I knew Tim McClain for less than four years, since he first walked into Frederick’s Café in Corydon with Dave Everton for his first ISS trip in Binkley Cave system. I certainly wish I had the privilege of knowing him much longer.
Tim always seemed to have a smile on his face and look on the bright side even in difficult situations. He was the kind of guy who held a volunteer group like the ISS together. Made up of lots of strong, independent personalities, Tim fit in with everyone and subtly helped keep everyone working together. There was something about Tim that drew everyone towards him.
When we met for breakfast at Frederick’s Café in Corydon every week before the scheduled cave survey trip, I always wanted to sit close to Tim so we could exchange speculation on where the latest discovery might be heading. Both Tim and I had big visions for how large the cave system might eventually become.
I was fortunate enough to sit with him that last Saturday at breakfast. You certainly would not have guessed anything was amiss. Tim was grinning as always. He shared with me about his recent trip with John Shultheis to bolt climb Dome #1 in the Two Mile Hike section. I replied that I had heard that they didn’t find much. However, to my surprise, Tim was somewhat excited about the possibilities. He animatedly described how he had crawled 75-100 feet up a narrow stream canyon that only he could fit through. The airflow was good and the stream a decent flow. Tim thought it very possible that it would open into another passage like Blowing Hole Boulevard that led to the Indiana Caverns portion of the cave. Many hours into the long trip, he and John were physically shot when Tim finally pushed up the crawl lying on his side. They would have to wait for another trip to see what lay beyond.
That is the way it was with Tim. He was always going where no one else could go or few would even want to consider going. That is the way I want to always remember Tim – a caver who was confident, competent and knew the limits of what he could do.
He and Nick Benton’s were the first to push through Joy’s Gulp, a low water crawl in the Guy Stover’s section pushing mud and rocks to the side as they proceeded. Joy’s Gulp is an ear-dipper in places, where a caver has to turn their head sideways and put one ear in the water to breathe. Upon reaching a breakdown blockage, Tim dug up vertically through precarious looking overhanging breakdown to make the connection between Guy Stover’s and Binkley Cave proper. This connection greatly shortened the travel time to reach the Indiana Caverns section of the cave. Without this connection, there probably would be no Indiana Caverns today. Thanks Tim!
I would like to share one more special remembrance of Tim. Back in 2008, Rand Heazlitt discovered a new passage while on a photo trip in preparation for my book with Dave Everton and I. This passage eventually became the shortcut to the Two Mile Hike section cutting off almost two miles of caving each way in the process. However this connection wasn’t at all straightforward. I remember lying on my belly looking to the right that day into an even smaller side lead that day. The opening over a silt bank in front of me was hardly big enough for a good-sized rat to fit through. Another nearby passage certainly seemed to be a better route. However that didn’t deter Tim and Rand. On future trips they would eventually force their way through this passage I dare say not even one in a thousand other cavers would give a second glance at.
After their later breakthrough to connect with the bottom of the Great Pit, I was privileged to finally see Grand Falls, which the ISS had discovered way back in 1968 via the much longer route. I had talked about it for decades and now I was finally here. As I lay in that hole in that I could barely fit through in a few inches of water and mud even after all their efforts at excavation, I was in awe of what some people will do to push into the unknown. That’s the way my fondest memories of Tim are. Doing something most of us couldn’t or wouldn’t do and doing it safely.
One more note. Later this same trip through the Great Pit Shortcut, I found myself in small upper level after crawling on my side through an area known as “the Ripper” just above Grand Falls. I was really shot physically and very cold. In hindsight, I was probably too far into a difficult section of the cave for a relatively big guy who was then 64 years old. The ripper had shredded my pants and top. I had abandoned both and was now caving in just my wetsuit, helmets and shoes.
As I sat there shivering and wondering if I had enough guts and strength to make it out of the cave, here comes Tim McClain passing by with his survey team moving up for a leapfrog survey. He immediately saw I was having trouble and offered a black trash bag he had in helmet liner. We cut a slit in the top and I slid it down over my body. Over the next few minutes, warmth slowly came back into my body and I was able to slowly make the long trip back out without incident. However I have often thought about Tim’s quick perception of my need that day when I was close to the edge of my limits. That was the essence of Tim McClain and that’s how I want to remember him. Always smiling, covered with mud, strong, in control and ready to met every situation and help his friends.
I will miss you Tim. So will everyone else who met you. Thanks for the wonderful memories.
Proud friend of Tim McClain
Original member of the ISS
CEO of Indiana Caverns