Wind Cave National Park

Sat 29 Jul 2017 16:56

One of our favourite tours, so far. The cave is unusual in the formations it has within. 95% of the world's boxwork as well as popcorn, frostwork (looks like it sounds) and flow stone. We couldn't take any pictures as we had opted for the 3.5 hour spelunking tour, crawling on our hands and knees. Boxwork is not a speleothem, but a speleogen, having formed as a hard filler in cracks in the limestone, before the cave was formed by the limestone being dissolved away leaving the filler behind. Popcorn is petrified cave sweat, jugs are pockets of crystals. Basically this cave is not a typical cave and some formations still have scientists baffled. With 147 miles discovered so far this is the third longest system in the world.

Lights, helmets and kneepads are all provided and we brought gloves, boots and longsleeveed tops (under $10 – Walmart again). Once kitted up we used the elevator to go down to where other tourists would walk off on paved paths, but we were to disappear into a small hole in the side.

We didn't crawl into the hole until the other tourists had gone, giving them plenty of time to stare at us as if we were some sort of museum exhibit. We were to view the unusual features of this (mainly dry) cave via four rooms and a few rest areas (a rest area being just enough space to sit upright on a hard rock).

Protocol is that on tricky sections hand- and foot-holds are pointed out, down the chain of cavers and each person is responsible for maintaining contact with the person in front and behind. This cave is massive and has had people lost in it before. So,if you find yourself all alone or lose contact with the person in front, you must sit down and wait for help, otherwise you could fall into one of the many pits or just be lost for a long time with no food or water. Half way through we all signed a book left in a room, so if we were late out rescuers could tell how far we had come.

Our guide was a young college student, Karrah, a charming girl who told us stories of the cave as we crawled through on our tour.

Difficult parts were going round the edges of deep pits, a slope without handholds, a slope without footholds – a slope without either. Where the slope is slippery and smooth without anything to hold you just have to trust the wonderfully grippy kneepads.
One climb was one by one. You are given the all clear to climb by the one in front and so on. We were lucky enough to be in a group of just five- the maximum is 10.
The saddle is literally the size of a motorbike saddle which you sit astride and shuffle along on your bum whilst making sure you don't think of how deep the pit is that your feet freely dangle over.
Our final cave room is called Rome because the main explorer Alvin McDonald searched for ages to try to find a way out from there, but all routes kept leading back to it. It took until the 1960sto find a route through a tiny gap that led to somewhere else.
Switching off our lights we swapped ghost stories: it is intensely relaxing to sit in complete darkness.
After over 3 hours, mainly spent on our hands and knees, we were covered in mud, but happy.

The Wild Cave tour at Wind Cave National Park is fabulous.