Don't confuse spelunking with caving. Jaclyn Mace will be peeved if you do.
"Spelunking is a bunch of people in bike helmets and hand-held flashlights," said Mace, who is caving chair for the Syracuse University Outing Club. "Caving is unlike any environment you've ever experienced before."
Mace's intense passion about caving dates back to a dream as a child. The English and anthropology senior envisioned shrinking to the size of an ant and exploring their tunnel systems. On her first caving trip to Bentleys Cave east of Albany nearly three years ago, Mace found her youthful daydreams were being realized.
"I thought to myself, 'I want to do this for the rest of my life,' " Mace said.
Bentleys Cave has a reputation as for being tricky for novices. During Mace's inaugural trip, she and her companions were in the cave for nine hours including being lost for one and a half hours. Still, Mace was fascinated with the underground world and wanted to stay there and explore.
It is SUOC tradition that first-time cavers lead the exploration of the cavern. During a November excursion to Clarksville Cave southwest of Albany, the cavers pushed through a tight crawl that seemed like it wasn't going anywhere.
Beyond that point, they were rewarded in larger opening with the sights of red string-like roots hanging from the ceiling. Tree roots had broken through the rock. Crystal water droplets gathered gently at the tips of the roots.
Mace remarked that discovering the tree root cavern added to her respect for Clarksville Cave.
While caving provides thrills not normally found above ground, Mace has concerns about amateur cavers and their lack of proper caving technique that can be potentially hazardous to fragile cave environments.
Mace wants people to enjoy caving responsibly, and she loves leading trips and her talent for it is evident in her ability to put new cavers at ease.
But there can be too much of a good thing in caving. Too much foot traffic can disrupt the natural habitats of some cave inhabitants such a bats.
"I don't believe in commercial caves," Mace said. "Caving is a spiritual sport, it connects you with yourself and with the earth."
And with skilled companions including those who regulary join SUOC's expeditions, that kind of spiritual connection through caving can be made.
The cave locations in Scoharie and Albany counties shown on the map are approximate. Note: It is important to cave responsibly. Never enter a cave alone, have at least three sources of light and visit caves with a guide unless you are experienced.
View Caves in upstate New York in a larger map