“There’s usually more than one way to get through something.”
–Ken Walsh, Triangle Troglodytes vice-chair
by Jessie Ammons
photograph by Travis Long
When can we go underground again? asks the Triangle Troglodytes tagline. The answer? “About every other month or so,” says group chair Mark Daughtridge. This band of spelunkers – hobbyist cavers all – organizes trips to nearby caves, which in this region usually means Virginia and West Virginia. In between, they hold monthly open meetings at the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences, where members socialize, learn, and practice their skills. Recently, one item on the evening’s agenda was “drilling holes into concrete,” Daughtridge recounted jovially. Such bolting is serious, actually: a key skill for navigating challenging caves.
Despite the occasional power tools, these gatherings are friendly. Truly all are welcome, regardless of experience. When a newcomer asks about tight, dark spaces, Daughtridge reassures: “It’s generally not as scary as people think it would be,” he says. When in doubt, he recommends sending a taller, heartier caver in ahead of you. “I’m great to go with beginners,” pipes up vice-chair Ken Walsh, who is more than 6 feet tall. “If I can fit, you know you’ll fit.”
In all seriousness, “I’ve never had anyone be freaked out and decide they didn’t want to go farther in the cave,” Daughtridge says. “If anything, most people really feel pretty adventurous.”
Adventurous is the common denominator of this diverse group. Of the Tri Trogs’ 35 or so active members, ages range from 2 (cavers sometimes bring their children along) to 83. “We have a surprising number of Ph.D.s,” Daughtridge says, plus electrical engineers, college students, and people who “happen to move here from a place that had more caves than we do.” Rock climbing and diving are frequent gateway hobbies, he says. And there are also always just plain curious outdoorsfolk.