Margaret Harrison's Guide To Caving
Create Your Own
| Chat! Join Margaret on Cavechat.org
Interesting! Read the four-page story about Margaret Harrison, Hazel Barton, and caving in the June 2002 issue of Jack and Jill Magazine!
Cave Science! Read The 2004 Glenwood Springs Independent Article On Margaret!
Sign Margaret's Guestbook
This site documents a young Colorado caver named Margaret Harrison (wedged in a chimney in Groaning, left) who regularly goes caving at altitudes that other people fly in airplanes at (10,000 feet and above). Cave temperatures at that altitude are 40 degrees and lower. Caving at such extreme altitudes takes special strength, stamina and safety precautions because of the danger of hypothermia. A 6-hour cave trip at 10,000 feet is equivalent to a 9-hour trip at lower altitudes.
Margaret lives in the Rockies west of Denver and has been hiking in Colorado since she was three. She participates in the advanced placement program in the Jefferson County School District, with a 4.0 grade average. She's an accomplished dancer, which keeps her in shape for caving, and also helps her move through the cave (one time she was in a narrow cave passage and said, "If I wasn't able to do splits, I couldn't have turned around.") She has been taking dance lessons since she was 2 (right).
Margaret has been caving since she was 9 (note: the flying bats on this page have special meaning -- not just with caves. Margaret's birthday is on Halloween).
Margaret had earlier shown an interest in rock scrambling, learning the 'three points of contact' from her dad. She started out climbing small boulders in the Pike National Forest near her house. When she was 8, she and her dad climbed Picacho Peak, an exhausting (for dad) 4-mile round trip hike (with an 1,820-foot elevation gain) from the desert floor between Phoenix and Tucson, Ariz.
While dad was worried she might not be able to make the sometimes vertical hand-over-hand climb to the top of the peak (pictured, left), Margaret handled it with ease, except for the many lizards scurrying about. She said she could do without the lizards.
It was on a later camping and hiking trip to Eagle County that Margaret first expressed an interest in visiting a cave. Her dad, a long-time member of the National Speleological Society, took her to Fulford Cave to show her the culvert entrance that he helped install in 1986, as part of a Colorado Grotto work project. (The Colorado Grotto is a local caving club affiliated with the NSS). Since they didn't have the proper caving equipment that day, her dad only took her into the 'north entrance' of the cave, which was a short cave passage. She didn't show any signs of fright in the dark and said she would like to try caving when dad could gather all his caving gear.
Margaret officially began her caving career the next weekend, on July 28, 2001 with a visit to nearby Porcupine Cave in Park County. Her dad, an experienced caver of 25 years, thought it would be an easy first cave for her, to see if she really could handle being underground and going through tight squeezes.
She showed great enthusiasm (first cave trip picture, right) and followed her dad through various parts of the dusty cave, careful to avoid the area where paleontologists were digging for prehistoric bones.
Margaret learned proper caving techniques and ethics from the start: 'Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints, kill nothing but time.' She learned that many beautiful caves are the victims of vandals and people who just didn't care about them.
Margaret had no problem with the darkness or tight spaces. In fact, she really enjoyed the underground adventure. She learned that caving is not for everybody, but for those who can handle the mental and physical challenges it is "out of this world." Her dad told her that he thought caving was the closest thing an earth-bound person can come to exploring another world. She also learned that every caver's dream is to explore an overlooked crawlway and discover a new room (or better yet, a new cave) that no human being had ever set foot in.
OK, Margaret has asked to include this story regarding her first cave trip. Her dad dropped out of caving for about 7 or 8 years (about the time Margaret came along). So, when he started caving again, he still had his trusty Premier carbide lamp, but had become nearsighted with age. While in Porcupine, he was peering over his glasses at the map of the cave (very close to his face) when he and Margaret started smelling smoke. "Dad, Dad! The map's on fire," yelled Margaret! The flame from her dad's helmet light had, indeed, caught the map on fire. Lucky for them he still remembered how to find the way out. Her dad now uses electric lights and plans to give Margaret his Premier carbide headlamp as a memento of her first caving adventure.
|Back to Margaret's
first season caving: She spent
the next several weekends exploring Fulford Cave in Eagle
County. It's a well-known cave in
the White River National Forest that is visited by hundreds
of people each year. The cave is near the 10,000 foot
elevation level and the year-round temperature is about 42
degrees. It is a very wet cave, with a fast-moving stream
running through part of it. She also saw many ill equipped *spelunkers
(and kids younger than she was) walking through the cave in
shorts and t-shirts, carrying one flashlight for the entire
group. She even saw a few kids in flip-flop sandals walking through the cave.
