The Unexpected Cave

The first part of Enchanted Rock Cave, easy peasy!

The first part of Enchanted Rock Cave, easy peasy!

Thursday, January 29

There’s very little information to be found about Enchanted Rock’s cave. If a visitor were to look at the large elevation map handout available at the park headquarters, they might notice the arrow pointing to the backside of the rock with the small printed words: “Enchanted Rock Cave”. There is no informational blurb to be found about it, and no trail signs to point the way. It’s existence is not really a secret, but not openly advertised either.

As park hosts, Julie and I had heard about it from our co-workers, and we were itching to try it out. Today, we finally got our chance. The high is predicted to be a pleasant 71 degrees and it’s a weekday, so no worries about the crowds. We bring a plastic shopping bag with us to collect any trash we might find inside (the nice thing to do when you’re park hosting) and a park radio, just in case.

Going down!

Going down!

To get to the cave, one must ascent to the top of the Summit Trail, and then start walking down the backside of E-Rock. A wooden plaque affixed to an unassuming pile of boulders announces “Cave Entrance” – that’s all you get.

Like the caves at Pinnacles National Park, E-Rock Cave is a talus cave, meaning it was formed by boulders falling into a ravine but leaving a space underneath big enough to walk through. We were warned though to bring headlamps, something that wasn’t strictly necessary for the caves in Pinnacles where the gaps between the boulders overhead let enough light in to see where you were going.

The first room of the “cave” is easy. After crouching to get through the entrance, there’s ample light and plenty of space to maneuver in. We pick up three plastic bottles right off the bat – it’s looking like bringing the trash bag was a good idea. The first room empties out into part of the ravine that is open with no rocks overhead, instead you carefully clamber over the rocks below where scraggly oaks have found a tentative purchase in the cracks.

One such crack is a bit larger than the rest, and a yellow arrow painted on the side points into it. Going down! We get out our headlamps and I secure my phone in my Camelbak since my pockets aren’t large enough to keep it contained. Julie’s pockets velcro close, so she takes all of the photos in this post.

Umm, where's the bottom of this rope?

Umm, where’s the bottom of this rope?

I guess I was expecting a short, easy little stroll with as little press as this cave gets. There really can’t be much too it, right?

Wrong.

Not far in, a black rope is wrapped around a boulder, and it trails down into the darkness. Huh, I wasn’t expecting there to be spelunking in here. We’re both wearing our Vibram Five-finger shoes, which have very flexible soles. There are loops knotted into the rope to climb down with, but we’d hurt our feet using them with these shoes. With some scrambling, we make it down.

The way gets darker. Yeah, you really need a headlamp to do this cave. With all of the crouching, twisting, and crawling, having both hands is necessary to stabilize yourself. This isn’t like a cave that’s been formed by running water, the floor is not smooth. The rocks that make up the bottom are as uneven as the rocks overhead, and falling down into one of the cracks could bring serious injury. Maybe that’s why this place isn’t advertised. I’m surprised there aren’t warnings at the entrance about how tall or wide you can be to fit.

Getting awfully dark down here...

Getting awfully dark down here…

I'm too short to make it down, Julie ends up going first.

I’m too short to make it down, Julie ends up going first.

I’m in the lead and make it to another drop, but this time there is no rope to hold on to. If I’d been by myself, this is where I would have had to call it quits. I’m not quite tall enough to reach the bottom with my feet while still hanging on to the lip of the rock at the top, and I don’t feel comfortable with letting go at the top and hoping my feet find good purchase at the bottom, especially with these thin soles.

Luckily, Julie is a bit taller than me. She passes the garbage bag off to me, climbs down, takes the garbage bag back, and braces my foot when I come down. Whew! This is a lot more effort than I bargained for.

Have I mentioned yet that it’s wet down here?

Water seeps in through cracks between the boulders overhead, making it even harder to get traction. There’s no on else in the cave, and the only sound is the water dripping. We stop in a larger room and eat the sandwiches we brought with us. While eating we turn off our headlamps, and it’s pitch black.

“Maybe once our eyes adjust we’ll be able to see light filtering in from somewhere.” Julie opines.

Wet, and a low ceiling.

Wet, and a low ceiling.

But no, it’s truly dark. Enough boulders are jammed in over us that no light manages to get down to our deep little hole. If I let myself think about that too much, I might get worried. It’s not one solid mass of rock above us, but numerous boulders, free rocks that at one point fell from some point high above the ravine. Theoretically, at any point those boulders could shift and we could get trapped. It’s not likely – thousands of people have been through this cave without incident – but it’s still possible. Well, I’m glad we brought the radio, just in case. I’m not convinced that it could get a signal out from down here, but that’s another thing I resolve not to think too much about.

When we turn our lights back on, two insects above us on the wall scurry out of sight. It’s impossible to identify them, but there is something else of interest up there. The light bounces off of shiny flakes of yellow embedded in the granite. Iron pyrite, fool’s gold! Further on, a large crevasse out of reach has a lot of it, wet and glimmering from water seepage. Alas, with the light conditions, it’s impossible to get a good photo of it.

