My Spelunking Experience: Crawling Through Underground Caves
This was a fun outdoor activity that I actually enjoyed doing. It's very different from walking through a spacious cavern. It literally involves crawling on hands and knees through an underground tunnel. The activity is called Spelunking.
The tunnels are formed by water that dissolves the marble rock, leaving underground passageways.1
I must say that this is something for adults only and not for the claustrophobic. If you consider bringing a child along, he or she may give you trouble wanting to leave if they get frightened.
Spelunking is sometimes confused with caving, which has much more room to move about. Caving is a more general term that involves any type of underground discovery adventure.
According to Wikipedia, Spelunking refers to amateurs who don’t have the proper knowledge or training for the sport of exploring caves.2
I learned first-hand what Spelunking is all about at a singles resort—a camp for adults in Connecticut.
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 under the ground.
My Spelunking Adventure
The literature that advertised that singles resort mentioned that anyone who wanted to go caving that weekend needed to bring really old cloths. Things that can be thrown away afterwards rather than trying to wash them.
The spelunking event I experienced was very different from walking through a spacious cavern. It literally involved crawling on hands and knees through an underground tunnel.
That morning after a hearty breakfast, our leader took seven of us in his mini-van to a spot several miles away where the cave was. As we approached an overgrown area in the wilderness, he pulled the van right up to the spot where the cave entrance was.
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 where he parked the van and pointed to a hole in the ground along some rocks.
That’s it? We all looked at that hole in the ground, and two girls said they would wait for the rest of us to come back out. They decided to wait by the van.
Four of us decided we’d go along with our leader, who 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 huge 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.
Those candles were meant 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 went dead from getting wet. But then again, some candles didn't do well either with water dripping in some spots.
The Starting Point, Crawling In...
Our knowledgeable leader went in 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 hole and going in right side up.
The tunnel turned horizontal very quickly and I found myself going through a wet, muddy, cavity, with water dripping everywhere.
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.
Finding a Large Area With Room To Stretch Out
We finally got to a larger opening after crawling underground through a tunnel for some time.
As I approached, 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 formed the stalactites.
So obviously there were no stalagmites either since they form bottom-up from the minerals dripping from above. However, there was a small pool over 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. We really didn’t need them except as a guide back. The tunnels branched off in various directions and there was no other way to be certain that we were taking the correct path back.
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 cloudy 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 glad to see us.
Once we got back to the camp some of us decided to jump in the lake to wash the mud off—cloths 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 mud 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 that we were lucky nothing had gone wrong, even though we had a leader who seemed to know the cave quite well.
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© 2010 Glenn Stok