Trinity students know the importance of getting real-world experience and exposure outside of the classroom. But, for some majors, what “exposure” means can be totally unexpected. For students interested in Earth sciences, getting practical experience could mean spending a Saturday morning getting dirty, crawling through dark, underground passages.
That’s exactly what several Trinity students did during a caving trip guided by Richard Silver, one of Trinity’s awesome staff members. A veteran caver himself, Richard presented this opportunity for students to not only share his passion but also to see what life is like for someone working in the field.
We all met Richard and Michael Harris, the assistant manager of Robber Baron Cave, on the edge of a sinkhole only several miles from Trinity. After getting dressed in our gear (helmets, lights, gloves and knee pads), Michael and Richard gave us a pep talk: “You will be challenged . . . but it will be a lot of fun.”
After entering through a small hole in the ground, we immediately found ourselves in a long tunnel with several dark offshoots. Scooting and crawling, we had to be careful not to disturb the sleeping bats hanging inches from our heads. Now underground, Michael explained some of the cave’s history, noting that since the 1800s, Robber Baron Cave has been periodically visited by more than just the bats: long after the cave was discovered by locals, it became a tourist attraction with a lighting system installed so visitors could see.
But now, with the lighting system long gone, we were forced to rely on our headlamps and sense of touch to navigate. So following Richard’s lead, we ventured further into the winding passages, some of which were tall enough for walking, and some of which required us to crawl on our bellies.
Of course, scraping our elbows and bumping our knees as we inch-wormed through the crawlways was part of the experience and challenge we had been warned about. So, we all were mentally prepared for the crawls. In addition to the crawling, we also had to edge our way over jagged holes and pits dotting the passage floors. The effect of all of this was to push us to our limits.
Yet, spending time crawling through unimaginably tight spaces and clinging to rock walls to avoid falling into the empty holes beneath made the experience fun. Sophomore Darya Fridman said, “The coolest part was either inching through a tunnel so small that I was not able to lift my head, or when I felt like Kuzco and Pacha from The Emperor’s New Groove, moving through the cave with my feet on one side of the cave’s wall and my back on the other.”
After we had spent several hours exploring, it was time to get back to the surface and return to our lives. We were all tired, but appreciative of this chance to not only learn about the workings of a cave, but to learn about ourselves as well. Darya summed up the expedition: “By gaining experience out in the world, or more exactly under it in a cave, I am able to pinpoint my interests. I’m not sure what I want to do, like most other students, so having an opportunity to experience something like caving while hearing about my classmates’ college journeys is influential on my future career path.”