|Christy Mehrlich takes part in a caving expedition for |
more than four hours, which had her squeezing and crawling
around rock formations
Like traditional sports, helmets are mandatory. A steady stance is recommended, seeing as how there are drops of more than 100 feet. And upper body strength is a must.
I can testify to this requirement, as I was barely able to lift my arms to type this sentence.
However, unlike more traditional sports, an affinity for bats – the flying mammal, not the wooden club – is a plus.
I learned these tips and many more while spelunking in the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas.
So you are probably thinking, “What is spelunking” and “Why did you pay someone to expose you to these dangers?”
Probably to avoid this exact question, young spelunkers now call it caving, as in to explore caves.
For those of you who have walked on a concrete pathway and stood in awe of well-lit calcite formations while learning the very useful saying, “Stalactites stick tight to the ceiling,” I am sorry to inform you that you are not a caver.
To answer the second question – Why would I pay to do this? – well, the response for me is simple: I like getting dirty and risking my life for a good story
But all cavers have their own reasons – not to imply, of course, that I am a caver.
|Calcite buildup is visible inside Blanchard |
Springs’ Wild Cave in Arkansas.
I could tell right off that Cannon was happier underground. Who wouldn’t be? That day it was 105 degrees at its hottest on the surface, but the cave has a constant year-round temperature of 58 degrees.
Of course, cooling off is not the only reason why caving is enjoyable.
Cannon has caved in the Bahamas, Guatemala and all around the U.S., so I asked what her favorite cave was. “Any time I am underground it’s a favorite spot,” she replied. “I’m a big dork about it.”
But each cave is different and appealing for its own reasons. Blanchard Spring Cavern, like caves in Missouri, Kentucky and Indiana, is a solution cave, formed from the top down by the leaching of calcite from limestone.
“Carlsbad in New Mexico was really neat because it was formed differently,” Cannon said. “It was formed from oil and gas traps with sulfuric acid leaking up so (the caves) were formed from the bottom up.”
But in laymen’s terms, Blanchard Springs Caverns is your typical cave with a not-so-typical tour.
For me, the fun started as soon as we stepped off the pristine concrete path to the orange clay slope, heading away from the lights and into the darkness.
We climbed the first hill relatively easily, for it was dry and graspable. My group of 10, consisting of me, a family visiting their grandma and two locals, then slid down on the other side, hoping desperately not to be the “one” that causes a domino effect, throwing all members into the rocky pit 150 feet below.
“The National Speleological Society has organized groups called grottos,” Cannon said, “and they typically give classes on rope work, on how to rappel safely, how to use the gear and how to climb out of a cave.”
We had no such rigging, no harness, no safety net, no ropes, and so I wondered why I was not forced to sign my life away before I donned the gear.
“You can’t sue the government,” Cannon said. “I mean, people have tried, but you can’t.”
What is there to say after that? The cave is owned by the National Forest Service.
The tour continued for more than four hours, which was enough time for each person to squeeze and clutch and crawl and slide through, under and above the formations of rock, one in particular referred to as the Death Ledge.
As we shakily walked upright toward the exit, I found myself wanting to stay, partly to avoid the heat but mostly to see more. I suppose I was bit by the caving bug, which is always better than a caving bat.
Source: Journal Gazette