November 17, 2014
Group Meeting Room

I was trying hard not to chuckle as I heard the familiar complaints: “Dude, that is not my foot!” and “I am pretty sure there is no way out of here!” I was perched in a small tunnel opening in the lowest chamber of a cave that we take the Calvary Temple youth group into. We were 100 feet underground about two hours from Calvary Temple in Sterling Virginia (link).
I was trying to be quiet so that I don’t give away my position. Caving Pancake room Even more than the rappelling, chimneying, navigating the pancake room, or lunch, I enjoy the “lights out” challenge the most. The kids are taken to a “safe” passageway in the cave where there are no cliffs or otherwise dangerous drops and then they must turn of their lights, choose a leader and proceed to find me hidden in the tunnel. The roughly 50 yard journey only takes about three minutes with the use of a light but in the chaos of total darkness it can take 20 to 40 minutes.

Lunch Underground
Now if you are imagining a large cave with a flat floor like the mountain guru of the comic strips would live in, than you are mistaken. If you have ever been spelunking in one of the fine limestone caves near the Potomac river in West Virginia you know that they are damp and slippery. The caves in this area rarely have a room or tunnel with little or no slope. The ground water that makes it into the cave is full of very fine sediment that produces super slippery, sticky mud.

When we begin the “lights out” challenge it is fascinating to hear who in the group is chosen to lead. Then the group must establish commands and orders to follow in the dark. The first commands are rather humorous. Directions like “Look over here” and “see where I put my foot” are useless. Those commands are quickly mocked because in a cave without any source of light you cannot see your hand or anything even if it is one inch in front of your face. This is also a good time to remind the youth of the darkness and loneliness of hell and how much Father loves us to keep us from eternal darkness (follow this link to see how to avoid hell). It reminds me of Matthew 6:23 that says that if your light be darkness how great is that darkness. Matthew 15:14 also comes to mind about leaving them alone for they are the blind leading the blind. I could hear the blind trying to lead the blind.
Rigging for a long descent

For a while everybody talks at once, giving their opinion of where they should go or what my last instructions may have been. Some of the teams over the years have been very disciplined, purposing to hold hands and let the leader be the only one speaking. These teams usually succeed rather quickly. The leader then fans out feeling around the cold damp walls for where the next opening in the tunnel may be. Since you are climbing up over sections of rock in the tunnel that could be eight feet tall, the team must work to together to hoist each other up over the obstacles. Tunnels will open into rooms where they must decide, by feel, which is the passage out to the next tunnel.
Caving Tunnel

The trickiest part of the challenge is when they get to the last room. The tunnel that I am hiding in is up in the corner of the room and is difficult to find. It gets very narrow so I have had some leaders get within a couple of feet of my face and turn around because they couldn't tell that it was the way out. It is at this point that they usually get quite frustrated and want to each express their distrust of the leader. The good leaders, of which we have had many, usually stop the group from talking and begin to get quiet.

One of the fascinating things that happens when you lose your sense of sight is that other senses begin to heighten. Your sense of hearing increases. You can feel subtle things, like the slightest breeze. Good leaders stop and listen for the sound of my breathing or the steady dripping of water coming from the large cavern at the opening where I hide. Some have even felt the slight air moving from the tunnel to the large outer chamber.

Jim and I getting our bearings
It is a big relief when they finally reach my boot or touch my leg and I turn my light on.
The team had to organize, communicate, and move through a complex obstacle in a very unfamiliar environment. It is one of the best activities to build teamwork that I have been a part of.
My wife Kimberly and I with some of the gang

Throughout their journey they have had to trust and help each other every step of the way. They have had to learn how to advance between two cave walls where there is no floor by wedging their bodies between the two walls with their feet on one side and their back on the other, a practice called chimneying. Each member of the group has had to trust the one going before him to direct him to hand and foot holds. The person behind him must be ready to support him should he fall.

I have yet to get our senior pastor, Pastor Star R. Scott (click here for link) into the cave. I hope to get him in there one of these days. This is one of the best youth events of the year. It is an unforgettable experience. It teaches teamwork, causes one to learn how to function in a completely foreign environment, and builds community. It is not uncommon to speak to kids that were in my youth group many years ago, who have kids of their own who testify that if they could get through the cave they could do anything!

Reprinted with permission;


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 Or you can email me directly at 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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