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What Did You Do This Year?

The Youth Group Liaison Committee is part of the outreach and education program of the National Speleological Society. What did you do in 2012?

• Have you taken kids caving this year?

• Has your Grotto taken any kids caving this year?

• Do you know someone who has or continues to take kids caving?

We would like to hear from you. Tell us your stories. Let us know your joys and pains.
Please send any stories, trip reports or pictures to

  Please forward this through your caving and youth organization contacts. If you haven't already, please subscribe to YOUCave to get all the posts sent to your email inbox. Your email address will never be sold or distributed. Feel free to comment below. I try to answer all coments.  

"Take nothing but picture, leave nothing but well place footprints, kill nothing but time." - caver's creed

PA Dutch Venturing Roundtable

I’ve been asked a couple times to give a talk about caving at a Venturing Roundtable for the Pennsylvania Dutch Council, BSA. I finally got it on my schedule without conflicts. As it was only a 45 minute drive I should have done a talk for them sooner. Damian and Gretchen came along to help me out and learn more about these cave talks.

The challenge is that each talk is different. Each is catered to the specific group I’m talking to and their interests. I don’t usually know all this until I see them and start talking. Some of the material I plan on getting across is the same for all groups. Safety, biology, geology, LNT, land owner relationship are the basic topics. How much I cover on each and other topics depends on the group’s interests. If I see eyes glazing over I change topics and go onto something more active. If they start asking specific questions, I spend more time on that subject.

These folks have their Venturing Roundtable then break off for a Venturing Officers Association meeting for youth and the Venturing Committee meeting for adults. After my talk I had an opportunity to talk with a few of the adult leaders and just hear what their interests are. One Crew was into shooting sports and another was into extreme geocaching. My Crew is definitely interested in both of those activities and will be looking at planning weekends with them and exchange activities.

It was a great turn out. They had something like 30 people there. Hopefully we’ll get some interest in caving and maybe even the Cave Exploring Elective for Ranger Award.

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“Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but well placed footprints, kill nothing but time.” – caver’s creed

After You've Caved a Mile in His Boots, Then You Can...

Phillip Rykwalder wrote an excellent article on "Cave Now" about BOOTS ( He says that when asked what to wear when caving his first answer is "boots".

Good Answer.
I've not thought about that as the number one answer until now. After all when we take Scouts and other youth groups caving we supply helmets and lights. The rest of the gear they must supply themselves. So he's saying not worry about the helmet and light, I'm taking care of and worrying about that. Here's your number one concern for personal safety equipment. BOOTS!!

What He Said!!
He goes on to explain, "The correct footwear can literally save you underground. Boots offer great traction to save you from spills, slips and falls - and the wrong footwear leaves you more prone to all of the above. Caves are full of mud, loose rocks and crumbly dirt that are properly dealt with by footwear with deep, open lugs and a firm (but compliant) sole. Overly soft shoes (tennis shoes/sneakers) don’t grip the dirt, while overly rigid boots (mountaineering boots) don’t flex around obstacles to grip them and equally as bad...."

I've also found that the deep open lugs can release mud better that sneakers. After a while caving in sneakers they get so caked with mud you're literally walking on mud to mud which has no traction.  Your chance of a slip and fall dramatically increases at this point.

What Else Is There??
Phillip goes on to talk about the different types of footwear, both good and bad, that folks take in caves. Hiking boots, tennis shoes, military / desert storm boots, cleats, and mountaineering boots are covered and his opinions and observations are very well thought out and informative. One that I've been asked about that Phillip didn't cover is rock climbing shoes. To that I'd say NO! Once they get muddy there's no traction and they don't really protect your feet from the abuse that a cave offers. Cave walls are generally wet which will reduce your friction as well. Maybe Phillip will give his opinion on rock climbing shoes.

Wanna Know What I Think??
I did write an article about cave cloths which included footwear. You can read it here I do have my personal preference as well. But then it all depends on the cave.
Generally these days I wear a rubber boot. I use to wear work boots, hiking boots, and jungle jump boots. They all worked very well, at least when new. These days caving gear needs to be thoroughly cleaned and decontaminated. Leather and nylon just does not hold up well to this. I was destroying boots not because of the abuse in the cave but the abuse in the cleaning and decon process.
I bought a pair of cheap rubber boots. They seem to hold up in the cave and clean up really nice. Most of them are designed to be used in a wet, muddy stable cleaning up poop without slipping. Huumm, sound familiar??

Read It At Cave Now..
If you haven't already, read Phillip's article Let me know what you think with a comment below, I'd be glad to hear from you and will try to answer all comments. Click on the "share" button below and share this with your friends. And if you haven't already, in the upper right column subscribe to YOUcave's eNewsletter and get each article sent to your email inbox.



Take nothing but picture, leave nothing but well placed footprints, kill nothing but time.” – cavers’ creed

I ‘m a Dirty Boy

I was looking through my notes and realized I never told you all about my adventure with Troop 8 from Downingtown, PA ( Yeah, I know. Troop 8 meets in Gutheriesville at the Township Building, but more people know Downingtown, PA. Or do they???

The Cave Talk
I was invited to go talk to them at one of Troop 8’s meetings. All my gear and other stuff I had to carry up to the second floor, but it was worth it. These guys were great to be around. They asked questions and put up with my talk about cave geology and biology. They just wanted the adventure and get underground. That’s normal for this age group.

The Cave
We went to one of our favorite caves and distributed helmets and lights and suited up. Heading inside and up to the first room they soon understood what I was talking about when I told them to maintain three points of contact. We divided into smaller groups and headed on into different parts of the cave.

The guys in my group you could tell had done high adventure together before. They joked and ribbed each other, but they watched out for each other, too. They moved well together as a team. This is critical when caving and they got it and did it.

I could tell you all about the details from the whole trip, but it’s just better to watch the two clips I’ve included to see how well they did while having fun. Hopefully they’ll want to do this again. Maybe we can find a slightly more difficult cave for them next time.

Dirty Boy???
Oh yeah, the title??? You have to watch the videos to understand.

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Take nothing but picture, leave nothing but well placed footprints, kill nothing but time.” – cavers’ creed

Girl Scouts in Service to the Lewis and Clark Caverns

This article was originally posted on the Caving News on 11/7/12. This is re-posted with permission.

