Whirlpool Trip Report: Fall 2016

The Beginnings of Adventure

Spelunking is one of those adventures you fall in love with the second you feel the cool cave air across your skin.  Whirlpool Preserve was a unique beginning cave that I would have never imagined finding myself in. Pulling off and underpass into a gravel patch bellow fast moving cars I wondered what I got myself into, but that didn’t last for long. Standing at the entrance, staring down into a dark hole; a mixture of excitement, nerves and adventure floods your body.  Protected by a helmet, kneepads and old clothes I climbed my way down a nine foot hole into a dark room with only my headlamp to light my way. Immediately we were on our hands, knees and bellies wiggling our way through the twists and turns of the cave. It was as if we were the water following a path carved over centuries of Earth’s history. Contorting our bodies to fit through body sized tunnels to find larger rooms where we could crawl and explore cave formations that have evolved through slow deposition and erosion. After an hour and a half of making my way through the cave taking paths that were physically tiring, beautiful and at times intimidating I found myself in the Travis County Room which is the culmination of this spelunking adventure. A good sized room opens up before us bringing a breath of relief from the whole team as we can now stand and walk around. Right in the center is a swirling hole that is the drain for the surrounding region.  Picking a spot to sit or lay down we all took a minute to breathe and enjoy the reality of where we were; bellow a bustling road way and world of people who had no idea we were there.

To experience a new sense of reality were submerged ourselves in total darkness by turning off our headlamps. It was like experiencing a new level of black in a silence that echoed in our ears. In that kind of darkness the mind creates a new way to understand; the phantom hand is a trick of the mind that makes you feel as if you can see your hand in this complete darkness, so we all spent some time exploring the powers of our minds.

Knowing the next team was headed in we began our ascent to the surface. Covered in sweat and dirt we passed back through the birth canal; the smallest hole we had to squeeze ourselves through, said goodbye to the cave crickets and spiders and ascended to the surface.  Taking one last look at the cave with my beam of light scanning the walls I was able to say “I did it” and know I can take on any cave that might come my way. By staying calm and powering through the moments that screamed you can’t fit through, you’ll get stuck and I’m not sure I can do this; I was able to build a base of confidence that I can carry with me in anything I do. Whirlpool was an adventure I will never forget and I can’t wait for the next one to come my way.

By Victoria Scriven

Powell’s Cave Service Project: November 2016

By Rob Upchurch

The morning of November 12, 2016, members of Aggie Speleological Society and Bexar Grotto woke and prepared to clean trash and graffiti from historic Powell’s Cave in Menard County, Texas. Powell’s, the supposed site of Jim Bowie’s buried silver, had been recently broken into and vandalized. After helping Crash Kennedy install a gate on the cave in the summer of 2016, the Aggies were invited back for another service opportunity.

Bexar Grotto members Christie, Arron, Joe, Victoria and Tom gave the Aggies maps and instructions on how to properly remove various types of graffiti with supplies they provided. After this briefing, the cavers descended a thirty-foot ladder into the cave. Coming to a flat, open area in the entrance, they broke into small groups to search out trash and graffiti. Each group consisted of a Bexar Grotto leader with a group of Aggies to assist.

After exploring their own passages, the cavers reconvened. Surprisingly, barely any trash or graffiti were found near the entrance and the cavers would have to go deeper to find their work.  They ate lunch and took pictures, then set out together to clean the affected passages.

Some of the graffiti were carvings in the mud, left by people only known as “Lana” and “Jake.” With a light spray of water and the delicate use of a toothbrush, these spots were easily taken care of. Other graffiti were left in black spray paint, ranging from the mysterious “RUGER GET OUT” to the creative “BOOBIES.” The cavers broke into two groups to remove them via water, light scrubbing, and blending with a sponge.

While the restoration was work, the trip wasn’t without play. The group talked about all sorts of topics – from classic rock to their favorite caves. More often than not, someone was giggling about something, like the boob sculptures Britten Haney removed from the wall to make the “uniboob” he lovingly carried and defended for the rest of the trip in the cave. This “uniboob” would later meet its demise by the campfire.

Hours later, the cavers called it quits. They had caved for 8 hours and removed all the graffiti they could find. Before exiting the cave a small group made their way to the stream passage while the others rested near the entrance. Returning from the stream, which had been described a variety of ways including “awesome,” the cavers exited into a cool summer evening.

Each caver took some time to freshen up by wiping away the mud and grime from a day’s worth of caving with baby wipes. Fresh clothes and cold beer had everyone feeling rejuvenated as the two grottoes gathered around a campfire. The group spent their evening swapping stories and experiences and talking more about their love for caving and the outdoors. One by one the cavers retired to their tents out of exhaustion, inebriation or some combination of the two.

The next morning the cavers woke, packed their bags and said their goodbyes. The Aggies made their way back to College Station, stopping along the way at a restaurant which specialized in an odd combination of BBQ and burritos. Returning to the road, the Aggies excitedly described their experiences in Powell’s Cave, such as finding a room full of sculptures and seeing massive piles of bat guano. Proud of the work they had done, many Aggies expressed interest in returning to Powell’s again.