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Caving enthusiasts experience Northern Rocky Mountain Grotto's C - KRTV News in Great Falls, Montana

Caving enthusiasts experience Northern Rocky Mountain Grotto's Cave Camp

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The Northern Rocky Mountain Grotto held its second annual Cave Camp in the Little Belt Mountains near Monarch over the weekend.

125 caving enthusiasts from 13 states and two Canadian provinces participated in the experience, which included hands-on workshops and multiple caving trips.

Keynote speaker Bill Steele pioneered caving in Montana in the 1970s and 1980s and his team enjoyed Montana's wilderness.

The team took techniques learned in Montana down to southern Mexico where they ventured into the deepest-known cave in the Western Hemisphere, Sistema Huautla.

"Climb very high in the mountain, go very deep inside the mountain, come back out high in the mountain, and then go down off the mountain," Steele said.

The camp also invited young beginners such as 11-year-old Athena Ballensky whose dad is respected in the field and discovered a cave and named it after his daughter.

"This time at Cave Camp is like the first time I've ever been on vertical gear and just yesterday was the first day that I actually climbed up a rope using ascending gear," she said. "Today, we're learning how to create a pulley system to go save fellow cavers."

Another aspect of the camp is stewardship. The Cave Camp held a cleanup and graffiti removal of nearby Lick Creek Cave.

According to Codi Brown, 10, there are lots of things that live in caves.

"So we want to keep them clean so they can live there but still so the public can go in and see the caves," Brown said.

Ian Chechet is chairman of the Northern Mountain Rocky Grotto and he said the goal of Cave Camp is to build community. 

"With caving, we don't advertise these trips on the website," he said. "We more just try to meet people and bring them together and talk about stuff that way."

On Sunday, the final day of Cave Camp, members explored 22 different caves in the area.

Montana has more than 400 caves and about half require vertical climbing.

The National Speleological Society Convention will be held next July in Helena. For more information or to register, visit here.

To learn more about the Northern Mountain Rocky Grotto or Cave Camp, click here.

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