Caving Jewel; a volunteer survey trip

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I’m a caver and a part of caving is surveying cave passages to create maps.  There is the question of whether this diminishes the wildness of the cave, which it probably does.  However there is the practical issue of a cave the size of Jewel Cave with over 180 miles of passageway.  Without a map it would be impossible to travel through Jewel; you’d become lost and die somewhere in the maze.  Along with mapping survey stations are created with flagging tape or by marking the rock.  We could leave the cave alone to its ancient and un-human processes; but in the selfishness of me and people like me, we explore, trying in our feeble and human way to understand and experience what is beyond us.

Sunday the 18th, I had the chance to join a survey crew in Jewel Cave, near Custer South Dakota and spent all day surveying.  Surveying is hard work, involving reading precise instruments in tight uncomfortable quarters with limited light.  It involves crawling, climbing, laying in mud and on rock.  Hours of squirming and squinting.  It also involves experiencing a frontier like few ever do, especially in this day of satellite photos.  Caving involves directly experiencing a wild that is forbidden for permanent human habitation, an environment as beautiful as it is hostile.  Caving is a face to face encounter with the alien and unknowable.  As such, my photos completely fail to capture the experience; partly this is my lack of photography skills, partly this is the enormity and strangeness of the cave environment.

 

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