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The Milling-Around Theory of Speleogenesis

by Arnie Weisbrot

Before going caving, every experienced caver conducts a ritual that is as old as caving or speleology. At some point between home and the cave, individual cavers assemble into groups and perform a dance-like ritual known as "milling-around." This ceremony is clearly an essential part of the caving experience. It is the thesis of this article that milling-around is not only an essential part of caving, but in fact generates the caves themselves.

In order to understand the linkage between the strange rite of milling-around and speleogenesis, one must first examine the way that milling-around is accomplished. There are a few variations on this theme, but generally, milling-around involves two or more cavers. Typically, they will assemble on the side of a back country road. Almost always, they will arrive by car separately. Milling-around usually commences when the cavers get out of their cars and greet one another. Milling around Bowden Entrance Conversations invariably accompany this initial milling-around activity, often taking the form of friendly salutations (for example, "Good to see you again, Joe," or "That was a long drive out from the city, wasn't it.") Sometimes, the conversations evolve into some friendly insults such as "Do you ever wash that old bucket of bolts?" After the initial pleasantries, the true milling-around starts in earnest. Generally a small subgroup of cavers will walk back to the car they arrived in, talking the entire time. The conversations often involve adventure stories about other caves. These war stories are usually sufficiently interesting that other subgroups will wander over to see what is so interesting. That in turn spawns other war stories, accompanied by other subgroups splitting off and wandering away to other cars. To the detached observer, this appears to be aimless meandering, but is actually just initial milling-around being done deliberately by the experienced cavers. It is clear that the experienced cavers are performing a deliberate milling-around rite primarily because novice cavers rarely participate in this phase of milling-around.

The next step in the milling-around ritual involves sorting out caving gear and preparing it for use. Again experienced cavers are best at this deliberate behavior. Usually, the experienced caver will dump an assorted pile of apparent trash onto the road, and go on to transform it into a semblance of caving gear. Old filthy rags will be pounded upon the road and then donned as outer protective wear. Mud-caked lumps will be beaten into shape as boots. Scratched helmets are fitted with various forms of lighting. All the while, an incessant stream of banter with other cavers continues. This ritual is interspersed by occasional wanderings to speak to others, and sometimes to borrow items that have been discovered to be unserviceable or left behind. Less experienced cavers generally make only a slight contribution to this phase of milling around. Their equipment is usually fairly new, and they have not yet developed the knack of storing gear in the same used, dirty condition, trip after trip. Nonetheless, they do join the continuing story-telling and certainly wander from car to car. Novice cavers unconsciously generate a lot of the milling-around dance action. Virtually always, they have no idea what to wear or how to put it on. Furthermore, they will often borrow gear from other cavers. This, of course, creates a large amount of milling-around while all the more experienced cavers assemble to advise the novices and to loan gear. The net result is a period of intensive milling-around commencing when the first caver starts to assemble gear, and culminating when the last caver (often the most experienced in the group) is finally fully dressed.

In most cases the last stage of milling-around is often called "picking teams." This is a very formalized ritual in which all the cavers assemble near the cars and decide who is going with whom or who is carrying what. This stage of milling-around is most intensive on survey trips in that the entire group is split into sub-teams of three or four. However, it also exists in photo trips or vertical trips by virtue of the inordinate amount of extra gear that must be carried. Even casual tourist trips include this final milling-around since the leaders must make certain that everyone is equipped and ready to go. The picking teams phase of milling-around usually manifests itself as the leaders argue among themselves, while all the other group members do most of the active milling-around, complaining bitterly the whole time. This intensive final stage is quite vital to the completion of milling-around since it climaxes with the walk to the cave proper.

It is clear that milling-around generates caves. This is proven by the fact that a sufficiently intense period of milling-around always results in a trip into a cave. Whenever enough cavers perform a good enough ritual of milling-around, a cave exists nearby. In fact, it can be argued that the intensity and duration of the milling around are often proportional to the size of the cave generated. Two or three cavers milling-around for a short period of time generally result in only a small cave. On the other hand, a large group of twenty or more, augmented by the efforts of novices, will usually create a significant cave.

One may argue that caves exist even without milling-around. Most people have seen cave entrances while driving along a road with no apparent milling-around. The explanation is simple. Those entrances are simply the remnants of earlier very intense milling-around ceremonies. After all, such large holes in the ground would not simply snap closed when the last of the milling-around group departs. They were the result of significant milling-around, so it follows that significant time must elapse in the absence of milling-around for the cave to disappear.

In fact, some frequently visited caves never close because the duration between milling-around rituals is sufficiently short. Even caves that are ostensibly new discoveries result from the extremely formalized, often solo milling-around known as ridge walking. Such solo milling-around invariably must be done over a very long duration in arduous conditions and even then usually results in only the small caves known as FRO's. Digs are another type of formalized or stylized milling-around. In a dig, generally only one person is actually digging (in itself a formalized dance) while all the others in the group are madly milling-around in the hopes that a new portion of the cave will be created. Clearly, milling around is the primary, possibly the exclusive, method of speleogenesis.