Inching through a tight spot on my belly

Inching through a tight spot on my belly

I’m glad for the arrows pointing the way. At the beginning of the trail they seemed unnecessary, but there are enough openings now that it’s possible we could wander off into a dead-end. Twice the passage is narrow enough that not even crawling will work, and Julie and I take turns handing our loads off to each other to wiggle our way through a tight spot.

And finally, when I’m starting to think I’ve had enough, light appears once more through the the nooks and crannies around us. Going up!

And we're out!

And we’re out!

What an adventure! Enchanted Rock Cave ended up being a lot more cave than we had bargained for, but there are no regrets. Just a greater appreciation for mother earth and all of these fine places I have the great fortune to be able to explore.

Woo!  Made it out!... uh, now how do we get down?

Woo, that was fun!… uh, now how do we get down?

Have you ever found yourself out of your depth on a hike or other outing? I’d love to hear about the results!

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Becky

At IO I teach people how to ditch the status quo and travel full-time before retirement, and share stories of my adventures (and misadventures) to inspire future nomads and armchair travelers alike. Included at no additional charge: seizing your dreams, living boldly, and making a difference.

31 Comments

  1. Angus on December 21, 2015 at 8:00 pm

    Holy cow…… my four year old son wanted to follow some people we saw going into this cave, so I had a lapse of judgement and said sure. He is awesome at climbing and following my directions, which is very fortunate because we would have been in a bad way if he wasn’t adept at climbing. I realized my error about 40 to 50 feet in. I had to tell my son to wait while I surveyed the next obstacle and had to figure out how to get myself across, then figure out how to get him across also. I’d find a safe spot for him to wait until I could get him to where I was. He was very brave and patient. He only lost his composure near the end when we both slid about 6 feet on a wet rock ledge and my flashlight went out. I stopped us by putting my foot on the rock 3 feet above us. I’ve never been happier to see daylight the last 20 feet of that cave. We tried to get out before the halfway mark and were informed by two other people the only way out is to follow the arrows. The daylight we followed led to a vertical shaft that can’t be climbed. I’m glad we did it and my son had that experience to be proud of, but I cannot recommend bringing a small child down there. There’s no info or warnings posted outside the cave and once you’re past the first twenty feet, you got to keep going. Descending is the safer way through. If your kid has no fear of heights or claustrophobia, you might accidentally find yourself on this one way journey like we did. It’s pretty awesome but kind of terrifying if you don’t know what you got yourself into.



    • Becky on December 21, 2015 at 8:11 pm

      Yikes, yeah I wouldn’t want to bring a four year old down there Angus. Glad it worked out okay in the end and now you have a fine story to tell too. 🙂



      • Angus on December 22, 2015 at 1:07 am

        I just wanted to warn others about the potential dangers very few have talked about with this cave. I had trouble in there at 5’8″ I’m still amazed and thankful got my son out unscathed. Glad I found your site after the fact. I’m not a helicopter parent by any means, but I really felt some regret bringing my son down there. I’m glad I was able to stay calm because if I lost it, he probably would have too. Your story is awesome and illistrates the experience very well. Wish I had read it long before my son wanted to check out that cave. Thanks for the reference, I’ll know to look up stuff like this before diving in with kid in tow. I look forward to reading more of your adventure insights.



        • Becky on December 22, 2015 at 5:41 pm

          Yes Angus, I’m rather surprised that I hadn’t heard more about the cave. I’m also thankful that while I was park hosting there we didn’t have any incidents down there (except for a deer). Thank you for reading.



  2. Jennifer on December 13, 2015 at 9:00 am

    So you guys made it all the way through correct? It looks like if you did y’all came out of it through another rock? Somebody was telling us that it eventually ends up as a big room at the end of it? So I was assuming that once you got done, you would have to hick the cave back again to the beginning. We went this weekend, got about 15 min into and our flashlight started flickering and we didn’t have a backup! 🙂 so we headed back. I would love to finish this challenge though!



    • Becky on December 13, 2015 at 6:47 pm

      Yes we did Jennifer. The way we went the “big room” was at the beginning, see the first picture. You do not need to go back through the cave to get out, but on the backside you have to climb back over the Rock to go back down the way you came. Sorry, it’s kinda hard to explain without seeing it in front of you…

      Sorry you didn’t get far, hopefully you can try again another day?



  3. Cathy on February 3, 2015 at 8:07 am

    Thanks for taking us along on your adventure. Narrative and photos put us on the edge of our seats. Awesome!



    • Becky on February 3, 2015 at 2:47 pm

      Glad you enjoyed it Cathy!



  4. dawn from camano island on February 2, 2015 at 4:38 pm

    Oh my gosh!! The two of you are amazing! Not only did you crunch yourselves through this cave but you took photos too! Held my breaththe entire time. I definitely found myself out of my depth on a 12-day backpack with my youngest son & a herd of Boy Scouts + 2 friends. I nearly came off the trail 2 days before we were due off the trail but had a dream that night that I was walking down the hill into base camp. So glad I didn’t leave. Love this quote–I would rather live my life saying “I’m so glad I did that!” rather than “I sure wish I’d done that.”



