Wednesday, March 3, 2010
Our own Perfesser Chaos takes a reporter from The Allegheny Front on a tour of of the graves of our old hunting grounds.
We cavers have a grim category of stomping ground known as the "sacrifice cave."
A sacrifice cave is easily-accessible, near a road. It does not require an extended hike to reach the entrance, and the cave itself is non-technical in nature, requiring no special equipment or technique. It generally has a long history of local exploitation and "recreational" visits, often going back for centuries.
And it has already been trashed.
Any speleothems have been long-ago broken off by klutzes or thieves. Delicate habitat for troglobitic and troglophilic creatures is often beyond memory. There is trash. Graffiti. Miles of string. Party refuse. The remains of "campfires" lit by geniuses unclear on the concept of the chimney. And don't drink the water.
When someone new wants to try caving, we take him to a sacrifice cave. Ditto for kids -- cavers' kids, our nieces, troops of scouts whose leaders want to take them on an adventure.
When we train our SAR dogs for underground search, we almost always use sacrifice caves.
On the one hand, if the new guest turns out to be a klutz or a cretin, there is little harm that he can do that hasn't already been done. He won't be invited on a trip to a more remote, protected, hazardous and unspoiled cave.
On the other hand, the condition of the sacrifice cave becomes an object lesson and an inspiration for the sincere wannabe caver. Here's where treasure hunters took sledgehammers to the stalactite that took millenia to form. There were the delicate soda straws swept away by the leaden head of some galoot crawling around with a $3 flashlight in his teeth. Over there is the elfin corpse of a bat knocked from the ceiling last Saturday by a drunken frat boy. See what we have lost?
Later, when the initiate wriggles down a secret hole after a long hike along a remote limestone ridge, rappels two eighty foot drops, and traverses an exposed cleft to finally find herself gaping among grinning friends in a sparkling vaulted gallery of pristine speleothems, she will remember all those mud-smeared, battered and spray-painted sacrifice caves where she learned her skills and earned her invitation. And fiercely swear not here -- not ever.
Otherwise, it was no sacrifice, just another pointless atrocity.