Trouble With An Unpredictably Wet Cave

We were at the BSA Northeastern Region Area 6 weekend event fondly referred to as “Phenomenon”. And it was a phenomenon. I’ll go into that in another post. I wanted to share what happened on the way home.

Keeping The Caving Tradition
Just as I did last year, I wanted to stop and do a little caving on my way home from the Phenomenon. It was a little closer to home this year, being only about three hours down the PA Turnpike. There are so many opportunities and choices in caves in this area. I had a tough time deciding where to go. Since I didn’t want to get home too late on a Sunday night I didn’t want to go off too far from the Turnpike and it should be on the way home. That means the Shippensburg / Chambersburg area would be where I look.

There are a couple caves I haven’t been in a while and that my friends had not been in at all. So I had to choose. There is one cave that is open access, but the water level is a little unpredictable. Last time I was in there was about two years ago with my Grandson. The water was low then. The level had been up and down a few times since then and I hadn’t heard a report in a while.

So Let’s Take a Chance And See
I had Damian, Gretchen and Gretchen’s friend, Kathryn Harris, with me in the Grand Cherokee. Bill LaPort was driving himself and we met up with Ron Hesse and his son Ryan at the Walmart in Shippensburg. We did get to our final destination and parking location and suited up for the cave.

As I’m pulling out the “loaner gear”, Bill let’s me know he has his own helmet and light and doesn’t need to borrow anything. It makes me happy when someone has had such a great time caving that they make the commitment and start buying their own gear. Ryan and Ron are pretty well equipped, except for the helmet and light. Kathryn needs to borrow some other gear which we tailor to her with duct tape.

There is this long crawl that you have to do to get to the real entrance to the cave. Everyone does well and there’s just a little standing water in the tube. I’m first, with everyone behind me as I look for clues to the height of the water level and if we will make it into the main part of the cave. A frog scampers out and dives in what water is standing, stirring up the mud to hide. We all keep move down the passage waiting to see what’s beyond the final turn.

High Water or Low Water?
We arrive at the “duck under” and the level is low. Not dry, but low enough to comfortably pass. We all crawl through dipping into the cold cave water. I come out into the “Junction Room” and the water is just below the top of my rubber boots. I was OK, but those with regular boots were really wet by now and starting to chill.

Damian doesn’t hold his heat well and he recognizes a potential problem with hypothermia with himself. Letting everyone know that he does not want to spoil the trip, he made the tough decision to back out now before it gets really bad.
The rest started exploring a few small passages. I point them into the direction of a decorated section that is still a little dry. It was nice to get out of the water and mud for a few moments. When they had their fill I sent them down another long, tight crawl that they wanted to try.

Off they went into the mud with the promise of “pretties” at the end of this demanding squeeze. Well, all but Bill and I. Listening I hear them coming back. Laughing and joking about how they probably looked all caked in the slop. One by one they pop out of the passage covered head to toe in very wet mud. Back to the “Junction Room” we went to regroup and reassess ourselves and decide where to go next.

Once there Gretchen told me that even with the vigorous scramble back to the room she was feeling cold. She was thinking of calling it a day for herself. Ryan and Kathryn, the newbies, were a little cold too, but wanted to move on. I took my cue from Gretchen, who has a few caves on her resume, and called it quits for the day. It would not be good to get to the back of the cave only to get hypothermic and have a twenty minute crawl to get out. I’d rather have them wanting more and come caving again than become cold and miserable and never want to set foot in any cave again.

The Promise Of MudAfter we all exited the cave we took the mandatory “look how muddy we are” pictures. And were they ever muddy. Just as I promised, mud all the way to your skin. Getting changed was interesting as it was cold and raining a little. We took turns in the cars getting warm dry cloths on and trying to get some of the mud off our faces and out of our hair. We were all cold, tired and hungry.
Bill found a pizza joint on his GPS, asked and confirmed with a local it was a good choice for food. Ron and Ryan had other obligations and we saw them off and we went and ate and talked and ate and talked some more. I was concerned about my choice of caves for this group of beginners. After listening to them talk and joke about all they did I asked Kathryn and Bill if they would do this again. No hesitation from either. They were ready to go underground and do it some more.

Now I have a few more people on my “list”. Let’s see what I can put them through next.
To see more pictures from the trip, take a look at the photo album.

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Cave Safely, Cave Softly, Cave Often,
“Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but well placed footsteps, kill nothing but time.” – cavers’ creed

National Speleological Society Youth Group Liaison Committee. The youth group’s connection to caves and caving.


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