Reading Time 8 minutes
Mystic Cave, West Virginia lived up to its namesake. With terrain ranging from vast pools of water to wide expanses of rooms, and from intricate cave formations to gushing waterfalls, I left Mystic Cave with a true sense of awe and some powerful memories.
We drove to Mystic Cave from the Syracuse University Outing Club’s (SUOC) Spring Break basecamp. A full week of friends, dancing, and debauchery didn’t stop us from going on outdoor adventures each and every day and expressing the Karuna spirit. As we arrived at the farmland that housed Mystic Cave, we spoke with the owner, a woman who has each caver that arrives on her property check in to a book. It seemed as though this book gave her happiness in a way that even though she could no longer move from the bed that constrained her, she could live her life through all the joy she was giving to cavers coming to her land. Sadly, a few weeks after our trip to Mystic Cave she passed on. Her generosity in sharing her land is something that has been greatly appreciated throughout the caving community and those who were able to experience the adventure that lies within Mystic Cave.
The views we experienced in the cave were something that can only be experienced when you enter the world that lies beneath your feet.
A stalactite like I’ve never seen before greeted us only about a half mile into our trek through Mystic. It’s really something to see a formation this beautiful, but then when you consider how long it took for it to reach its current form and that in another million years it will continue to greet others, but in a totally new and refined shape, you realize the truly mindblowing nature of what is being presented before you. Leonardo da Vinci spent four years crafting the Mona Lisa. Mother Earth spent around 4,000 years just to craft a little over a foot of this 5 or 6 plus foot creation.
As we continued through our journey we rappelled down a waterfall into the pool of water below. The sad part is that much of this cave water has likely been contaminated with pesticides and fertilizer runoff accumulated by nearby farmers operations.
At one point it looked as though our expedition had struck gold, literally! I was then told however that this golden accumulation is the result of a type of bacteria that grows within the cave. Throughout the cave there were sections that glittered silver and gold due to the accumulation of these bacteria.
Life on Mars Mystic! One of the most surprising events along our journey was when we found these sprouts growing up out of the cave mud. I was thoroughly perplexed as to how these plants could grow without any sunlight whatsoever. My guess is that sprouts are able to grow without sunlight but after a certain point these plants will need more sunlight to grow. I’m assuming that the fertilizer run-off from nearby farms had allowed these plants to grow easier in the caves. If you happen to have more insight on this I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!
The above picture is the entrance to our 30-foot crawl through an underwater stream in the cave. As we crawled through the stream bed, there was about 6 inches of space above us. Surprisingly, it was not as cold as one might imagine. Caves stay at a constant temperature of 55 degrees year round and with our wet suits and proper gear on beneath our clothes, it did not feel too bad at all. Although, this may have also been due to the many layers of clothing I had on underneath, as some of the others did start to get cold after a while.
We continued our journey through some more open passages which showed a wide array of formations. I was even able to capture a photo of a droplet coming off of the stalactite onto the stalagmite. I’ve been in about six caves over the past year but this cave held the most mesmerizing formations I have seen yet.
We then approached a large stream passage which we waded through with some small waterfalls to jump off of along the way. I felt as though I was in some sort of water park, jumping into pools of water and running through narrow passages until the next crawl section came my way.
We then used a hand line rigging to climb up another waterfall and continue along the cave passage.
A group of cave spiders welcomed us as we rounded the corner to the cave passage.
After circling around back to the entrance, we then took another offshoot of the cave. About half way down this passage I found a hole in the ceiling that we hadn’t seen before. Using a pile of rocks as a lift off, we hoisted ourselves up into the ceiling and explored. The ceiling passage actually went back quite aways in multiple directions and was an interesting find.
Pete exploring the ceilings of another section of cave
The pictures above are a cool indication of the multiple layers of cave along the passage. You can see one person walking around on a ceiling passage (top right) and you can see another person trekking through the water (bottom center). This is what made the cave so interesting. There were so many choices as to which way to go, many of them ending up in the same place, but a vast array of choices in how we wanted to get there.
As we continued, we reached a large pool of water that reached up to some of our chests. Luckily, this came towards the end of our trip because it left us completely soaked.
At this point, the 7 percent battery I had left on my iPhone had run out. However, fortunately, this was about the end of our journey anyways. The one part I wish I captured was the 15 foot tall stalagmite in a wide expanse of a room. But maybe next time!
As I traveled out of the cave I was truly ready to be above ground and dry once again. I heartily welcomed the warm sun on my skin once more and thoroughly enjoyed the food we cooked up when we arrived back at camp. I am certainly most glad about the fact that I wasn’t one of the cave plants sitting in the cave deep within the crooked passages.