Caving in western Pennsylvania


To a lot of people, the thought of crawling in the pitch black hundreds of feet below the earth doesn’t really sound appealing. Caving is a dirty, dangerous sport. And I love it.

I ventured out to Laurel Caverns in western Pennsylvania this past weekend for my first, but certainly not last, caving adventure. I swelled with excitement as the guide explained to my group that rescue would take up to 12 hours–should anything go wrong on our expedition. I stared down at my map, trying to envision what all of those miles of passage ways underground actually were like. Decked out in clothing head to toe, a hard hat, multiple flash lights, and a very heavy back pack, I started my trip through the caverns with eight other fearless souls.

The first part of the trip was easy. It was well lit and stairs were built into the rock. This was the section that most people came through. Those are the people sensible enough not to go hiking through small spaces 47 stories down into the dirt. As I climbed and crawled away from the lights, the blackness increased as the temperature did just the opposite. I thought of that horrible movie, ‘The Descent’, as I scurried over the huge rocks. Would there be monsters living in the pits of these caves like there were in that movie? I didn’t know, but I didn’t care.

All of the fallen rocks everywhere should have alarmed me. I mean, they obviously fell…proving that the rocks above my head (and all around me) were very capable of falling…but I marched on, unphased.

I flashed my light around the cave every time I got a chance. There were names and dates signed on the rocks from the turn of the century. I wondered if those people would have laughed at my three flash lights in my back pack.

My group was moving extremely quickly and we got to see some parts of the caverns that most deep cavers don’t get to check out.

The first unplanned, yet awesome, place we got to experience was the underground beach. No, there weren’t waves of ocean, but there was a huge mound of sand out of no where next to the stream. We all turned out our flash lights and sat in total darkness for 15 minutes or so, just soaking in isolation at its finest.

We moved on to an underground waterfall and my guide encouraged me to drink the water. Purified by the limestone, she assured me it was clean and so I went for it. And Poland Springs ain’t got nothin’ on that water, I can tell you that much.

We climbed back up to a spot called The Grand Canyon. The climb up the slope of this canyon was 30 degrees. It was so steep that our guide rolled a ball ‘down’ a ledge and it rolled back ‘up’. This was an optical illusion, of course, because none of us had any sense of the horizon to negotiate with, but it was freakin’ trippy.

I could rant on about my new favorite sport all day here, but the point is this:

I love it. I pushed myself. I fell while climbing, came out with scrapes and bruises, my muscles still ache-days later. But I now have a new favorite sport, one that exalts exploring nature. It works out every muscle in my body, pumps up my adrenaline, and gives me a great appreciation for civilization AND isolation. It may not be for you, but if you’re curious, go for it, because it has already changed my life.

By: Elizabeth Seward

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2 thoughts on “Caving in western Pennsylvania

  1. Glad you dug caving! there’s a photo on my blog of me and another cleveland grotto member fixing a lamp in “wild” Laurel (off the tour trails) a few years ago. (http://garynelsonacousticroots.wordpress.com/2007/01/01/playing-out-this-month/). I think mine is WordPress’ only caving/folk music blog…go figure.

    There’s a couple of links to Crawlathon too, if you really get the cave bug.

    You should try to hook up with some of the Penn grottos (NSS cave clubs) as western PA has some beautiful caves. You might see if you can find a grotto member to take you through Bear Cave or Casperis.

    Please stay in touch if you decide you want to cave again, or if you would like to participate in some of the Cleveland Grotto activities.

    Nelson

  2. I’m glad you had fun at the caverns. I’m one of the guides there, so i not only do this every day, but i also get paid for it. Just to let you know, those rocks you saw didn’t really “fall”, but settled to the floor when the sand under them was washed away by water. Have fun doing more caving. Mark.

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