Ever since our caving trip back in the Spring, I had been wanting to return to Buckner Cave for more crawling around in the mud. Since the weather outside was starting to get a bit cold for paddle trips, the toasty 50 degree air underground was sounding pretty welcoming. So I planned another spelunking adventure. The day we planned to drive to Bloomington, Winter Storm Cleon dropped about a foot of snow across all of southern Indiana. That afternoon I got an email from the person who manages the cave telling me that the road there was impassible and encouraging me to cancel the trip. I promptly ignored this advice and warned our people to be prepared for a deep snow hike. Everyone agreed that we should still go so we loaded up five people, caving gear, and a snow shovel into our car and headed South.
To avoid frigidly cold camping, I arranged for us to couchsurf for the weekend. This is a great way to travel for so many reasons and everyone should check it out. Arrangements vary a lot from host to host and not many are able to take on a group our size. But my search led me to Daniel, a local musician that had a house and some cabins on a big piece of land which he was in the early stages of turning into an eco-village. It clearly needed some work, but he had some really cool ideas for it. He showed us to our room and warned us to keep the door shut if we didn’t want a dog peeing on our stuff. This seemed reasonable and we were grateful for a free warm home for the weekend.
Saturday morning we went to the cave. Despite the warnings, we were able to plow through the snow and drive right up to the cave parking lot, only having to get out and push once. Buckner Cave is on the property of Richard Blenz, a very nice man who allows groups like ours to explore the system for free. We donned our helmets and headlamps and headed in. Our expedition consisted of alternating bouts of crawling and squeezing through tiny passages and walking through massive rooms. While we often had no idea where on the map we were, we were never seriously lost. The trip culminated in the impressive Volcano room, a big chamber with a gaping hole in the middle that you have to precariously skirt around. The way out was tiring, but some of us took on the challenge of the Thunder Crawl, an alternate exit involving a worm crawl that looks impossible until you’re completely through.
After caving it was time to explore the town. We dined on dumplings at Anyetsang’s Little Tibet Restaurant, watched an absurdly loud concert at Rachel’s Cafe, and ended the night with 2 for 1 donuts at Crescent Donuts. The next morning we hit up the Tibetan Mongolian Buddhist Cultural Center to admire the beautiful buildings and art and then returned to South Bend. This remains one of my favorite destinations in Indiana and I’m hoping to find some new caves for the next caving trip.