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Ive seen things you people wouldn't believe
September 29, 2010 8:26 AM   Subscribe

Meet Agnes Milowka, cave diver. She does things that I, for one, only have nightmares about.

In case it's not obvious, the cave diving that Milowka does it extremely dangerous and requires highly advanced skills, training, and courage. Wes Skiles, the photographer who shot the videos in this post, died earlier this year during an (open water) dive.
posted by googly (43 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

 
You, for one, huh?
posted by crunchland at 8:31 AM on September 29, 2010


I just about had a panic attack trying to watch the vid linked on 'things'.
posted by ursus_comiter at 8:37 AM on September 29, 2010


Obligatory: Why do people do this? It is stupid and terrifying.
posted by BobbyDigital at 8:40 AM on September 29, 2010


Obligatory: What could possibly go wrong?

But I still think freediving is scarier.
posted by eugenen at 8:40 AM on September 29, 2010


.....am I the only one that thinks this is awesome? I mean, sure, it is risky and I wouldn't do it, but some of the pictures I've seen from caves are....amazing. I can easily see the draw of doing it.

On another note is claustrophobia the reason for the nightmares? Or being underwater? I've always enjoyed tight spaces myself, they feel cozy.
posted by Canageek at 8:43 AM on September 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


Why do people do this? It is stupid and terrifying.

Because to the people doing it, it is neither of those things. See also: Mountain climbing, motorcycle riding, BASE jumping, having a kid, working in a cubicle, or any number of things that someone else probably considers "stupid."
posted by bondcliff at 8:44 AM on September 29, 2010 [6 favorites]


Guh. I used to work with a guy who cave dives. On long dives, they'd leave cylinders of air behind as they went to make sure they had enough to breathe on the way back. Noooo thank you.
posted by zsazsa at 8:46 AM on September 29, 2010


This is what I immediately thought of
posted by mrzarquon at 8:52 AM on September 29, 2010


The whole time I watched these videos, I heard the Sonic the Hedgehog drowning music in my head.
posted by 2bucksplus at 8:54 AM on September 29, 2010 [2 favorites]


It's kind of morbid, I know, but I was immediately curious as to how Wes Skiles had died - there seems to be a void of information on that particular subject - maybe because it's not known, or maybe because of a VAST GOVERNMENT CONSPIRACY.

But, no, seriously, I'm just kind of curious.
posted by kbanas at 8:56 AM on September 29, 2010


This is really cool and I'm glad she's doing it. Emphasis on "SHE". There is no amount of klonopin that could get me to do this.
posted by josher71 at 8:57 AM on September 29, 2010


On another note is claustrophobia the reason for the nightmares? Or being underwater?

It's not the water.
posted by The Bellman at 9:01 AM on September 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


It's kind of morbid, I know, but I was immediately curious as to how Wes Skiles had died - there seems to be a void of information on that particular subject

He died during a relatively straightforward open water dive. No official cause of death has been released yet that I could find, though there is a lot of speculation on various discussion sites. This tribute features some of his more stunning shots.
posted by googly at 9:06 AM on September 29, 2010


On another note is claustrophobia the reason for the nightmares? Or being underwater?

There are many reasons.
posted by FatherDagon at 9:13 AM on September 29, 2010 [2 favorites]


These videos make me miss Florida. Swimming in springs during the summer is about as enjoyable as life gets.
posted by saladin at 9:19 AM on September 29, 2010


Eponyeldritch, FatherDagon.
posted by Mister_A at 9:32 AM on September 29, 2010


On another note is claustrophobia the reason for the nightmares? Or being underwater? I've always enjoyed tight spaces myself, they feel cozy.

For me the nightmare part of the scenario is the combination of the tight space and it being underwater. I'm already claustrophobic enough to find tight squeezes uncomfortable (cf: the video linked to by The Bellman above). This is compounded by the rigid time limit set by being underwater. For example, if something were to go wrong at the point of deepest penetration in the dive in the second video above, Milowka would have to squeeze back through those openings in a state of semi-panic as her air was running out, possibly with little to no visibility if she had kicked up a ton of silt, possibly in complete darkness if her lights had failed. The nightmare scenario of cave diving - alone, running out of air, lost, in low visibility or complete darkness, in a tight and confined space - well, it gives me more heebie-jeebies than the tower-climbing or crane-pullups videos combined.
posted by googly at 9:33 AM on September 29, 2010 [3 favorites]


I am physically unable to watch the "things" video or the video The Bellman linked.
posted by letitrain at 9:49 AM on September 29, 2010



Obligatory: Why do people do this? It is stupid and terrifying.