Picture From Hungry Horse News

A local Girl Scout troop recently ventured underground to help clean up Montana’s Lewis and Clark Caverns.
Lewis and Clark Caverns, the main attraction of a state park of the same name, have been open for tourists off and on for more than a century. During the years lint from thousands of visitors has accumulated inside the cave.
Comprised of clothing fibers, hair, dead skin cells, dust, and other foreign objects, the build up of lint negatively impact the cave environment by interfering with formation growth, and adding an artificial food source for cave life.
Equipped with toothbrushes, dustpans, brushes and garbage bags the Girl Scouts worked meticulously removing the unnatural deposits.
"It was so satisfying to me to look up from my own meticulous work and see the headlamps of our troop scattered about this amazing place, all intent on their chosen area," - Ann Brooks, Girl Scout Troop 3964 Leader

Here's the link to the original post  

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Three Stitches Later

A Little History With Crew 94
I had met some of the members ofVenturing Crew 94 when we all went to Phenomenon 2012 this pastspring. Some of us from Dragon Breath Grotto Venturing Crew 9, andVenturing Crew 23, along with Venturing Crew 94 went there with theSqueeze Box to promote caving to other Venturing Crews. You can checkout that trip report and pictures here.

Over the summer Our Crew and Crew 94did a geocaching trip in Center City Philadelphia. Again over the summer when I went tothe Chester County Council Powder Horn to talk about the VenturingCave Exploring Elective I ran into a few of my friends from Crew 94again. Christen attended one of my sessions there and decided thatCrew 94 needed to do an actual caving trip. So I was a littlesurprised when Salina, who I had not met before, contacted me about acaving trip.

The Cave Talk
A week or so ago Damian and I went to aCrew 94 meeting to talk about caving and what to expect and how toprepare for it. Like most of these talks we had fun talking andmeeting people and convincing them that it was a fun and safeactivity.

The Caving Trip
The day of the trip we all met up atour standard meeting place. Eight of them showed up. I was glad thatKatrina was with them as she has caved with our Crew a couple oftimes before. Damian was also there to help out and give a hand whereneeded. I can’t get past here without mentioning that Amos wasthere as well and these caving trips would just not go as smooth orsafe without him.

We arrived at the cave about 11:30 andsuited up. Everybody fit their helmets and checked their lights andwe went inside the main entrance to talk and get our eyes adjusted tothe cave.

Everybody did really well with gettingup to the main breakdown room. We talked for a little more andrechecked everyone’s gear. Amos suggested we get our “cave legs”.We headed towards the back of the cave using as much walking passageas we could. We went through our first squeeze and did real well. Wehad one person discover she is claustrophobic. Amos quickly adaptedtheir route to help her gain some confidence while the others playedin the backroom exploring more passage.

We went through another squeeze exitingthat room and everyone did very well. Some I would even sayexceptional. Standing in large passage now one by one they climbingover a big bolder to head on into the next challenge.

Then It Happened
I was sweeping at this point and stoodback a little to give Barb, Crew 94’s Associate Advisor, some roomto maneuver as she was doing exceptional with all the squeezes andclimbs. That’s when Amos yells, “Grab her, grab her!” I wasjust too far away and in too awkward position to get in place to stopher fall. Barb hit hard. As she lifted herself up I saw blood comingfrom her eyebrow.

By that point Amos was down there withus and we had her sit right where she was to asses her wound. Thefirst aid kit cam out and we cleaned her up and bandaged her the bestwe could at that point. Barb said she was OK, but we didn’t want totake her word for it. Not in a cave. We all exited the cave with me,then Barb, then Amos in the lead.

Outside we were better able to take alook at her eye. We spent a little more time cleaning it up and put abutterfly on it. Barb thought she would be OK with the butterfly, butwe insisted she go to the ER to have it looked at. Bill, the Advisorfor Crew 94, drove her and they were off.

We were all just a little shook bythis. Barb and Bill insisted that Amos and I take the kids back inand continue the caving trip. Everyone seemed a little quiet enteringthe cave again. We went back to the “key hole” and soon everyonewas joking and laughing again. We explored the cave some more andbefore we realized it, it was 4:00 and we started heading out oncemore.

We took the obligatory muddy picturesand walked back to the cars. Barb and Bill were there waiting. Barbwas sporting three stitches on her eyebrow with some swelling thereand on here cheek. None of that seemed to spoil her mood. We alldecided it was time to get something to eat, changed into out streetclothes and set out to find a place we could all sit, relax and grubout.

Now that it’s all over I haveaccident and incident reports to file. This is the first time we’veexperienced an accident inside a cave on one of these youth grouptrips. I received and email from Barb and she is doing OK. She wassore and apologizing for spoiling the trip. Of course she didn’tspoil it, but it was a wake up call for how quickly things can go badand that we need to be ready for this and diligent to prevent them.

Will We Do It Again?
Crew 94 only saw about half, if that,of the cave. They want to go back and see the rest. Even after thatthey are all looking to get back underground as soon as they can. Iam too. A few of them want to work on earning the Venturing CaveExploring Elective. I think they are hooked.

If you'd like to see more pictures from this trip please take a look at my photo album.

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Two years ago, I was introduced to a WORLD that was right below my feet, but that I had never seen.  Sure, I knew a good bit about cameras, lights, and framing shots, but nothing prepared me for what I discovered about filmmaking and the beauty of nature underground. Towards the end of my junior year in college, I knew that I wanted to make a film about caves, and about three cavers from totally different backgrounds. My director Jennifer Bird, my gaffer/1st A.C. Taylor Jenkins, and I began to work on an ambitious endeavor that would become a journey that would change our lives forever

This is just a snip from the blog. Please follow the link for the full story and find the time to donate to help this happen.


Caving With Scouts, Never a Dull Moment

Brenda Shultheis is our guest blogger this week. She explains what she and her husband John do, "John and I are members of the NSS, Eastern Indiana Grotto, Indiana Karst Conservancy, and Indiana Speleological Survey. We’ve been caving since the late 80’s. We do everything from taking kids and scouts caving to exploring and surveying one of the longest caves in the US Binkley’s Cave to conservation projects and cave clean ups. We love to share our passion for caving with new cavers in hopes of inspiring a new generation of cavers. That’s John and Brenda in a nut shell and you’ll never see one without the other."

Caving Trip With BSA Troop 303

I always say caving with scouts, never a dull moment, always a great time. This trip was no different. We met a 10 am at Lowes parking lot. It would be five cavers and fifteen scouts and their parents. Not a bad caver to newbie ratio.

