Encore: Tight Squeeze, the Claustrophobia-Inducing World Of Caving Yields Epic Rewards

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Sonia Meyer rappels down from Chocolate High in Carlsbad Caverns National Park after surveying (Photo by Derek Bristol)
Sonia Meyer rappels down from Chocolate High in Carlsbad Caverns National Park after surveying (Photo by Derek Bristol)

This episode originally published on September 4, 2020. 

You might not think about caves in the same breath as you do the deep ocean or outer space, but you probably should. There are approximately 70,000 caves in the United States alone, but the vast majority are inaccessible to the public. That means rare, delicate ecosystems have developed for tens of thousands of years in complete isolation from human contact. That is, until cavers travel deep underground through impossibly small spaces to find them.

In this encore episode from the archives, join the Endless Thread team as we dive into the claustrophobia-inducing world of caving.

Thanks to the National Speleological Society, Adam Weaver, Amanda Willis, and George Veni for their help with this episode.

Sonia Meyer inches through a belly crawl in a California cave (photo by Joey Meyer)
Sonia Meyer inches through a belly crawl in a California cave (photo by Joey Meyer)

Show Notes:

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Full Transcript:

This content was originally created for audio. The transcript has been edited from our original script for clarity. Heads up that some elements (i.e. music, sound effects, tone) are harder to translate to text. 

Amory Sivertson: Okay Ben, let's play a game...

Ben Brock Johnson: Mmm.

Amory: ...of how well do you know Amo. What is something that I am pretty afraid of, generously not a fan of?

Ben: Oh hey Amory, do you wanna house sit my big empty house by yourself for the weekend? In this very remote area?

Amory: Ooh, very good, that's not what I was thinking of. But that's very true...

Ben: Would you like to be alone in a big house for a while?

Amory: No thank you. No thank you. Okay, I guess what else am I afraid of? (Laughs.) The list is long. But this is a fear of mine we've discussed on the show.

Ben: Okay a bunch of pig's blood by mistake?

Amory: (Laughs.)

Ben: Did we talk about that already?

Amory: I'm thinking...

Ben: Alright, alright, okay, I know. Getting stuck forever in a cave.

Amory: Yeah, more specifically like, tight spaces. I'm claustrophobic. Coffins? No, I don't even want to be in a coffin when I'm dead.

Ben: Okay. We'll shoot you out into space?

Amory: Shoot me out into space. But, but this is relevant because we are replaying a favorite episode from the ET archives. But what I love about it is that we also—this episode also taps into one of your fears.

Ben: Yes, I was just gonna say yes.

Amory: Do you remember?

Ben: Yeah, I do.  I do remember. I don't like it. I don't like it. Even thinking about it right now. I don't like it.

Amory: Okay, I think we should just save it for the listener...

Ben: Oh God.

Amory: ...who will get to join us on this journey.

Ben: I don't want to be afraid of this thing. It's just. It's just I don't I it's not a bad thing. I just, it's so scary. I don't like it.

Amory: I know. Well, to find out if if you too are afraid of this thing that Ben is afraid of or to feel the fear that I feel in caves and tight spaces, please enjoy this favorite episode of ours.

Ben: (Laughs.)

Amory: We made it early, early-ish days of the pandemic?

Ben: Yeah.

Amory: Summer of pandemic 2020.

Ben: Yeah, it was a good you know, it just felt I mean, this is like I feel like this is this is classic us. We were finally well yeah, we're finally allowed to go outside and the pandemic we're finally allowed to like be we're finally like accepting like being you know, going into the world again. We're like okay, we're gonna go into the world we're gonna do something and then what do we do? We go outside we go inside in a really close it a really close close quarters face. Like that's classic us.

Amory:  Yeah, agreed. But you know what? Less talk more rock we're saying too much.

Ben: Okay.

Amory: Here is...

Ben: The show.

Amory: The episode. Enjoy. We'll see you next week.


Ben: Subreddit community? Sweaty palms.

Amory: Post title..."Why did I watch this?"

