This is What People Said About Hell Hole (IXL) Cave

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Beware: You should never explore wild caves alone or without proper gear. Consider getting in touch with a Grotto of the National Speleological Society at or a qualified cave club. These groups are skilled and will train you. Without sufficient knowledge, preparation, and equipment, cave exploring can lead to serious injury or death.

Hell Hole Cave, originally named IXL, is one of the more well-known caves in California. We’ve put together a comprehensive article on Hell Hole Cave and its fascinating features, challenges, and tragic history, but here we’re going to delve deeper into the history and public perception of this site.

There are many cavers that vow not to try this one, due to the claustrophobia-inducing passageways and high risk.

Then, there are more adventurous types, fascinated by these same things and yearning to make the trip someday.

Plus, since it’s located by USCS, there are crowds of students itching to get a taste of real adventure each year, with IXL being their primary choice.

If you fall in either of these categories, there’s surely something in here for you.

Chances are, if you’ve seen the map in our previous article, you’ve heard of the Reddit user named “Binky the Wonderdog”. I will go by Binky, as I do not want to share more information than what is already publicly available through Reddit here, to respect his privacy.

Meet Binky, The Maker of the Modern Map for Hell Hole (IXL) Cave

As a veteran caver and the creator of one of the best Hell Hole Cave maps in existence, Binky has a unique perspective and plenty of experience to share about this site. He knows more about IXL than anyone I know, and had a lot to do with its nomenclature.

“The reason I drew that map back in ’89 was because, although I was sure there HAD to be other maps of IXL/Hell Hole that existed, we could never locate one.”

The most updated form of the IXL map, created by Binky the Wonder Dog.

Binky and his group first explored IXL in the mid 1980s. They had heard that the cave went all the way to the ocean, which intrigued them. Plus, the USCS Fire Department allegedly had a map in case they needed to make a rescue.

It turned out that both of these were untrue. Not only did the rumor about IXL leading to the ocean start out as a joke, but Binky joined the fire service years later and found out that no one had an actual map for the cave. Thus, they made their own at this time, around 1989.

He later improved upon this map because the maps in existence seemed inadequate. Each map that included various features of IXL didn’t make any attempt to be accurate with distances.

“I attempted to do so with mine, using the length of climbing ropes to give us a rough idea of distances. Otherwise it was just drawn entirely from memory.”

The Tragedy about Publicizing Caves like These

One sad side of caving discoveries is that there’s often a feeling of dread when sharing too much information. Humans cause more damage than they realize to these environments that are often completely isolated until cavers document them.

Unsurprisingly, just as most cavers who have spent years doing this, Binky feels the same.

I totally get wanting to protect the cave, but I’d argue that that ship has pretty much sailed. The location of IXL was already quite well known when I first started exploring it 35+ years ago, and the cave itself was already in rough shape by then as well.

The sole pristine feature left is the Soda Straw Pillar, and that is—no doubt—only because it lies on the far end of the Sideways Crawl. There’s no question this was once a beautiful cave with clean, flowstone formations, its depths free of trash and its walls not covered in spray-painted arrows.

Who’s to blame? Well, if you’ve ever seen the trash or graffiti that people have left at other wild caves, you definitely understand where he’s coming from.

Because people suck. Not all people, of course, but lots. And due to that fact, public places regularly get trashed. There are many other caves in the Santa Cruz Mountains, ones that are protected and kept secret specifically so they WON’T get trashed.

It is for this reason that White Moon Cave (reportedly one of the longest caves in California) will likely remain pristine. And, also, that I’ll likely never get to explore it. But I’m okay with that. Knowing it’s there is enough.”

How did Hell Hole (IXL) Cave get all of its Unique Names?

The only names we knew about back then were the Buddha Room, and the Hall of Faces (also the Corkscrew and Birthing Canal, but those are pretty common names for similar features in caves everywhere).

This means that most of the names on the 1.0 version of the map came from Binky’s group. Talk about leaving behind a legacy!

An image shows several of the mud and clay-based faces found in the Hall of Faces inside IXL Cave.

Map Trap Chute is a tribute to one of the early historical names of the cave: Map Trap Cave, a moniker that came about because supposedly someone once got stuck in that very spot. Tom Sawyer Cave was another early name of IXL, according to available histories.