After bathroom breaks and a few minutes getting to know everyone. We all got loaded up and headed to the cave. It took a little while to get everyone suited up.

Earlier in the month I had done a presentation for the scouts at their last meeting showing them what kind of caving clothes and what should be in every caves pack. Most where well prepared some not so much. Nothing that would make them not be able to go. Let just say I nicknamed one of the scouts cotton socks and another tennis shoes. We took a quick group photo and then the trek to the cave. It was a short hike to the cave entrance.

The look on the scout’s faces was priceless when they saw it. It’s a highway culvert with an iron grate over it. It’s about 6 foot around and about 40’ till you enter the cave. The large group moved slowly at first but once they got their feet wet (pun intended) they moved a little faster. Donahue is a great cave for newer cavers. Lots of things to look at and plenty to keep them busy.

We decided to stay in the river passage to see all the natural bridges. All 30 of them. At first they are high above your head then they get lower and lower. You either have to climb over them or crawl under them. Great fun with a cobble floor and water.

All the boys were doing great. The littlest was so cute and smart. Then there was the young natural caver. He moved through the cave like he’d been doing it all his life. All 12 years of it. His mom wasn’t bad either. I could see where he got it from. Girls Rock!

We had negotiated all the bridges and were now at the flowstone choke. This is where boys become men. It’s a short bathtub bellycrawl with about 4’’ of airspace. We gave the boys a choice they could do a through trip out the spring entrance or start the trip back out. A little over half took the challenge. John went on through so he could take some video then I went in so I could make sure they got through the worse part of the bathtub. One by one they started through. They all did great but one who got a little panicked. No worries I grabbed him and pulled him through the last few inches. He got a little gulp but was fine.

After the bathtub the cave changes character. It gets really big with 70-80 foot ceilings then it gets small and looks like gun tubes. It twists and winds then gets a little bigger and then turns back into walking. Soon you can feel the outside air. The water gets deeper and low and behold a large entrance overlooking the White river.

We sat there for a little bit and had our cave snacks. It’s a shorter trip just to go back through the cave than over land so we headed back from where we came from through the cave. By time we got back to the bathtub the others had already headed out with some of the little ones.

The trip out was uneventful and as always took half the time it did to get in. All the boys did great and had a great time. We headed back to the scouts camp and had Steak and taters around the fire talking about the day adventurers.
A good time was had by all the future cavers.

Brenda Shultheis

Thanks Brenda,
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Thank you,

Boy Scout trip with the York Grotto, March 17th, 2012

This is a guest post from Christopher Edenbo. Chris is the Chair and Youth Group Liaison for the York Grotto in Pennsylvania.. Chris works at the Diakon Wilderness Center, a part of Diakon Youth Services, which has been a leading provider of specialized services for children and youths from across Pennsylvania. Primarily serving at-risk youths referred by county juvenile probation departments or children and youth services.
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 On Monday, March 5th, 2012 I attended a Troop meeting for Boy Scout Troop 196 of Hampden Township. At the meeting I introduced myself to the scouts, gave a show-and-tell of cave gear, told some stories, and then let them try their hand at the squeeze box. All of this was to help them prepare for today’s trip.

I met the group early this morning, Saturday: Saint Patrick’s Day, and we did our final checks to make sure that everybody brought appropriate gear, and then went to the cave. I made arrangements with the land owners to park in their yard and access the caved entrance in the back corner of their property.

We didn’t waste much time once at the site where we parked under a bunch of white pine trees. We were at the cave entrance by 8:35 a.m. We took a last bathroom break, and then carefully made our way down the steep sinkhole entrance of Lisburn Cave. I only heard one (adult) person state that they were feeling uncomfortable during the entrance passage.

Once inside to what amounts to the junction room I made sure everybody had a caving partner and sent them off to explore in their pairs. A lot of fun was had by all. Folks wanted to explore over top of the breakdown of the junction room, went to explore the “Danger Room,” and everybody gave a shot at entering “The Maze.” Not everybody fit through the entrance passage denying some access to The Maze. For those who fit they had a blast. For those who did not fit they sat back, explored a little more, and were content to tell jokes and rub mud on each others’ faces.

We ended with a lights-out activity, playing with life savers, and exiting without lights. The group had a lot of fun. Dave Messinger made the observation that he liked Peiper and Carnegie a lot more. But several in the group had also been to both, so I offered this cave experience as something different. It was still a success. We exited the cave and bumped into Jim Vaskorlis. We made sure to great him and thank he and his wife for keeping the cave open and allowing us access. He was very kind and told us to come back. We reached the cars at 11:30am.

Sharing One of My Favorite Caves With My Grandsons

A Little Background History

There is a pair of caves on a property that we use to go to regularly. Because of their beauty and the fun trips we had they were very special to me. A few weeks after the last trip there many years ago one of our Grotto members had driven by and there was a “No Trespassing” sign posted with a chain across the drive. The property had been sold and the new owners didn’t want anyone on the property any more.

Several years had gone by with some negotiation with the land owner and a tentative Memorandum of Understanding was being considered. Then the land owner sold that piece of property to a farmer and new negotiations had start up.

We Have A Caving Trip

Almost five and a half years later and we have a tentative permission to enter the property and the two caves that I’ve missed exploring and sharing. Jumping at the chance I secured a date and received permission to enter. I invited a few of my friends from Philly Grotto and Dragon Breath Grotto plus a couple people from another Venturing Crew. We have a caving trip in the making.
One of the caves is not very technical, but for some people the entrance is a bit tight. I wanted to take my two grandsons to see this cave, at least this once, in case it gets closed again. We divided the group into two different groups. One had the younger kids, Andy and I lead that group. The other had the older, high school aged, kids. Amos and Marcy lead that group. The original plan was to swap caves after we had finished exploring the one we were in. Funny how plans don’t always work out.

Getting Inside

I started my slide into the 12 inch entrance with 4 kids stacked up behind me and another adult in the rear. Once inside I was getting the kids situated and comfortable I hear a lot of discussion at the entrance and Andy came in. Two of the adults, who will remain unnamed to protect their anonymity, decided the entrance is just a little tight for their taste.

How Young is Too Young to Start Caving?

