Caving is a sport that gives kids a chance to see another world. Like all sports, it helps to be able to test it out before you commit. That’s why Girl Scouts offer Cracks, Crevices and Crawlways, an annual introductory caving program for girls held at Camp Skimino in Williamsburg.
Organized by the Colonial Coast Cavers, an outdoor group of the Girl Scouts of the Colonial Coast, girls can get an idea of what caving is all about. There are no bats flitting by, no water dripping water off stalactites, and no dirt or mud to belly crawl through. But there is plenty of darkness. These caves are not natural openings peeking out from a mountain side. They are inky crawlways made of wooden frames covered with giant sheets of black plastic to stop any light from entering.
Let’s join a few Girl Scouts as they learn teamwork, safety measures, and caving skills and prepare to one day venture deep into real caves.
Adventure Awaits at Camp Skimino
Cracks, Crevices and Crawlways Event Sets the Stage for Adventure
Nearly forty giggling girls, most between nine and eleven, are strapping on helmets with headlight bands at Camp Skimino. Eager to enter and explore the “caves,” they get in line to take their turn. Girl Scout Brownie Alexandria, her headlight hanging so low it almost covers her eyes, crawls out of the dark and squeals to her friend, “Let’s do it again!” A teen volunteer at the other end of the cave lifts the plastic covering and waits for the two friends to make it down to the other end for another go around.
Kami Lannetti, Virginia Beach Deputy City Attorney and lead organizer for the Colonial Coast Cavers, walks the room, inspecting the caves and making sure the program is running smoothly. This is the second day of the program.
“Our caving team spends hours constructing and creating the simulated caves,” she explains. “The pieces are packed and stored and taken out a few times a year to do this program. A lot of volunteer hours go into making this happen.”
According to the archives of the Girl Scouts of the Colonial Coast, the caving program evolved from a troop caving trip in 1975. The troop started opening up caving to other troops and word spread. It soon became a council-wide program and was opened to other councils as well.
Cracks, Crevices and Crawlways was started as a fundraising activity in 1987 to support the program and became an annual event. Last year, more than 200 girls attended.
“Over the years we’ve added elements,” Kami says. “We want to offer a variety of simulated cave environments for girls to experience.”
Two dragon-sized caves take up the first floor of Camp Skimino’s dining hall, while two smaller structures—more advanced caves—are open for exploration on the second-floor balcony.
“These [advanced] caves have crisscrossed ropes strung inside to challenge the caver,” explains Kami. “This requires them to squirm and maneuver tight and awkward spaces just as cavers will need to do in real caves. They offer girls a challenge to learn and grow in their abilities and confidence.”
Beyond Dark: It’s All About Adventure
One Girl Scout Claims, “You Can Do Anything!”
Mollie Redman, 15, is one of those girls who has benefited from the caving experience. After spending the night before hammock camping with the Wild Things, another Girl Scout outdoor group, she’s come to the dining hall today to see the cavers and is enjoying watching the younger girls run from cave to cave, sometimes stopping to look at caving paraphernalia laid out on an exhibit table.
“I can’t wait to go again,” she says. “My next trip is this April. This will be my second time caving.”
Like the girls here today, Mollie was bitten by the caving bug more than a year ago when she attended Cracks, Crevices and Crawlways. Last October, she and her younger sister, Kaitlyn, went on a caving trip that took them to West Virginia’s Organ Caves. Now they say they’re hooked on the sport.
“When you first enter, it takes a few minutes for your eyes to adjust, it’s very dark,” Mollie explains. “It’s beyond dark! I’ve learned that depending on the cave, it can be dry or wet and damp. Some are messy and muddy, and sounds can vary a lot, too. Sometimes they are quiet and your breathing seems loud, but if you’re in a cave with a waterfall, the sound can be deafening. So I’ve been told.”
Mollie hasn’t been in a cave with a waterfall yet, but she’s hoping that will come after more experience. For her, it’s all about the adventure, here and now. “Caving, backpacking, rock climbing—all these things I’ve done have changed me,” Mollie says. “It’s exhilarating. I say to myself, ‘If you can do these things, Mollie, you can do anything!’”
