#10 – Russ Becomes a “Caver” -1976-Present

(Fred Rydholm)

It was also during these later years at Olney that Russell Burrows became a serious caver. Southern Illinois has many known caves but there are still some to be found.

The picture that most people have of caves is a stereotyped one of an open entrance in the side of a hill. This is a far cry from the kind of cave that has not been discovered.

After all, as Russell puts it, people think “caves are all great big holes in the ground with steps built in, so that on a Sunday afternoon you can take your wife and kids out and walk right in and look at all the pretty sights. I mean, after all, caves have all-different-colored lights to enhance what is there, right? Wrong!”

(Russell Burroes resumes):

Caves are dangerous. Unless you are going to a well-developed cavern such as those found in Kentucky, New Mexico, Missouri and a few other states ones that have been turned into tourist attractions where you can pay your bucks and get a guided tour to see all of the pretty sights you had best stay out. That is, unless you are an experienced caver; cavers get the urge to crawl around in the mud and the cold and the dark to see those sights. Usually a person such as I have just described does not want to go on one of those guided tours, especially if he is a caver.

There is a decided difference between a caver and a spelunker. A caver works alone most of the time, and that is just plain stupid. A spelunker, on the other hand, has a group of trained and experienced spelunkers with him. That is the proper way to do it. If the spelunker gets “hung up” or caught in a squeeze, he has someone there to help him get loose. If he happens to be in a genuine tight place and those who are with him can’t get him free right then, they can at least feed him and keep him company until he can be freed.

The caver, on the other hand, has an entirely different situation. He generally works alone, and so he must be sure that if he is in a place where he might get “hung up” he just doesn’t go further, but rather he figures a way around the possible trap.

I am a caver! Frankly, I have a great fear of having someone with me who might get “hung up.” My biggest fear on that issue is this. Suppose I am ahead of the fellow who has gotten stuck. Obviously, I can’t get around him to get help and if he is stuck tightly enough, I am not going to be able to push him back to the point where he can wiggle back out of a tight place. In that situation we are both stuck. No, I would rather work alone. I know that it is risky but I only have to cope with my own mistakes if I am alone. I know what size hole I can go through; I don’t know about the other guy.

It never ceases to amaze me what people will strap onto their bodies when they go caving – canteens, camera cases, hunting knives and an assortment of other things that they think they might need. To be sure, they should always have water with them and they should always carry food. A lot of body heat is lost in a cave, where the temperature is in the] fifties all the time. Add to that dampness or a just plain wet situation and believe me you use up a lot of energy. That lost energy must be replaced in order to keep functioning. The loss of just a little strength may cost you your life in some of the situations you could get into, if you are alone and you don’t have enough strength left to get yourself out of a tight place.

At any rate, that is the kind of caving I do. It is the kind of caving I have done in the cave now known as “Burrows’ Cave.”

I am often approached by persons wanting to learn about caving. I suppose it is the element of risk that some people find exciting. When this happens the first thing I ask is if they have heard of Floyd Collins.

If not, I will tell them the story of that Kentucky boy who, back in the 1920s, had the bad experience of locating what he thought was a new cave and ended up deader than a doornail. That little tale usually ends all interest on the part of the person doing the asking.

Then there is the man or woman who wants me to take them caving but who is about a broom handle wide across the set-down. That’s where I tend to get just a little snappy. I am not attempting to tell you that I am a skinny little guy. I am not. Neither am I fat. I am five feet eight and weigh in at 180 pounds. I can, however, lose ten pounds in a very short time; and at 170, I can get through a mighty small crack. The important thing here is, I can get back out again.