Ben: Post content. A video. Choppy editing and adventure cam footage of two people...climbing into a tiny opening in a rock face.

Amory: Spray-painted above the opening? The words: HELL HOLE.

[Video audio: Oh f***.] 

Ben: The video is claustrophobia-inducing. It’s a vertical maze of tight squeezes through holes in rock that goes on forever. And the people in the video… can barely get through.

[Video audio: This hole is literally the size of my foot. Like my foot touches the top and the bottom of it. That’s f*****.]

Ben: This video post on Reddit got a ton of comments. Things like “Thanks for tonight’s nightmare,” and, “I got stressed out just watching this,” and “You couldn’t pay me any amount to get me to do this.”

Amory: But to actual “cavers” as they’re called, Hell Hole is known as IXL Cave. And it’s not scary. If anything it’s a reminder of how a beautiful thing can be ruined by too much information in the hands of too many people.

Sonia: So yeah IXL is a cave in Santa Cruz. And in some areas we have what are called sacrificial caves. And they’re caves that the location is very well publicized and you have a lot of people going there, unfortunately sometimes damaging the cave, littering, spray painting, things like that.

Steven: It's fun to crawl around in. It's got some very interesting squeezes in it. So it's fun for learning technique. The sad thing is that even before all of the formations were destroyed and the walls were spray-painted with arrows and pentagrams and other idiotic symbols, that it was also a beautiful cave. And there's no reason it couldn't have been both.

Ben: There are an estimated 70,000 caves across the United States. They come in all shapes and sizes and people of all shapes and sizes explore them in all sorts of ways. Scuba diving. Base jumping into the cave mouth. Using rope like mountain climbers. Scrambling through tight passages.

Amory: But very few caves are known to the wider public. And that’s on purpose.

Steven: If you ever talk to cavers in person or especially on the Internet and say, “Oh, can you tell me where is this cave? How can I find this cave?” You'll find that they're very reluctant to give you that information. It's it's almost impossible to get people to tell you the location of a cave if you're a stranger. There is there is very much a a gatekeeper-ish, insular, word-of-mouth approach to it.

Sonia: Cave locations are considered secret. They tend to hide the location. So it's never that easy to find them. So that's kind of a thrill and a challenge in itself.

Amory: We found one.

Ben: We did. In Purgatory Chasm State Reservation in Massachusetts. Purgatory Chasm is maybe the perfect name for the times we’re living in and the hobby at hand. So we wanted to climb into the world of caving. And climb into an actual cave. But we needed to hear from true cavers. And figure out where the heck the caves were in Purgatory Chasm.

Amory: Also, the guys who worked there seemed to know the Caver’s Oath. Which is “I can’t tell you where it is.” But they were also maybe Redditors.

Cave employee: Honestly, if you look it up online I’d be shocked if you can’t find kind of, sort of where each different one is.

Amory: Yeah, 'cause there's a number of different ones back there there.

Amory: Yeah. I think we’ll figure it out.

Ben: Yeah. We figured it out.

Amory: Not that we were necessarily happy about it…

Amory: I cannot believe I'm doing this. I can't-- I said I was not going into a cave!

Amory: I’m Amory Sivertson.

Ben: I’m Ben Brock Johnson and you’re listening to Endless Thread.

Amory: The show featuring stories found in the vast ecosystem of online
communities called Reddit.

Ben: We’re coming to you from WBUR, Boston’s NPR station.

Amory: Today’s episode? Tight squeeze.

Ben: It didn’t take long for us to find one of the small quote unquote caves in Purgatory Chasm. And yes, I’m a little muffled, because I’m wearing a mask because hashtag wear a mask.

Ben: Alright, there's paint on the rock.

Amory: There's a smiley face, which means only happy times ahead.

Ben: Except right next to the smiley face is the number six six six.

Amory: Oh, that's what that is? I'm like, what is g g g.

Ben: Oh, no, no, no. Oh, no, no.

Amory: Oh, you can see down below. You can see. OK, we have to explain this. I don't know how you thought to come up here, Ben.

Amory: This hole in Purgatory Chasm is dark enough and deep enough to give you pause before sliding in.

