By now, a lot of us (especially those graduating seniors) think we’ve seen it all at Penn State or in State College: the mountains, the classrooms, downtown and all the odd things you happen to see there. I hate to tell you this but… you missed one: the caves. Luckily, the Nittany Grotto Caving Club has you covered.
Hope Brooks, the president of the caving club, says caving is the exploration of caves for sport and science. What that translates to is a lot of climbing, crawling and hiking to get in there and get to really experience the cave. The caving club’s mission is to introduce members to the sport of caving and make it a one-of-a-kind experience with nature.
For those of you (like me) who are thinking caving will be like your personal version of “Fear Factor,” Brooks says that having the facts about caves and being prepared for what you might actually encounter in a cave will help you get over your fears and enjoy the experience.
“Movies and TV often give caves a bad rap, presenting them as the best lair for people-eating monsters. I haven’t run into one of those people-eating monsters, and I don’t plan to anytime soon,” she says. “That said, there are a lot of real things that can be scary in caves, like confined spaces, heights, darkness, bats and spiders. The caving club chooses trips without confined spaces and heights for novice cavers. Though, in the larger world that we live in, caves are many and varied and often do have confined spaces and heights.”
Before Brooks’ first caving experience (and even today) she says she was afraid of heights and falling. But now she’s gotten better at climbing and learned the proper safety techniques to help prevent nasty falls and have the confidence to face her fears.
“From my own experiences, I think facing your caving fears in a safe environment with a group of competent cavers is one of the best ways to prepare for scary instances,” she says. “Most importantly, everybody should know and respect their limits. It’s okay to say ‘I’ll do that next time,’ ‘I won’t fit through that,’ or ‘That’s not for me.’ Respecting your limits is safe, smart and sexy!”
After you get over those fears, you can truly enjoy what you got yourself into (in this case, a cave). Brooks’ favorite caving experience is her first ‘wild’ (non-commercial) cave with the club.
“I loved destroying my clothes and getting very muddy. I loved seeing a crayfish and a salamander in the cave. I loved sitting in absolute darkness for the first time,” Brooks says.
In the middle of the semester craziness, some peace and quiet in a cave might be the way to go to keep from going insane. If you’re ready to check out a cave (or just learn more), Brooks has these first four tips for your trip:
- “Contact [your] local grotto, a caving organization associated with the National Speleological Society, before they go caving to learn more about caving. Local grotto members are a great source of information about safe caving and nearby caves.”
- “Cave safely by following the safety guidelines published by the National Speleological Society.”
- “‘Take nothing but photographs, leave nothing but footprints’ and ‘kill nothing but time.’ Caves are valuable natural resources and the organisms in them are delicate. They deserve to be protected.”
- “Last but not least, I would say… Have fun!”