M18_0578

The Scenario:

You and a friend, both experienced campers, are out for a wilderness weekend in one of your favorite desert areas when, around sunset you see a large, densely concentrated, directional swarm of bats sweeping low across the landscape. Intrigued by the sighting, you hike back along their flight path until you come upon the entrance to a cave from which they emanate — a cave that, as far as you know, is unknown. And the lack of any signs of human activity around the entrance seems to confirm that.

Not wanting to pass up this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for some genuine adventure, you convince your friend to at least go in a little way to explore the cave. So, gearing up with packs and flashlights, you tie a guide rope to a bush near the entrance and slip through the narrow opening to have a look inside. The cave quickly widens, and once you get past the odor of the bats, you’re both astonished by the undisturbed beauty of the structure. You venture deeper into this pristine geo-world until the rope runs out, but neither of you is keen to stop now. So you agree to make directional markers along the way in order to explore farther — marks cut into the cave floor or walls, piles of stones, bits of fabric; whatever they are, assume that they stick.

The Challenge:

Taking many turns through naturally formed tunnels and chambers, you’re both so involved that you finally realize that neither of you has been trail-marking for some time. The flashlights make everything seem bright, but when they’re off it is pitch black. A little backtracking doesn’t find your last markers, and you realize you’re most definitely lost. You hear the chittering of a few remaining bats and the dripping of water, but other than that and your breathing, the cave is deathly silent. So, aside from resisting the urge to panic, what do you do now?

What You Have:

Two sturdy, aluminum-frame overnight backpacks, two canteens of water, some protein bars and other durable foods, two flashlights with extra batteries, a Swiss Army knife or Leatherman tool, a strong, flexible 3-foot wire saw with split-ring finger-handles on both ends, some waterproof matches, a compass, a cellphone (no, you don’t get a signal down here), and a GPS locator (also no signal). Besides your hiking boots, you each have waterproof nylon rain gear and a nice warm jacket. So, can you find your way out, or have you truly reached the end of your rope?