As a caving trip leader, there are several things one works diligently to avoid. Some caves are notoriously difficult to find, for example, and it’s best to have a recent GPS location and solid directions to avoid the wonderful above-ground jaunt. We’ve all experienced that. Yet there’s something else we try to avoid, as a general rule: making one or more new cavers cry during one of their first cave trips.
I’m particularly disappointed to report that on a recent trip, not one, not two, but three new cavers felt such significant displeasure in my leadership competencies that they cried… with remarkable and memorable gusto. If this stretches or otherwise elongates the truth, it isn’t by much. But let’s start at the beginning, shall we?
Lee-Gray, Jason (a first-time caver who did not cry) and I made the smart decision to bring our children caving. You may be wondering if, as children, they’re sufficiently responsible for such a sport. Yes, I’d answer: they’re 3, 4 and 5 respectively. Quite sufficient! In choosing a cave, admittedly, there are few pleasurable, child-friendly crawl-abouts in New England. McFail’s is too easy, Mass Hole is a tad unstable and access to Skull is a mite too illegal. The only natural choice was Bentley’s, which isn’t too wet, long or vertical. So where might that train have derailed?
Surprisingly, it wasn’t the hike! Ticks aside (please, wear repellent if you go), the up-mountain hike from the parking area to cave entrance was a fun frolic. Mild carrying involved, but mostly an uphill stroll. Entering, though there’s an eight-foot (or thereabouts) down-climb, was likewise uninvolved. The entrance passage was fun! We all enjoyed our time playing at the top of the passageway. The little scamps found sparkly things, muddy things and, incredibly, rocks. Fun was had! It was the descent that got us. Or, really, it wasn’t the descent, it was the plunge.
Yes, a plunge into a 30’ streamway with not more than 1’’ of water at the onset. Sure, there’s a low ceiling. Sure, the water was
warm comfortable tepid chilly quite stupidly cold. But we’ve all dealt with that before, right? What’s so wrong about absurdly cold water, other than crawling through it? As we found out, the issue was… well, that it was absurdly cold water. With the dip into the water emerged a dramatic and drastic plummet in enthusiasm. Our toddlers’ over-the-moon enthusiasm was very nearly obliterated, actually. Those of you acquainted with how sound seems to compress in tight spaces may begin to imagine the sound of three displeased children reverberating to the music of a tight streamway. Delightful, I say! Despite that, we were able to calm, coax and cajole the children into the passage.
Yet Bentley’s wasn’t done! The center half of the stream crawl is kneeling-height for adults and standing height for children. This provides a fantastic respite. We took a breather. Yet as we were terrified to discover, the end of the crawl – yes, the bitter end – was designed by a raving lunatic. It features a short “S” turn, complete with 18-20’’ ceiling and a few inches of water. Oh, Mother Nature is a rapscallion of the dearest sort!
Several of our crew made it through, which necessitated several minutes to calm the resulting hyperventilation. After a short clamber through the big room and a moment of “lights out,” our children consulted Robert’s rules, and made a motion (immediately seconded) to return. The lower streamway will have to wait… a few years.
With this off my chest, you may be wondering if we’re permanently estranged from our little ones. Well, no! In fact, we all had a delightful time munching on crunchies at a Pittsfield playground. Pasta and other goodies bought our good graces! And, I’m certain there was enthusiasm for a return trip, or perhaps a trip to a different cave. We’re open to suggestions. Perhaps ANC or the wet side of Gage?