Ben: I mean, there's two spiders hanging out right at the beginning of the caves. Have a good time. And that is like you can clearly see that you could get your body through there, but you really wouldn't want to. And it looks dank.

Amory: Yeah.

Ben: And tight and wet and not not fun.

Amory: You would need what Ben brought and I forgot to bring, which is a headlamp.

Ben: Do you think we could fit out the bottom? There's a tiny there's a tiny light at the end of this cave tunnel, which is like just enough to, like, goad you into climbing into the cave, but not enough to give you clarity on whether or not your body is going to come out the other side.

Amory: It looks like a cave. It feels like a cave. Is it a cave though?

Ben: What is a cave?

Steven: Oh gosh. There probably is a strict geological definition, but I would say that at the end of the day, basically, from my point of view, if it's something that you can enter and get essentially completely away from natural light, then I would consider that a cave.

Hi, my name is Steven Johnson. On Reddit I am Boredom Festival. I am a senior engineer at Google by trade, but my passion as a hobby is caving.

Ben: I mean, spelunking is such a better word than caving. Is spelunking out of is it out of favor?

Steven: Yes and no. Spelunking is completely accurate as a synonym for caving. It is not a wrong term. But for reasons that are hard to explain, sometime in the past few decades, in the English-speaking world at least, people who like to go explore caves started referring to themselves as cavers and not spelunkers. And instead they started to use the term spelunker to mean person who enters a cave without the proper training or equipment.

Ben: Well, shoot.

Steven: And so if you go to a convention, you will see bumper stickers that read “Cavers Rescue Spelunkers.”

Sonia: “Cavers Rescue Spelunkers.” A spelunker would show up to a cave without a headlamp.

Amory: Oh, no. You’re calling me a spelunker? Is that what’s happening?

Sonia: Yeah.

Amory: That’s that’s OK.

Sonia: So my name is Sonia Meyer. I've been caving for about four years. When I first started caving, it was purely recreationally. And then I learned about caving expeditions in Mexico. And I kind of immediately set my eyes on that as a goal for something that I wanted to do. And I started training pretty hardcore. So I would, you know, put weights in my bag and take the metro and take the stairs to work, which is eight flights of stairs, you know, stuff like that. And I would climb six hundred feet of rope every other day or so to one just be fit. But two to specifically strengthen the muscles that you need for climbing rope.

Amory: And do you do a particular type of caving?

Sonia: Yeah, I personally really enjoy what we call project caving. And usually it's for mapping. So we'll have teams go in that will map the cave. There's also digging, which is where you're trying to find new caves.

Steven: Fire in the hole! 3-2-1!



Ben: Well, how about this? I'll go first. And you come after. And then that way, we'll be sure. That at least one person can get into the cave and like, if I can fit, you can fit.

Amory: It's not whether I can fit or not it’s like will I start to hyperventilate down there?

Ben: I mean, you hear those kids? Those kids would go.

Amory: No, they would not. I think they, their kids have a sensible adult with them. Which we do not appear to be. But look. If you want to go in, I'm certainly not going to stop you.

Ben: I mean, I don't want to go in.

Amory: No?

Ben: But I feel like we have to go in.

Amory: I feel like you really wanted to hear clearly just stalling. Neither one of us wants to go in. (Laughs.)

Ben: (Laughs.)

Amory: I think we should go. Let's go.

Sonia: People cave for a lot of different reasons…

Steven: For some people, they enjoy the peace and the beauty of being in a cave alone. If you're in a cave, it can be an amazing almost meditation-like experience. For some people, they enjoy going to see caves that have really a lot of natural beauty, either decorations, you know, in the terms of stalactites and stalagmites and what you think of as decorations, or just the natural formation of the passages, sculpted marble, beautiful pure white walls and that sort of thing.

Sonia: Personally, I think my main driver is the exploration of going into like a new environment and like climbing around and exploring every nook and cranny. And the only exploration that you can find like that nowadays is in the deep ocean or in outer space.