As she continued caving almost every weekend, Margaret's dad helped her get properly equipped for high altitude Colorado cave exploration: she wore a helmet with head light, insulated coveralls to keep out the chill, gloves, and heavy hiking boots.
She always carried a backpack with two additional sources of light (originally, a flashlight and a candle). She learned that the nine-hour candle was to be used in case her first two sources of light failed, but also learned it could be used as the main source of light when she stopped to eat and rest. That way she could turn off her headlamp and give the batteries a rest. She also found the candle provided some warmth for her hands in the cold environment of Colorado caves. She also carried a canteen filled with a sports drink, some power bars, and a small fruit cup. (She has since abandoned the Power bars for Snickers bars and the sports drink for lemonade)
During her first summer of caving, she took many trips to Fulford Cave. She was very eager to learn her own way through the multi-level cave and see if she could find her own way out. She enjoyed exploring its many rooms and passages, although when she finally made it up to the Cathedral Room, she wasn't impressed. She claimed her dad "oversold it." As the months passed, she gradually stopped asking "How long have we been in?" and just started enjoying herself. She also changed from always wanting to have at least one light on during rest breaks to turning hers off too, and just enjoying the quiet and the darkness. It was plain that she found cave exploring very challenging and fun.
After her 7th trip inside Fulford (in three weeks) her dad thought she was ready for a "world class" caving experience: Groaning Cave. At 11 miles, the high-altitude maze cave is the longest cave in Colorado and requires considerable caving skill to negotiate.
Groaning has such delicate speleothems that it is "gated" by order of the U.S. Forest Service. Access is strictly controlled to protect its fragile and pristine environment. The heavy, metal gate has a combination lock on the inside and the combination is changed frequently to keep out cave vandals and inexperienced cavers. Margaret had to sign a liability waiver in order to enter the cave and the trip had to be led by a caver familiar with the cave. In this case, it was her dad. In fact, Groaning was her dad's very first caving trip in 1975 when he joined the Colorado Grotto.
Over Labor Day weekend, 2001, Margaret made the nearly one-mile hike to the cave at 10,000 feet elevation on the White River Plateau. Margaret followed her dad and fellow Colorado Grotto member Marjori Johnson down into the cave entrance to the locked gate.
| Once inside Groaning, the group locked the gate behind them and signed
the cave register to indicate who was in the cave
and where they were going. Margaret was very excited about
seeing Groaning because her dad had told her about the
beautiful formations, but also warned her that it would be
the hardest caving she had done so far.
The group went through the first bypass: a tight crawl where you have to "suck spiders" in one spot to get through, to CSU passage, named for the defunct Colorado State University Grotto which first explored it. ("Sucking spiders" is caver slang for having your head close to the ground in a tight crawlway.)
Margaret was amazed and delighted by what she saw, but later admitted she was a bit nervous several times when the trio got "turned around" a couple of times. She learned that Groaning is an alpine maze-type cave and even experienced cavers get turned around in it from time to time. Margaret learned to look for survey markers with letters and numbers that indicated where they were in the cave.
She got to see the "trademark" Groaning formation: a stalagmite that had fallen over thousands of years ago and two other stalagmites "grew" from its side.
She wasn't tall enough to bridge a large pool of water so Marjori straddled it and Margaret climbed up her leg and used her as a platform to get across the pool. Afterward, she posed for a picture, looking across it. It took her dad two tries to negotiate the pool without falling in.
After nearly four hours of hard caving at altitude, Margaret was ready to leave. Now she had a better idea of what to expect on her second trip into Groaning planned for the next day.
