Down in the Depths: Spelunking Washington DC

Discover nature's underworld and delve into the depths of time on an extreme adventure spelunking through caves. Read on to learn more.

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Down in the Depths: Spelunking

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Down in the Depths

Spelunking where the sun don't shine

By Charmian Christie

Deep within cold, dripping caves, adventure lurks. "It's not for the claustrophobic," says our resident Nomadik spelunker, James W. Coates . While you can expect to emerge from your caving adventures with a few scraped fingers and wet, muddy clothes, you can't predict the sights you'll see inside.

Each cave has its own version of hidden beauty - from rippled stalactites and stalagmites to underground waterfalls, from open caverns to crawl spaces only svelte spelunkers can wiggle through. But why crawl through dark passages on your hands and knees when you can stand tall on a mountain ? "Spelunking lets you see things from a different perspective," Coates says. "Being in a cave isn't just getting close to nature, its getting inside nature."

Hidden Treasures, Hidden Dangers

While some spaces are roomy enough to stand in, more often than not you'll be crawling like a worm. Without natural light, you're completely reliant on your helmet's artificial light source, but the wonders that wait around every bend are worth the struggle.

Steep drops, falling rocks, misjudging distances or cracking your head on a stalactite are only some of the dangers. Since caves tend to be cold and wet, getting stuck or lost for hours can make hypothermia a real danger. And it's not a matter of crawling in and out. Some caves are complex labyrinths worthy of Greek mythology. Getting lost or separated from your group in one of these underground mazes can't be solved with a standard search-and-rescue mission.

While floods and falls can pose dangers, fumes are another issue. Some caves are home to colonies of bats so thick, the ammonia released from their droppings can kill you. No joke. When spelunking in the bat cave, be sure your utility belt has an oxygen mask.

But these dangers pale in comparison to the exhilaration of tapping into your drive to explore.

Start Spelunking

While ropes,...

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