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Troglodytes unite!

PostPosted: Mar 25, 2007 8:54 am
by Evan G
Troglodytes unite!
Joe Miller, Staff Writer

As you take in the natural beauty of Virginia's Grand Caverns' Cathedral Hall or any of the region's other show caves, keep in mind that hundreds of thousands of people have experienced this sight before you. Ken Walsh has been in an underground "room" about the same size -- and been the first person to lay eyes on it. Ever.

"Caving is all about exploring, about seeing things no one has ever seen before," says Walsh, secretary of the Triangle Troglodytes caving club. "There's a hole in the wall. I wonder what's on other side."

Being the first -- or at least among the few -- to explore a cave is what separates bona fide cavers like Walsh from casual spelunkers who stumble upon a roadside tourist cave on their summer vacation. That and the fact that the typical tourist doesn't have to squeeze through a hole the size of a basketball to get inside.

The openings are not always that small, says Walsh. But walk-in entrances to noncommercial caves are rare.

Typically, cavers enter by dropping through an inconspicuous hole in the ground or a subtle hillside crevasse. It's usually not long, though, before the cave opens and passage through spacious "rooms" and more generous passages is the norm.

That initial entry concerned Melanie McCullough of Cary on her first caving trip, Halloween weekend of 2005.

"I was concerned about claustrophobia," admits McCullough, 35. "I don't like being closed in in an elevator."

But the natural beauty within soon overruled her discomfort, and she found herself slithering through passages no more than a foot tall. It wasn't until her third caving expedition that McCullough, petite at 5 feet, 4 inches, encountered a passage -- "it was 7 or 8 inches" -- that she passed on.

Walsh's 6-foot-3-inch, 210-pound frame, however, didn't keep him from one of his big discoveries.

He and three other cavers were probing a noncommercial area of Grand Caverns when they came upon an opening about 8 1/2 inches high and maybe 12 feet long. Walsh's fellow cavers managed to scooch through; Walsh was thwarted on his first two attempts.

"My clothes kept grabbing on the ground," recalls Walsh, a 41-year-old environmental consultant. He laid down some plastic and just managed to slip through.

His determination paid off. He emerged into a room an acre big.

That possibility of discovery, of stumbling upon a room no human has set foot in and being the first to take in its unique features, is caving's big draw.

"People like to go rock climbing," Walsh says. "But you know what's at the top."

In fact, there's a fair amount of climbing involved in caving.


Caving in to a trip down under

PostPosted: Mar 25, 2007 8:59 am
by Evan G
Caving in to a trip down under

Interested in trying caving, are you? (That's assuming you read today's story in the N&O's Travel section about caving and turned here for more info. If you came here first, unawares, check out the Travel story by clicking here.)

Like most adventurous pursuits, it's not recommended that you try caving alone. Unlike most of those other pursuits, though, it's pretty hard to explore a cave on your own. You've gotta know where the cave is before you can go into it, and while the Southeast is a caver's delight (West Virginia's Greenbrier County has more than 1,000 caves alone), their whereabouts aren't widely advertised. Not only could you be in great peril by poking around in a labyrinthine cave network that might run for miles, but without proper instruction you could cause irreparable damage to a fragile cave system.

That's why Ken Walsh with the Triangle Troglodytes recommends that if you are interested in going down under, you do it with a club like his. Your first step?

"I encourage first timers to come to one of our meetings," says Walsh of the Troglodytes monthly meeting the fourth Tuesday of every month at theN.C. Museum of Natural Science in downtown Raleigh. "You'll learn about safety and we'll make you aware of the fragility of caves."

You can also pick members brains and find out when the next beginner-oriented trip is. Where that trip is varies, depending on the level of beginner, says Walsh. Chances are it will be within 3.5 to 4 hours, in Virginia.

You needn't worry about equipment, either. The club has the basic equipment you need: helmets, lamps, ladder. "We don't exactly rent the gear. We have a $5 wear and tear fee," says Walsh. Other than that you'll need a pair of boots with good treat that you don't mind getting helplessly muddy and some overalls.

And dress warm. Walsh says the typical underground temperature is consistent and is equal to the average outdoor above-ground temperature. "In the Virginias, it's in the 50s, in Georgia, Alabama and Tennessee, it's in the 60s."

As for incentive, for why people go under, there's the obvious: the physical and mental challenge, the natural beauty of a place you can't image. And there's the reason at the top of Walsh's list.

"I can get away from it all and hide underground."
Posted at 12:00 am by Joe in Get Out! Get Fit!

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