Steven: It feels that it is connecting to a natural process that's that's on a timescale that is very disconnected from the human timescale. And it sort of reminds you of, this is your place in the natural scheme of things.

Sonia: I was in a cave last week in Wyoming, actually, where there's an area called the Cephalopod Malt Shop. And so a bunch of sea animals were washed in there and then, you know, tens of thousands of years later became fossils. So now this room, like the floor is just covered in these giant cephalopod fossils and other things that I don't know the name of.

Ben: What!?

Sonia: Yeah. And there's this one that was like five feet long.

Ben: Woah.

Sonia: That was the first time I've ever seen anything like that. So that was definitely like a wow moment for me.

Ben: What does it like smell like?

Steven: It smells like you're underground because you are. But I would say that if I had to use one word, typically musty is the operative word.

Sonia: Yeah there is a smell to dirt and mud, which gets obviously on the rope and your gear and everything. And I'll be honest, I don't I don’t think I like the smell all that much. But the emotional attachment to the smell is very strong. And so when I smell that, I feel extremely nostalgic, especially now during COVID since I haven't been caving very much in the past five months.

Steven: The thing is, it's a space in which your intuition for movement and direction is a little can be tripped because most people, you tend to think of when you're walking around, it's a 2-D surface. And when you get into a cave it’s a 3-D environment.

Sonia: Like when you're in the normal world, quote unquote, you're walking on the ground. Sometimes there's stairs, there's a hill, right. But more or less, it's you know, you're walking on a plane. It's pretty easy.

Steven: One of the things that people have to learn to do when they start caving is to much more aggressively look around them as they go through the cave, including backwards, because, you know, there might be complete different passages that you pass that when you return that way, you might say, “Huh? I came this way. And now there’s, actually, I see three passages going this way as I return. And I don't know which one of those I came through because I didn't notice them on the way in.” Now I have no idea where I am. And literally no map exists because no one has been here before.

Sonia: You always have three points of attachment when you're in a cave. So whether that's your two feet, your butt, your arms, your hands, you know, whatever. It's very much like a puzzle, actually. For like a tight space, like, “How do I fit through here?” You know, “What piece of my body do I put through here?” You know, like a jigsaw puzzle.

Ben: Well, it's actually quite spacious down here.

Amory: No, it's not.

Ben: No, it opens up.

Amory: You're playing games.

Ben: It opens up to the point where I can't put my-- Oh god… that's cool there's just like a bird feather down here. Probably nothing eating small animals down here. OK.

Amory: What do you see?

Ben: This is doable. Come on down.

Amory: I’m going in. After the break.


Ben: Can you just describe how you move when you go into a cave?

Sonia: Yeah so after walking, which is you're standing upright, you have stoop walking, which is where you're bent over at the waist, but you're still walking. And then you have crawling, hands and knees crawling, and then you have belly crawling. On top of that, you have like you have some very tight squeezes or long passages even that are extremely tight. And that I would say that's even a level past belly crawling.

Amory: Oh, come on. God, it is not all about that bass, Meghan Trainor.

Sonia: And I think the worst type of squeeze is called an S-bend. So you can imagine it's shaped like it sounds.

Amory: Oh no.

Sonia: So when you when you're doing a squeeze that has a bend, that's like an extra challenge. But you can imagine that like a 90-degree angle is probably easier than two 90-degree angles following each other that are in opposite directions. And the S-bends are particularly challenging for tall people, and they're often limited by the length of their shins. So whether they can get around those corners or not.

Steven: So I’m a so I'm I'm about a 6’1” 180-ish pound male, which puts me a little bit on typically slightly on the large side of cavers. I can go through about a nine-inch squeeze without too much trouble with due to due to my due to my rib cage.

Ben: Woah.

Steven: But that's, that's not really considered a tight squeeze by most cavers. The typical ideal caver physique really is sort of to have a person, a very wiry person of moderate stature. I I like to joke that one thing I like about caving is it's it's probably one of the very few physical activities on the planet that I know I will always be better at than LeBron James. (Laughs.) There are things that that I have no problem with but there's plenty more, probably much more things that I will see my my friends and fellow cavers do that I, I looked at once and just said I should never even attempt that.

