At the entrance to Wye Cave (circa 2001) demonstrating the first rule of cave exploration: Dress like you are going to have a vat of mud dumped on you. ((c) J.S.Reinitz)

In junior high, one of the works we read was an account of Floyd Collins’ journey into Sand Cave. For those who aren’t familiar with the tale, Collins was a spelunking pioneer in Kentucky and is credited with discovering holes around the Mammoth Cave area. In 1925, he followed some mist coming from the ground and apparently stumbled across a large cavern, but in the way out, his leg became pinned.

He was the subject of a large rescue effort that involved tunneling down parallel to the cave over a number of days.

In English class, we took turns reading pages aloud, stumbling over the big words while learning about cave exploration. This was where I first heard about the wedging needed to work through the narrow passages, sliding into tight holes headfirst with arms at the side, not really crawling so much as inching along propelled only by toes, mostly in complete darkness and not really knowing what’s ahead. And if the tunnel is a dead end, having to back out the same way because there is no room to turn around.

It was a feeling I soon became familiar with while squeezing into caves around the Midwest.

So it was with interest and a great deal of sympathy that I read about an Illinois man who became trapped in one of the caves at the recently re-opened Maquoketa Caves State Park this weekend. He was exploring the Wye Cave, which is one of the more elaborate tunnels in the park. Sure, the park has a few lighted caves, complete with steps and paved walkways and handrails. But for a genuine get-muddy, scrape-across-rock, bump-your-head, feel-the-earth-closing-in-around-you experience, the Wye Cave is the place to go.

On our last trip there, years ago, Wye wasn’t listed on the photocopied map handed out at the park. It’s located away from the main valley that houses the majority of caverns, and it starts with a short climb straight down that empties into a large cavern. Poking around turns up a tunnel at the back that goes deeper into the ground. There are a few good squeezes, and a few smaller rooms before it forks. Both the left and right branches didn’t seem to go too far, but by that point, I wasn’t too eager to go much further.

Getting back to this weekend, rescue crews pulled the Illinois man out after about a day underground. Floyd Collins wasn’t so fortunate back in 1925. Tunnelers reached him a few days to late.

Below is the Iowa Department of Natural Resources release on this weekend’s rescue.

Illinois Man Freed at Maquoketa State ParkPosted: 05/19/2012

MAQUOKETA – An Illinois man was rescued from a cave at Maquoketa Caves State Park after being stuck for more than 20 hours.The 20-year-old man, of Port Byron, Ill., was freed from the cave at approximately 3:30 p.m. Saturday after being stuck in a narrow passage of the cave since approximately 6:45 p.m. Friday night.

A companion, a 20-year-old woman, also of Port Byron, Ill., had also been stuck, but she was freed at approximately 11:40 p.m. Friday. She was treated at the scene and released.

Rescue workers from a number of different agencies throughout northeast Iowa worked continuously to free the man, including chiseling rock to widen the passage. He was given oxygen and IV’s while in the cave to prevent dehydration.

He was taken by ambulance to Jackson County Regional Health Center.

Other park visitors discovered two people lodged in Wye Cave Friday night around 8 p.m. They became stuck while crawling through a narrow part of the cave.

The state park, four miles northwest of Maquoketa in Jackson County, features a variety of caves on its premises. Park goers are allowed to explore them, based on their ability and comfort level. Wye (pronounced Y) cave is about mid-distance between the popular Dance Hall Cave and the park campground.