Here's a story for you. Last fall I decided I needed a new adventure so I went on to meetup.com to see if I could find something interesting. I found a NYC Caving group run by one Chris Nikola. From the pictures and descriptions, it looked like this guy ran trips all over the joint, from small day excursions in upstate New York to two week long trips to Europe, Asia or New Mexico. Since I'd never been caving before I decided to start small and just hit up one of the day trips up near the Catskills in Upstate New York.

I had no idea what to expect but when a smallish, nearly 60 year old dude in messy overalls climbed out of a beat up Toyota from like 1986 I thought maybe this was going to be a lame meander down a country lane with Red Hat Ladies Club or something. And then he started talking. And he didn't stop. And he was hilarious and extremely interesting. He geared us up and led us into the woods where we gathered around a craggy whole in the ground about 2 ft by 3ft. He pointed at it and said 'Ok, who's first?'

Once we all got down there he started in on the caving stories. He told stories the entire time. And he'd been caving and cave diving since he was 17 and he'd been all over the world in pretty much every cave there is. He'd even led National Geographic expeditions into previously unexplored caves. And then he mentioned his movie deal.

Turns out that he'd been caving in Hungary for years and had heard local rumors about a cave where an entire village of Jews had hid from the Nazis for 2 years. He spent the next several years on a mission to find this cave and explore it. And find it he did. Then he wrote a book about it. And that book got optioned into a movie which he was currently trying to finance.

Basically, there was a cave entrance that led to a 75 to 100 ft chute that eventually led to a huge underground cavern. When the Nazis came to this Hungarian village, about 50 of the local Jews high-tailed it with their entire families to this cave, scampered down and back, and then sat there for 2 years, with the younger men and boys drawing straws for who would go out and scavenge/beg/steal food. There were still smoke stains from their camp fires, graffiti on the walls, dishes, discarded personal items, etc in the cave when Chris started exploring it.

After mapping the whole cave and tracking down as many survivors as he could for the book, he decided that what he wanted to do was get a documentary film crew together to find as many of the remaining survivors as he could and BRING THEM BACK INTO THE CAVE TO TELL THEIR STORY ON FILM!! He found about 10 of these men and women, most living in the U.S. or Western Europe, and most of them in their 80s or 90s and all of them wanted to go back into that cave.

Now, how do you get a 90 year old man down a 100ft vertical shoot without breaking every bone in his body? Who knows, but Chris was going to try. At the time of my trip to the cave in Upstate, NY, he was working with a designer and an engineer to develop a harness and a pulley system to allow this guy to essentially stand up and be lowered straight down into the cave and to have a camera directly above him for the descent. He was waiting for more financing to get this built.

I haven't been on a trip since, but if this documentary ever gets finished, I will kill to see it. 10 survivors of the Nazi nightmare not only telling their amazing story but going back in to the place they spent 2 years in isolation from the entire world to do so.

And THAT is why people do these things and that is why I'm god damn glad they do.
posted by spicynuts at 9:50 AM on September 29, 2010 [47 favorites]


I've never cave dived, but I have experienced one rather unpleasant feeling while scuba diving. When a person strongly exerts himself above water, he can breathe harder and faster to supply the amount of oxygen his body requires. But while scuba diving, the regulator restricts the amount of air a diver can suck through the hoses. This makes the physical act of hard breathing an effort, and as a result, a diver has to fight the urge the reptilian part of his brain delivers to spit the regulator out of his mouth to get more air.
posted by digsrus at 9:50 AM on September 29, 2010 [2 favorites]


I kept waiting for the crawlers to emerge. *shudders*
posted by Skot at 9:58 AM on September 29, 2010


Reminds me of this movie which I saw at a science museum IMAX a while back. It's all amazing footage, and I kept wondering just how the camerapeople were able to capture it.
posted by kmz at 10:13 AM on September 29, 2010


Oh, damn, nice way to find out about Wes passing.

.

For what it's worth, cave diving can be quite safe if you're properly trained and follow the five rules of accident analysis:
  1. Do not exceed the limits of your training.
  2. Always have a continuous guideline back to open water.
  3. Reserve at least 2/3 of your gas for the trip out.
  4. Ensure that you're breathing appropriate gas for your dive profile.
  5. Carry at least three lights.
Those rules are often coupled with the Golden Rule of Cave Diving: "Anyone can turn any dive at any time for any reason, no questions, no recriminations."

From what I recall of my training with Johnny Richards, only a handful of deaths cannot be attributed to breaking one of the five rules. Two that come to mind are Steve Berman, whose death is still the subject of much speculation, and Parker Turner, who didn't make it out after a collapse blocked his exit.