The Gangsta Mappers on the New River Cave survey project provided a very good example of the milling-around ceremony. There were no less than 10 formal, distinctly separate stages of milling-around on that project. All 10 stages in all their completeness were vital since it was a survey project and it would not do to generate different cave on each trip. The 10 stages are defined below as an example of the extent of milling-around that is essential to create a very significant cave.

1. Obscenely early in the morning, all the cavers (often more than 20, including some novices) were brutally awoken by the cruel homeowner, herself a caver, who gave permission to use her house as a base of operations. Milling-around started immediately with the sleepy wanderings of virtually all cavers. This initial stage involves very little conversation, but a lot of meandering walks. Stage 1 ended when everyone moved outside to start the 20 minute drive to breakfast.

2. Milling-around intensified while the cavers tried to decide which cars to take. This was usually very complex since it involved knowing who would be going on which trip, and which cars had room. The problem was that the "picking-teams" stage of milling-around would happen much later, so of course no one knew which trip they will be on. Stage 2 milling-around sometimes included mad dashes from one car to another when plans not yet made were changed before they formed. Stage 2 also included a unique automotive form of milling-around in that there was usually a traffic jam associated with all the cars exiting the narrow driveway. Getting on the road ended stage 2.

3. Stage 3 took place at the breakfast restaurant, usually an "eat till you bust" breakfast buffet. All the cavers wanted to sit in proximity so they could carry on the verbal part of the milling-around during breakfast. Accordingly, there was a period of milling-around while waiting to be seated. This was very non-directed milling-around, usually just aimless wandering. The coffee addicts made a very significant contribution to the overall milling-around in this stage since they managed to walk, but not talk, while in an almost catatonic state. Clearly, stage 3 ended when all were seated and eating.

4. Stage 4 was a short, relatively minor milling-around after breakfast. This stage included bill paying and the obligatory toilet session. Even the milling-around while getting into the cars for the hour-long drive to the cave was fairly simple because all the car-related milling-around had been accomplished in stage 2. Stage 4 ended when all cars were on the way to the potential cave location.

Milling around on the road
Milling around on the road
5. Stage 5 milling-around was the classic initial milling-around practiced by all cavers. At a standard parking location where previous milling-around was known to generate a good cave (New River Cave by name), all the Gangsta Mappers dismounted and commenced the greetings form of milling-around. Stage 5 was sometimes augmented by the arrival of other cavers who had not participated in the earlier stages. This was a very fortuitous situation since it intensified the classic greeting stage of milling-around, and almost always resulted in a good cave being created.

6. The separation between stages 5 and 6 was not always clear. Someone commenced organizing gear and getting dressed, often a moderately experienced caver. This usually precipitated stage 6 milling-around, which is very similar to the typical second step in any speleogenesis activity. However, stage 6 was usually quite intensive in that there were almost always at least 20 cavers involved. The end of stage 6 was delineated when a group leader started to pick teams.

7. Stage 7 milling-around for the Gangsta Mappers trying to incite development of New River Cave was particularly intensive. This arose partly from the sheer numbers. Usually there were six or eight teams to pick. The intensity mostly arose from the types of trips and the need to balance skills. Clearly, each team needed a sketcher and skilled instrument readers. However, the novices had to go on some team. In addition, if the teams were chosen correctly with adequate milling-around, there would be deep (or long) trips and shallow (or short) trips. To complicate matters even more, the deep trips (if the milling-around was done exactly correctly) would involve a tight squeeze that filtered out all the old, fat, lazy folks. As a final complication, it was necessary to divide up the survey instruments in an equitable fashion. Clearly, stage 7 was a very intense quite formalized ritual of milling-around. It was finally complete when the last cavers headed up the hill in the hope that their milling-around had created a cave.

Milling around at the Cassell entrance
Milling around at
the Cassell entrance
8. Stage 8 milling-around took place at the newly created cave entrance. The hike up the hill usually exhausted most cavers, so they rested for a bit and adjusted lights. Sometimes, stage 8 milling-around was intensified by a search for cavers who had become lost on the hike up the hill. During the resting time, the Gangsta Mappers made an extra effort to do more milling-around in order to ensure that the same cave was created as the last trip. After all, the objective was to survey the cave, and it would have been foolish to do varying amounts of milling-around since that would have created a cave of different dimensions than the previous trips. In order to ensure that there was a fixed amount of milling-around, the owner of the land that the cave is generated on had set up a compass test right at the point where the entrance was created. Doing this test every time made the amount of milling-around fairly constant, particularly when it was done in such close proximity to the incipient cave. Stage 8 milling-around concluded when everyone had entered the cave.

