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Missing Cavers at Great Smoky Mountains National Park Ill-Prepared


Rainbow Falls Cave is entered through holes behind this waterfall. Photo by Alan Cressler via flickr.

Four spelunkers who found themselves stranded in a cave in Great Smoky Mountains National Park were ill-prepared for their adventure.

According to park officials, the four had little caving experience, lacked necessary equipment, and didn't dress properly for their trek.

The four, who were reported missing early Friday morning, were brought out of Rainball Falls Cave Friday evening.

The first two, Dustin Blakesley and Jake Layman, both 17, of Owasso, Oklahaoma, were brought to the cave entrance at about 7:00 p.m. by Knoxville Volunteer Emergency Rescue Squad members and were transported by ATV to the trailhead at 7:50 p.m. They were evaluated by Rural Metro Ambulance medics and found to be in good condition.

Twenty-four-year-old Garry Blakesley of Maryville, Tennessee, and Chris Smith, 20, of Owasso, Oklahoma, arrived at the trailhead at about 8:10 p.m. and were also in good condition.

The four told rangers that they had set out to go caving at 10:00 p.m. Thursday night because the Oklahoma men had to go back home and it was the last opportunity to do something in the park. They said that the descent into the cave went smoothly, but that they realized they were trapped when they attempted to climb back up the ropes by which they had lowered themselves down the last drop of about 50 feet.

The rope lead up an icy cold waterfall and they were so cold and exhausted that they lacked the strength to climb back out. At that point they retreated further into the cave until they found a dry spot where they huddled together for warmth and waited for rescue.

Garry Blaksley reported having a little caving experience exploring some small cave back in Oklahoma where he had lived before moving to Tennessee about four months ago. They had four ropes and a single ascender, but were clad mostly in cotton, which provides little warmth when wet.


adventures are fun, but rule of thumb always be prepared for the unseeable, waterproof matches,dry packaged food or drink, blanket, proper clothing.
When will people learn? So many deaths could have been prevented in mountains caves and other places if only a little time spent studying and preparing.These kids were lucky this time.

This story reminds me of a preacher from small town Ohio who took a group of people from his church on a wilderness trip to Alaska, TWICE! Both times they had to be rescued. Kids trying to negotiate glaciers in tennis shoes, wearing cotton, and peeing orange from dehydration. Of course he had all the proper gear. These guys are lucky anybody found them, let alone alive still!

Hey guys...I have been caving and cave diving all of my life.
Caving is like climbing a mountain...Most of the careless misstakes happen on the way out or down.
In this case "Out and Up!"
Cold, Hyp', and loss of strength/weakness is an element that you have to include in your plan. Once your out of the mouth and looking up @ a long , cold muddy nylon Highway...Reality kicks in.
You need the strength to flash that "Rope Walker!" You guys got away w/ one...Make it count!
Bite off a little @ a time until you know your strengths and weaknesses in multiple elements.
Mother nature, and her counter partner "Murphy" have only so much patience.
See you "Under, Down Under!"
Stay Safe!
3, 2, 1, CU!

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