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Caving with OAE

Caving+with+OAE

Instead of the usual Sunday morning crawl, my roommates and I were on the move at 8 a.m last weekend. Outdoor Adventure Experience (OAE), Loyola’s program for outdoor excursions, was taking us on our first outing with them to a cave in Pennsylvania.

During the two-hour ride there, we got to know the other students on the trip who would soon become our caving partners. The OAE group leaders constantly kept us busy with interesting conversations, fun games, and good music.

When we arrived to our destination, the OAE leaders laid out all our gear. I had no idea how legitimate their operation was. Everyone climbed into jump suits, slid on water resistant socks, and buckled helmets, knee-pads, and head lamps.

We walked down a street toward what I expected to be a busy entrance to the cave. To my surprise, we were the only people around. We were told that caving is an “underground activity” (pun intended) because professional cavers like to keep their caves a secret due to the extreme destruction humans can bring to cave habitats. In fact, a huge number of bats on the East Coast were infected by a fungus called white nose that humans accidentally carried into caves.

As we approached the cave entrance, a large horizontal pipe became visible that lead straight into a large hill. On top of the hill sat a busy interstate highway, and the noise of passing cars dominated the natural surroundings. We gathered outside of the large metal pipe where there stood a sign with the cave’s name – it was the only sign that this was anything more than a drainage pipe.

Crawling on our hands and knees, we shimmied down the pipe, and the sound of passing cars disappeared. Now, only the sloshing noise of muddy water and my own heavy breathing could be heard. When we got to the end of the pipe, we entered an entirely different world.

Snaking through a labyrinth of underground tunnels, we got to an open room where water had collected. Everyone sat around the edges with water up to their knees and admired the beauty of the cave. With just enough room to fit us all, the space was fully illuminated by our headlamps. To get a glimpse of absolute darkness, we turned off all our lights and sat in the pitch black. Nothing was visible, not even your own hand in front of your face. Never have I witnessed such complete darkness.

We continued to explore the cave, crawling our way through mud and over rocks while stopping to look at stalactites and other cave formations. I did not expect such freedom; it honestly felt like we were the first and only people to ever enter the cave. After a few hours of exploring, the OAE leaders brought us safely back to the entrance to wrap up a memorable day of adventure.

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Caving with OAE