The real trick is making sure that untrained divers, who aren't aware of the risks, don't enter overhead environments in the first place. Most springs forbid open water drivers from even carrying lights into the water, hoping to limit any penetration to the cavern's daylight zone. Similarly, any permanent guidelines installed in a cave are often set several meters inside the cave itself, so as not to entice open water divers or create a false sense of security. Lastly, at the cavern to cave transition, most dive sites have a sign bearing the likeness of the Grim Reaper, and imploring divers to "STOP! Prevent your death! Go no farther!" while others settle for a more simple design.

If you're considering entering a cave or other overhead environment, please seek training first. The three major training organizations are the NSS-CDS, the NACD, and GUE. There's quite a bit of bickering in the community about the various organizations and the egos involved, but all three do produce trained, safe cave divers.
posted by SemiSophos at 10:17 AM on September 29, 2010 [8 favorites]


Like every time I hear about caving of any sort, I was reminded of Ted's caving story. That old meme has really stuck with me.
posted by painquale at 10:25 AM on September 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


spicynuts, that is an amazing story! it's Priest's Grotto if anyone else is interested; the comment led me to a few minutes of obsessive googling.

I used to open water dive a lot when I was a teenager and the idea of cave diving does not bother me at all. I mean, after you're already underwater, being in an enclosed space just doesn't feel like that much more of a leap(well, unless you're claustrophobic). It's funny though, because the exact opposite of the claustrophobia of cave diving - hovering over the side of a reef and looking down and seeing everything disappear into eternal blackness and KNOWING you're suspended in that endless openness - is still pretty terrifying.
posted by sawdustbear at 10:59 AM on September 29, 2010


Obligatory: Why do people do this? It is stupid and terrifying.

Equally, BobbyDigital, comments like this are stupid and stultifying. I've done things all my life that some people consider "stupid and terrifying", from diving off of relatively low cliffs (20'), to hunting wild mushrooms. Obviously, I'm not the world's hugest adrenaline junkie, but to some Nervous Nellies, I take unnecessary risks.

It's thrilling adventure. To those of us who cave, it's beautiful, and awe-inspiring to see hidden beauty that few are ever going to be able to see.

Your judgments notwithstanding. Stay safe on your couch, if you wish.
posted by IAmBroom at 11:18 AM on September 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


I misread that as "cab driver" and thought it was going to be interesting.

Carry on.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 11:18 AM on September 29, 2010


On another note is claustrophobia the reason for the nightmares? Or being underwater? I've always enjoyed tight spaces myself, they feel cozy.

The problem with this particular thing is she's surrounded on all sides by death. You could argue that we're every minute surrounded on all sides by death, but Jesus Christ, she's surrounded on all sides by death. People can't live in that environment - you're on borrowed time the whole time.

I think part of it is that it's such a metaphor for the grave too: cold, dark, lonely.

Aieeeeeee.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 12:03 PM on September 29, 2010


painquale - I thought exactly the same thing and was ready to google that old story when I'd finished the thread. That was one of the coolest things I'd read on the web when I came across it back in 2002 or whenever.
posted by jontyjago at 12:34 PM on September 29, 2010


Stay safe on your couch, if you wish.

Speaking of judging....
posted by josher71 at 12:43 PM on September 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


Funny, in my dreams I can usually breathe underwater. But just watching her in that video squeeze through an opening (like some weird baby being born by a rock monster), I didn't want to breathe at all.

I'll stick to the dreams, thanks!
posted by not_on_display at 12:54 PM on September 29, 2010


I don't know if I've been playing too much Minecraft just recently, but these videos didn't bother me at all. I'm not sure if it's good that I seem to have overridden my natural instincts to not get stuck in things or not.
posted by Solomon at 12:59 PM on September 29, 2010


I like this post, but what does it have to do with Minecraft?
posted by daHIFI at 1:45 PM on September 29, 2010


Dammit Solomon, my comment was not in response to yours. I feel sniped.
posted by daHIFI at 1:46 PM on September 29, 2010


I don't care what the cave divers say -- the numbers speak for themselves. Fatalities are crazy-high on a per-capita basis compared to regular old caving. So many of the very best cave divers have died over the years. (See Ian Rolland, Huautla) I follow a very simple rule: Webster's defines a cave as an air-filled cavity in the rock. The cave stops where the water meets the ceiling. One of my very, very favorite people on Earth (Dr. Jean Crecjca) goes cave diving all the time, and it worries me to death.
posted by Devils Rancher at 2:12 PM on September 29, 2010


I had no idea what to expect but when a smallish, nearly 60 year old dude in messy overalls climbed out of a beat up Toyota from like 1986 I thought maybe this was going to be a lame meander down a country lane with Red Hat Ladies Club or something. And then he started talking. And he didn't stop. And he was hilarious and extremely interesting. He geared us up and led us into the woods where we gathered around a craggy whole in the ground about 2 ft by 3ft. He pointed at it and said 'Ok, who's first?'

