The School Newspaper of Winston Churchill High School.

The Observer

The School Newspaper of Winston Churchill High School.

The Observer

The School Newspaper of Winston Churchill High School.

The Observer

Urban Spelunking

Sophomore Davis*, remembers the first time he went into a storm drain with his dad and younger brother over two years ago. Fully equipped with flashlights, cameras and extra batteries, the Davis crept quietly into an uncharted world.

Davis’ family’s explorations and adventures in unlikely places are known as urban spelunking or “urbex” for short. Urban spelunking is the act of going into abandoned and normally unseen areas of urban structures. Although urban spelunking may seem like a foreign idea, some people in the CHS community are exploring the unknown and are proudly calling themselves “urban spelunkers.”

“I was really interested in the philosophy and adventure behind urban exploration” said junior Matt*, another urban spelunker at CHS. He got interested in urban spelunking after reading an article about catacombs in Paris which are underground cemeteries, riddled with treasures and dead bodies.

Students are not just limited to local storms drains for adventures; they are actually discovering other popular spelunking sites around the Potomac area which include abandoned and occupied buildings, bridges, dams and power plants.

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Junior Jake*, another urban spelunker travels an hour away to Glenn Dale Hospital, which was decommissioned 27 years ago. Jake comes across peculiar things like uncountable number of rooms, tunnels filled with water and various artifacts.

Matt has also explored the same hospital.

“The weirdest thing I ever found was a sign in a hospital that said tap bells and mouth gags,” Matt said “It’s things like this that make you think about what was going on when the place [was] functional.”

In addition to industrial relics and forgotten artifacts, urban spelunkers sometimes stumble upon slightly scary things as well.

“We had friends who went [into] the basement of the children’s hospital [at Glenn Dale] and they found a morgue,” Matt said.

Another popular spelunking spot is the Chestnut Lodge in the historic district of Rockville. The lodge was built in 1886 as a hotel and later used as a psychiatric hospital.

According to Jake, Chestnut Lodge has “so many rooms to explore and seems like each has its own history.”

In addition to the health risks, spelunkers face treacherous terrain and the possibility of old infrastructure crumbling.

“Often times people manage [to get] hurt by sharp objects sticking out of the wall or the ceiling,” said Ryan*, who began spelunking over two years ago in his old neighborhood in Urbana, Md. before moving to Potomac.

“Other things you’ve got to watch out for are guard dogs and motion detectors,” Matt said
“Any ignorance can leave anyone in a fatal situation.”

Common fears associated with this activity are the repercussions that come with urban spelunking.

According to Montgomery County Police Department, trespassers can get up to 90 days in jail and fines [up to] $500, if caught by police in Montgomery County.

“I heard voices and saw the glow of flashlights coming around a corner,” Matt said “My trip was over before it had even started, but I was not about to risk jail when I could come back any other time.”

However urban spelunking is often misunderstood and is often associated with illegal activity.

“People often mistake us for vandals,” Ryan said. “We are not vandals; we go to these places simply for the excitement of it and to explore the beauty of the structures.”

Urban spelunkers go to a motley mix of abandoned or unexplored places to satisfy their intrigue and curiosity rather than ruin or destroy the parts of the structures that are integral facet of their adventures.

According to Matt, urban spelunkers live by one motto: “Take nothing but pictures [and] leave nothing but footprints.”

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Urban Spelunking