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The Day I Crawled Through an Underground Cave: Spelunking

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Glenn Stok likes to explore exciting activities that have captivating value. He writes about it to share the experience with his readers.

Spelunking: Crawling through underground caves.

Spelunking: Crawling through underground caves.

The spelunking experience I did was very different from merely walking through a spacious cavern. This activity is not for children and not for the claustrophobic.

It involves crawling on hands and knees through underground tunnels. The tunnels are formed by water that dissolves the marble rock, leaving underground passageways.1

Spelunking is also known as caving, which is a more general term involving any underground adventure, and usually with more room to move around.

According to Wikipedia, Spelunking refers to amateurs who don’t have the proper knowledge or training for the sport of exploring caves.2

My Spelunking Adventure

I never had a problem with small spaces. Claustrophobia was never an issue for me. So I happily went along for the fun of it. I quickly discovered that one sure gets a great deal of exercise crawling through tight cavities beneath the ground.

I did this at Club Getaway, a camp for adults in Kent, Connecticut. The advertising literature indicated anyone that wanted to go caving that weekend needed to bring old clothes—things you would dispose of afterward rather than trying to wash them. I soon discovered why they suggested that.

Crawling on hands and knees through an underground tunnel with water dipping from rocks was undoubtedly an experience that required washing later. And the constant crawling on the rocky and muddy ground made my jeans look like I lived through a tornado.

That morning after a hearty breakfast, our leader took seven of us in his mini-van to Tory's Cave about 14 miles away, in New Milford, where we were about to have our spelunking experience. As we approached an overgrown area in the wilderness, he parked the van near the cave entrance.

We all got out and looked around, but none of us could see anything that resembled a cave entrance. Our leader brought us over just a few feet from the van and pointed to a hole in the ground.

Entrance to the underground tunnel.

Entrance to the underground tunnel.

We all looked at that hole in the ground, then at each other, exclaiming, "That’s it?"

Two girls in our group said they would wait for the rest of us to come back out.

They decided to wait for us in the van because they said they were afraid of bats, but I think the hole in the ground turned them off to the idea. Anyway, it was in the summertime when the bats are hibernating, so that’s the only time it’s safe.

Four of us decided we’d go along with our leader. He said he would go first and that we should follow one at a time. He asked who wanted to be last, and he gave that trusted fellow a bunch of candles and matches.

He told him to light the candles one by one at various points along the path where junctions occurred as we continued through the cave. “Just don’t place them where water was dripping,” he explained.

Those candles were for us to find our way back. Sort of like dropping bread crumbs, but something we could see in the dark in case our flashlights died.

Getting Started Crawling In

Our knowledgeable leader went in headfirst upside down, and the others followed.

It seems spelunkers have a personal approach as to how they get started. When it was my turn to go in, I felt more comfortable dropping my legs into the crevice and going in right side up.

It was an eight-foot drop before turning horizontal, and I found myself going through a wet, muddy cavity, with water dripping everywhere.

Illustration of underground tunnels and caves

Illustration of underground tunnels and caves


The fellow with the candles entered right after me. He did it the right way. Head first, like everyone else. Stupid me. I ended up pushing myself along, feet first for quite some time, trying to keep up with the three others in front of me. They found it a lot easier pulling themselves along, elbow by elbow.

The guy behind me took his time finding dry spots where the water wasn’t dripping to position each candle. So he didn’t mind that I was slowing him down.

I finally got to a larger area where I was able to turn around. It was much easier pulling myself along rather than going feet first.

Finally Room to Stretch

We finally got to a larger cavity after crawling underground through a tunnel for some time. The leader and two others who were ahead of me were actually standing. It gave them a chance to stretch.

I couldn’t wait until I worked my way to that space, pulling myself elbow by elbow. Once I got there, the leader said, “This is the belly of the beast.” I truly felt like I was in an animal’s stomach.

We all enjoyed looking around with our flashlights. This cave didn’t have any stalactites hanging from the ceiling, as one might expect to see. I guess the water didn’t contain any minerals in that area that would have caused them to develop.

So obviously, there were no stalagmites either since they form bottom-up from the minerals dripping from above. However, there was a small pool in one area that developed from all the dripping water.

Over in one corner was a cavity in the wall that went straight up. I went in and pointed my flashlight up into the opening. When I came out, everyone else wanted to check it out too.

We had lots of fun, but it was time to head back. Our leader said we need to return before the candles die out. They were absolutely required! The tunnels branched off in various directions, and there was no other way to be sure that we were taking the correct path back.

Returning to the entrance of Tory's Cave

Returning to the entrance of Tory's Cave

Getting Back to the Entrance

As we came back to the entrance, I could see the light of day shining in. It had been raining, and the sky was cloudy, but we were so used to the dark that the subdued light of the overcast day still bothered our eyes for a while.

Nevertheless, I think we were all glad to come out without any mishaps. The girls had waited in the van during the rain and were happy to see us.

When we got back to the camp, some of us jumped in the lake to wash the mud off, clothes and all.

I was walking with a friend from the van when we came to a muddy puddle. Yeah, it definitely had been raining. I stepped around the muddy patch to avoid it, and my friend said, “You’re all full of mud anyway! What does it matter?”

As we amused ourselves with the silliness of it all, I knew we were lucky that nothing had gone wrong, even though we had a leader who understood the nature of spelunking quite well.

Spelunking With the National Park Service

If you’re curious to experience crawling through caves as I had done, the National Park Service offers safe outings led by two park rangers to cover both the front and the rear so no one gets lost.

They begin with an orientation for teaching everyone the rules, and they provide the proper caving gear. They lead a hike to an undisclosed location since it’s dangerous for an average passerby who might stumble upon it.

Once they arrive at the cave entrance, they make sure everyone is comfortable with the idea, and a trail ranger is available if anyone wants to remain above.

The National Park Service has an interesting article describing that. The link is below in the references.3 I used one of their public domain photos for the main image of this article.

Reference

  1. Nancy Wagner, Spelunking In Connecticut, USA Today
  2. Caving / Spelunking - Wikipedia
  3. Lacey Thomas. (October 06, 2016). “All in a Day's Work - Crawling Through the Cave.” National Park Service — nps.gov

© 2010 Glenn Stok

Reader Comments On Spelunking

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on August 28, 2014:

I have always considered myself an adventurer, but I honestly don't know if I could do this. Once those walls started closing in on me, I fear the adventure would turn into a living nightmare. More power to you my friend.

Vicki Carroll from Greater Birmingham Area on April 15, 2010:

There is a saying among cave rescuers, that "cavers rescue spelunkers." Please accept congratz on a good summary from a fellow caver. Caving is some of the most challenging fun I've ever had.

Tina from Wv on January 13, 2010:

I would love to go spelunking but have never been brave enough for fear I might not like those tight spaces so well. I think it would be a neat experience. Thanks for sharing!

Carolyn Blacknall from Houston, Texas on January 08, 2010:

Very interesting. I have only been in tame caves full of tourists. With snack bars and smooth floors and bathrooms. Thanks for telling us about this.

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