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Viral Hell Hole cave exploration video features 10" tight squeezes and a panic attack

Alexandra Ciufudean June 10, 2022
hell hole cave santa cruz


Hell Hole Cave in Santa Cruz, California, is one of America’s best known (and most dangerous) challenges for experienced cavers. So,, of course someone went ahead and made a video of their journey through its impossibly tight passages, which is now going viral on Reddit.

It doesn’t help that the video’s creator appears to have a small panic attack halfway through and urges his friend to turn back.

Claustrophibics beware!

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Hell Hole Cave used to be quite beautiful

Also known as IXL Cave, the endearingly dubbed Hell Hole is on the eastern side of Wilder Ranch State Park in Santa Cruz. It got its official name from the IXL Lime Works mining company, which used to extract mineral resources from the area.

The cave was discovered in the 1950s and then forgotten for a while before achieving the urban legend status it enjoys today. When it was first thoroughly explored in the 1970s, IXL Cave was apparently full of beautiful snow-white formations – stalactites, stalagmites and “cave popcorn” as far as the eye (or headlamp) could see.

Pure white flowstone and intricate, lace-like stone formations completed the picture. The cave was a sort of paradise for the area’s native Dolloff Spider.

Over the years, however, the Hell Hole’s popularity surged and daredevil spelunkers wanted a souvenir to take home. All the beautiful rock formations are now missing and many of the more accessible halls are instead adorned with helpful graffitied pointers, musings, miscellania and sinister-looking mud faces.

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The Room of Faces
Image credit: PeaksForFreaks

Viral video features 10in squeezes and a panic attack

A cave full of spiders, creepy mud faces, 20ft sheer drops and passages the size of a basketball? Sign us up…

…is what the two friends in the latest viral video must have been thinking when they took on Santa Cruz’s Hell Hole Cave.

It looks like rough going from the beginning but things really amp up as our protagonists begin to squirm their way through increasingly tight passageways. As they keep going, however, the caver who is filming starts sounding increasingly distressed.

You think he’s joking the first time he says “oh no” as he squeezes through yet another narrow passage. But watching his friend squirm feet-first and out of view through a gap barely large enough for her head, the fear in his voice is unmistakable.

As soon as the two reach a slightly wider room where they’re able to walk instead of crawl, the voice behind the camera sounds on the verge of a panic attack. Even though he tries and tries to pull himself together, he has to “call it” and the two start making their agonising way back to the surface.

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Cave can be a nightmare even for experienced adventurers

What makes Hell Hole Cave so dangerous is its claustrophobia-inducing tight squeezes, some of which can be the size of a basketball (about 10in or 25cm in diameter) and its sheer drops into pitch black nothingness. There’s a rope marking most of the path so cavers don’t get lost, but it may not be enough help to get you through some of the drops.

While there are natural hand and foot-holds for many of the sheer descents, a few seem to be smooth all the way down into the darkness. This can be especially dangerous if it has rained recently before an expedition.

In fact experts recommend that, if you and your group are cool-headed and experienced enough to take on Hell Hole Cave, to only do it in the dry season, with a map. One of the most popular maps for Hell Hole Cave is a hand-drawn one from 1989.

A caving blogger marked most of the routes with colour-coded levels of difficulty (where green means easy and red stands for advanced) after their group’s expedition in 2015.

One Redditor, who claims to be an experienced caver in his comment, issues a dire warning to anyone thinking Hell Hole Cave is a fun way to spend a couple of hours near Santa Cruz. They start by saying they’ve “been to the bottom (Budda Room and Satan’s Drawer)”, the bottom-most areas on the cave map.

“I’m NEVER EVER going back. I’m an experienced rock climber and have done some dangerous stuff in my life, including other caving and spelunking, and Hell Hole is the only place I would never ever ever go back to, even if someone paid me.”

Listing some reasons why, the commenter explains one missed step around the cave’s 50ft to 60ft drops could mean certain death. Any injury that would seem minor above ground, such as a broken limb or concussion, could spell death for a caver, as they’re virtually unreachable.

“Firemen or search and rescue aren’t going to be able to fit down there to get you out,” they explain. “If you can’t climb out yourself, you are stuck. I’m a skinny dude and I barely squeezed my ribcage through some of those holes.”

The comment ends with yet another warning that the cave’s entrance is well-hidden because no one wants to feel responsible for another caver finding it and potentially dying a gruesome death 150ft inside the earth.

If this wasn’t enough nightmare fuel for you today, read into what happened in 2009 at Nutty Putty Cave in Utah. Happy nightmares!

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Alexandra is Head of Entertainment at The Focus, managing a growing team of outstanding graduate and experienced writers. She has worked previously as an editor, writer and content specialist across web, video and social platforms and has a bachelor's in English Linguistics and a master's in Comparative Literature.