Many Scouts believe that Moaning Cavern is the best, most exciting outing of their entire Scouting career. It combines underground rappelling, deep-cave spelunking, physical endurance, and old-fashioned brute strength into an epic test of a boy’s inner spirit. After finishing, Scouts can stand a little taller, walk with a little more swagger, and speak with more confidence. (Adults, on the other hand, just need a few days to recover!)
No one is fully prepared for the adrenaline rush you get when dropping into a huge cavern on a small rope. Starting on a wooden platform above the cavern, guides fit everyone with a safety harness and j-rack, then cover the ten safety rules. (Coveralls are provided to protect against the mud in the cave, but they are optional.) One at a time, the boys lean back over the edge, let go of the wooden handrail, and rappel their way slowly to a rocky area 30 feet below. Here they take a deep breath, turn around and inch backwards into the larger, open part of the cavern.
The next seconds are breath-taking and scary as Scouts drop over the edge and hang suspended on their rope with 130 feet of air under their dangling feet. Boys have to get control and maneuver themselves away from the rock face, slide the rope through their j-rack, and guide themselves slowly downward. Overcoming fear is critical because you don’t make any progress if your arms won’t move and your eyes won’t open. Eventually you are low enough for a guide to snag your rope and pull you into the safe landing area. Wow, what a rush!
Then, just when everyone is breathing normally again, the guide leads you down a ladder and into a small hole to explore the cave. For the next two hours you are crawling on your knees, slipping in wet passages, squirming through tiny spaces, inching along on your back with your nose touching the rocks above, and pulling yourself up a vertical shaft with your hands on a slimy rope and your feet kicking the open air below you desperately looking for a toe hold. At long last, you pull yourself up and out. Immediately collapsing onto the ground as Scouts crowd around and ask, “Can we do it again?”
If this wasn’t enough, new “Zip Lines” have been installed on the hill above the caverns for an added adrenaline boost. Scouts can cross the “sky bridge” to a launch tower, clip onto the lines and then zip more than 1,500 feet through the air, hitting speeds of up to 50 miles an hour before landing on another platform down the hill. (If your group has any strength left , try the 32 foot self-belaying “Climbing Wall” near the Zip Lines.) There are picnic tables for sack lunches and even a primitive campsite if you want to make a weekend of it. BRING YOUR OWN WATER. The water at Moaning Caverns is not certified safe for humans or Scouts. (Bottled Water is available.)
Scouts must weigh 100 pounds and be 12 years old to rappel into the cave. (Younger and smaller boys are OK for the cave crawl.) Adults should weigh less than 250 pounds and be in good condition.
Moaning Cavern is expensive – but the quality of the outing makes it worth the price. Adding up the rappel, cave crawl, tip for the guide, and pizza at Mike’s in Angel’s Camp on the way home, the total cost is about $110 per person – if you get the discounted Scout program. Budget $40 more if you do the “Zip Lines.” Camping is free but there is an overnight parking charge of $10 per vehicle.
Check out their excellent web site for more information: http://www.caverntours.com/MoCavRt.htm
Video about Moaning Cavern: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FytGuBg0K7k
Information about the Zip Lines: http://www.caverntours.com/MC_zip_line.htm