THE FINISH LINE: Spelunking and rappelling, a blast of physical energy

Tired of the same routine in your running? Try throwing an
offbeat activity into your training mix.
Tired of the same routine in your running? Try throwing an offbeat activity into your training mix.

The spotlight for this month is spelunking and rappelling. Serious research was in order, so I took it upon myself to explore the depths of this interesting subject. For me, an adrenaline addict, I couldn’t pass it up.

Ken Young and I drove hundreds of miles to Moaning Cavern Adventure Park near Angels Camp in Calaveras County on a Friday to avoid huge crowds.

The staff at Moaning Cavern gave excellent service with many a smile. They offered the Adventure Tour package, which included rappelling into an enormous cavern and subsequently belly-crawling through subterranean passageways. The tour was three hours — hours of physical torture, that is. Just kidding!

To whet my adventurous appetite, I chose to zip line first before the spelunking. We met manager Keith Armbruster at the zip line shack; another guy then weighed us on a scale before equipping us with necessary gear and helmet. I was ready to rock and roll above the treetops. They offer twin zip lines, which run 1,500 feet across, and two types of rides: The seated traditional style and “superhero,” where the person flies face-first in a horizontal position. Did I mention at 40-plus mph? I did both.

After an exhilarating time, we returned to the shack, dumped our gear and followed Armbruster an ex-Silicon Valley patriot to another building. He introduced us to Greg Wilson, our guide for the next portion of the tour. Wilson did a fabulous job. Four others joined us for the journey into the bowels of Moaning Cavern. We donned jumpsuits — I chose “prison orange” — plus blue rubber gloves and a helmet with a headlamp. We watched a safety video warning us not to do stupid things with the J-Rack, the thing that controls the descent of the rope.

After the video, Wilson led us to a tiny dark hole in rock — the entryway to the enormous chamber.

We had to go one at a time through the microscopic opening to rappel 165 feet down to the cavern floor.

“Piece of cake, right?” I muttered weakly to someone nearby as I grabbed tight to the rope before taking the plunge. I pinballed my body on the rocks because I didn’t work my J-Rack correctly. Finally I managed to descend into the massive cavern, which was gorgeous.

When everyone rappelled down to the floor, Wilson prepped us for the cave crawl. He regaled us with stories of the bone pile from animals and people falling into the cave over the centuries and, of course, scary monsters lurking in the dark recesses — hungry ones.

The wet, tight tunnels with lots of pokey slimy rock formations made our trek tough. Think of toothpaste being squeezed out of the tube; that was how I felt in most spots. This was a lousy time to feel claustrophobic. If it wasn’t for the jumpsuit, helmet and gloves I would’ve been more mangled and bruised than normal.

It did take superhuman strength to pull myself out of the Roach Motel after spelunking for more than an hour. Wilson gave everyone the merciful option of climbing out sooner through an opening nearby or, for daredevils, to take the dangerous 45-foot ascent on a slimy knotted rope through Godzilla’s Nostril. Despite the fatigue and pain, I signed up for the dangerous route. Only Ethan and his Dad joined me while everyone else took the shortcut.

After the exhausting climb, I butt-slid down the slope to meet the rest of the team waiting on the platform. If rappelling and spelunking weren’t enough, we had to ascend 234 steps on a metal spiral staircase. Then an additional 90 steps toward the top were thrown in for good measure.

At the gift shop, everyone guzzled cold bottled water, courtesy of Moaning Cavern. Chris Dori of Concord said, “It was a solid two-hour workout. It was tough.”

Dori’s wife, Rossnina, added, “I would definitely do this again. Next time I’ll be more fit and do more push-ups and pull-ups.”

The next day I was pretty sore. I should follow Rossnina’s advice.

Angela Young is a free lance journalist for South Valley Newspapers and is passionate about the running world. She’s been a runner for over a decade and loves to write stories on seasoned athletes, weekend warriors, newbies, races of all distances on paved roads and off the beaten path. She likes to include the wild and crazy and as well as the most serene in her stories.

Leave your comments