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Entrance to Nutty Putty Cave

Nutty Putty Cave
Lake Mountains

          Nutty Putty Cave is a naturally formed thermal cave located on the west side of Utah Lake. The cave consists of many rooms connected by small tunnels and narrow corridors. This cave is extremely popular in the local area and is considered a good cave for beginners. The cave is a lot of fun and will be enjoyed by anyone seeking a little adventure.

Important Notice:
          Nutty Putty Cave was sealed shut with a concrete plug on December 3, 2009. The following information is provided as a historical reference.

General Information:
          Take a headlamp with fresh batteries. A flashlight is inadequate. There is plenty of climbing, crawling and scrambling required and you will need both hands. You should also carry a backup light source. You can spend from one to four hours exploring. The cave is always very warm inside. I wear old Levi's and a long sleeve shirt; you will be crawling on your hands and knees over rocks and dirt. Wearing knee pads while exploring will help with comfort. You will want a small disposable camera with flash for this adventure, do not take a good camera into the cave. Before entering the cave is a good time for a nature call. You will be extremely dirty and thirsty when you exit the cave so be prepared. For the latest information on Nutty Putty Cave visit NuttyPuttyCave.com.

          From Elberta, Utah travel north on highway 68 for 7 miles. 100 yards north of mile maker 7 there is a well-maintained gravel road on the west (left) side of the road, turn here. There are many spur roads in this area, Stay on the main road. 

          Travel the well-maintained gravel road 5.6 miles to a well traveled fork in the road. If you see a house, you've gone too far.  Take the north (right) fork. Follow the wide and rutted dirt road for 2.3 miles to a cattle guard and gate at the end of a fence line.  Turn east (right) on the road that follows the north side of the fence. Follow this road for 0.3 miles to a spur road that turns north (left) and heads up a step hill. Carefully driven cars and trucks can make this point in good weather.  

          Follow the steep 4-wheel drive track 0.6 mile to the top of Blowhole Hill. The entrance to Nutty Putty Cave in located in the top of the hill on the west side of the road. The 4-wheel drive track continues on to a higher hill to the east. The GPS coordinates for the cave entrance are N40 05' 51", W112 02' 13", using the WGS84 datum. The USGS 7.5' Map titled "Allens Ranch" shows Nutty Putty Cave.

Crawling through the cave Click Here for Map of Trailhead
Click Here for Map of Cave

Nutty Putty Cave:
          The cave entrance is 6-feet in diameter and drops down 15-feet. It is easy to see why the hill is called Blowhole. If you are looking for the blowhole on the whales back you can easily locate the cave entrance.

          Downclimb to the bottom of the blowhole and crawl into the 2-foot opening. You must crawl for 20 feet and than the cave will open up into a room. If you fit through this opening you will fit most other places inside the cave.

          There is usually a rope tied near the entrance, which leads down the "Big Slide". You can descend the "Big Slide" or visit the "Maze" which consists of many rooms connected by narrow corridors. It is almost impossible to get lost so feel free to explore.  Use your Nutty Putty Cave Map along with a little common sense and you should have a fun time.

Search and Rescue History:

2 S.L. Teenagers Rescued After Getting Stuck in Cave
July 29, 1999
Deseret News - Jeff Call

A pair of Salt Lake teens returned home early Thursday morning with no serious injuries after spending at least 12 hours wedged inside a narrow passage of a Utah County cave.

Chris Hale and Chris Marrow, both 17, entered the Nutty Putty Cave, located west of Utah Lake, at 9 a.m. Wednesday morning. By 10:30, they found themselves trapped in a section of the cave known as the Birth Canal, about 120 feet underground, with no way to move forward or backward."They got part way in and got stuck," said Utah County Lt. Ron Fernstedt. "They were too big for the area they were trying to crawl through. It is tight. It's an area where you must suck in your stomach to get through."

The youths were with friends who alerted emergency personnel. Crews arrived about 11:30 a.m.

Hale was brought out of the cave at 10:30 p.m. and Marrow, who was stuck ahead of Hale, was freed a couple of hours later, Fernstedt said.

Rescue workers gently tugged the boys' feet and ankles to remove them from the narrow passageway, he added. About 40 people, including 25 from the county's Search and Rescue Team, assisted in the effort.

