Lost and found

Over a long stretch of geological time, Elk Creek cut a deep canyon into the Black Hills about 30 kilometres south of Sturgis, South Dakota.

Over a long stretch of geological time, Elk Creek cut a deep canyon into the Black Hills about 30 kilometres south of Sturgis, South Dakota.

It dissects the complex history of the formation of this little anomalous mountain range.

A thick cap of limestone sits above the granite bedrock and metamorphosed gneiss layers.

On the light-coloured canyon wall you can see openings pitting its vertical plane.

Most go into the limestone strata just a few metres, if at all.

Some, though, lead you deep down into the mountain via a honeycomb of passageways and hollowed out rooms.

For a few summers in the 1970s, I took people on tours of Bethlehem Cave.

It is one of the larger among the 200 plus known caves in the Black Hills.

Kilometres of passageways spread through the limestone high above Elk Creek.

At night after the cave closed to the public I would take interested groups spelunking into the wild cave well off the two kilometres of lit, paved passageways that most of the cave’s visitors saw.

One evening five or six of us managed to make it into a large room that I had never been in before.

To get there, we had to squeeze through a narrow cleft prosaically named “Fat Mans Misery,” pull ourselves head first down a smoothed spiral passageway that must have been an ancient drainage channel and generally make our way through hundreds of metres of crystal lined shafts and tunnels.

A maze of passages lay in all directions off the room.

Nearing our turn around time, we decided to spend a half an hour quickly exploring the new area. Everyone headed off in a different direction.

In permitting this I violated a fundamental cave crawling rule — never go alone.

A hole below the level of the main room attracted my attention. I had to crawl head first down to it.

Once in, my beam of light showed a narrow passageway up sharply to my left and what appeared to be a small room above. Arching my back I managed to turn and squirmed upwards.

Only few metres up, the tunnel, barely big enough for me, ended next to a small, travertine-rimmed pool. Delicate calcite crystals forming unseen for millennia in this deep hollow sparkled for the first time as my light touched them.

My rapture at the pristine sight only lasted for a moment.

A cold realization crept into my consciousness. How could I get back out?

I had foolishly let myself be lured into this tight dead end. The rock around me would deaden any cry for help. I was profoundly alone and for all intents and purposes lost to the others in the mountain’s myriad of chambers.

Adrenaline surged.

Somehow with a flexibility now long lost, I took advantage of the few spare centimetres the passage provided and managed to bend myself back around.

The head first crawl back down and out was nearly euphoric.

Lost, alone and afraid, how many of us have had these feelings?

Everyday, in our communities around the Yukon you can see people who, for whatever reason, are experiencing them.

Our communities can and do reach out.

This past Wednesday evening, scores of our young people, their parents and staff of the three Roman Catholic schools in Whitehorse fanned out across the city on the annual Maryhouse food drive.

Thousands of pounds of food were collected.

If they missed you, you can still drop your bag at Maryhouse, at 506 Cook Street.

Can we do more?

Yes, we can and we must.

In the next few weeks we will be hearing more about plans for a Yukon food bank and a proposal for a shelter for homeless youth.

Maybe our Thanksgiving grace this year can include a thought for the lost among us and our efforts to reach out to them.

Michael Dougherty is co-chair of the social justice committee of Sacred Heart Cathedral of Whitehorse.

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