First, let’s discuss common misconceptions about Caves in VA
There are no caves in RVA
Sad but true! Richmond is home to one of the nation’s oldest caving groups, though, commonly known as “grottoes” of the National Speleological Society. The Richmond grotto, Richmond Area Speleological Society (RASS) for short, currently about 70 members ranging in different ages and backgrounds. Most members are also rock climbers, canoers, kayakers, hikers, skiers, disc golfers, conservationists, mountain bikers, canyoneers, and other generally outdoorsy types. The caves RASS frequents most are in the Bath/Highland counties of Virginia and Pocahontas/Pendleton Counties of West Virginia. This is about a three hour drive west on I-64, and unlike going to the beach or NOVA on a Friday after work, traffic is always moving when heading west.
Caves have snakes, bats, spiders, and the occasional bear!
Oh sorry, that’s partially true! Virginia caves are an exact median of the temperature range of the Appalachian Mountains at our latitude. Underground temperatures in Virginia sit around fifty degrees. Snakes, lizards, spiders, and other creepies don’t like it that cold; so other than at the entrance, it’s extremely rare to run into anything you would disagree with. As for bears, they don’t like caves because they are usually damp, windy places. Bears usually prefer to hibernate in confined spaces that insulate instead of drain heat out (such as hollow logs and earthen berms). In Virginia, we do have bats! Not to worry though, these are not the bats in Crocodile Dundee. Most bats are called Little Brown Bats and they are exactly that: small, little guys that have no interest in draining your blood. They are perfectly content with eating bugs and hanging out from the ceiling of caves.
You will get lost if you go down there!
Dang, that’s also partially true! If you decide to just “wing it” and go underground without knowing the rules, you could definitely get lost or hurt. Being properly prepared is crucial to having a fun and safe experience. The same is true if you went on a backpacking trip without planning your backpack contents or your route! Proper caving preparation includes having maps, trail markers, three sources of light, a helmet, at least two other people and folks on the top side that know when you went in and when you plan on being out. If you are interested in learning the ropes; come to a monthly RASS meeting right here in Richmond, educate yourself on safe caving practices, mingle with the members; then sign up for the next RASS novice trip and you’ll be on your way to an exciting future in caving. Don’t go out and buy all new gear for your first caving trip, RASS can provide you with the correct equipment and know-how to get you started on this truly unique outdoor “feather in your hat”, or helmet in our case.
I’ve been to Luray Caverns; I know what to expect
Finally, this is not true!! Luray is a beautiful cave, but it’s not the prettiest, and it’s definitely not what you should expect from a real cave trip here in the Old Dominion. When you go on a real cave trip, you can expect to do short climbs, crawls, shimmies, and a lot of other fun different maneuvers. Also you better be prepared to get a little muddy! Since our mountains are amongst the oldest in the world, Virginia has procured extremely decorated caves. Don’t let commercial caves be your only experience underground!! You’ll be missing out, if you do.
Now that we have dispelled some of the rumors about caving (um, kind of?), let’s talk about how you can get your boots dirty! RASS meets at 7 p.m. on the first Thursday of every month at the NEW Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries building at 7870 Villa Park Drive, Suite 400 Henrico, VA 23228. (Villa Park 3)
Check out our website to see where the current information about meeting contents. The meetings usually last for about an hour, and we always have a presentation on a recent trip, or a live training demo. When you are there, let it be known that you want to find out more about Caving or that you want to go on a trip. We will put you on a crew that is going either that month, or sometime soon and they will give you all the particulars. RASS does provide you with a place to camp close to the caves so plan on making a weekend out of it. Some of the best times are spent around a campfire post trip, reminiscing on the experiences of the day. Oh, yeah, did I mention that RASS is a non-profit club, which means, you will NEVER BE CHARGED TO GO CAVING? We strongly discourage you from ever paying to go on a cave trip.
If you have any questions please feel free to contact me by email, go to our website, or join Richmond Area Speleological Society group on Facebook. It’s always being updated on trips going out and other festivities.