Hale and Marrow suffered only minor abrasions and returned home with their parents.

"They were in good condition, just hungry and tired," Fernstedt said. "They were in pretty good spirits once they got out."

The youths had been camping in the area Tuesday night before going into the cave the following morning. They had flashlights with them, Fernstedt said.

Nutty Putty, located on a hill west of U-68, about 12 miles northwest of Elberta, is a popular spot among local hikers.

Deputies Free Two Teens Trapped in Utah Cave

July 29, 1999
Associated Press

ELBERTA, Utah (AP)  Two teens exploring a popular underground cave were trapped for at least 10 hours after they got stuck in one of its narrow passages. Chris Hale was freed about 10:30 p.m. Wednesday from Nutty Putty Cave, located 120 feet below ground. His friend, Chris Marrow, was brought out a couple hours later, sheriff's Lt. Ron Fernstedt said. Both 17-year-olds only suffered minor abrasions.

The youths had camped in the area Tuesday night and entered the cave at about 9 a.m. They got stuck about 90 minutes later. The youths had taken lights and were well prepared, said Fernstedt. The youths became stuck in a portion called the Birth Canal, where hikers have to suck in their stomachs to get through.

Police Beat - Tight Squeeze

Sunday, 18 March 2001

The Daily Herald

Two 13-year-old Boy Scouts from Sandy spent about four hours trapped in the "Birth Canal" section of the Nutty Putty Caves in North Utah County Saturday afternoon. Utah County Search and Rescue personnel freed the boys who were tired and dehydrated.

Rescuers remove 2 teens trapped for hours in caves
March 20, 2001

Desert News

Two 13-year-old Boy Scouts from Sandy were trapped for about four hours Saturday in underground caves before rescue teams pulled them out.

Rescue teams from Utah County Sheriff's Office extracted the boys from Nutty Putty Cave at about 7 p.m. The two teens were treated for dehydration and fatigue at the scene.

The caves, considered dangerous for inexperienced climbers, are located west of Lehi.

Youth Rescued From Cave After Getting Stuck Upside Down While Spelunking

August 21, 2004
The Associated Press

SALT LAKE CITY -- A 16-year-old Orem boy who got stuck upside down in a cave while spelunking with friends was in a hospital Saturday after an all-night rescue operation left him too weak to stand on his own.

About 20 Utah County search and rescue volunteers helped free Brock Clark from the Nutty Putty Cave area, where he got stuck about 4 p.m. Friday shortly after entering the long, narrow cave, said Utah County sheriff's Sgt. Spencer Cannon.

Brock was "very, very fatigued and weak" when he finally emerged from the cave around 6 a.m. Saturday, Cannon said. "He couldn't walk by himself."

Brock's mother, Holly Clark, said Saturday that he was wedged in the narrow cave with his left leg behind him, and that his blood circulation was affected all along his left side. Brock will remain in Mountain View Hospital in Payson until he regains his strength, she said.

Clark said her son was having difficulty straightening the leg. "He's doing surprisingly well," she said. Brock is strong, she said, but had been scared during the ordeal. "Who wouldn't be, trapped like that?" she said.

Cannon said Brock was leading a group of about six teens exploring the cave, about seven miles west of U-68 on the west side of Utah Lake.

The youth had gone in head first. When he realized he'd gotten a little off course, he tried to twist his way back out but only wedged himself in tighter.

One of his friends stayed with him while others went to get help. Clark said rescuers were notified about 6 p.m. but it took some time after that for the rescue operation to begin.

Cannon said that Brock "did as much shimmying as he could" as rescuers coached, pushed and pulled him about 400 feet over rocks and through narrow cracks in the cave.

The cave, which has a near-vertical entry before leveling, is popular with spelunkers. Cannon said rescuers get called a couple of times a year to pull people out. "There are some fairly steep and difficult areas," in the cave, he said.

Clark, who said she was an athletic person, would like to go into the cave to see where her boy got stuck. "Groups go in all the time," she said. "I think he just got to a little dead end and didn't realize it."

