Living in Poland, I always considered cave diving and cave exploration in general to be quite a niche activity. That’s why when I got invited to be a speaker at the National Speleological Society Convention in Elkins, West Virginia, I didn’t really expect much. I assumed it would be what I got used to – a bunch of folks sitting in a dark room bragging who went where.
I couldn’t be more wrong.
It was a whole week of lectures about explorations all over the world, workshop sessions including climbing, cave photography, painting, archeology and most of all – cave cartography, conducted by superstars in that field – Chrissy and Jason Richards. field trips and some other mind blowing activities. Around 1000 cavers attended. Personally I found the Cartography Salon the most inspiring part of the event – Cave maps created by cartographers all over the States, displayed in one single hall. I went prepared of course, so my photogrammetry map of the Maria Concordia mine was there. I thought it was big. Well believe me – it wasn’t, compared to what those folks are doing.
Among the lectures there were some real gems. Not only Rick Stanton came himself to give a breathtaking talk on the Thai rescue – the thing that blew my mind away was a lecture about Ron Simmons and Forrest Wilson, cave diving legends. I saw their home-built prototype of a KISS rebreather and finally learned the story of the invention of the directional cave marker.
I also had an opportunity to contribute to the event just a tiny bit – I gave two lectures, one about diving in the Kowary uranium mine and one about our photogrammetry scanning project at Maria Concordia mine. Both lectures were warmly received with appreciation – The Q&A session after the uranium mine talk lasted more than the talk itself.
It was a busy time, I must admit – going there I was confident I’d visit a few caves here and then, which West Virginia has abundance of. I obviously overestimated the time available for leisure activities. With all the good stuff happening at the Convention, I was able to do just one field trip. The Sinks of Gandy which I visited turned out to be a beautiful, easy to navigate cave. And although I’m not that much into dry cave exploration, I fell in love immediately.