PICT0009 PICT0008 Andy and I are in the cave with another adult, Sandy. This was her second cave and she was loving it. We had my two grandsons, Zahne (9) and Aidan (5). This also was Aidan’s second cave. Zahne has been caving with me for about a year and a half and is very comfortable underground. This was Bridget’s (5) and PICT0007 PICT0006 Dominic’s (8) first caving trip and they were both very excited and wanted to see everything. A little later we picked up Kevin from the other group as he was a little uncomfortable with the more technical entrance of that cave.

For Those Who Think Caving Is Too Scary and Dangerious for Kids.

102_0720 You would have thought it was Christmas the way these kids were acting. They were so excited about seeing every part of the cave and sharing it with each other. One of the things I like about this cave is there are no real dangerous drops or holes they can fall into. We can let them explore and experince being the first one in a dark passage without worrying about them. There is also a good variety of formations that they could discover and look at up close. Little drips coming off the “soda straws” and moisture on the columns. They got to see, feel, smell and hear what a cave really is like, first hand, up-close and personal. And they got their picture taken a lot.

Finally Done

We eventually did work our way out and back up the entrance. Of course the adults had a little more difficulty than the kids getting out that little opening. We were generally all tired and it was starting to get a little late. We decided to skip the cave swap and call it a day.

Some from the other group were already out and waiting. A little while later the rest of them came out tired but excited. This is why I like to take people, especially kids, to see these caves. They are spectacular and leave a long lasting impression on them how fragile and beautiful the cave eco system is. Now we just need to plan when we can get back and swap caves.

Want more pics?

Here's the rest of the album. Andy's album is here. Amos's album from the other group is here.

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Don’t Be This Guy

“This Guy”

I received an email this morning from a caver friend from another Grotto in our Region. Apparently he had to make the tough decision to cancel a trip for a Boy Scout Troop because he didn’t feel comfortable with what “This Guy” was trying to get his Grotto to agree to as part of a caving trip they were planning to take in a week. “This Guy” was trying to get around the Guide to Safe Scouting section on caving and the BSA Caving Policies.

The Guide to Safe Scouting and BSA Caving Policies

The Guide to Safe Scouting and the BSA Caving Policies are there for a reason. This helps the Unit Leader understand what is considered safe and acceptable for them to do with the youth he or she is responsible for.
Every time this comes up I think about what it would be like to tell a parent that their child has been injured, even worst, won’t be coming home. I think about how I’m going to explain to a litigator while on trial why I knowingly didn’t adhere to the Guide to Safe Scouting and an accident happened resulting in the injury or death of a child.
The BSA Caving Policies are not there to make it difficult for a Troop to get underground, but to keep the kids safe and to let the adult leaders know they are doing everything in their power to do that.

Not Just Once

What disturbs me even more is not just that this leader tried to get around the policies, but a few weeks before he had contacted me about the same trip. I gave him the same information and the same instructions. I guess he didn’t like my answer and decided to try someone else to see if he could get his way. Just like other high adventure activities, the communities in those activities are tight and talk to each other. Unfortunately “This Guy” has started a not so pleasant reputation for his Troop. Unfortunately this is all that’s needed for some folks in the caving community to see all Scouts as being this same way. As a Scouter myself I find this disturbing.

Help Spread the Word

I know that I’m preaching to the choir and that those who read this blog are very conscientious about sticking to the rules and having a safe and fun trip. But we all know someone who has the potential to be “This Guy”. Please, take some time and share this story with them and tell them to not be “This Guy”.

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Cavers in the making

"Dave and Tracy Jackson are cavers and NSS members, and we build cave simulators in our free time. We love introducing kids and adults to real caving (and to many other outdoor activities). We do lots of free outreach to the public with CaveSim, and we hope you get to crawl through soon!"

This is Dave's post number 5 on CaveSim. It expresses the need to get CaveSim on the road to outreach to people.

Visit the CaveSim site, make a pledge or donation, make a comment, and subscribe to learn more.


Trip to Bear Cave with Scout Troop 186 (Birdville) from Natrona Heights

This is a guest post by Steve Kovack who is a long time member of Loyalhanna Grotto.
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The weather was predicted to be low 90’s with a 40% chance of thundershowers, but the morning dawned hazy but cloudy and at 9am it was only 72 degrees. We met near our Troop meeting area in Natrona Heights at 8:15 and drove to Blairsville, only stopping for a brief stocking up at the famous Sheetz in New Alexandria where Steelers kicker Jeff Reed had his misunderstanding with the towel dispenser. We stocked up on Corn Nuts and hit the road, arriving in the parking area at 9:20. There were no other visitors today and I had the Scouts retrieve the log book and sign us in. We noticed that there have not been many visitors in June other than a group called “Outbound Adventures” who have visited about once a week. Jason checked out the information board and noted that each of the four pamphlet boxes seemed to have a healthy nest of paper wasps, but no pamphlets.

courtesy of Steve Kovack

I provided the coveralls and hard hats, each with two sources of reliable light. The coveralls were an amazing stroke of luck – I’d found a bunch of them on Craigslist – they were from a man who had worked for West Penn Power and who had passed away. He loved helping kids, had served as an Assistant Scoutmaster some 15 years ago and enjoyed occasional caving although he hadn’t belonged to any grotto. I like to think Frank’s spirit went along with us on this trip; his wife was delighted that I planned to use the coveralls for caving with a Scout group, and instead of charging $10 for each pair; she gave me eight pairs for $10 total. I’ve always said that Scouting opens doors and hearts.

We began the one mile uphill trek to the cave, arriving uneventfully at around 10:45am. On the way up I told the local story of the battle with Tasman Resources Ltd., and the history of both the cave and this part of Chestnut Ridge. It’s a true story where the little guy won for a change. We saw two millipedes on the way up to the cave, and noted that one had red bands while the other had yellow bands. We also discovered a Red Eft, which is a newt that lives as a salamander during its juvenile period. Reaching the entrance, we suited up, took the obligatory “clean” photograph and entered at 11. We notified our top cover that we would exit at 4pm, and Noah volunteered to serve as our timekeeper – we’d turn around at 2:30.

I used a Canon Powershot D10 kept in a Ziploc bag for taking photos on this trip. This is a great camera for this kind of work – it’s waterproof to 10 meters, 12 megapixel, shockproof to a 4 foot drop and very tough. I’ve taken it to the beach and we’ve even used it underwater while snorkeling. At home, a rinse under the kitchen tap with a little dish soap restores it to use again. Wish I’d had cameras like this back in the 1980’s.