Their mother, Tammi Redman, a Girl Scout volunteer and, according to Mollie, “a real cool mom,” stands next to her daughter beaming. She and her husband also went on the Organ Caves trip and plan to go caving with the girls again this spring.
She says it is a great way for the family to be together, and she’s so proud of her daughters. “I love to see them having fun and so happy,” says Tammi, “and it’s really helping them build leadership skills.”
Working as a Team
Ropes and Initiatives Course Teaches Team-Building Skills
Mollie and Kami agree: being able to work as a team is important while caving. During Cracks, Crevices and Crawlways, girls do a number of team-building exercises. One activity called Centipede challenges team members, together, to walk on two planks with rope handles. It is great fun and is typically chaotic for the first few steps.
Each team gets their act together by communicating, agreeing to procedures, being prepared to accommodate one another and thinking as a team. The basic team-building activity is to complete 10 steps in a row without anyone touching the ground. More complex teambuilding requires going around obstacles on a course.
“Progression is important in any outdoor sport, especially caving,” Kami explains. “Before a caving trip, new cavers must participate with fellow rookie cavers in Ropes and Initiatives, which is a ropes-challenge course designed to strengthen them as a team and teach fundamental caving techniques.”
“During this time, trainers also go over gear, forms, and expectations for the trip as well,” Kami continues. “On their first trip, rookies are assigned to rookie caving groups with experienced cave leaders to learn caving techniques.”
Bruises & Bumps: Badges of Honor
Colonial Coast Cavers Teach Girls Safety
Over the forty years they’ve been caving, Colonial Coast Cavers hasn’t had any cave emergencies or injuries. Bruises and bumps are common, however. They’re considered badges of honor among cavers and show that you had a good time.
“We have permission to explore a variety of caves, and we reserve certain caves for first-time cavers,” Kami emphasizes. “Experienced cavers explore more difficult caves with challenges such as climbs, boulders, tight passageways, mudslides, waterfalls, water passages, and other difficult elements.
“On a typical day, cavers get up at 7 a.m. to start preparing gear and supplies, and travel to the caves,” Kami says. “Between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m., cave groups are in the caves and, after leaving the caves, they spend several hours cleaning gear and showering. It is important not to cross contaminate any caves.”
Due to the extreme conditions, cavers require a lot of specialized gear and enough supplies to be prepared in case an emergency requires an extended stay in the caves. If you’re going with the Colonial Coast Cavers, helmets, lights and swami belts are provided. They also have a lending library of caving gear that new cavers can borrow for trips.
Cavers also need coveralls, long underwear, wool socks, gloves, fanny packs, batteries, and hiking boots with grooved soles. To prevent the spread of White Nose Syndrome, which devastated much of the bat population over the past decade, cavers must have clean and sanitized gear for each day of a caving trip.
At one of the workshops offered at Cracks, Crevices and Crawlways, Kami describes to girls and parents what to expect. “Wear something you don’t mind getting ruined that will keep you warm even when wet,” she explains. “You can expect to get wet at least up to your knees and expect the cave to be about 55 degrees. [You’ll need] footwear with good grip and ankle support that you don’t mind getting soaked and muddy and a clean change of clothes for when you get out.”
Mollie’s mother, Tammi, says while all sports come with a certain amount of risk, there are real personal growth benefits with caving.
“You have to ask yourself, when have I experienced the most growth? Probably when you faced a challenge and had to overcome an obstacle,” says Tammi. “Risk involves testing your capabilities and requires problem solving. These are important skills our children need to build—essential life skills.”
Here’s What You Need To Know
Both Girls and Volunteers Are Important to the Girl Scout Mission
If spelunking—the official name for caving—is something your daughter would like to try, get her involved in Girl Scouts. Visit www.gsccc.org for information on joining a troop.
As an adult, consider volunteering with Colonial Coast Cavers or research other groups that may offer high-adventure experiences, such as white-water rafting, backpacking, rock climbing, and other activities. Girl Scouts of Colonial Coast has several outdoor groups run by volunteers, such as the Blue Herons who canoe and Wild Things who backpack, bike, and do a variety of challenging outdoor activities. For information on volunteering, visit www.gsccc.org.
Marcy Germanotta is the communications director for Girl Scouts of Colonial Coast. For more information about the Girl Scouts, call 800-77SCOUT.