by Nancy Latimer, Volunteer Trip Leader and Trip Leader Council Member
Some call it spelunking, some call it cave exploration, I call it a claustrophobic nightmare. My adventure friend, Nancy O, has been talking about doing the Venture Outdoors Cave Exploration activity for years. As the planner for our outdoor activities, I’ve successfully put her off for years. I can survive an MRI, but was afraid caves and crawling were beyond my deep breathing capabilities, especially for hours on end. Well I finally decided to face my fears and signed us up, and I’M GLAD I DID!
We arrived at the Laurel Caverns Saturday morning and met our guide Ester. We got our safety talk, equipment inspection, and fitted for hard hats. The Venture Outdoors list of what to wear was spot on, one of the things I love about the organization, always helping me be prepared for new activities. For this trip, when they say wear ankle high boots, they mean it. At the Laurel Caverns, if you don’t have them, you either buy a pair for $25 at the gift shop or you don’t go!
Lots of butterflies at the start, but excited to try something new. We were a group of eight participants with a couple of folks brand new to Venture Outdoors. They couldn’t have picked a better event to get started although we did have a bit of a philosophical discussion about whether we were technically ‘outdoors.’ Ester led us down through the lit areas and to be honest my anxiety was rising. She recommended three points of contact at all times, no jumping, lots of sliding on your bum, and always holding on to walls and rocks. The gloves were another key piece of equipment.
It was spectacular to see the caves and the beauty of Mother Nature, but the thoughts of all that rock overhead were disconcerting. No time to be afraid, however, as we snaked our way down, down, down, to the ‘ballroom’, the ‘post office’, and the ‘beach’ as the various rooms and corridors are named. If I ignored Ester’s statements about how many stories underground we were and I focused on the beauty, and the rigor of activity, I was fine.
Once we reached our furthest point and started back up, it was fantastic. It was a combination of climbing, crawling, and squeezing to get through. The physicality certainly warrants the moderate rating from Venture Outdoors. My gym workouts paid off!
The tip to wear knee pads was a great one. Nancy and I wore rollerblading knee pads and everyone else was jealous, including offering us $200 for them! We really needed our hard hats as we regularly hit our heads on low hanging rock faces or jutting walls. They may want to add concussion testing to the prep list! We posed for a group photo in the ballroom. We certainly were a dusty, dirty group.
Those old clothes served their purpose and a change of clothes were a necessity. The Laurel Caverns even has showers to set you up for the rest of your day. We went backpacking at Quebec Run after caving and by the time we set up camp, we were tired. The caving was much harder than we expected, but all in all another great adventure with Venture Outdoors.