Caver Rescued From a Tight Spot
August 21, 2004
Deseret Morning News - Rodger L. Hardy

A 16-year-old Orem boy has been hospitalized in stable condition after spending the night wedged between a rock and a hard place.

Brock Clark was the lead spelunker exploring the Nutty Putty Cave with at least five other youths, about seven miles west of Utah Lake in southwest Utah County on Friday, Sheriff's Sgt. Spencer Cannon said.

Clark ascended into a narrow, vertical cave head first and became stuck upside down, Cannon said. It took rescuers nearly 10 hours to extract him from his precarious position. Then it took another two hours to help him recuperate enough from a weakened condition to get him down to his parents, Cannon said.

About 20 rescuers used ropes and patience once he was free of the cave's grasp to walk him down to a waiting ambulance where emergency medical technicians with the Eureka ambulance service evaluated him.

Clark's mother, Holly Clark, told the Associated Press Saturday that he was wedged in the narrow cave with his left leg behind him, and that his blood circulation was affected all along his left side.

Clark is being treated at Mountainview Hospital in Payson and will remain there until he regains his strength, his mother said.

"We wiggled, pulled and pushed a millimeter at a time. It was very fatiguing to him," Cannon said.

Holly Clark said her son was having difficulty straightening the leg. "He's doing surprisingly well," she said. Brock is strong, she said, but had been scared during the ordeal. "Who wouldn't be, trapped like that?" she said.

The cave, which has a near-vertical entry before leveling, is popular with spelunkers. Cannon said rescuers get called a couple of times a year to pull people out. "There are some fairly steep and difficult areas," in the cave, he said.

Clark would like to go into the cave to see where her boy got stuck. "Groups go in all the time," she said. "I think he just got to a little dead end and didn't realize it."

BYU Student is Rescued After He's Stuck in Cave
September. 4, 2004
Desert News

A BYU student trapped in a cave for nearly eight hours was rescued by Utah County Search and Rescue crews early Saturday morning.

David Crowther, 23, from West Virginia, was stuck in a narrow passage of Nutty Putty cave on Lake Mountain between Utah Lake and Cedar Valley, said Utah County Sheriff's Sgt. Spencer Cannon.

Crowther and two friends entered the cave about 10:30 p.m. Friday. They were in the cave for about two hours when Crowther became stuck, Cannon said.

One of the friends exited the cave and called rescuers about 1:15 a.m. Crews had to break a small amount of rock off using a portable air chisel before they were finally able to break Crowther free and bring him to the surface just before 8:30 a.m., Cannon said.

Crowther did not suffer any serious injuries and was not transported to the hospital.

It's the second time in two weeks that rescue crews have been called to the cave.

A 16-year-old Orem boy required hospitalization after being wedged 10 hours upside down in the cave's narrow vertical passage entrance last month.

Rescuers said they pull people from the popular cave several times a year.

Man Dies After Being Trapped in Cave Nearly 28 Hours
November 26, 2009

UTAH COUNTY -- There has been a tragic end to a Thanksgiving vacation caving expedition. Medical student John Jones was pronounced dead late last night after being trapped in a Utah County cave more than 27 hours.

"We were able to send one of our cavers in close enough to him," said Sgt. Eldon Packer of the Utah County Sheriff's Office. "They were able to check him and determine he did pass away."

Hundreds of search and rescue workers were in the midst of their second exhausting night, trying frantically to pry John Jones loose from Nutty Putty Cave. Just before midnight they realized he was dead.

"We all were very optimistic and hopeful. But it became increasingly clear last night after he got re-stuck that there weren't very many options left," Jones' brother, Spencer Jones, 30, of San Francisco, told The Associated Press.

The rescuers never saw much more than his feet and ankles. They were agonizingly close, but they just couldn't pull him out. Since Tuesday night, they struggled against the unforgiving topography of Nutty Putty Cave.

"We've never seen anything this technical, this tough, to get in and get this person out," Packer said.

The rescuers had to squeeze through narrow, twisting passageways. Jones' feet were sticking out, his head down, his body completely plugging a narrow tunnel 10 to 14 inches wide.

"Where he is trapped, he is on a bend," Packer said. "So there's no way to really get a hold on him to be able to pull directly straight back."

