Dragon’s Breath Lava Tube Trip

By Ethan Wheeler, Life Scout, Troop 214, Helena, MT

I was elected Patrol Leader of the Venture Patrol and was challenged with coming up with a high adventure activity. I talked to the patrol about some options and they voted for a caving trip. We were connected to Vern Bowden through a message left with the Northern Rocky Mountain Grotto.

On September 25, 2013, Vern came to a meeting with the scouts planning on going. He brought lots of interesting pictures, brochures and a slideshow explaining the rules and concerns with caving. He also handed out equipment lists for the trip. He explained what to expect at Dragon’s Breath, and we were excited to check it out.

The actual caving date was set for October 18-19, 2013. We ended up having 6 scouts and 2 adults go on the trip, plus Vern. We followed him out to the camping spot. The area seemed like a desert wasteland. It was hard to imagine anything interesting being out there. We set up camp and cooked dinner. There was an awesome sunset that night and it cooled off quickly, down to 14 degrees at the lowest point-frost points!

The next morning we got up and after breakfast, Vern helped us get our helmets ready, made sure we had the gear we needed, and also showed us how to properly wear a harness, which we hope to make use of on a future caving trip.

We drove to a spot near the entrance and geared up. We still couldn’t tell there was a cave out there. As we walked closer, it finally showed up. It was a big rubble pit with a small opening at one side.

We had to squeeze in through the opening, but once inside, it opened up into a very large area. We had to climb down a rubble pile to get to the floor of the tube. From there, we had to cross more rubble for a short time, and then got to level ground.

Many of the walls and ceiling had lots of melted rock that almost looked like plastic. The floor was a variety of colors with an orange channel through the middle.

When we got to the end of the tube, we had lunch and rested. It was dead quiet. After awhile we headed back to the entrance. Everyone had a great time. It was like a whole different world in there.

A few comments from other scouts:

The caving trip last summer was a blast! I loved the waterfalls that we saw on our way to the desert in Idaho. It was not challenging but that probably just left us with more time to awe at the parts of the cave that the tour guide showed us. Overall the camping experience was fun–especially with all older boys– and the leadership was good. The rides to and fro were exciting (mostly through the desert wondering if we where going to a Zombie cave.) One of our best campouts. – Logan

Jake a man of few words, said “it was cool, caves....dark & fun”. He said it was fun because it was a small group.


If you want more information about taking youth groups caving, or you’re just curious about what’s involved with getting kids underground, visit the National Speleological Society Youth Group Liaison Committee at www.caves.org/youth. Or you can email me directly at allenmaddox@youcave.org. I’d enjoy hearing from you.

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“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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