We entered via the left most entrance and carefully stepped around a salamander and a few crawfish within 20 feet of the surface. I pointed out some of the spiders and crickets and we talked briefly about the different zones in the cave and that these creatures were not “true” troglodytes but opportunistic, depending on insects that entered the cave from the surface. Water levels were low due to the lack of rain and very hot (for Western PA) temperatures that have been prevalent in June.

I found what appeared to be an abandoned woodrat nest on a shelf and we discussed the habits of this creature and the fact that it’s endangered, and why. Dan and Noah leading, we continued on in a generally north-east direction and away from the water passage. We navigated Ledge Pass and worked our way down to Backbreaker, pausing to look for some of the formations in a few of the side passages. This was a good place to talk about cave conservation, and I was pleased to note that the Scouts had read the NSS booklets I’d provided to them prior to the trip. They were already aware of how fragile the formations are, and how long they took to grow. I like to feel that I have made conservationists of them, and we appreciated the tragedy of how many were long ago broken and carted off to shops and living rooms. We did note that in several areas, the formations are continuing to grow and someday may again approach the beauty of the original ones, if not in our life time. We had an opportunity to see several areas where the calcite was colored grey as well as pristine white, and the crystals sparkled in a few places. It was just enough of a tease to stimulate interest and suggest the beauty the cave once must have had.

After negotiating backbreaker pass, we traveled up to Serpent’s Sanctum and signed the register. We noted that of the two pens in the ammo box, only one still worked and I mentally kicked myself for not thinking to bring a few pens or pencils. The remaining pen worked well enough for us to sign in and I signed for our group. We enjoyed reading the entries from the other folks who have passed through the cave, and noted with humor, the first entry in the book which was from Tom Metzgar who put as an answer to the question, “How did you hear of this cave?” Tom made up his own box and checked it - “I own it”. I made up my own box to answer the same question and checked “My friends Tom and Kim own it.”

We continued to Garden of the Gods, and then to Mary’s Room where we paused to have our lunch of peanut butter sandwiches and Corn Nuts. I explained that Corn Nuts were a traditional snack when I started caving in the 1980’s because if you got cave fill on your food, you wouldn’t notice. Yikes! We turned off the lights and I retold the Ballad of Cascade Cave which illustrates several of the “commandments” of caving, never cave alone, always make sure someone knows where you are, and carry multiple sources of dependable light.

Lunch completed, Dan found the route to the Table Rocks and Sand Room. We paused here and looked for Larimer Tunnel, but did not find the entrance. We didn’t look all that hard since there wasn’t much enthusiasm for a 1.5 foot crawl so we went through Propeller Pass and followed the water course to Harvey’s Tunnel. We did not continue here but instead backtracked and located the crawl to Coffin Rock. After exiting Coffin Rock we navigated back to the other side of Harvey’s Tunnel and continued through the 1 foot peephole to an area I called the hall of the floor pendants. We continued to the Keyhole, where the group turned around. I noted that we reached approximately 60 feet below the surface here, the deepest as well as the furthest we penetrated on this trip. We noted a great deal of graffiti here, none of which seemed very new and much of it scratched into the mud. I explained that prior to the conservation movement, it was acceptable and even commonplace for cavers to scratch their name and NSS number onto the walls of the cave.

We noted a surprising number of insects this deep in the cave, but given we also noted a large amount of surface debris (leaves, sticks) in the water passage; we reasoned that these insects must have been carried into the cave by the water passage.
courtesy of Steve Kovack
We retraced our steps, only deviating to try and locate the area east of the “hall of the floor pendants” which we thought might have a greater possibility of formations, being much less explored. The multilevel character of the area defeated us and we were unable to locate any of the other passages leading north from this area although I reasoned we would probably have to navigate down to the floor level to find these from reading the map. The area was too narrow for more than one caver at a time to explore, and our turn around time of 2:30pm caused us to begin to navigate back to the Table Rock room. We paused for more stories where I told of my first caving experience. In 1987 I took my first trip to a tectonic cave called Wind Cave which is located south of Harrisburg, PA. I was very young and extremely foolish, caving with a friend and taking only one cheap radio shack flashlight and no spare batteries. Nobody knew we were going caving and deep into the cave we broke one flashlight and the other one had to be continually slapped to get it to light. As it faded out we saw a sliver of daylight and one of the cave exits. We were extremely grateful for our luck when we exited the cave. It was an extremely close call. I have no qualms or reservations admitting to my early stupidity because I know that in sharing my stories and my very real panic of being stuck in that cave will hopefully prevent it from happening to anyone else. Told in the absolute dark in a real cave only enhances the tale.

We reached the entrance around 3:30 so we used our remaining time to explore some of the side passages as well as the water passage near the entrance. We counted four salamanders, and seven crayfish. No bats were observed in the cave although we found what may have been bat feces on several shelves in the cave, but I’m not enough of a bat expert to know for sure. We talked about WNS and each person in the group promised to properly disinfect and clean their equipment. (Since I provided coveralls and hard hats, I know my equipment will be properly disinfected.) Cave crickets were seen in several areas, but not in abundance. Spiders were seen with webs in several areas including one who was making a meal of an unlucky cave cricket. We picked up litter where we found it including a few old candy wrappers, an old comb and some unidentifiable bits of plastic. Other litter was observed, particularly near the Keyhole area, but was not retrievable.

After taking our “muddy” photo and changing out of our caving gear, we notified our top cover we’d exited right around 4pm. We hiked back to the car noting in the log that we’d been the only visitors today. We were still the only car in the parking area. After a quick look around the parking lot for litter, we went to Dean’s Diner for a much needed recharging of our stomach batteries. In ordering breakfast I’m pretty sure I consumed the entire daily output of a small Western Pennsylvania farm. We returned to the Scout meeting location in Natrona Heights around 7pm.

The Phenomenon Part 2: The Caving Trip

This is a continuation from The Phenomenon Part 1: A Day With the Squeeze Box posted a few weeks ago.

I wanted to do something special on this trip for the kids who decided to go with me to the Phenomenon.
Being as we’re in Virginia I thought it would be nice to explore a cave that we haven’t been in before. Well ahead of time I tapped my network of cavers to ask around if anyone in VA would be interested in taking us to a beginner cave.

DBG AllensCave4-22-12_02 Eagerly the call was answered by Tom Tucker, Ellie Florance, and Earl and Cheryl Suitor from Front Royal Grotto in Virginia.

