When does fun get too dangerous?

Much sad thought this morning on the death of a caver in something called the “Nutty Putty” cave, over near Tooele somewhere.

We aren’t covering it, but the SL Tribulation has a story here (click!) and of course the Internet is all over it because of the obvious tragedy: Photogenic young father, pregnant wife/girlfriend, sad death in a hole in the ground especially after they thought they had him rescued at one point.

Plus, I’m claustrophobic, so this story gives me the willies. Stuck in a hole at a 60-degree head-down angle in pitch dark is my idea of hell, pure and simple.

This story gives one pause to wonder, at what point should you quit doing that sort of thing?

OK, I’m not saying a married person should become a monk, never doing anything that’s in the least bit dangerous. Heck, I ride bicycles on Utah streets, a practice this caver probably felt was on a par with wriggling into a hole in the ground.

On the other hand, there comes a point when prudence dictates you balance risks with consequences. Despite Utah drivers’ collective best efforts, I’ve never been hit by a car (knock on wood) because I exercise as much prudence as I can, follow all the rules, and pretty much assume  they’re trying to kill me.

It is amazing how vigorously people defend their right to risk their lives.

Every time I do a column demanding helmets on motorcyclists, for example, I hear from guys who say “Hey, it’s my head, my life!”  My response is always “but it’s not your medical bills, not your funeral, not your sorrow, and not your life of abject poverty if your wife is left berift because  you exercised your freedom to ride without a helmet and got your head bashed in.”

When my wife and I got married I promised her that I’d never go to a battlefield. At the time it seemed like a safe bet, since we weren’t at war with anyone and the S-E doesn’t normally send people to Iran or Iraq anyway.

Then, about five years ago, an acquaintance offered to pay my way to go with him to Israel and Palestine to visit the war zones there. I declined, partially because I don’t feel comfortable letting someone else pay a tab like that for me, but also because “I don’t do war zones,” and cited my promise.

Covering a war would be a great opportunity to do some really good stories, but I have this desire to see my grandchildren. My grandchildren outweigh any professional consideration. Any story I do for the paper would be quickly forgotten, but my grandchildren will be there for a very long time. 

So it is with things like caving, or mountain climbing, or jet airplane flying, or any of the other many dangerous games people play. If you’re doing something like that for the thrill, but you have a bunch of people off to the side hoping that you survive because, well, your thrill’s failure could destroy their lives, it may be time to ease back just a bit, maybe say “You know, that hole looks awfully small, why take the chance?”

Or at least let someone younger, and dumber, and with no dependants, go first, just to check the waters, as it were.

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20 Responses to When does fun get too dangerous?

  1. Totally agree Charles. Very sad and needless situation. I am retired US Army Airborne, and although C-130 blasts were the most fun you can have with your pants on, I would never do it today with a wife and two young boys. Heck, now I’m more scared of getting on my roof to hang Xmas lights. Fall from 1200 feet, you meet Jesus, fall from 12 feet, one of Christopher Reeves’ friends is giving you driving lessons. Well, hope other Parents will take a lesson from this.

  2. Paul says:

    There’s really no risk to life any more. Everything is sanitized sterilized,and standardized. One cannot step off the sidewalk without some worry wart screaming that it’s too risky to be there, you need to get back in line with the rest of us. I’m all about adding more life to my days and less concerned with adding more days to my life. We’ve become a society of pussies.

  3. Tori says:

    I totally agree, Charles. This is a horrific incident that just got worse because of the dependants this man is leaving behind. It is sad for any person to have such an incident, but I don’t think he was thinking about how he was risking his family’s well-being by doing such a dangerous sport. Sadly, people don’t always think about what they are potentially leaving behind if they “choose” to risk their lives.

  4. Justin Shaw says:

    So Charles,
    I wonder if you drive a car?
    If so, you are certainly playing a more dangerous game than anyone who ever entered Nutty Putty Cave. Seeing as how approximately 10, 000 people visited this cave each year, and the cave has been explored since 1960, and all of these visits have only resulted in one fatality. Compare that to the fatality rate for auto accidents. The last year that data is available, 2004, there were 18 auto fatality’s per 10, 000 registered cars. So, if we ignore the previous 49 years of exploration with no fatalities, and compare only this one years singular accident, it is 18 times more dangerous to own a car, than to explore Nutty Putty Cave.
    Think of that, along with your wife and kids, next time you get inside of a coffin on wheels for your traveling convince.

    ref: http://www.driveandstayalive.com/info%20section/statistics/stats-usa.htm

  5. Al says:

    Hey, Paul: Sensitivity fail, much?

  6. Publius says:


    To be fair, your reply is mistakenly misleading: the denominator in your calculation can’t be the number of cavers who entered the cave. It properly must be the number of cavers who went through that hole (“Bob’s Squeeze” or whatever it is they call it). Just entering the cave may be no more dangerous than walking into McDonald’s.

  7. George says:

    I’ve seen this in other doctors / medical students – they have enormous egos and think they are capable of anything. For example, just because you are a crackerjack heart surgeon doesn’t mean you are an ace pilot – doctors are among the highest fatalities by profession among amateur pilots. I can guarantee that John Jones never even considered the possibility of getting hurt, much less dying when he went into that cave. Ironically, today’s helicopter parents tell their kids how great they are 24/7 until they are adults with no concept of failure, much less mortality.