Once we all got down there he started in on the caving stories. He told stories the entire time. And he'd been caving and cave diving since he was 17 and he'd been all over the world in pretty much every cave there is. He'd even led National Geographic expeditions into previously unexplored caves. And then he mentioned his movie deal.

Turns out that he'd been caving in Hungary for years and had heard local rumors about a cave where an entire village of Jews had hid from the Nazis for 2 years.


Ha, I've heard that he's a talker. :-) Also, yes his story about the Jews hiding during the war is amazing. It's been printed up in the NSS news, I think. Amazing stuff, and I'm really glad it fell into the hands of someone with the initiative to get it all documented while some of the survivors are still with us. He's doing great, great work.
posted by Devils Rancher at 3:36 PM on September 29, 2010


Oh man, Agnes kicks ass. She's the daughter my dad never had. Dad and I used to go diving together, and when we were near cave entrances or creepy wreck bits, he'd push me -- not literally, but with big old gestures that meant OH COME ON, and I'd shake my head all kinds of no. I can never think of cave diving without also picturing a silent wetsuited body bobbing at the top of an underwater cavern. In fact I was pretty sure Agnes brushed aside a thighbone down there on the cave floor, but . . .
posted by Countess Elena at 6:34 PM on September 29, 2010


I am totally comfortable ok I am lying, more like they are awesome to do but still kind of scary when you think about it with those two things, diving and caves, separately. Combined? The idea gives me the serious terrors. There are so many things that can go wrong with both pursuits; combined the risks multiply rather than just add.
posted by Forktine at 7:02 PM on September 29, 2010


As a claustrophobe I am impressed and horrified in equal measures as an ocean lover, I am just jealous
posted by dame at 10:25 PM on September 29, 2010


My dad and his friends are pretty serious cave divers. I took a cavern course down in High Springs - that's like cave diving lite - one year. You train under shelves, never losing sight of the surface completely. I learned that it's not for me, nuh uh.

We practiced tying a line as we navigated and then following it back maskless and airless. Because if your lights go out or you've got a silt out and your buddy kicks your second stage out of your mouth in the panic, you damn well want to be able to get back to your entrance point. We took quizzes on how to manage currents. Because underwater cave systems are complex, with too-strong-to-swim-against currents that meet and cross and reverse suddenly, and you might find that swimming in was easy as pie but you've got to fight for every foot back, using up more and more air with your increasingly stressed breath. We practiced every imaginable scenario - it was more intense than my rescue certification course - because it's not a question of if things go wrong, it's of when, and how well you deal with it.

That said, underwater caverns are some of the most amazing places I've ever been. They might beat tropical reefs for just flat out beauty - except in caves the loveliness is all in stillness, silence. It's completely alien and impossible to parse visually. Just stunning.

Still, there's the fact that they're fucking dangerous. They fished a guy out of the spring we dove in a few weeks before I was there. The underwater entrances to the caves of central Florida are all marked with giant signs with a crude grim reaper on them (not fun to sweep your flashlight across those if you don't know they're there). They all say TURN BACK NOW. I'm perfectly content to follow them.
posted by peachfuzz at 11:24 PM on September 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


The joke (in the grim humor tradition) back when I was a regular caver was that Cave Diving was the only sport that had a negative life expectancy attached...if you did it long enough, you were going to die doing it. That was 20 years ago, and the techniques and gear is WAY better now than it was then...but it's a scary, scary sport. If _anything_ goes wrong, anything at all, it's almost always an immediate life-or-death situation.

This falls into the "really want to do it, but won't" section of my thrillseeking.
posted by griffey at 8:07 AM on September 30, 2010


I misread that as "cab driver" and thought it was going to be interesting.

I misread as cake diver and could not for the life of me imagine...
posted by penguin pie at 7:22 AM on October 4, 2010


The video about climbing the transmission tower reduced me to a gibbering wreck even though I'm not afraid of heights. This one freaked me out even though I'm not claustrophobic. As I watched the video, I kept getting light-headed, and then I'd realize that I'd been holding my breath.

I'm glad we have brave and crazy people like Agnes.
posted by rtha at 9:02 AM on October 5, 2010


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