"It was very agonizing on this particular search," said State Sen. John Valentine, R-Orem, who has been a volunteer search and rescue worker for 30 years. The problem rescuers could not overcome was a small lip of rock at a critical bend in the narrow tunnel.

"The lip basically captured the center part of his body," Valentine said, "so that as you pulled against it, you were pulling like against a fish hook. It would hang up just underneath the rib cage, against the lip that was in the narrow part of the cave."

Rescuers bolted a pulley system into the rock for more leverage. That moved Jones a little ways, until a bolt failed, according to Sgt. Spencer Cannon of the Utah County Sheriff's Office.

"A roof anchor gave way, causing him to fall back down into the area where he had been stuck previously," Cannon said.

It's not known if that setback contributed to Jones' death. The trapped man had trouble breathing for hours. Sometime before midnight his vital signs stopped and rescuers exited the cave.

"We thought he was in the clear and then when we got the news that he had slipped again. That's when we started to get scared," Spencer Jones said.

"We have to be very careful," Cannon said. "It's very dangerous down there, as is evidenced by the fact that we've had, five years ago we had, two within a week almost in the exact same spot."

He had a wife and 8-month-old daughter and was a second-year medical student at the University of Virginia.

Spencer Jones said the family of five boys and two girls was close, and his brother was a wonderful person.

"He would have done anything for you, so that's what makes it even harder. It's senseless," he said.

After those earlier incidents, authorities considered closing the cave. Instead they allowed a caving group to manage it. Now the option of sealing it off is back on the table.

"No one's in a position to hastily do that at this juncture, but we want to discuss that seriously tomorrow," said Kim Christy, assistant director of the Utah School & Institutional Trust Lands Administration, which owns the land where the cave is located.

Meanwhile, officials still aren't sure how to recover the body and return it Jones' loved ones.

"Part of the problem," Cannon said, "is that the only real options we have are those that were employed yesterday that just weren't working."

Meetings are planned for Friday to discuss the future of the cave and the body recovery effort, a grim assignment for many people on this holiday weekend.

Cops: Rescue Equipment Didn't Fail
Tragedy - Anchor came loose from cave wall, retrapping man who died, says Utah County Sheriff's Office.

November 27, 2009
The Salt Lake Tribune - Maria Villasenor

Elberta A Stansbury Park man stuck in a narrow Utah County cave died after a more than daylong rescue attempt.

John Edward Jones, 26, was briefly freed from an opening in Nutty Putty Cave, but slipped back in when an anchor in the cave wall, which was attached to a system of ropes and pulleys being used to pull him out, came free from the rock, said Utah County Sheriff's Sgt. Spencer Cannon.

Devastated family members said in a statement Thursday that Jones was a fighter. "We know he fought with all he had to persevere and not lose hope," it said. "Many on the search-and-rescue team noted his remarkable good spirits and resilience until the end."

The equipment used in the attempted rescue did not fail, Cannon said. It was a failure of the rock where the apparatus was anchored, he said. The rope system rescuers used was highly reliable and included redundant parts for extra safety, he said.

"Getting wedged in there, it's difficult to grasp how [hard] it is to get around the different formations down there," he said.

Jones became stuck in Nutty Putty Cave about 8:45 p.m. Tuesday. After being stuck for 27 hours, he died before midnight Wednesday. Rescue crews are still trying to determine the best way to recover Jones' body.

He leaves behind a wife, Emily, and baby daughter, Elizabeth. His wife is expecting the couple's second child in June.

Recovery teams from several Wasatch Front emergency agencies joined Utah County recovery crews at the cave Thursday morning, but left by 11:30 a.m. Efforts to recover the body will resume this morning, Cannon said. "When it's a recovery, it doesn't make sense to wear people out in a 24-hour operation."

The same methods rescuers tried to free Jones, such as chiseling away rock and rope systems, will be used to free his body, Cannon said.

"He is still in the same tight position he was in [Wednesday]," he said. Jones lay in a crevice known as "Bob's Push," 600 feet from the popular cave's entrance and 150 feet below the surface. An autopsy will be performed by the state Medical Examiner's Office, Cannon said.