  8. laytonian says:

    So, Paul and Justin

    PLEASE tell us why you believe that risk-taking means you are “living life to its fullest”. Sounds like an advertising slogan, to me.

    Why does only YOUR brand of “fun” count as a full life?

    Do you really think that Mr Jones “died doing what he loved”? After 27 hours of being trapped head-down in a hole….so tight that his rib cage was caught on a protruding rock?

    “Died doing what he loved” and “lived life to its fullest” are actually cheap-shots against the very people who are paying taxes to rescue you, are actually rescuing you, are paying to support the family you left behind, and/or are taking care of your sorry a** after you became brain-damaged.

    I’ve survived a motorcycle wreck (with helmet) and much later, being cut nearly in half to save my daughter’s life.

    Do NOT dare call me, or anyone else, a “pussy” or a “worry wart”. You have NO idea what anyone else has done that’s adventurous, brave, or life-fulfilling.

    IF you are really “high adventure” types, how about this: next time you’re stuck in a hole, stay there. Don’t count on us “pussies” to save you. We’re too busy.

  9. laytonian says:

    Justin: forget your lame statistics about driving cars.

    Here’s the REAL statistic:

    FIVE people have had to be pulled out of that narrow hole in Nutty Putty. Only four of them lived.

    IOW, 20% of the people who got stuck in that dead-end, unmapped crevice, died.

  10. Michael Trujillo says:

    The drive to explore new places is inate in human kind. The same urge that sent this young man into a cave pulled the first men and women out of Africa to populate the rest of the world. It’s the same urge that drove people to explore the New World. To wish that people would stop taking risks in recreation is to wish that no one go explore space, or figure out human DNA, or find a solution to world hunger.
    Everything we do affects others, whether it’s sitting in an easy chair at home watching TV or skydiving. It would be wrong to project our own style of dealing with grief onto others. It’s nice to have empathy for others and to worry about how a family can go on under these circumstance, but remember that death occurs all around us. No death is meaningless or untimely. It’s merely another in the long list of trials we endure. Let others do what they need to do to live their lives fully, whether it’s spelunking, riding w/o helmets, or eating too much salt. We grieve the passing, but not the life lived fully.
    I extend my sympathies to the Jones family.

  11. flatlander100 says:

    On a related matter, the papers this morning [Sunday] are carrying a report of a woman falling to her death from the Angel’s Landing trail at Zion NP. Second person to fall from the narrow part of the trail this year.

    Question: since people seem to die on this trail with some regularity — maybe one a year on average — should the trail be closed to the public now? Or is providing adequate warning about the risks involved, the narrowness of the trail, etc. to the public sufficient?

  12. ctrentelman says:


    Sort of like eating unbaked cookie dough, or feeding the bears at Yellowstone; people will still do it, but at least they can’t say they weren’t warned.

  13. laytonian says:

    Nutty Putty wouldn’t have been closed, without that body stuck inside it.

    My question is this: with at least five recent rescues from that very spot, WHY didn’t anyone seal off that unmapped, dead-end hole?

    Maybe insanity isn’t risk-taking; maybe it’s taking the same risks over and over, with the same (stuck) results and not fixing the problem?

    Just think what would have happened, if Jones had FOLLOWED a smaller person into that hole: two deaths.

  14. C says:

    Because you are expected to understand what you are getting yourself into. It’s your right, your choice, your responsiblility. You don’t just seal off something because it’s there. We don’t close roads because people die in car crashes every year.

  15. C says:

    Complete autonomy versus there is a lack of an antonym at this time…

  16. laytonian says:

    C – I don’t know who you’re talking to or what they said, BUT….

    IF people were getting stuck on a highway, and 20% of them died, we’d sure as he!! fix the problem.

    Why do YOU want to keep a cave open, that has a body trapped inside?
    Do you not understand the health issues to cavers, with a putrefying body’s fluids leaking all over?
    Are you some kind of voyeur, who’d want to go down there and take a look at the dead body?
    Do you not understand that the body would have to be cut apart, to get it out….and even the logistics of that, in that small space, would be horrid.

    BUT…..if you’re willing to go down there, see if the family will agree to let you chop on the body. OK?

    Why can’t you people have a bit of humanity, rather than selfish thoughts of “I wanna wanna wanna it’s my right to go down in that cave”.

  17. Neal Humphrey says:

    I’m a rock climber/mountaineer with over 40 years’ experience. Like many risk-taking sports, climbing/mountaineering focuses the effort (competition?) to the self. The mountain and/or cliff simply provides an attractive venue to test strength, stamina, determination, and self-control. There’s also a wisdom test, as in being smart enough to back off and retreat when conditions elevate risk to an unreasonable level.

    That may account for why I continue to climb even in my geezerhood.

  18. I think we should be careful no to take on a “blame the victim” mentality. Yes, he made a bad decision but can you imagine the regret he must have felt in those last hours? The pain of never getting to see his children again (or ever), and how his wife would suffer?

    The point is well-taken that we should recognize our own mortality and be careful with ourselves, but we all make poor choices sometimes… some are fatal. Sad situation all around.

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