Troop 677, Bozeman, MT Goes To Dragonbreath Cave, Idaho

    by -  Eli Kutsch, SPL, Troop 677

Troop 677 of Bozeman, MT recently headed to Idaho for our first caving high adventure (low adventure?) experience. We were guided by Vern Bowden, an experienced caver and scouter from Manhattan, MT. We were also joined by an adventuresome scout from Troop 676.
     Mr. Bowden came to our troop meeting the week before our trip to show us how to “be prepared” for this trip in terms of the necessary gear, caving “leave no trace” ethics, safety awareness, and positive attitudes. We thought we knew what to expect…..but were soon surprised by the rugged beauty of the lava desert and the cave itself!
We followed Mr.Bowden off-road through miles of sage and lava rock and wondered how anyone could have found this cave in such a remote area. We learned later that the rubble resulting from the collapse of a portion of the Dragonbreath lava tube caused a suspicious formation that was noticed from above by someone in a plane!

     When we arrived in the area of the cave, Mr. Bowden led us to a small area where there was more grass than sage and we set up our camp. We brought the troop fire barrel and stand so we could avoid leaving any trace of our campfire and could be especially cautious in the dry conditions.
     After camp was set up-we headed to the cave entrance. We put on our helmets and lights; got on our work gloves; loaded our daypacks with extra light sources, water, snacks and emergency gear. The cave entrance was a small crack in the lava boulder jumble-but it opened immediately into a giant room. Of course, the sight of this secret space caused my little brother Eric start to humming the theme music from “Indiana Jones”!
   The lava tube was massive in some spots, like an airplane hangar. In other spots it became more narrow, but never a tight squeeze. Mr. Bowden pointed out interesting things such as “moon-milk”, soda straws, roots sticking down from the roof, and the skeletons of pack rats. After a while, we got to marvel at the bright red “secondary lava flow” that cut a channel in the floor of the lava tube and was even hot enough to re-melt the rock walls of the original tube.The only cave life that we encountered was a single bat that fluttered past us.
    After nearly a mile of careful travel underground we stopped to rest and snack-being careful not to drop any crumbs. While there, we turned off all of our lights for a minute to experience total darkness.  We returned to the entrance. We climbed out back into natural light and desert heat-a different world! My Dad mentioned that several Native American tribes have origin stories that involve people emerging from the ground like we did.
 At that time we realized that we had not seen litter or any trace of other people in the cave. We were grateful to the cavers who went before us for allowing us to feel like we were the very first people to see this beautiful cave.
     We returned to camp and cooked dinner. That night we stargazed after our campfire and were lucky enough to see the International Space Station fly overhead!
We backed up early and headed back north after a quick breakfast. On the way home, we stopped to climb and play on some sand dunes.  
     We had a great time, learned a lot, and are very grateful to Mr. Bowden for showing us our first wild cave!    

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


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