Thrill seekers find adrenaline rush rappelling down Moaning Cavern

Rappeller at Moaning Cavern

Rappeller emerges from the chimney in Moaning Cavern (Steve Mullen)

Muttering in the dark, dank confines of the constricted cave I carefully lowered myself on the rope, feeling with my feet to find the end of the rock. Yelping as I bumped my elbow, then the back of my head on the sharp edges I was thankful for the protective helmet, but would be more thankful when I emerged from the bottom of the “chimney”, a narrow tube of rock that led to the main chamber of Moaning Cavern.

I was on Part 3 of a day of adrenaline rushes at Moaning Cavern Adventure Park in Calaveras County, California, which has transformed itself from the basic cave tour that I remembered vaguely from childhood, to a full-fledged adventure destination, welcoming daredevils to test their mettle against a variety of thrills.

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A rappeller lowers herself into Moaning Cavern (Steve Mullen)

After experiencing two zip-line excursions and getting a preview of the rappelling adventure during the cave tour that took us down 234 steps we convened inside a building at the top of a large hole in the ground, a slightly enlarged version of the original entrance to the cave. Peering down we couldn’t see much. About 30 feet down was a wooden platform with a hidden entrance on a side wall that led into the main room of the cave. Several people went before us and everything was fine until we started getting messages from the last person that a woman below was having trouble. Somewhere in the cave where we couldn’t see her she was frozen with fear and couldn’t, or wouldn’t, proceed. The guide who stands at the top and sends everyone down explained that this happens from time to time. Although there is very quickly a point of no return, where the only option is to continue down on the rope, a guide can descend on one of 4 fixed ropes to talk the person down. As the guides discussed the “assist” plan, the waiting adventurers nervously talked among themselves, peering into the inky darkness of the rock.

Forty five minutes later the ropes were finally free, the reluctant rappeller having safely descended to the bottom, and having passed through various stages of edgy anticipation, I was more than ready to get going. I was clipped into the ”J”  belay device by a guide and after leaning back on the rope, I backed out over the rock and gingerly lowered myself down, pushing out from the wall with my feet. Gradually, my rusty rock climbing muscles awoke, and I quickly made my way to the platform. Hearing a waiting rappeller ask my husband, “Has she done this before?” I gained confidence that I at least looked like I knew what I was doing. Taking a deep breath I moved from the platform into the narrow chimney, the dank odor of stale moisture filling my nostrils. I backed out over the edge, bumping into the rock, and kept going until my feet had no more stone to push against. Feeling some trepidation I lowered myself a bit further, let my feet dangle and emerged into the dim light of the huge main room of the cave. Not wanting to look down to the landing area 165 feet below in case I lost my resolve, I instead took a moment to look at the fanciful formations—it was beautiful to behold, and somehow different from the walking tour, when gravity securely held my feet in place on the staircase. Hanging by my tether gave me a feeling of freedom, and like the zip line experience I felt the sensation of flying like a bird. I steadily lowered myself to the next section, involving maneuvering around a segment of rock that jutted out into the main room. My belay device got hung up on the jagged edges but I managed to work it free and continued toward the bottom.  I was relieved to hear the guide at the bottom say, “You’re almost here” but was also sorry it was over so soon.

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Rappelling down the cave (Steve Mullen)

Upon reaching the floor of the cave I felt spent as the adrenaline receded.  I remembered that I still had to climb up 234 steps for the second time that day. I watched a Cave Crawl group, suited up in their orange jumpsuits, and wondered just how claustrophobic I might feel during the 2 hour tour, some of it a belly crawl through narrow passageways where you have to pull yourself through using ropes. It would have to wait for another day as we had run out of time, filling our day with so many adventures.

Moaning Cavern Advenutre Park in the Sierra Foothills has plenty to keep a family busy for an entire day. I learned that zip-lines are popular for a reason—it’s pure fun. I tested myself against the cave and experienced an intense rush, but would do it again. The cave crawl? I don’t know.

See related article:  “Moaning Cavern Adventure Park–Zip line thrills and cave walk

Moaning Cavern Adventure Park
5350 Moaning Cave Road
Vallecito, CA 95251, USA
Open year round; hours vary from 9 or 10 am opening to 5 or 6 pm closing depending on season and day of week.

Prices (check website for combination and repeat discounts; child pricing; coupons; discounts for seniors, military and other groups):
Zip line: $39
Walking Tour: $14.75
Rappel: $65
Cave Crawl: $76
Climbing Tower: $5
Gold panning: $9.95


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