We left early in the morning, our pockets and backpacks stuffed with flashlights, extra batteries, bulbs, matches, lighters, candles, batteries, food, and batteries. We had canteens, emergency space-blankets, gloves, and extra socks. Also batteries. Dad was big on safety, so we had triple-redundant backups for everything, from extra toques to dental floss, and we had lots of batteries.
There were four of us: Dad, [brother] Ted, me, and my 20-yr-old uncle, Raul. Raul was staying with us in Calgary, on his way to L.A. with his friend Ken Wahl. Ken had gone on ahead, after he and Raul were deported for working illegally (that’s a whole nother story), but Raul had come back up to spend a few more weeks with us.
We pretty much hero-worshipped Uncle Raul. Ken had huge biceps, and had showed me how to light matches with my teeth, which was pretty cool, but Raul had participated in endless rubber-band-gun fights, played street hockey, baseball, and basketball with us, and described the movie Jaws in minute detail, including the gory parts, so he was pretty firmly in first place at that time, uncle-wise.
Anyway, this ice-caving expedition was to a spot the three Torres had been to before, and it was pretty neat. The entrance was maybe 10 feet high, and it narrowed down gradually toward the back. I don’t know how deep the cave was – to my 11-yr-old mind, it went on forever, and the light from the entrance faded fairly quickly. Sometimes we would all turn our lights off and wait for a long time too see if our eyes could adjust enough to pick up any light at all, but it was absolutely, completely dark.
There was also some kind of underground river that ran thru the cave. It was frozen – at least in the winter – and there were huge blocks and sheets and chunks of ice that you had to clamber over or under or around. It sloped up gradually, until it was mostly rock – not much ice.
The cave led back for quite a ways, narrowing down, opening out into little rooms, and narrowing down again. Eventually, we came to a room that seemed to be the end of the line. This was as far as we’d ever been in the cave – at this point it became a long diagonal crack about a foot wide, that seemed to extend for a dozen feet or more, curving gently away.
I imagine having his sons along made Dad cautious; in any case we all agreed that this would be a good place to turn around. But Raul thought he might be able to work his way into the crack a little ways. It seemed to me to be an excellent way to get stuck and spend the rest of your life inside a frozen mountain, but Raul *was* able to slither into the crack quite a ways, and said that it got a little better further on.
Dad cautioned him not to go beyond the point where we could hear each other, and Raul agreed. We shouted back and forth every few seconds for the next five minutes or so, and Raul’s voice got fainter and fainter. Then we couldn’t hear him any more. We didn’t hear anything for several minutes, and Dad was getting worried and (I think) angry. I guess he was imagining having to go back and tell Mom that he had lost her little brother in the ice cave.
We didn’t hear anything for 5-10 minutes, but eventually Raul shouted again, and we could hear him coming back. And not only that, but he seemed to be talking to somebody. A few minutes later he was back with two young hikers. Apparently they had been camping in the ravine below the cave, and had decided it would be fun to explore it a little. Totally ignoring my Dad’s 15-extra-batteries-for-every-flashlight rule, they had worked their way far into the cave until their one light expired. They had then wandered around in the dark until they came to a drop-off; not knowing how far it was to the bottom, they had sat there and shouted until Raul found them.
As I remember it, they were on a camping trip that was supposed to last several days, so one would have come looking for them for quite a while. I think that without Raul, they would have been in serious trouble and they knew it, but by the time the six of us made our way out of the cave and they saw the sunlight again, they had changed from"Thank you thank you thank you for saving our sorry butts"
to"Well, you never know, we might have found our way out eventually, who knows?"
We didn’t believe it for a minute. And Dad never even mentioned this perfect demonstration of the importance of having backups for everything, especially batteries, but I know I got the point.