Finally, after a week-long wait the day came, and on Saturday morning we met at Tony Grieco’s house and set into action our plans for the coming day. They were as follows: meet at Richard Galle’s apartment at 1:00PM ,then proceed to the parks and recreation office to gather gas masks (neither of which were functional, unfortunately - editor 84.) and two way radios. We would meet at the crater site at 2:00 PM.
Everything went smoothly and at 2:00 PM we were assembled at the crater shaft. We rigged the rope ( a 300’ section of Bluewater II - editor 84.) to the steel bars which composed the fence around the entrance, and it gave us a tie-off point above the half moon shaped lid. Richard was the first to rappel down, carrying a .357 gun for snakes, radio, and climbing gear. Once past the squeeze at the entrance and he was off. His reports indicated that the shaft was not cut into rock, but "sand", and he estimated the shaft to be approximately 8 ft. by 8 ft.
The temperature was decreasing as he descended. (High Adventure - editor 94.) About three quarters of the way down he reported a very strong smell coming from the bottom, and he reported that there was something dead. I then rigged in and started the descent. After several feet I noticed that the walls were blackened with soot from a fire of a distant past, and I could still make out shovel marks in places. To have been dug from sand and dirt, the shaft was remarkably stable. Once on the bottom I noticed two dead rats, one a fresh kill ( death by rope weight - editor 84.) and one several days old. The smell was terrible and the stench of death lingered heavily in the air. I signaled to Tony that I was off rope, and he rigged in and started down.
The entrance to the shaft, with its concrete canopy and half moon shaped lid looked as if it were miles away. I looked around the floor and it was muddy and wet. Small pebbles were showering down as Tony’s feet touched the loose walls far above us. The floor was becoming clear as my eyes were becoming adjusted to the darkness, and I noticed that there was many carcasses all about us, some recognizable and some in advanced decay.
As Tony reached the floor, Richard and I tried to keep him off the dead rats and in the process he put his foot on the carcass that had been there the longest. The smell at that point was anything but pleasant, so before telling anyone of my actions, I had rigged in and was climbing, trying to concentrate on getting up the rope and not on the nausea and stomach-turning sickness that would soon beset us all.
Three minutes or so later and I was near the top and out of that unfriendly place. Ice cold drinks in the near 100 degrees temperature outside the shaft made me realize how lucky I was to be outside in the FRESH air. Richard then started climbing using a two jumar/chest roller rig, but at a point half way up the combination of the wretched smell, the unfamiliar chest-roller and the length of the climb got to him and his right arm began to cramp.
Terry Hill (who wisely elected to stay above ground - editor 84.) and I rigged a rescue pulling system using two jumars and pulled Richard up about 10 feet or so, and then he was able to climb out on his own power the rest of the way. Total time on the rope was 20 to 30 minutes. Meanwhile, Tony who had been in the pit the longest, had become sick and had began to mumble to himself ( that wasn’t mumbling, that was cussing! - editor 84.) Once rigged in he was out of the pit in three minutes. Then Terry pulled up the rope from this godforsaken pit and I quickly slammed the lid shut and locked it. When asked my opinion of this epic journey, I said I was going to go home, put my gear away, clean up and go to bed - and forget that this day ever happened.
My comments and memories now some 10 odd years later: Something that was never mentioned was that on the way back to Midland, the rope was carried on the spare tire carrier of Tony’s Bronco II because of the smell that was embedded in it. There was also a swarm of flies that was following the rope on the rear of the vehicle all the way home .
If you ever mention this trip to any of the actual participants they will more than likely deny any knowledge of it. It is also recommended that the faint of heart or weak stomach people even consider this trip, besides the lid is now welded shut and a few of us are a little wiser. Bill Bentley.....
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