The Crew 77 caving program has been going on for about 7 years. We have explored small caves in Oklahoma, and have graduated to major caving expeditions to the Carlsbad Caverns area over spring break for the past several years. The vertical caving is a direct offshoot to our BSA rock climbing program. It combines the Single Rope Techniques we learn in climbing, and put them in a different and darker context.
We will typically have horizontal caving opportunities for younger crew members and scouts. These will have hiking and navigation opportunities in addition to very scenic and geologically important caves. Training will include trips to Oklahoma caves such as Culp Cave and the Selman Cave System in northwest Oklahoma. Professor Dr. John Bowen is our contact/liaison with UCO for access to the Selman Caves.
For crew members and scouts over 16 years of age, vertical caving is the next step in our program. We spend time in January, February, and March upgrading the participant's SRT skills from simple climbing techniques to the specific performance levels in ascending and descending ropes that enable them to safely and efficiently navigate in the vertical environment. Our minimum requirements for vertical cave proficiency are the same entrance standards that the National Cave Rescue Commission has for their entry level cave rescue training. See: http://www.caves.org/ncrc/national/Students_Area/ncrc_student_resources.htm and click on the Level 1 requirements for the complete 11 page PDF file. We undergo a rigorous training program in our sponsoring organization's Christian Activity Center each available Monday night for three months to provide the training and develop participant's confidence to allow a fun and safe caving adventure. Participants must also demonstrate compatibility with their caving partners, willingness to preserve all features of the karst environment visited, and an overall high level of maturity and safety-consciousness.
Our program is modeled to comply with the requirements in the BSA publication Guide to Safe Scouting at http://www.scouting.org/scoutsource/HealthandSafety/GSS/gss09.aspx#b . We also subscribe to the guidelines in BSA publication Caving, No. 19-102B found at www.caves.org/youth/19-102BSACaving+april+2007.pdf . More references to a safe youth caving program can be found in the links at http://www.caves.org/youth . There is information there for parents and participants alike on what is expected of Venture Crew cavers.
Our base camp is typically a commercial campground in Carlsbad, New Mexico. That gives us good access to clean showers, local retail shops, and a secure car camping area so we can focus on the caving on the trip. Most food is prepared in camp, but generally there are two evening meals at restaurants in Carlsbad to unwind from and bask in the cave adventures of the day. We plan for a 10 hour drive between Edmond and Carlsbad, with a whole day of the trip dedicated to safe travel each way.
We also spend a percentage of our trip on cave restoration and conservation. The karst environment is a fragile one, and our efforts have been used to clean man's pollution in caves ranging from Virgin Cave and Hell's Below Cave in the Lincoln Nations Forrest (in partnership with the High Guadelupe Restoration Project) to the main trail through Carlsbad Cavern in the Carlsbad Caverns National Park.