Gandy Creek makes its entrance into the mountain, creating
the cave, well known in West Virginia as the Sinks of Gandy
The Sinks generally has a high roof with most of the trek
through water, across sandy beaches and climbing over rocks
By Bob Weaver
In normal life, we generally do not experience real darkness, even on the darkest nights or sitting in a closet.
It was deep inside the Sinks of Gandy cave in mountainous Randolph County that I learned real darkness when the last of the lights went out, fear settling in the soul.
The Sinks first came to widespread public notice by way of a tongue-in-cheek account of a pleasure expedition to the region published by David Hunter Strother in Harper's Magazine in 1872, based on his experience with the cave in 1854.
Since then, the non-commercial cave has been a summertime destination for cavers, when the water is warm.
In the 1980s, we organized retreats for recovering alcoholics and addicts, weekend events held on Spruce Knob Mountain.
It was the first such event, with part of the retreat to be an exploration of the Sinks, a cave that features the waters of Gandy Creek going in one side of a mountain and exiting the other.
The trek was to become a highlight of the retreat for more than a decade.
A trough requires some swimming to continue the journey
It's mostly a high roof cave with sandy beaches, rock climbing, some crawling lots of water wading, with one part known as "the trough," requiring a little swimming.
My friend Earl dropped us near the opening, with my foster son Rich, about 16 at the time, both of us psyched to explore and armed with three brand new water-proof lights.
One light had already malfunctioned when we first entered.
It was an exhilarating experience, carefully trudging over the challenges of the cave, knowing that the following day we would usher a group of people through the cavern.
At mid-point in the cave we dropped a second light in the water, after which it would not function, leaving us with a single light.
Shortly thereafter, the unthinkable happened.
The third light went dead, leaving us in total darkness.
While fear gripped us, knowing full well that it would almost be impossible to walk the rest of the cave in darkness, we consoled each other that Earl would go for help and eventually someone would come to our rescue.
It was the first time in my life that I understood total darkness.
Within a short time, still standing, we began to experience a strange sensation of movement with our bodies, a floating sensation. That was when the real fear set in.
Vertigo is a false sensation of movement, either of one's self or one's surroundings.
By decision or not, we sat down, putting our hands on the cave floor,
causing the vertigo to go away.
We settled in for what was likely a long wait to be rescued, when we started to hear voices at a distance, followed by approaching lights.
Rejoicing, we had a way out, tagging behind a father and his two sons from New England.
The following day, with "expert experience" under our belt, we took the 50 folks through the cavern, never mentioning our lights-out experience.
Rich, these many years later, has been a rock-climber, adventurer and hiker, currently hiking the Appalachian Trail.
Above photos courtesy of Kent Mason wvphotographs.com
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