By 5 p.m. Wednesday, Jones, who was 6 feet tall and 200 pounds, had moved 10 feet out of the crevice, far enough to get him food and water. But after the anchor pulled loose from the rock, he slid back to where he originally was stuck, wedged head down at a 60- to 70-degree angle, his body filling most of the cavity and making it impossible for him to assist in his rescue.

Jones, a medical student at the University of Virginia, was with a group of 11 people Tuesday who shimmied into the narrow cave entrance, which is a hole on top of a hill about seven miles west of State Road 68.

The group split into two, with several children and some adults staying behind in the less treacherous area while some others went looking for "an adventure" in the more challenging parts of the cave, brother Josh Jones, 23, said Wednesday.

John Jones was moving headfirst into the tight crevice when he became stuck. The group tried to free him, but soon realized the situation required more help.

The approximately 1,500-foot-long cave has several narrow passageways, and is a popular spot for caving enthusiasts. It is on land owned by the state School and Institutional and Trust Lands Administration and is managed by the Timpanogos Grotto, a local chapter of the National Speleological Society.

The previous search and rescue in the cave happened in 2004, when two people became trapped in separate incidents within a week of each other. A 16-year-old got stuck upside down in the same place Jones did.

After those incidents, Timpanogos Grotto took over access to the caves, requiring proper preparations and approval for people seeking to gain entrance.

The cave will remain closed until it can be determined by the appropriate authorities whether it can be reopened safely, Cannon said.

Utah Cave to Entomb Spelunker
Tragedy Officials say it's too risky to retrieve John Jones, will seal cavern with his body inside.

November 28, 2009
The Salt Lake Tribune - Lindsay Whitehurst

The cave that claimed the life of John Jones will also be his tomb.

Nutty Putty Cave will be sealed permanently with the 26-year-old medical student's body inside, a decision supported by his family and rescue officials, who said retrieving him is too great a risk to rescuers. They also cited a desire to protect the safety of future cavers.

"The cave will serve as the final resting place for John Edward Jones," said Utah County sheriff's Sgt. Spencer Cannon. The Jones family will place a permanent memorial at the cave's entrance.

"It will be, as they describe it, a sacred place for them and for a lot of other people," he said.

Officials considered closing only the part of the cave where Jones rests, but as Kim Christy, assistant director at the state School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration (SITLA), said, "We decided it probably wasn't appropriate to have recreational activities going on in the same area that has a final resting place."

Jones died late Wednesday after becoming stuck in an unmapped finger of the cave near the end of the main passageway, about 100 feet below the surface and 400 feet from the entrance, not near "Bob's Push" as previously reported.

Rescuers briefly pulled him out of the crevice using a pulley system and ropes tied to his feet, but he slipped back in after an anchor broke free of the cave wall.

The 137 people who tried to free Jones are physically and mentally exhausted after the 27-hour effort, and will be offered critical stress counseling, said Utah County sheriff's Sgt. Tom Hodgson.

"It isn't in our makeup to leave anything undone," he said. "They still feel like there is work left to be done, that they didn't bring closure to the Jones family."

He described the "Herculean effort" as the most difficult rescue he's worked on in 30 years.

Jones' brother Josh said the family stands behind the crews, and are grateful for their efforts.

"There are some who feel like they failed our family," he said. "We know they did their best. We want to thank them from the bottom of our hearts."

John Valentine, a state senator and longtime search-and-rescue participant, said the crevice is simply too small, and the passage too winding, for anyone to crawl inside and pull him out without being at risk themselves.

"He is in an area that is really beyond the scope of what anyone can get into," he said. It's "where the cave peters down to nothing."

Jones entered the small passage as he and a group of family and friends fanned out to explore the cave. About 400 feet in, he found himself unable to move, stuck at a 70-degree angle with "a good portion of his waist and torso" pinched in an approximately 10-inch-wide space, Cannon said. His head was out and unsupported at one end, and his feet stuck out at the other end. After crews got him out of the crevice, they still would have had to pull him through the difficult stretch of cave behind him, which twisted and turned in 90-degree angles over uneven ground, Cannon said.

