relied on Colleen pulling and Adam pushing to clear the height. (Thanks again folks!)

By the time we left the cave three hours later, we were all feeling pretty confident in our caving abilities.

image of cave entrance

But it was still a muddy slide up and out the tiny cave entrance. Molly says it's nicknamed "the birthing canal," and it lived up to its name. Which is more than I can say for the cave.

"It's a dry cave," Molly had assured us. Look closely at the photos, and you have to wonder what a "wet cave" would look like. Between the muddy slide down the hillside and the final exit, there wasn't a crew member who didn't look like Dennis the Menace after a romp in the mud.

image of crew

We were lucky though. Molly's discovered that "baby wipes" make for easy post-caving cleanup, and we were able to make ourselves presentable enough to celebrate at the local Denny's.

Up next: The cave known as "Knee Shredder." (Or maybe not! We hear it's a "wet cave.")

Return to main research story.

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