In total darkness, you bring your own light. I've been bringing a pocket camera in a mud-proof case along on cave trips since the '70s. The beauty, the sense of profound age, and the isolation you can experience in a cave are the payback for the challenge of getting there.
I have been a member of the National Speleological Society since 1974, and have been on several hundred cave trips, (OK, not so many lately). In the company of a team of experienced cavers, with proper equipment and training, risk to yourself and to the delicate cave environment is minimized. If you want to try this hobby, contact the National Speleological Society for a list of nearby caving organizations.
Every one of the places pictured are now closed to public access for various reasons, which include endangered bat nurseries, foolish youth, purchase by quarry companies, etc. The golden age is over, so enjoy these pictures. It's as close as you'll probably ever get to being there.
(I will not release cave locations, so please don't ask)
Bone-Norman Cave system, West Virginia
Past the waterfall, about 1000 meters downstream, there is a set of passages that branch off to the left, then rejoin the main trunk; very satisfying to crawl through. 100k Gif
These "drumsticks" are 1 meter tall, and look powdery and extremely fragile. I've never seen anything like them before or since. 105k Gif
These columns would collapse if disturbed; we kept our distance. 60k Gif
Bats can be found thousands of meters from the nearest entrance. 60k Gif Don't get lost; here is one bat's cosmic conclusion. 60k Gif
My Cave, West Virginia
My three oldest kids after a satisfying crawl. 104k Gif
Elkhorn Mountain Cave, West Virginia
A fifty meter pit, but the main drop crosses three muddy ledges that can tangle your ropes if more than one party has rigged the drop. The owners have placed markers so you can avoid damage to the encrusted cave floor in some delicate places.
This dry drapery is nicely placed. 104k Gif
A still-growing ribbon above stalagmites. 70k Gif
These draperies almost touch their mating stalagmites. 66k Gif
Buddha Cave, Pennsylvania
Lunch time in the "wide place" in the crawlway. 59k Gif
Walt Allen Cave, West Virginia
A 10 meter trunk passage ends at the middle of one wall of the big room. Your lights can't reach the floor, the ceiling, or either end of the room. I don't remember hearing an echo when we shouted into it; it is appropriate to say that it was awesome. We rigged the drop against the wall, but the wall sloped away to a free fall for the last few tens of meters. At one end of the floor of the big room, a twisty crawlway led down to the top of a 50 meter bell-shaped pit.. We rigged to every one of the expansion bolts and pitons that we could find in the walls of the crawlway. At the bottom, it was very misty and humid, with "popcorn" covering the walls from the mineral-laden spray. Under some breakdown, we pushed (OK, we watched Bill push) a wet stream crawl that was blowing air, but it got too tight. After 12 hours in the cave, we returned to the surface at 1AM. Our wet coveralls froze to us in the -20F January night air.
One end of the Big room. 26k B/W Gif
Bill Foot ascending the crawlway drop- heading home. 20k B/W Gif
Schoolhouse Cave, West Virginia
We paid the owner his trespassing fee, and carried our ropes past the saltpeter mining works to the fan-shaped first drop. Hooking the standing line over the correct side of the nubbin called "the nick of time", (the right side !, as you face your rig point *) we each rappelled down to the balcony (half-way down), and pendulumed over to the perch. Bill Foot, our lead caver, had tied off the end of the rope to a formation, and guided us in, one-by-one to the ledge, where we de-rigged. Carefully threading our way on narrow walkways past deep drops, we came to the base of the mud wall. Bill lead-climbed the wall, placing carabiners in mud screw anchors for protection at a couple of places. He then top-belayed us as we climbed. From here, it was a short walk to the one-sided room, a 20 meter wide pit with a pair of 2" wide ledges at the foot and the chest level. We belayed Bill to the far side as he placed carabiners in the bolt hangers, then tied off at the other side. We then belayed each other as we tip-toed over. After this, the passage sloped down to the "Singing wells", a pair of 20 meter pits with a 1/2 meter wide crooked path at the top of the wall which divides them. There is also a crawlway around the left side, which I chose to take. I signed the register and rested. This picture shows me at the register, trying to calm down. 60k Gif
* If you screw up, and pick the wrong side of the nick of time, your rope will slip and you will swing over fifty feet to splatter against the side of the canyon wall.
You'll notice that the more difficult caves have fewer pictures
I didn't take any pictures at all in Carpenter-Swaygo, Hellhole, or Cave Mountain Caves.
J4 cave, Pennsylvania
This opening in the ceiling is about 1 meter tall. 100k Gif
It is just in front of this one. 100k Gif
A typical caver after hours. 100k Gif
Caver or Bozo, you be the judge. 100k Gif