    • Becky on February 3, 2015 at 2:47 pm

      That’s a good quote Dawn! 12 days is a really long time for a backpacking trip, especially with that many kids around. My mom was Den Mother to my little brother’s cub scout troop, so I have some idea what that must have been like. 😉

      To be fair, Julie did all of the picture taking inside the cave proper, I had mine stashed away, hehe.



  5. Sarah on February 2, 2015 at 6:14 am

    That was incredible. I respect that you didn’t let your trepidation overcome your drive to finish the cave.

    One time, without any physical training or whatnot, I hiked the length of the Appalachian approach trail — all 17 miles–in a single day. It was both the best and the worst day of my life. I learned so much about myself and what I can achieve if I put my mind to it. I was sore for a week afterward, but exhilarated and fearless.
    Sarah recently posted..Starting anewMy Profile



    • Becky on February 2, 2015 at 10:31 am

      That’s really neat Sarah. I’ve done some reading on the Appalachian Trail and want to hike it in it’s entirety someday. Maybe not the whole thing in one summer, and likely not 17 miles in one day, but I know I would enjoy the experience.

      Good luck on the van re-build!



  6. Road Wrap-Up, Weekend Edition - Young Fulltimers on February 1, 2015 at 11:01 am

    […] live in Austin, but even I have never heard of the Enchanted Rock cave until now. The Interstellar Orchard bloggers are among many fulltimers I’ve noticed […]



  7. Misty on February 1, 2015 at 9:36 am

    Oh my goodness, what an adventure! I’m so jealous! 🙂

    I’m glad you didn’t run into any snakes, but the hill country isn’t TOO bad about snakes. There are a few venomous ones, but the most common by far that I’ve seen are rattlers, and they aren’t too dangerous if you’re paying attention because they give plenty of warning!
    Misty recently posted..Tinkering with a new ideaMy Profile



    • Becky on February 1, 2015 at 5:51 pm

      I do like snakes that give advanced warning. 😀

      Someday you’ll have to take a trip out here Misty, it’s not too far from you.



  8. Furry Gnome on January 31, 2015 at 9:49 pm

    You are adventurous ladies! I think I would have quit a little before you did!



    • Becky on February 1, 2015 at 5:49 pm

      I’m glad we came prepared with lunch and were wearing sensible clothing. Otherwise we probably would have quit early too.



  9. Rene Kipp on January 31, 2015 at 2:15 pm

    WOW! What a fun adventure you ladies had!
    Rene Kipp recently posted..Virtual Garage SaleMy Profile



    • Becky on January 31, 2015 at 6:42 pm

      It really was something Rene!



  10. SylviaW on January 31, 2015 at 10:42 am

    Please tell us you also left word with someone re where you were going and when you’d be back…



    • Becky on January 31, 2015 at 6:41 pm

      Yep, we borrowed the headlamps from the park office so they knew where we were. 🙂



  11. Jodee Gravel on January 31, 2015 at 9:18 am

    Glad it wasn’t too terribly long, I was holding my breath the whole way! Julie captured some excellent shots! That “dark down here” one is my favorite. It looks like a good cave to practice yoga 🙂 A wonderful adventure!!
    Jodee Gravel recently posted..Camping World Redefines Dog-FriendlyMy Profile



    • Becky on January 31, 2015 at 6:41 pm

      As we later discovered, it’s the second longest talus cave in the US, lol. Took us over an hour to get through. The whole time I was thinking: we must be near the end now. 😉

      I’ll tell Julie you liked the photos Jodee!



  12. Ron on January 30, 2015 at 11:55 pm

    Great Adventure!!! Once when I was exploring a cave in Arkansas crawling on my hands & knees I game Head to head with a Water Moccasin.



    • Becky on January 31, 2015 at 6:37 pm

      Yikes! I guess it turned out okay since you’re still here. There are a few kinds of venomous snakes in the area, but I haven’t seen a single one yet.



  13. Rob on January 30, 2015 at 11:53 pm

    That was a good story!



    • Becky on January 31, 2015 at 6:32 pm

      Glad you enjoyed it Rob. 🙂



  14. Bonnie on January 30, 2015 at 5:02 pm

    Not a chance in H*#ll I would ever do that! Getting stuck in a closet as a kid soured me on caves and other closed in places. Good for you being brave and sticking it out.



    • Becky on January 31, 2015 at 6:31 pm

      Having a taller person to help me down the longer drop certainly helped Bonnie, haha.



  15. Michael E on January 30, 2015 at 1:28 pm

    I’ve been in that cave many times. It’s crazy on how dark it can get. Once time a group of people were in front of us and decided to turn around. Needless to say it was tight quarters for a few minutes while they turned around and we kept going through. Have you had a chance to hike up Turkey peak?



    • Becky on January 31, 2015 at 6:30 pm

      We first peeked at the cave that first Sunday when we climbed the summit, but there were so many people that I thought it would be better to go back and try it on a weekday, I’m so glad we did! I’d never want to do it when it was busy for the exact reason you listed, I bet people were trying to turn around and come back out and it slowed everything down.

      I haven’t gone up Turkey Peak yet, but we will!



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