We made arrangements to meet them at the Skyline Caverns parking lot and explore Allen’s Cave which is just next to the commercial cave.

Man did it rain Saturday evening and through the night. Nothing washed away, but I did find I have a leak in my tent that needs to be patched. Sleeping was a little uncomfortable. Instead of a good night’s sleep I’ll can it a really good nap.

Just like the day before everyone was getting up one at a time. The rain was holding off and together we all made it to the dinning hall for breakfast. We grouped and talked about how we were going to pack up and check out of camp. We were still lucky with the rain and packed up all the gear, said our good buys to the rest of the contingent and Martha, Stephen, Damian and I headed to Front Royal to do a little caving.

That’s when the rain started coming down again.

By the time we rode into Front Royal it was a little after 11:00 AM and we were hungry. We did a quick stop at McDonald’s for lunch and ate in the car as we looked for our new caving friends. Just down the street we met up with them and made introduction.

It was a lot drier in the lobby of Skyline Caverns. They let us have a corner and Tom pulled out a map of Sky Line and Allen’s to show how they were related. Tom also talked a little about the history of the cave and the signatures we’ll find in there.

DBG AllensCave4-22-12_06 We jumped back in the Cherokee and followed Tom and the others up a little trail and parked to get suited up for the cave. Yes it was still raining and changing was miserable. We managed to keep most of our cloths sort of dry. I had a few extra coveralls, helmets, lights and gloves for Martha, Stephen and Damian in hops that they would be comfortable and enjoy the trip. A short 100 yard walk in the woods and we came to a hole in the ground.

The cave is gated and Tom had the key.
It was an easy entrance and you can see why it was thought to try to commercialize this back in the 1800s. Some it was leveled out to make it a little easier for “guests” of the time. There were a couple spots where we did have to climb with the aid of ladders which were there in place already.

Some of the cave was dryer, but you could see how beautiful it must have looked long ago with the rim stone pools and flow stone. Parts of the cave were wet and still growing. White calycle deposits from within the last 50 to 100 years were evident and the mud was slick.

As the kids were going off to explore the “Ballroom” Earl showed me were they were going to come out. It was a short 10ft drop to end of the passage. He hooked up a hand line and I body rappelled to greet them. We all migrated back to the “Ballroom” and looked at all the signatures on the walls. Some of them dating back to the 1800s and 2 of those were solders from the Civil War. It was awesome to look around and absorb the history of this place. This is a place I would highly recommend anyone to see if they get a chance. It’s not a difficult cave and lots of open walking passage.

It was getting close to 2:00 and we have a 4 hour drive back to Honey Brook ahead of us, so we had to cut it short there and head back out. It was still raining and managed to get changed back into our almost dry cloths, repack the Cherokee and said our good buys to Tom and his team.

Except the pounding rain the drive home was uneventful. Everyone else slept as we passed through West Virginia and Maryland. We dropped Damian off at his house and Stephen and Martha off at her house. I was home a little after 7:00 PM very tired, wet and hungry.

It was a great trip. One that will stand out in my memory and I hope it will stand out in theirs. It’s going to be a few days if not a week before I can clean and dry all the gear. This was definitely worth it.

For more pictures please visit the photo album here.

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The Phenomenon Part 1: A Day With the Squeeze Box

Curtisy of Jeff Burt01
It started off as a simple idea.
The Chester County Council VOA wanted to take the Squeeze Box to the North East Area 6 Venturing Phenomenon to promote caving as an activity they like to do. What could be more fun? Getting to talk to a mess of kids about how much I enjoy crawling in the mud in a hole in the ground.

Actually this is quite flattering. Some of these kids I took caving like it as much as I do. So they invited me along on their Area 6 activity to help them with this project. The shout went out to other Crews to see who wanted to go.

Once we got our final head count our contingent Crew was made up of Catie McEntee, Allison McEntee,and Elsye Mark from Crew 23 of Downingtown, PA; Katrina Berry, Liane LaPorte, Emily Giacomucci, Christine Nguyen, Barb Grover and Bill LaPorte from Crew 94 of Peonixville, PA; and Martha Giammusso, Steven Rhoads, Damian Paterno, and myself, Allen Maddox from Crew 9 of Honey Brook, PA.

The VOA set this all up. I didn’t have to do much. Drive and supply the Squeeze Box. Easy..

Oh wait, what or who is the VOA?
The Venturing Officers Association is a collection of officers representing the Venturing Crews in the Council. Each Crew has a President and they all are illegible to participate representing the interests and abilities of their Venturing Crew. The “Youth Leaders” are the ones who spearhead and run the VOA activities and this Area 6 Phenomenon.

Fast forward to getting there, we all met up at the Morganotwn exit of the PA Turnpike to go west to Rt 15 south then on to Virginia. We did stop for dinner on the way down, invading and getting seating for 12 was not all that difficult at a Cracker Barrel. Later on we called ahead when we crossed the PA /MD border to make sure the gate to Camp Snyder was going to be open for us when we finally arrived a little after 10 PM. After we cleaned up the paperwork for registration we started setting up tents and finished pitching camp by midnight. By this time everyone was excited but exhausted and ready to get some sleep.

I found it difficult to sleep and woke up early Saturday. I decided to take a walk back to the parking lot where I left the Cherokee with the Squeeze Box on top and gather some paperwork and look over the day’s schedule and see if I could figure out where we were suppose to set up. It was still a little foggy which made everything seem further away than it actually was and hard to make out which landmark was our location. I walked back to camp with my papers and there were a few other people up anxious to get started too. Eventually everyone was up and we all headed for the dinning hall for breakfast together where we saw just how many people were at Snyder. I’d say easily 200 Venturers were there waiting to eat and get started for the day.

As the announcements for each activity was made you could hear whispered discussion from different groups of, “wow, I’m going to try that” and “this is going to be awesome”.

Getting People to Try the Squeeze Box
Click on the image to see the whole photo album.

After breakfast everyone from our contingent was helpful unloading the Squeeze Box and the gear and we ran through real quick how it works and everyone had a chance to try it before other groups started arriving. New comers always look at it with that “what is that” look. It’s tough to explain and showing how it works makes it look real simple. Then they try it. That’s when they get it. Something so simple is so much fun, not only to do but to watch people struggle with the challenge of getting as small as they can while moving from one point to another. From then on we had a steady stream of people wanting to try it. The box went up and down several times as new people arrived. Several people stopped back to see if anyone broke their record. A couple times it was and they would try a smaller squeeze to match then beat it again. By lunch time we had two people who did 6 inches, which was the standing record so far for 14 y/o and up.