The Party Room came from the fact that we’d often find empty beer bottles in there. The Sphincter got its name because that was where the people who presumably drank those beers appeared to have sometimes relieved themselves.

Like with other fascinating caves, some of the most memorable names came about on a whim. If they stick, they become canon for all the cavers who may find themselves here in the future.

Where the Hall of Faces came from is obvious, but the origins of the Buddha Room are less clear. My buddy who first took me to IXL said there had once been a Buddha statue down in that tiny space, the physically lowest room of the cave. It had long since disappeared.

So we replaced it with a really cool little wooden Buddha statue he found at a yard sale, posed with its arms above its head like he was holding up the earth above us. Seemed very appropriate. It lasted down there about a year before it too disappeared.

A statue similar to the one Binky donated to the Buddha Room. Let’s start a tradition to replace the statue whenever this happens again.

Nick Rivera and his crew added some names to his version of the map he posted in 2018. I included those on the 3.0 version, along with other names that came from some more recent Hell Hole cave explorers I’ve had conversations with.

One of the names Nick contributed was the Cobra Room.

We named it the Cobra Room because there was a nice mud cobra sculpture on one of the walls.

Perhaps the most unexpected name you’ll hear is Satan’s Underwear Drawer. This name came from Binky.

[We] thought we’d something really amazing, possibly a passage to a whole new section of the cave. But it was just a tight little dead-end room 😉

What Binky Had to Say About the Challenges of Hell Hole Cave

When planning whether to actually go inside or not, having Binky’s map certainly helps in making that decision.

IXL isn’t a bad cave. It’s challenging enough for the serious beginning caver, but still reasonably doable for the weekend warrior just out for a lark.

Binky shared a bit more about a specifically difficult passage.

The fasted route to the Soda Straw is straight through the Birthing Canal, and then take the first drop all the way down into the Cobra Room. The Sideways Crawl isn’t necessarily that much tighter than Mantrap or the Corkscrew, but it’s tight in a different way.

While Mantrap is just a quick squeeze you can accomplish laying on your back or belly, and the Corkscrew requires a bit of contortion, the Sideways Crawl is like a funnel that gets progressively tighter as you go. And it’s very narrow side-to-side.

It requires you lay on your side, lower arm out in front, upper arm back along your body (at least that’s how I have to do it) and inch your way through. And while it’s not terribly long by most caving standards, it’s long enough to possibly evoke that buried-alive-screaming-heebie-jeebies feeling… Definitely the most intimidating part of the cave as far as tightness is concerned.

Traversing the Soda Straw

Caveman Hikes created a video where they went all the way into the Soda Straw, which you can watch below.

Disclaimer: This may be difficult to watch if you have claustrophobia.

Should I have added arachnophobia to the disclaimer? Well, even if you don’t feel terrified yet, you definitely will want to watch out for spiders. They love caves, and have picked the region in the top right of the map to congregate. But you can find some near the entrance as well, and these things get pretty big, as seen below.

This was one of the spiders near the entrance of IXL in another caving video, made by Brandon Gross.

A large spider found at the entrance of Hell Hole Cave or IXL

Bring Backup Light Sources

“I went all the way to the Hall of Faces a few times while at UCSC. The last time I did it, all three of our flashlights ran out of batteries, just after we got to the top of the ropes on the way back out. I was a smoker then so I had about twelve matches. We’d get as far as we could using intuition, then the three of us would get back to back and I’d light a match for us to get our bearings.”

Hopefully, it won’t come to this. Bring extra light sources in the form of flashlights, glowsticks, or something else, in case your headlamp or main light does end up running out. Remember, this cave can take upwards of 7 hours to see everything; don’t underestimate how long it will take you during your first time.

“There’s nothing like going through Corkscrew with no light. When you start Corkscrew you must choose: arms forward or arms to the side, you can’t change mid stream. The only thing that stopped me from completely losing my mind trying to get out of there was the knowledge that losing my mind would only make it worse.

Like [the caver above], I’ll never, ever do it again.”

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The Most Important Piece of Equipment? A Helmet

One user shared why you should not go into this cave without sufficient headgear.