Day two of Groaning took Margaret farther back into the cave, past beautiful flowstone formations to an area that features gypsum "flowers"growing from the rock. Her dad had showed her pictures before the trip, telling her that gypsum flowers looked a little like toothpaste coming out of a tube.
Margaret was really impressed with the anthracite crystals and the cave walls covered in white gypsum crystal. She was having so much fun she didn't realize she had been in Groaning for six hours. Time really does fly when you're underground.
The weekend after Labor Day, 2001, Margaret and her dad took part in a 50th anniversary event that re-created the first caving weekend in 1951 when the newly-formed Colorado Grotto first explored several caves, including Fulford and Fairy.
A cold front brought snow and cold temperatures to the campground that morning (right) but Margaret learned one of the advantages of caving: snow is not a problem underground. Margaret and other grotto members assembled in the snowy Fulford Cave parking lot (left) and made the trek up to Fulford in fresh snow.
After many hours in the cave, Margaret and her dad emerged to find sunshine and melted snow. That night she and her dad sat around the campfire and listened to Hazel Barton and other grotto members tell caving stories. (Hazel was interviewed with Margaret for the caving article in Jack & Jill Magazine)
The next day, part of the group headed for Fairy Cave (now a very nice commercial cave renamed Glenwood Caverns). Margaret learned that grotto members are active in the cave, exploring new passages, surveying (mapping), and doing conservation and restoration work. Because of that, grotto members are allowed access to portions of the cave.
Two groups of grotto cavers joined up to explore the "historical section" of the cave and Margaret was delighted by the speleothems she saw. After a while the cavers came to the "canyon," an imposing obstacle that drops about 30 feet to a pit that drops another 20 feet (click picture, right for slideshow).
Karla, one of the trip leaders (yellow helmet, below) easily negotiated the steep climb down and then asked if the rest of the group wanted to try it. Several people declined but Margaret's dad gave it a try and also made it down, thanks to Karla "spotting" him and suggesting hand and foot holds. One more member tried it and then Margaret said she would try. Amy, the other trip leader, hooked her up with a "confidence belay." The webbing belay is used in case she slips, but allows her to climb down the canyon on her own. Unfortunately her dad didn't take a picture of Margaret coming down because he didn't want to make her more nervous and thought the bright flash would ruin her night vision for the difficult climb down. It was the most challenging vertical climb she had ever done. (If you don't think 30 feet is much, think about what it looks like to someone who is less than 5 feet tall)
After Margaret made it down, everyone else decided if a nine-year-old could do it, they could too, and everyone in the group made it to the bottom of the canyon. They then gave Margaret a loud ovation. It was a great experience and confidence builder for her.
After several more tight crawls, beautiful rooms, and a rest stop (left) it was time to leave the cave. Margaret and her dad posed for a picture with Amy Bern, their trip leader (right). Amy was the chair of the Colorado Grotto at the time, of which Wayne and Margaret are members. ( Click here for a slide show of Margaret's Fairy Cave trip.)
Next on her list of caves to explore was Cave of the Clouds near Glenwood Springs (left). This cave was discovered over 100 years ago high on the side of Glenwood Canyon.
Margaret had quite an adventure visiting this cave, which features some of the largest formations in the state. Dad thought he found a shortcut to the cave, but it ended up being about 1 1/2 miles of very hard bushwhacking up the side of a steep hill. (Tip: Don't park in the rest area at No Name and try hiking to the cave) It was one adventure after another as the third caver they were with became stuck in a narrowing, descending passage, but finally managed to free himself after getting some help from Margaret's dad. ( here are pictures from the trip posted on the Colorado Grotto Web site) On the way back to the car, Margaret saw her first wild bear! It was walking through the backyard of a home they were walking past in the other direction.
Her next cave was Hubbard's (click picture, left for short slideshow), which is near the end of tough three mile, four-wheel drive road high on the side of Glenwood Canyon. Once inside the cave, Margaret marveled at the gypsum crystal that coated the ceiling. The cave itself is quite easy except for one tight squeeze heading to the "Grape" room. Most people go through it head or feet first, but Margaret was so small she could make it sideways (left)!
