February 17, 2020
Written by Katy Ward
Have you ever unexpectedly found a new passion? Something that you had no idea existed but once you discovered it, you fell in love? I have.
In February 2018, Liberty University Outdoor Recreation facilitated its first caving trip. I had the privilege of being one of these initial participants to embark on this new adventure. When I first heard about the trip, it instantly caught my attention. I had been Free Climbing for a couple of years before and the thought of trying a new aspect of climbing (caving), piqued my interest. I was nervous for sure, did not really know what to expect, but was along for the ride nonetheless.
We pulled into this little gravel lot in the middle of nowhere Virginia, an empty field on one side and a small patch of woods on the other. It was here, where we meet our James River Grotto guides. They walk us through the process of getting geared up; helmets, headlamps, knee pads, dry bags, and snacks are necessities for the trip. We then walk down a small winding path to the cave entrance, to a literal hole in the ground. It’s at this point that I think to myself, “What did I get myself into?”
As we shimmy ourselves through this hole, the only light comes down on us from the entrance of the cave. We sit in the darkness for a few minutes to let our eyes and ears fully adjust to our surroundings. There is barely a sound, just the slight pattering from the rain drops outside. Then, we turn our headlamps on and find a massive room full of rock formations, large cracks and crevasses along the walls. As my eyes adjusted, I found it all one color, an earthy brown, but all sorts of shades. I never thought the muddy brown of rock could look so beautiful.
Our guide take us through the cave, knowing the way from past explorations. We crawl and climb carefully through the muddy insides of the cave to a larger bedroom sized space nicknamed, the “Junction Room”. This area offers multiple options of where to go next. One group goes up, spidering their way across two steep rock faces, another climbs down to a river that flows through the cave, and the rest of us stay to explore the “Junction Room” itself.
Off to one side, we found a section called “The Maze”. You have to hoist yourself up 8 feet onto a rock shelf, where you crawl down to find yourself walking through these captivating rock pillars. We do not go too deep into the maze because it would be very easy to get lost without the ability to navigate the passageways.
After all meeting back in the “Junction Room”, our time in the cave is closing in and we are all amazed that four hours have passed. As we exit, crawling through the same hole in the ground, we find snow peacefully falling instead of rain and we all feel a little more at ease. The invigorating attitude of accomplishment from trying something new, beginning to wash over us.
This trip lit a spark in me. I fell in love with every aspect of caving. Each time I enter a cave, even if I have been there before, it looks different. There are new features to take in, sounds to hear, and open opportunities to explore God’s creation on a whole new level.
My first trip caving is a memory that I will always hold close to my heart and I hope that through Outdoor Recreation’s caving trips, others will be able to experience the same feelings.