HANGING 45 feet above the dark Laurel Caverns floor, Clay Fischer, from Boy Scout Troop 9, dangled by a rope looped through his rock-climbing harness.
Below him, the red and white helmets of fellow Scouts looked like marbles. He could barely see Scott Laderer, his dad, Scott Laderer Sr.; Norman Ros and Robert Bulson; my son Adam, Derek Barnes, Matt Reiger and Patrick Welsh.
"Step off," called Lisa Hall, 42, a rappelling instructor.
Clay's father, Randy Fischer, "belayed" the rope from below. Belay is an Old English word for safety. It was stressed time and again as Hall had sent each Scout and adult over the edge.
In the shadows, a second caverns instructor, Jeff Holmes, 31, fed slack on another safety line, using it to hold any Scout who made a mistake.
"To be nervous is a sign of intelligence," said Holmes.
As one group of Scouts rappelled, a second group was roped into position at three 20-foot-high walls to learn rock climbing and bouldering -- a rope-free climbing technique using only hand and foot holds.
Scouts Bradley Dalgarno, Matt Dawson, Andy Edmonds, Alex Wooden, Doug Joachim, Ryan Lash, Michael Yarger, and adult Mark Reed first had to learn the proper knots before climbing the wall with belay techniques. The climbing was straight up -- using sandpapery fingertip handholds that simulate crevices in the face of a cliff.
The rock climbing and the rappelling were the first of several adventures for Scouts from Troop 9 on their weekend camping trip to Laurel Caverns, near Uniontown, Pa.
The next day, after a morning hike and classroom instruction to earn their geology badge, Scouts were guided deep into the unlighted caverns for spelunking. Equipped with flashlights and headlamps, they explored three miles of maze-like passages.
Scoutmaster Ben Ward and parents Paul Edmonds, Caryn Joachim and Ron Hamm joined the Scouts and parents on the adventure, traversing underground streams and waterfalls, and squeezing and sliding through a jumble of boulders in damp, 52 degree temperatures.
The twisting, steep descent over the sandy limestone ended 45 stories underground. Laurel Caverns guide Lisa Whited, 31, waited patiently when groups of Scouts were foiled by dead-end passages.
"Kids love climbing, and putting them in a cave heightens their excitement," she said.
The troop's final adventure was whitewater rafting the Lower Youghiogheny River in Ohiopyle State Park. Seasoned river guides stood on boulders in the river waving directions as Scouts and parents dug paddles into the turbulent water.
Swollen with a week of rain, the water was high and the ride swift. Parent Steve Dalgarno took a single "ducky" raft as did his son, Brad, and several other Scouts.
Several one- and two-person rafts, and one five-person raft holding parent Dave Dawson and his son Adam, flipped over.
"It wasn't in slow motion," Adam said. "It happened so fast. You couldn't grip the side of the raft or push up with your feet to get back into the raft. That was hard."
Professional guides in kayaks performed rescues. When the five-man raft flipped, a guide swiftly landed his kayak on top of the empty raft, and then pulled the Scouts aboard.
Troop 9 is sponsored by Emory United Methodist Church.
Swim lessons in Hampstead
Trim that splash into a refined stroke with swimming lessons at Hampstead Pool.
Holly Carswell and Heather King, Red Cross-certified water safety instructors, give swimmers age 3 and older group lessons in a relaxed setting each morning before the pool opens. Private lessons also are available.
The first session began Monday and runs through July 2. The second session runs from July 6 through July 16, and the third session runs from July 20 through July 30.
Each two-week session includes a makeup Friday lesson in case of rain.
Screening for swimming levels will take place Monday through July 3 during pool hours and from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. July 18.
Cost for lessons is $32, payable to the town of Hampstead. Lessons are offered to members and nonmembers of the pool.
Young artists camp
Nationally known artist DeDe Sorensen will lead young artists through soft pastel drawing techniques at Hanover Area Arts Guild, 32 Carlisle St., Hanover, Pa.
The camp runs from 10 a.m. to 2: 30 p.m. July 13-17. Materials are provided. Class size is limited to 10. The fundamentals of representational drawing will be emphasized, leading to proficiency in a soft chalk medium.
Sorensen's works in pastel, oil, and watercolor are in private collections in California, Kentucky, Idaho and Pennsylvania.
Pub Date: 6/24/98