The challenge was announced at lunch that we had a 2 way tie at 6 inches and anyone who thought they could tie or break the record should stop by our station after lunch. I didn’t even get back to the station after lunch and there was a small group starting to gather.

The afternoon went pretty much like the morning. Non-stop flow of people stopping by to try the box and see how small they could get. There were a couple surprises during the whole day. A few rather muscular guys did squeeze down well below 7 inches. A couple actually made 6 inches. But we did have a new record in the afternoon. A 16 y/o young lady did 5 and a half inches. Wow. Up until now less than 6 inches was unheard of. Several people who stopped back tried to tie but no one else came close.

We were lucky with the weather. We were closing up at 4:00 as the clouds started rolling in and you could feel the temperature falling. It actually felt nice on my sunburn from sitting out in an open field all morning and then the afternoon. Everyone from our contingent pitched in again and helped get squeeze box and all the gear back up on the Cherokee and strapped down before dinner and the rain started.

Overall it was a fantastic day of showing off a caving skill to over a hundred people and there was nothing I would have changed, well, except maybe to use some sunscreen.

Watch for The Phenomenon Part 2: The Caving Trip coming up in a few weeks.

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Caving From 8 ‘til Midnight. Work Be Damned.

This is a guest post from Christopher Edenbo. Chris is the Chair and Youth Group Liaison for the York Grotto in Pennsylvania.. Chris works at the Diakon Wilderness Center, a part of Diakon Youth Services, which has been a leading provider of specialized services for children and youths from across Pennsylvania. Primarily serving at-risk youths referred by county juvenile probation departments or children and youth services.

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Monday, March 19, 2012

Chris Edenbo, Nathan MacLane, Matt Steiman, Daniel Grover, Heather Livingston

Matt contacted me some weeks ago saying that he had some workers around the Dickinson College Farm who were interested in caving. He wanted to take them to “that cave by 81” that Franklin County Grotto folks had taken him to some years ago. After asking a few questions I figured out that he was talking about Peiper Cave. So we began the process of narrowing down a date. Once the date was set and arrived we had to deal with Matt’s last minute realization that the student workers were on the schedule to work later than usual on this day. Matt’s partner at the farm would not let them out early, so our departure was pushed back from 6:00 to 8:00 on a Monday evening.

Really I have a hero to give props to. Nathan MacLane, new member of the York Grotto, came with me on a Boy Scout Caving Trip this Saturday. On a whim I called him 10:00 this Monday morning to ask if he wanted to go caving tonight. He said he’d think about it, but called me back half an hour later telling me that he was in. As the phone chain goes, Matt called me telling me that they would be an hour late. I called Nathan, who had already left to meet us in Shippensburg, to tell him that we would be an hour late. Nathan made it work. Maybe he doesn’t get the hero award. Maybe he gets the “chill-axed,” crazy-cool, laid back award.

Getting to Peiper Cave in the dark was a little more complicated than I gave it credit for. I turned our car caravan down the wrong dirt lane. I started to drive past the correct dirt lane. But we got there in one piece.

I noted more spray paint inside / on the artificial wall, but nothing new in the cave. We entered and went up the rock scramble to the left where I let the group do the leading and route finding (as they had maps). I promised a snickers bar to anybody who could definitively point to where they were on the map. I heard it several times through the trip, “I’m definitely not getting a snickers bar,” or “Chris, your snickers bar is safe.” We stuck together mostly as a group as we ventured up and down the Swiss cheese-like halls. We ventured into the sub-floor and squirmed through the Catacombs. We had a pretty good 4-hour tour of the cave. There was certainly plenty that we did not see, but it’s good to leave a cave wanting more. Matt said to me, “Every time that I go caving I want to do it more.” I love hearing that. I bet we’ll see this group out caving again by summer.

Back at the entrance room we tried our hand at the Slot, but I asked that we make our way out of the cave because I had to work on Tuesday, and staying in past midnight seemed overkill. Daniel took a great photo of Heather as she was going through the Slot. I hope that we get a copy of that. Everybody left the cave excited about the trip and looking forward to telling everyone that missed it that they missed out.

Caving with Troop 1

Troop 1 from Wayne, PA has the claim to be the oldest continuously chartered Boy Scout Troop in the US. There’s a lot of rich history with this Troop. Check out their web page for more information about them
We started planning this trip back in July of 2011. Yes it does take time to coordinate a bunch of volunteers with the Troop’s schedule, but we did it. Finally agreeing on a date we planned on meeting near the cave that Saturday morning. The Troop leaders wanted to make this a special trip, and since we can’t take all of the 55 members of the Troop, they decided to make it an activity for the Color Patrol. This Patrol has the distinction of taking responsibility of the flags and banners for Troop 1. The members from the Color Patrol meeting us that Saturday morning are Doug Miller (adult), Jack Zambinski, Zack Kravitz, Luke Ditton, Ross Cochran (adult) and Clay Cochran.
We arrived at the designated parking place for the cave where Andy and Will were waiting to help Amos and I with the trip. The weather was clear which helps with changing into our caving gear and getting ready. We pulled out the helmets and headlamps then got everyone suited up and tested before we walked to the cave.
PICT0010 Inside the entrance we talked a little about the cave, how it was made, what they may see, and a few thoughts on cave safety before we started into the cave. We made our way in and to the first break down room. Here we split into two groups. Amos and I took Clay, Ross and Doug. Jack, Zack and Luke went with Andy and Will.
At first I lead our group through some basic walking passage that had very little crawling. Being that this is a Pennsylvania cave there’s not much of that. Tight crawls and mud are more common for this area. After a very short while our group became comfortable with being underground and Clay became more curious about what was behind each turn and hole. There were a few places that Clay could fit that the adults could not. Amos made sure he explored safely while I took Doug and Ross around to great him as they came through the crawls.