Ben: Can you describe an example of something like that?

Steven: Oh, oh, there's a cave in Northern California that has sort of a long, you know, it's a several body length squeeze, but it's it's sort of a shallow U shape. So you go downward a bit and then you squeeze for maybe a couple body lengths, two or three body lengths, I'd say, and then come back up in another room. But the thing is that it's basically, at least for me, it's it's it's almost body tight. So you have very little room to move. You basically have to inchworm through it. And you when you get partway in, you realize, well, I can keep moving here the whole time, but there is that little lizard part in the back of your brain that really wants to panic and freak out. It's much worse than usual if you panic in that situation because one of the typical body reactions that you have is fight or flight. Adrenaline pumps up and your body gets physically bigger. And now you're more stuck. And now you get more panicky. And now you're even more stuck. You know, if you're in a tight crawlway and you're like, it's hard for me to move, having some fear about that, that's a good thing. That's going to keep you safe. That's going to that's going to make you make the right decision. When it transitions to panic, that's when some primitive part of your brain takes over. And maybe you'll make a good decision, but you probably won’t.

Ben: I don't think we're going to make it out the other end.

Amory: Is that I mean, is that the goal?

Ben: We've gotta go back the way we came.

Amory: Does it look like anyone could make it out the other end?

Ben: Well, you know, I could make it. Maybe. But it would be extremely uncomfortable. OH F*** THAT SPIDER. It would be extremely uncomfortable.

Amory: This is good because we both have our limits in this scenario, and mine are related to space and yours are related to spiders.

Sonia: We have something that we call "the rapture." And I don't know how to fully explain it, but I think it's when you feel kind of overwhelmed by how deep underground you are and how remote you are from the surface. Some people do experience this psychological effect where they completely shut down.

Amory: I'm almost afraid to ask this, but have you ever been stuck?

Sonia: I was in a cave in California. It's called Lil’ Burn in Sequoia National Park. So I went there with a friend who had done a little climb and discovered a small section of new cave. So it was walking in that you could stand up. But it was getting like physically tighter and more narrow as you proceeded. And then it got to an S-bend. And I stuck my head through and it was so tight that you had to cross your legs. So so crossing your legs is one of the ways that you get around these sharp angles. And in order to do this, the person behind me, because it was so tight, he physically had to position my feet in a cross-legged position so that I could stick my head through. So I got even I got pretty far through enough that I could see that it turned another corner. But I was afraid that if I went through without them, I wouldn't be able to get back because I wouldn't be able to cross my legs again.

Ben: See the pointy rock right there? I think you want to put your belly towards that.

Amory: Towards the pointy rock?

Ben: You know what I'm saying?

Amory: I agree. I just don't, I'm not—

Ben: You can do it. It'll be amazing.

Amory: I’m not sure. (Falls.) Oh God! Hahaha.

Ben: You OK?

Amory: I'm not sure I'll be able to get out once I go down there, truly.

Steven: There was a very unfortunate accident years back in a cave in Utah called Nutty Putty Cave, that someone was in a very tight passage and crawled headfirst and got to a situation where they couldn't go forward. And they also couldn't go back under their own power because they didn't have adequate leverage...

[News Report Audio: Jones was wedged upside down. After nearly 24 hours rescue workers attached ropes and pulleys, lifting him 10 feet up. He was given food, water and a walkie talkie to tell his family he was OK. But a pulley snapped and he slipped back into the crevice.] 

Steven: Efforts to rescue them over several days fails. And my understanding, I'm not a doctor, but my understanding is basically it comes down to if you were being held upside down for a few days, eventually your cardiac system would not respond well to that.