Margaret brought a friend along to enjoy the beautiful gypsum crystal ceiling (right). She also got to see her first bats, which she didn't like. She had two pet gerbils at the time and her dad couldn't understand why she didn't like bats. "They're just gerbils with wings," he told her. She said she's not buying it.
After Hubbard's, Margaret popped into Ice Cave, which is right next door but doesn't connect. It also had no ice. On the way back to the car, Margaret stopped to enjoy the breathtaking beauty of Glenwood Canyon from a vantage point that most people never see. She also wondered about possible caves on the opposite side of the canyon.
Seven caves in her first 80 days of caving, including Fulford 8 times and Groaning 3 times. That's quite a lot of caving in anybody's book, especially for someone her age. (she was 9 at the time).
In October, 2001, she attended the Colorado Grotto's 50th Anniversary Banquet, and had her picture taken with such Colorado caving legends as Donald G. Davis, Dr. Norm Pace, and Dr. William Halliday. It was a great way to wrap up the season. She also got a kick from her dad explaining that, if she stuck with caving, she could be the only person around who attends the 100th that was also at the 50th Grotto Anniversary (she'll be 60 then). Margaret and her dad are in the front row of the group photo that was put into a time capsule and deposited in Cave of the Winds, to be opened prior to the 100th Grotto anniversary.
Margaret officially joined the NSS (#52522) in 2002.
While visiting her grandparents in Arizona over spring break, in March 2002, she got to explore Cave of the Bells in southern Arizona. She also got to try out her new kid-size caving helmet, complete with a secondary light (LED) mounted on the helmet. Click here to learn about her trip to Cave of the Bells.
During April, Margaret visited two more caves: Breezeway, and Cave of the Winds (Jack & Jill photo shoot, right). She and her dad joined a group of cavers on a work trip, helping carry the new ladder into Breezeway.
On June 8 Margaret and her dad, took some new Colorado Grotto members into Groaning Cave. This time, she had gained enough experience to navigate an imposing fissure where she had to press her back against one wall and her feet against the other and inch sideways in order not to fall into the chasm below her. (picture of Margaret in same fissure from 2004 trip 2nd from top above) Just to be safe, her dad and another caver got on either side of her to give her emotional support and to grab her if she started to slip. From there, it was through a series of tight passages call "the windows," which she had little problem with, due to her size.
The group didn't emerge until around 5:30 that evening, only to see strange "clouds" blowing over the cliff above the cave entrance. Thinking they were storm clouds, the group started the one-mile trek back to the cars, keeping an eye out for lightning. About halfway there, they were able to see the blood-red sun in the sky and realized the "clouds" were actually smoke from a nearby forest fire. Winds of 40 to 50 miles per hour blew the smoke over their heads as they started sprinting for the cars, thinking the fire was just over the nearby ridge. (Try running a mile at 10,000 feet elevation sometime) The smoke, it turned out, was from the Coal Seam Fire, which started about 1 p.m. in nearby Glenwood Springs. Margaret and her family broke camp early Sunday morning because of the fire, only to find the Hayman Fire -- which eventually became Colorado's largest in history -- bearing down on their mountain community when they got home.
Margaret and her Dad went to the 10th Annual Black Hills Caver Classic over the July 4th holiday at John and Pat Scheltens ranch in Hot Springs, S.D. While there, she visited Mount Rushmore, Custer State Park and she explored nearby Reeds Cave (sorry, no pics from that trip), which she really liked. In fact, she hopes to go back, because it turned out to be one of her favorite caves. (Why didn't she visit Wind Cave? The National Park Service doesn't allow cavers her age into the wild portions of the cave, regardless of their experience). The 'highlight' of the event at the ranch is the annual pig roast, featuring a fresh pig. It took some getting used to for Margaret who, up till then, had only seen meat in Safeway packages. "Gee, I can't believe I am eating something that was walking around yesterday," she said, as she sampled the roast pig.
