Last updated: October 6, 2016
All in a Day's Work: Crawling Through the Cave
There are many ways to experience caves. Some people are quite content to watch television programs and enjoy the narration about the wonders hundreds or even thousands of miles away.Others visit the cave and do a self-guided walking tour.Quite a few people go on a ranger-guided off-trail tour to say they've been off the beaten path.Finally, there is a select small group who chooses the most difficult way to experience the cave: crawling.
The crawling group usually beings planning their trip months in advance.They make reservations and eagerly await their upcoming trip.When the crawling day finally arrives, they wake early to eat a hearty breakfast and arrive at the visitor center when it opens. The small group (eight people maximum plus two rangers) gathers and begins their orientation.Every person must know the rules and receive their caving gear.The
park provides a helmet, headlamp, elbow pads, knee pads, and gloves.Visitors need to provide their own batteries and wear sturdy, fully enclosed shoes. After a final restroom break the journey begins.
After a hike to an undisclosed location, the lead ranger steps off the trail and into an adventure.One by one the group follows up a spiraling "trail" until they pause for a breath.The lead ranger waits until the trail ranger
appears and takes stock of the group. After making sure everyone is comfortable with the unconventional way of getting from place to place in the cave, the group continues on.In quick succession the cavers chimney (a climb using three points of contact such as two hands and one foot) through a narrow crack, climb a twelve foot ladder, so narrow only one foot fits per rung, and then crawl on one side through a slot using both arms and one leg.The group finally gets to stand upright again and then confronts what many people find to be the biggest challenge: climbing the rope.It is bolted to the rocks about ten feet above the floor.Cavers
actually chimney up the hole and use the rope as an extra handhold.Knee pads grip the flowstone (extremely
smooth and slick cave formations) better than boots, so most people put a knee on each side of the crack to climb as their hands are on the rope.After the first ten feet, the rope is bolted at an angle, and the rest of the climb is easier.From that point the rest of the tour is mostly walking.The tour ends at the Hall of the White Giant.The beauty of "Hall" is magnified by the work of getting to that point in the cave.After a short break the journey back to the paved trail begins.Luckily for the cavers, gravity works with them on the way back out.
As the group re-emerges on the paved trail, visitors usually watch from the self-guided area.Some even clap as they see how dirty the cavers have become on their journey.A quick walk to the elevators and the group
reaches the end of their time together in the cave.After returning all the borrowed equipment, the group is free to spend the rest of their day as they please.The rangers spend their time cleaning and inspecting the gear to make sure it is clean and serviceable for the next day's tour.
Crawling through the cave certainly isn't for everyone. For those who do it, it is an accomplishment that stays with them.At the end of the day it's a physical and mental journey, and for some it is the adventure of a lifetime.For the rangers introducing people to new ideas and pushing their limits, it's all in a day's work.