“I worked in a cave a while back and the most useful thing when spelunking like this is a helmet. You won’t believe how many times you smack your head on the ceiling of a tight crawl space. Make sure you have backup batteries for your headlamps and that you can really trust your light sources.

Also try not to touch any of the pretty formations like the Compass Stone with your bare hands. Our oils slow the growth of the calcite formations.”

Why One Caver is “Never Going Back” to Hell Hole (IXL) Cave

This is a bit more terrifying. One anonymous caver shared his experience, and said he would never try it again.

This was an experienced rock climber and caver, who had made it to the bottom. But upon emerging, he vowed never to do it again. Before he called it quits, he even installed 100-foot (30.5 meter) ropes in The Pit. He intended to help future cavers, but recent feedback suggests not to rely on them too much, due to age.

Hell Hole Cave is the only place I would never ever ever go back to, even if someone paid me.

If you’re injured, you’re f***ed.

First, he mentions the surprises that IXL seems to serve up frequently.

One little slip and you could literally be dead. There are blind corners that are just cliffs that drop off 50-60 feet (15-18.3 meters).

And if you survive a fall like that with a broken leg or a concussion?

Good f***ing luck. Firemen / search and rescue aren’t going to be able to fit down there to get you out. 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. There are holes (the Corkscrew and the Birthing Canal for example) that aren’t much bigger than a basketball.

For reference, a basketball’s diameter is just under 10 inches (25.4 cm).


As any experienced caver should know, every cave becomes significantly more dangerous when you add water to the equation.

The entrance is right by a river bed and the bottom of the cave is probably 150+ feet (45.7 meters) below ground level. If it starts raining hard or if there is a flash flood, water is going to start pouring down the hole. It took us almost 2 hours to climb out from the bottom even when it was bone dry.

Let People Know You’re There!

Just as you should with any wild cave, you need to let people on the outside know where you’re going. But with IXL, because it’s so deep and narrow, you may find yourself in some tricky passages. You won’t be able to get to your phone (assuming you have a connection) and make contact until you’re out.

If you are stuck or injured, the only way you are going to get help is by climbing out. It could quite a few hours before anyone could even start to respond to the situation. I would not recommend anyone ever go there. If you want to do some fun caving, Porter Caves is a cool place to hang out and it’s very safe and easy to find. There is a little bit in the very back (over the pool) that is a cool place to have a picnic or something.

Also it takes about 5 hours to do the whole climb bottom to top. If you are going to visit all the places at the bottom, I would say 7. Please let multiple people know that you are going there and tell them where it is in case they don’t hear from you for more than 8 hours.

If You’re Too Tall, Maybe Sit This One Out

Another user asked if they should try it, considering that they are 6’2″ (1.88 meters).

I wouldn’t try it. There are places in that cave that require a really small frame, and having long calve bones wouldn’t do you any good since they don’t have joints to maneuver. If you’re wiry framed you would be able to squeeze your ribcage through some places, but as for mobility it gets harder when you have more body to account for.

I know of a caver who was 5’3″ (1.60 m) and she didn’t even go all the way into the bottom of the cave, she said she never would go back again.

If You Think You Need a Guide, You’re Probably Not Ready

One user shared that while they had done it without a ton of prior experience, they don’t recommend it unless you’re more experienced as a caver. In addition, they mentioned that there were holes and other smaller areas that were not found on the map, adding to the difficulty of the cave.

For the maps accuracy, I’d say it fairly accurate, though I did see more off shoots that were not on the map. Like small rooms and holes not mapped. I guess people couldn’t get in them, so they weren’t mapped.

I do plan on going in again some time, though I’m am not a vary expected caver, I would like to note that I am NOT going to take people into hell hole as a guide I feel that a lot of people who want a guide are not ready for this cave. It is NOT for beginners. Even just the start can be scary it is all ready a tight squeeze with the man trap shoot.

I would not recommend going in this cave without caving experience.


I hope these more personal accounts help shed more light on the reality of the challenges found inside IXL Cave. If you feel like there’s more information to add, please don’t hesitate to reach out. Let’s keep this post updated so any future cavers are fully informed and prepared.

Don’t forget to bring enough water for an exhausting 4-8 hours, among the other supplies we recommended. Tell some people where you’re going and when you should be expected to finish. If anything goes wrong, don’t panic. It will only make things worse. Stay safe out there!

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