We all did go through the “Catacombs” and up the “Chimney” which they thought was exciting. Clay and Amos did the “Key Hole” and the “Wishing Well” while we watched and cheered him on. We did see most of the cave and we were in there the better part of three hours. It was a good tour.
Outside the other group was waiting. They moved faster than we did and saw pretty much the whole cave. They were bushed and hungry and we were too. We all decided to call it a day and get cleaned up.
These guys worked well together. You could tell they were comfortable with their team and made the trip a lot of fun for us. The boys are taking back stories and pictures to the rest of Troop 1 and try to encourage more of them to go caving. I hope they do. It would be good to see them underground again.

For more picture of this trip go to

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This is Dave's post number 6 on CaveSim. It expresses the need to get CaveSim on the road to outreach to people.

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Caving Levels the Gender Playing Field

Somewhere around 2002 I started helping to guide caving trips for Boy Scouts through the Philadelphia Grotto. With my history as a Scoutmaster I had experience dealing with Scouting issues. I just needed to develop my caving chops, and my friends in Philly Grotto where helping me do that.
After a couple years and some very successful caving trips with the Boy Scouts one of the women in the Grotto asked, “Why don’t you take Girl Scouts caving?” The only answer I had was, “Because they don’t ask.” I had to look into this some more.
Wind Cave B 6-10-05_0000
Generally, caving at this point is a male dominated activity. There are some women in the grotto, but it is mostly guys. Maybe that has something to do with it.
I went on line and looked around for local Girl Scout Troops that I might be able to talk to about this. HHmmm, that’s not that easy to do. I asked everyone I knew to ask around for an introduction to someone involved with the Girl Scouts. Apparently there’s a mistrust of some old guys saying, “Hey, you wanna take your girls caving?” It’s just a little too, how do they say, “pervy”.
There were a few things I had to learn along the way. One is the language. Just because it’s Boy Scouts of America it does not make it Girl Scouts of America. It’s GSUSA (Girl Scouts of the United States of America). And Boy Scouts are “chartered” (or franchised) and run by community organizations. Girls Scouts are all solely part of a larger Girl Scout organization called Service Unit (SU). While women can be Scoutmaster in BSA, men cannot be the number one Troop Leader in a GSUSA Troop. Starting to learn the lingo helps, a little.
Then there were the things that were not said. As I am a volunteer for BSA it was assumed by some GSUSA Leaders that I would eventually try to recruit girls into the Venturing Program, the new co-ed BSA program for High School aged kids. HHHHMMMM…
It took some time but I did get my foot in the door, so to speak. Of course this was with the help of some new caving friends who were also GSUSA Leaders. I still have not taken a GSUSA Troop caving, but I have helped a Troop to go caving which opened the door for other outdoor possibilities for them. This is all great stuff.
But in the meantime I’m still taking more and more boys caving through their BSA Troops. Then the Venturing Program started to catch on in my Council.
GSUSA girls starting joining BSA Venturing Crews to do high adventure activities that were not available to them, for one reason or another, through their GSUSA Troops. There were a lot of guys in the Venturing program already. Mostly they were guys who were board with their Boy Scout Troops. They needed to do things that their 12 y/o little brother could tag along with them on. Caving is one of those activities that BSA deemed to be age appropriate for 14 y/o and above only. This tailored caving to be a good activity for a Crew to look into trying.
As more and more Crews tried caving the word spread and I was invited to talk to more Crews and Troops. A few of us even formed our own Venturing Crew. We did even more caving. It was a good mix of girls and guys, but mostly guys still doing the caving and other high adventure activities. Then something changed.
I’m still not sure why. I don’t even want to speculate. But it is worth noting and maybe looking to see if this too changes. This past year, 2011, caving activities have been joined in by more and more girls. And they enjoy it and are very good at it.
Maybe it’s that not one body type is good at all caving. Maybe it’s that there’s something in caving that pretty much everyone can enjoy. Maybe it’s the great staff of friends I have from all ages of both men and women that help run these trips. Maybe it’s a combination of all these and more that just level the playing filed so caving is enjoyed by may different types of people.
I guess there is one common trait among such a wide variety of people. That’s a strong sense of adventure and having fun even in adverse conditions. Also being able to develop a team mentality with the people you are with, no matter who they are. Not competing against, but playing with the folks in your group to have a good time and explore new realms.
Either way, all my new friends from the Troops and Crews we’ve been getting underground are spreading the word about how much fun caving is. You don’t have to be tall; you don’t have to be short. You don’t have to be old; you don’t have to be young. You don’t have to be guy and you don’t have to be a girl. Caving is for everybody.

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Caving with Westtown School

I met up with Amos, Andy, Marcy, Hanna, and Dave at McDonald’s. The day started out sunny but rain is in the forecast. It wasn’t long till the rain started and the driving was a little less than ideal. Along the way Hillary called and said she’d be meeting us there.

We met up with Michael and the rest of the Westtown gang at a rest stop along the way. We talked a little and introduced ourselves to everyone and they introduced themselves to us. A few of them had been on our trip last year and one had done a little caving up in New York. But most had never been underground before and were looking forward to trying this.

When we got to the cave it was still raining though not as hard. It was enough to make getting changed a little miserable. We suited up and we all met up in the cave entrance where it was just a little drier, we did a check of helmets and headlamps and all the light came on. Onward through the entrance and the first little squeeze. This is always great to see how the newbie’s move and negotiate this. There were a couple helmet issues which were quickly corrected. Up to the top of the Breakdown Room to get adjusted and divide into groups.

We had enough cavers to split up into 4 groups. And off in different direction we went. Hillary and I lead the “slow” group with Michael, Andy, Caleb, and Eli. Caleb and Eli were defiantly not slow and pushed everything we went to too. Caleb and Eli even went around and did a couple more loops while the rest of us were squeezing through.

Later on we met up in the Break Down Room and had lunch and talked. A few wanted to take a personal break and go back to exploring. A few chose to quit for the day. So we regrouped and went in and explored more of the cave.

I think that over all we all saw most of the cave. We coordinated to meet back outside at 4:30 and changed back into our dry and clean cloths. Well and dry and clean as we could for a raining afternoon.

Michael and I talked about doing a more advanced cave for a smaller group of kids who have done this trip a couple times already. Maybe something in the late Fall or Winter.

As always Westtown has great kids with a great sense of adventure. I hope to see them and maybe some new kids next year. You never know, maybe even see a few a Grotto meetings in the future.

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Brandywine Red Clay Summer Camp Caving Trip 2019

Every year I take kids from the Brandywine Red Clay Alliance Summer Camp Program on a cave exploring trip. I look forward to this trips ever...