On Sept. 28, Margaret and her dad joined Colorado Grotto chair Amy Bern and a number of other cavers on a quick trip to Huccacove Cave in Williams Canyon. She got to see the historic portion of the cave and enjoyed the spectacular scenery outside the cave. For pictures from the trip, including a beautiful picture of the hike to the cave, click here.
Over the Labor Day weekend Margaret and her dad were joined by Norm Thompson and his daughter Ellen to start a dig in the White River National Forest. They are digging in what appears to be a cave entrance, but it filled with dirt over time. During two days of digging, they managed to dig into the "cave" enough to reach a small chamber (only big enough for Margaret or Ellen to reach and sit up in). Still, it was clear that she and Ellen were the first to gain access to the room.
Margaret and her dad are continuing to dig at the site as time (and weather) allow. They have enlarged the first chamber enough to allow better access to the next section of the dig. Here's a link to pictures of the dig. There is still a long way to go, so if you are interested in helping with the dig project, please email Wayne Harrison.
Margaret got a seven LED cluster headlamp to replace her main caving light, so now she's equipped with two LED headlamps on her helmet. She's finding she likes the LEDs because they are "white" light and show the actual colors of the formations better and they last much longer (more than 80 hours on three AAA batteries). Margaret visited Fault Cave in Clear Creek Canyon in January but was less than impressed (It's not a true "cave" and consists of granite fissures in the ground)
Somewhere in here, Margaret grew 4 inches and was 5 feet tall by the summer, which made it easier for her to reach hand and footholds. Margaret and her dad were at John and Pat Sheltens Ranch near Hot Springs, South Dakota for the 11th Annual July 4th Cavers Classic to see more of Reeds Cave (Margaret's favorite cave). Mike Hanson took a group of six cavers into Reeds (Rebecca Schaff, Todd Widegren and Margaret at rest stop, left) and told Margaret to watch where they were going because she was going to lead the group out of the multi-level cave. Margaret paid very close attention and did lead the group out! Click large image above for a slideshow of the visit.
On Day 2 of the Classic, Margaret and her dad followed Mike and Greg Hanson to Davenport Cave, near Sturgis, S.D. It is an very unusual cave in several respects: it is one long "room" that goes down about 310 feet at a 40 degree angle. It is also covered in dogtooth spar and the group was literally walking on broken crystals most of the way. It was pretty easy for Margaret to find her way around: "in" was down and "out" was up. Click here for pictures of the cave visit.
Margaret also visited Cascade Falls, a "swimming hole" near the ranch that has a travertine dam and a small "cavelet" under a water fall. One of the highlights of the trip was to see the July 4th fireworks in Hot Springs, put on by John Sheltens and a bunch of cavers from the Classic. Margaret and her dad got to sit about 50 yards away from the lighting area and literally had fireworks exploding right over their heads.
The Black Hills of South Dakota are starting to become a second home to Margaret, who finds "drive-up caving" and the pleasant cave temperatures very enjoyable. Plus, it's only 5 1/2 hours from her Colorado home -- just a few hours farther than it takes to drive to caves on the Colorado western slope. (It's over 3 hours from her home to Groaning and Fulford)
Margaret led her first trip into Groaning in August. After many trips into the alpine maze cave, her dad thought she knew her way around the front portion well enough to lead a group. Margaret and her dad were joined by Dan Bryce and his daughter Ember, 12, and son Branden, 10, on the trip.
Margaret wants to make a few more visits to Groaning as she moves farther back into the cave, eventually visiting Lost Horizons, Hall of the White Forest and Land of the Inverted Mushrooms. She's really starting to enjoy the challenge that Groaning poses. It is a very complex cave and takes many years to really master.
She attended the Rocky Mountain Regional over Labor Day weekend, near Eagle, Colo. During the regional gathering of cavers, she led a trip to Fulford (pictured, right) on Saturday and led a trip to Groaning on Sunday for cavers who hadn't visited either of them before. During the trip to Groaning, her dad accidentally left the combination to the cave gate in the car (a first for him), so the group had a 40 minute wait in the entrance until the combination was retrieved. Her 7-LED cluster helmet light worked great and she was still using the same batteries over Labor Day weekend that she put in at the beginning of the July 4th Caver Classic.