But Jones fell again less than 30 minutes after he was unstuck. He wasn't injured in the fall, but started struggling to breathe about two hours later. He later fell silent after relaying messages to his family, Hodgson said. Rescuers, who also have medical training, threaded a stethoscope in the crevice but could not find a pulse. He was pronounced dead at 11:57 p.m. He is thought to have died of the effects of the constant pressure on his body.

"I don't think we'll ever be certain, and I don't think that's important," said Utah County Sheriff Jim Tracy.

Jones was home for Thanksgiving in Stansbury Park from Charlottesville, Va., where he was a second-year medical student at the University of Virginia. He planned to become a pediatric cardiologist.

He graduated from Dixie High School in St. George, where he played basketball and was senior class president, said friend Morgan Miles.

He met his wife, Emily, at Brigham Young University. They married in 2006 and had a 14-month-old daughter, Elizabeth, whom they called Lizzie. The couple recently found out Emily is pregnant and expecting a second child in June.

Jones had explored many caves and loved the outdoors, so his family struggled with the decision to close Nutty Putty to future visitors, said 23-year-old Josh Jones.

But "we feel it would be John's will to protect the safety of future cavers," he said.

Officials have not decided how to close off the cave, which is now restricted by a metal grate and fencing under the ground, Cannon said. One option would be to fill in the entrance, which is a hole at the top of a hill west of Utah Lake. They expect to decide on what will be done within two to three weeks, and until then, a deputy will stand guard.

The popular cave attracted about 5,000 to 10,000 people a year, despite its remote access point at the top of a hill west of State Road 68. On Friday, a draft of warm, moist air drifted out of the moss-lined entrance at the top of the cave as if the earth were exhaling.

It was named for its soft brown "nutty putty" clay, which is found nowhere else in the country, said Mike Leavitt, the leader of the caving group Timpanogos Grotto. Because it is has no long rappels, it's a popular spot for beginner and intermediate cavers.

"It is special in its own way," he said. "There are many safe parts of the cave, and there are extreme parts."

There have been five high-profile rescues in the past 10 years, and it was closed temporarily in 2004 after two people became trapped in separate incidents within a week of each other, including a 16-year-old who got stuck in the same place Jones did.

"There's no place else where we respond on five calls and have one death," Hodgson said. "That is significant."

In 2006, officials of SITLA, which owns the cave and surrounding land, turned over management to the Timpanogos Grotto, a local chapter of the National Speleological Society.

The group spent years developing a permitting process, and, on May 18 of this year, groups were allowed back in the cave.

Closing it again just six months later is difficult, Leavitt said, though he agreed it was "absolutely the right decision."

Cave experts weigh in on closing the cave
Climbing and cave expert Doug Hansen is disappointed with the decision to close Nutty Putty cave. The Orem man said the cave has provided youth with opportunities to explore and learn how to use maps and compasses.

Dale Green, the man credited with discovering the cave in 1960, said completely closing off Nutty Putty Cave doesn't seem necessary.

"I think they can do nearly the same thing by blocking off access to this one part of the cave," he said. "That's really the only problem there. ... I just think it's a big loss to the people if they do that."

Green said he doesn't find the cave -- named after the soft clay found in parts of the tunnel -- too interesting personally, but it's an easily accessible cave that many people find entertaining to crawl through.

Proper training and proper respect of the terrain is needed when exploring caves, said the 80-year-old, a member of the National Speleological Society Salt Lake Grotto chapter.

"Caves, it's like mountain climbing, and in general it's as safe as you want to make it," Green said. "If you don't use common sense and don't take care and think ahead of what you're doing, things can get dangerous. ... There's danger everywhere, but you just have to use common sense."

Utah County Officials Begin Sealing Nutty Putty Cave
December 3, 2009

PROVO, Utah (AP) -- The Utah County Sheriff's Office has begun to seal off the deadly Nutty Putty Cave.

Officials decided to permanently close the cavern after 26-year-old John Jones died last week after he became stuck in a narrow crevice.

Sheriff Jim Tracy says the popular spelunking site south of Salt Lake City will be completely sealed by the end of the week.

He says the cave will have two seals, one where Jones's body now lies, and one at the entrance of the cave.

Tracy says there has been significant backlash against closing the cave. He says it is not a decision that will make everyone happy, but it serves all parties the best.

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