Sonia: The first time I felt claustrophobia was on my second cave trip ever. And what happened was we were with a group that was leading us, I think we probably had eight people. And the leaders at the beginning led us down a belly crawl that was on a slope. So actually I should say they led us up a belly crawl. And we were crawling for like five minutes. And then the leaders at the front were like, “Oops, we're lost.” And it was the passage was probably three feet wide. So I felt like the cave was like closing in on me, especially since we were lost. And I definitely felt the beginnings of panic setting in. And I don't know if I verbalized this or not, or maybe just other people felt the same way. But someone in the group started singing and we all just like broke out into song. And all of the panic just totally vanished. And by the time we finished singing, the leaders figured out, you know, which way to go.

Amory: Do you remember what you sang? Was it "Stayin' Alive?"

Sonia: Maybe. That would be appropriate. (Laughs.)

Steven: There's some series of caves in southern Mexico, the Huautla system and the Cheve cave system that basically there have been efforts going on for quite a while to to connect to various known cave systems down there, because they would basically it would most likely become the deepest known cave in the Western Hemisphere.

Sonia: I've spent, let me think, a total of two and a half months exploring the eighth and ninth deepest caves in the world in Mexico. I think they're both about fifteen hundred meters deep.

Steven: I mean, just to get down to the base camp level is I think you're descending 1000 feet of rope. You're bringing probably about like a 50 to 60 pound pack with you. And when you return up the rope, you're going to do that as well. A lot of the expeditions at this point are deep enough that they will go down for I believe it's about a week at a time or so.

Sonia: I think I did a series of like five week-long trips underground. So I spent a lot of time underground. And, you know, you kind of just get used to the environment. You see nothing but grays and browns. It's very dark, very dim light. You're constantly having to be aware of your surroundings, which can get exhausting.

Amory: The problem is right now. That, well, there are many problems. One of the problems is that my right leg is bent. And I'm trying to figure out, like, how to get it straight.

Ben: Yeah, you got it. But I think you want to cheat your butt over towards. Yeah. Towards your left hip. I think you want to cheat that way.

You got this homey. You got it.

Amory: Why am I doing this? I don't know how this.

Lucas: Hello up there!

Ben: Hello! We're in a cave.

Lucas: You are?

Amory and Ben: Yeah!

Lucas: Are you stuck?

Amory: No, yeah, no, no, we're not stuck. We're safe.

Lucas: OK.

Amory: Thank you. I appreciate that. What's your name?

Lucas: Lucas.

Amory: Hi, Lucas!

Lucas: Hi.

Ben: Yeah, you're good, though. Am I though? Yeah, you're good.

Amory: Oh no. I don’t know. Ok, I’m coming out. (Climbing sounds.)

Ben: I almost feel like I could just go for it right now.

Amory: Oh Ben…

Sonia: I remember when I was exiting the cave, I was super excited to take a shower, have some food and just walk on flat ground because I was just getting kind of tired of constantly being aware with every step that I took.  But what I didn't expect was the sensory experience. So this was in Mexico. So imagine like vibrant jungles. And literally I emerged from the cave and like the color green, I had not seen green in like seven days. And it was so vibrant. It was so bright. I felt like it was literally like vibrating and like pulsing at me. And the sky was blue and the trees were rustling, like all these sensory experiences that I had been deprived from for seven days to then have it suddenly hit you was super intense. I don't do drugs, but I imagine it's like being on LSD or something.

Ben: Don't do drugs, kids. Or, at least… don’t do drugs while caving. Because apparently caving itself can be a helluva drug.

Amory: As for our spelunking expedition, we got in pretty deep. But we also got out.

Amory: How deep do you think we went? 15 feet?

Ben: 15, 20?

Amory: 15, 20 feet down and kind of wormed our way down, which I did not see myself doing today at all.

Ben: We couldn't make the final squeeze. We were we were both tempted by that and you went further than I.

Amory: And I just I didn't know if I would, I could see light, but I didn't know if I'd be able to fit through that light on the other end. I also think…

Ben: Know your limits.

Amory: I didn't want to.

Ben: If you want to stop, you should stop.

Amory: I didn’t want to. I think I want to. I if if we had started from this side, things would be different. And I probably would have would have tried to do it. But also, I'm not. I'm not a caver. I don't like tight spaces.

Ben: Yeah.

Amory: I tend to freak out. I didn't freak out.

