Go underground with caver Bill Steele

Steele's bright headlamps illuminated a fascinating wall of cave gypsum.

Darkness. Close spaces. Underground tunnels. Most people do what they can to avoid these environments. Bill Steele seeks them out in caves around the globe. Instead of claustrophobia, “I have claustromania,” laughs Steele, director of BSA’s alumni relations and the National Eagle Scout Association.

Steele’s love for caving began in Southern Indiana and Kentucky as a young Scout. Since then, he’s spent countless days underground in caves across the globe with world-renowned explorers. Scouting magazine even covered some of Steele’s travels in a 1986 feature story. (Click to see the feature at this link.)

In this feature story, Steele mentions his long-term dream of exploring a hard-to-reach Chinese cave system. “At the time, you couldn’t  travel to non-tourist areas of Red China,” he explains. “Now it’s accessible to cave explorers on certain expeditions.”

Steele’s hunger for adventure came full circle in December 2011 when he set off to visit the caves he’d dreamed of exploring in 1986. These caves, what he calls the “Carlsbad Caverns of China,” or Er Wang Dong and San Wang Dong, are both located in the Wulong Province of China.

Steele met up with nine other explorers from Great Britain, America, and China in Wulong. “Even in such a far-away place, all three [American] men in the group were Eagle Scouts,” says Steele.

After gearing up and planning their five-day trip, the group descended into the San Wang Dong. The first two hours of the six-hour hike were spent walking briskly through gigantic passages, followed by hours of squeezing through tight spaces with heavy gear bags in tow.

The expedition members spent their time exploring and photographing uncharted areas of the cave. At one point, Steele dangled on a rope as he rappelled down and measured the wall of a shaft more than 110 meters deep (or 360 feet).

On the fourth day, the group turned back for the aboveground base camp when a member of the team became ill. Yet, despite the shortened trip, Steele spent the remaining 12 days in Wulong making day trips into the caves, as well as exploring local markets and townships.

Back from his trip, the busy caver was quick to share his passion for adventure with Venturers, spending a weekend with Crew 425 at Jester Cave, Okla., at the end of January. (Check out a video from their trip here.)

For someone whose love for adventure began with Scouting, Steele shares these photos below to encourage and inspire others to set your goals high—or, low … very low. A whole world awaits you.

About Aaron Derr 418 Articles
Aaron Derr is the senior editor of Scout Life and Scouting magazines, and also a former Cubmaster and Scouts BSA volunteer.