Margaret returned to Groaning in October to push leads farther back in the cave. Margaret also led several adult beginner's trips into Fulford Cave this fall, including a group from the Channel 7 newsroom.
In December 2003, Margaret set up her science (right) fair experiment in Glenwood Caverns. She attempted to quantify the amount of dust (dander, lint, organic and non-organic material) that is transmitted through a large room on the tourist trail. She used as a guideline work that was previously done in Wind Cave by the National Park Service and by an Australian caver who wrote his Phd thesis on the same subject. The owners of Glenwood Caverns graciously gave her full access to conduct her experiments. Glenwood Caverns is a great deal: you get a round-trip ride on the scenic tram and a cave tour for only $17 (children 3-12 are only $12)! The Wild Caving Tour is $50.
During the first part of 2004, Margaret continued her science fair experiment at Glenwood Caverns, spending several nights sleeping in the cave.
In April, Margaret and her dad returned to Glenwood Caverns to participate in a two-day Cave Rescue seminar put on by the Colorado Cave Rescue Network. The weekend was highlighted by a day-long "mock rescue" (pictured, left) of an injured caver. Margaret was on the communications team, helping string phone wire and hooking up phones to connect rescuers to the command center above ground. She also learned first aid and proper "packaging" of a patient in a SKED extrication device. The most important thing she learned was how involved a cave rescue is and how everything works when a cave rescue is called.
Margaret also returned to Breezeway Cave in Williams Canyon to participate in a work trip, cleaning formations around the upside-down staircase.
In May, Margaret visited Indian Cave near Burns, Colo., and then participated in a push trip in Glenwood Caverns to look for a possible loop route for the commercial tour. She joined a group of cavers pushing leads in the Discovery Glen portion of the cave. They found a promising lead that needs to be widened.
In late May, Margaret was interviewed by the High Timber Times newspaper in Conifer, Colorado for a feature story on local cavers (sorry, no online access).
That summer, Margaret and her dad participated in a nine-day cave exploration expedition on the White River Plateau, concentrating on getting accustomed to the further reaches of Groaning (pictured, right in Black Cathedral). She and her dad visited different parts of Groaning five times during the 9-day camping trip. Here is a link to photos of the Groaning trips. They also took several summer camp youth groups into Fulford Cave, southeast of Eagle. Later, Margaret learned the 2002 Jack & Jill article about her caving will be used in a statewide reading comprehension test in Washington State!
Margaret spent Spring Break in Arizona and got a chance to see Kartchner Caverns. While there she met Gary Tenen, one of the two men who discovered the caverns in 1974. She had a great time seeing the cave.
Margaret will be making more trips to Groaning during the summer of 2005 and she'll also be leading several beginner trips into Fulford Cave and Hubbards Cave.
She and her dad attended the 2005 NSS National Convention in Huntsville, Alabama, the home of the NSS. It was her first NSS convention and her first chance to see what TAG (Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia) caving is like. They visited Limrock Blowing Cave, Tumbling Rock Cave and Cathedral Caverns Cave during the trip. They also visited the Mammoth Cave area of Kentucky just prior to the NSS convention, and helped survey in Roppel Cave, which connects to Mammoth. (pictures at the top of this page)
2006 was an off year for caving because of Margaret's travels and dancing. She did lead a couple of trips to Groaning and Fulford, but that was about it. The highlight of her 2006 visit to Groaning was getting into Lost Horizon, which she had never seen before.
Margaret spent a week in Mammoth Cave Country in Kentucky, exploring Roppel Cave, which she visited briefly in 2005. She was honored to cave five days straight with Jim Borden and he took her on two "through trips" including a nearly six-mile underground adventure. Then she attended the 2007 NSS Convention in southern Indiana, exploring some caves in the Hoosier State. The convention took place on the 6th anniversary of her first cave trip!
It was an off caving year for Margaret as she had dance priorities and other things. She made one caving trip to Groaning with her dad and some friends.
-- written by Wayne Harrison NSS #18689 FE