9. Milling-around was by no means over! The Gangsta Mappers were truly dedicated to good speleogenesis. They always stopped for more milling-around just inside the entrance. The excuse was that the air is cooler (in summer) or warmer (in winter), or that caver's eyes needed time to adjust. In reality, this was simply insurance that the milling-around ritual was being effective. The Gangsta Mappers have found over the years that the most effective milling-around is done in close contact with the cave, ideally inside the incipient cave. Stage 9 milling-around usually involved little physical movement, but instead was more metaphysical. The conversations during stage 9 were nonstop, often with ten or more going on concurrently. Stage 9 ended when someone, usually a leader, decided that the cave had been sufficiently opened, and the groups began the trek to the survey points.

Bob Alderson's survey team doing some milling in Breathing
Bob Alderson's survey team
doing some milling in Breathing
10. The last stage of milling-around was done about one-half hour travel into the cave. The entire group stopped in the Lunch Room for another intensive very effective session of milling-around. The purpose of stage 10 is to ensure that the effects of the milling-around had sufficiently propagated back beyond the tight part of the cave (known as Tuxedo Junction). Since Stage 10 milling-around was conducted about 15 minutes travel from Tuxedo Junction, the effects were particularly powerful. Sometimes, stage 10 went on too long, and virgin cave was generated beyond Tuxedo Junction. This was a grave error since it tended to invalidate the mapping efforts. Nonetheless, stage 10 was still considered to be a vital final touch in the overall milling-around ceremony.

This example of the extensive milling-around associated with a fairly large survey project shows the linkage between speleogenesis and milling-around. If none of this milling-around were done, then the cave would almost certainly not be there. As additional proof, there are frequent tourist trips to the location of New River Cave. It is very clear that those trips do not involve anywhere close to the amount of milling-around done by the Gangsta Mappers. After all, those trips only sporadically generate cave beyond Tuxedo Junction, rarely create passage beyond the stream crawl, and almost never create virgin cave. Clearly, speleogenesis is the result of milling-around.

The Gangsta Mappers have done some recent research into the physics of the real mechanism that underlies this connection between milling-around and speleogenesis. A new basic particle has been discovered that carries the force to create caves. The particle is created by the personal interactions of cavers. It is mass-less, has zero charge and spin of 9/16. The particle is called a mill-ion, and is represented by the symbol $.

All cavers have an infinite supply of incipient mill-ions. This may be the root cause for their disposition to caving. Close interaction among cavers causes the incipient mill-ions to materialize and immediately flee from the cavers. After all, what caver can hold onto $?

Materialized mill-ions have an affinity for small dark places (just like cavers), so they flee toward whatever miniscule crevices they can find, most effectively joints, faults and bedding planes in rock. Many mill-ions accumulate in these places and there undergo another transformation. The mill-ions interact with the rock and become nothing, which is of course the void that we call a cave. The combined particles are now called rock-millions. The rock-millions are stable for a quite a while, generally measured in hours, thus allowing the newly created cave to stay open for some time.

However, the milling-around theory of speleogenesis has one more aspect. The Gangsta Mappers have discovered another speleogenesis mechanism at work after the cave trip. Clearly, there is substantial milling-around when the group exits from the cave. At minimum, changing from cave gear into normal clothing is really just more milling-around which creates mill-ions which flee into the nearby cave and reinforce the older rock-millions which are starting to de-compose.

The most interesting new discovery is the existence of a facilitator for those mill-ions. It turns out that beer consumed by cavers after a cave trip attaches to the mill-ions and creates new particles called beerbucks. The beerbucks act just like regular mill-ions, but with one exception. When beerbucks combine with rock, the resultant rock-millions are much more stable and last far longer, thus keeping the cave open for extended periods of time.

The milling-around theory of speleogenesis is by no means complete yet. There are some areas for possible future research. It is not known what happens to the mill-ions that re-form from the decomposition of rock-millions. Similarly, it is not known why beer consumed before a cave trip does not create beerbucks or even mill-ions. We are quite certain that this does not happen, though. Furthermore, there are strong indications that an antiparticle to the mill-ion exists. That antiparticle seems to annihilate mill-ions and thereby prevents the formation of caves. It appears that the antiparticle is generated by caver disputes and underhanded speleopolitics. The postulated antiparticle corresponding to the mill-ion is called a non-cents. Clearly, much added research is needed and would greatly benefit the caving community.

As cavers, you now know how to ensure that you have a good, extensive trip. First, be certain that you interact very extensively with your fellow cavers. Create more mill-ions! Second, don't even try to hold onto your $ -- let them flow into the cave. Third, enjoy a beer or two after a cave trip to create those beerbucks. Finally, avoid the non-cents generated by disputes and speleopolitics. Happy caving!


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