Ben: No, you did great.

Amory: For a first caving. 
And last, for first and last caving. I'm sorry. (Laughs.)

Ben: I thought you did great.

Amory: I think that went OK.

Ben: I thought it went great.

Amory: Yeah.

Ben: And now we get to eat lunch. So I feel like victory.

Amory: Victory.

Ben: Yeah.

Amory: OK. And this place is beautiful.

Ben: Beautiful. Another example of the awesome power of nature.

Sonia: Caves are extremely delicate environments and there's a lot of life in there, even though you might not see it, including microbial life and bats and things like that.

Steven: What you have is you have titanic forces applied over eons. And the ability of someone, just one knucklehead, to go in and destroy something that took tens or hundreds of thousands of years to grow is is just too easy.

Sonia: So if you're really interested in caving, you can definitely do it. I'm just saying be educated about it and be good to the environment.

Steven: Do it in a way that ensures that you're preserving the cave for future generations to enjoy in the same state that you're seeing it now.

Amory: Now, we can’t end an episode about caving without sharing some of what we learned from Steven and Sonia about how to do this safely. Number one? Get a helmet, will ya?

Steven: You don't have to bump your head on much to be knocked silly or get dizzy or get disoriented. Climbing helmets are cheap, you know. The other thing is lights.

Ben: Don’t show up like Amory showed up with zero light sources. But also don’t show up like I showed up with only one light source. Three sources of light, actually. At least one of them on your helmet…

Sonia: And we even tell people to put your second source of light on your neck because your light can go out and then you would have to dig through your bag with potentially no light.

Steven: How shall I put this? If you lose your lights in a cave, it's going to ruin your day really fast.

Amory: You know what else will ruin your day? Not having enough food or water. Especially if you end up needing to get rescued, which is gonna take awhile.

Sonia: So you triple the time. So if you're two hours into a cave, that could be six hours of rescue. If you're 10 hours in, that's 30 hours to get rescued.

Ben: But also… just be smart so you DON’T have to get rescued. Bottom line? Caver’s gonna cave. But… try not to be such a spelunker.

Amory: You can find more at That’s the official website for the National Speleological Society AKA the National Caving Society.

Ben: Also check out your local “Grotto”, which is an awesome name and caver lingo for “caving club.” And, of course, we recommend the caving subreddit. Because... of course there’s a caving subreddit.


Ben: Endless Thread is a production of WBUR—Boston’s NPR station—in partnership with Reddit.

Amory: Josh Swartz is our producer, and he thinks spelunkers who wreck sacrificial caves are just [TRASHY].

Ben: Mix and sound design by Paul Vaitkus, who is contemplating venturing into [THE DEPTHS BELOW].

Amory: Michael Pope is our advisor at Reddit, and he’d consider going caving, but only so he could mention it in [CASUAL CONVERSATION].

Ben: Editing from Katherine Brewer. Also, special thanks to Adam Weaver for his help with fact checking.

Amory: For more info about Sonia Meyers’ epic caving expedition in Mexico, go to our website: Also, shout-out to the site Strange New England, which is where we found out about Purgatory Chasm.

Ben: On Reddit, we are Endless-underscore-Thread. If you want to contribute art for an upcoming episode, or give us a story tip so we can tell it like we did today, hit us up there. You can also go to our official subreddit: endless thread-dot-reddit-dot-com.

My co-host and producer is Amory Sivertson.

Amory: My co-host and senior producer is Ben Brock Johnson.

Ben and Amory: We’ll let ourselves out.

Headshot of Amory Sivertson

Amory Sivertson Senior Producer, Podcasts
Amory Sivertson is a senior producer for podcasts and the co-host of Endless Thread.


Headshot of Ben Brock Johnson

Ben Brock Johnson Executive Producer, Podcasts
Ben Brock Johnson is the executive producer of podcasts at WBUR and co-host of the podcast Endless Thread.


Headshot of Josh Crane

Josh Crane Producer, Podcasts & New Programs
Josh is a producer for podcasts and new programs at WBUR.



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