Yesterday Rick and I went caving, and I can sum up the adventure with one word:
It was an incredible experience. Absolutely incredible. I’ve gone caving before with my brother many years ago, and Rick and I did some caving when we were exploring Hawaii and also at Rattlesnake Point, but this was caving on an entirely different level.
As with all of our adventures, the day began with a requisite visit to Starbucks, and then we were on our way to Canmore to meet our caving guide Russell and four of Rick’s friends; Chloe, Sanjay, Rachna, and Roshan.
The adventure itself took place in Rat’s Nest Cave. Despite the fact that the name might read as some place that most wouldn’t want to go, after strapping on our gear (harness, knee pads, overalls, helmets, headlamps, and smiles) we dove in. Pretty much literally. The beginning of the cave consisted of a short descent while attached to guide lines. Not too challenging, and definitely in an area where room was readily available.
We eventually made our way to the area of the cave where we needed to rappel to a lower level. I’ve never rappelled into anything, but it was something I’d wanted to do for a long time. Of course, I was the last in the line for our group so I sat around for a bit while I waited for each person to, in turn, drop into the lower layers of the cave. Once it was my turn, Russell quickly set me up and then I jumped into position. My first few steps were a bit, um, shaky. But I think this was mainly due to not knowing what I was doing or how to really step (despite some very clear instructions from Russell), and not so much a function of nerves, because I wasn’t nervous at all. Once I got the general feeling for it, I made my way to the bottom of the cave without incident. I definitely want to do some more of that.
The environment of course was not to be an open one for long. That is, we soon found ourselves in some very tight, and for some of us, uncomfortable situations. For whatever reason, most of these tight squeezes don’t freak me out (too much). Don’t get me wrong; there is an air of discomfort, and my mind sometimes says what the hell are you doing? but it passes quickly and I just push on through wherever I’m going.
I guess my mettle was first tested when we were presented with an offshoot from one of the main caves we were in. Sanjay crawled into it head first on his belly. I decided I’d go on my back, but realized immediately that this wasn’t going to work for me. Not because I was freaked out, but because I had a bunch of snacks stuffed in my pants that were getting in the way. Anyway, after adjustments and such, I followed Sanjay’s example and crawled on my belly. On the other end of the tube was a small cave that allowed those of us that crawled through a chance to sit and relax. We gave ourselves a minute to recoup, and then turned around to return to Russell and the remaining members of our group.
Next up, the Laundry Shoot. The Laundry Shoot is essentially a straight and narrow drop that suddenly requires a 90 degree turn once you get to the bottom of it. You then have to crawl a little way until you hit another patch where you just slide down a tear shaped tube. It was awesome. While Chloe dove in head first right from the start, I opted to go feet first for the initial drop, then switch it up and go head first for the second drop. Amazing. I want to do it again, but all head first this time. Head first was definitely the way to go. So much fun.
Following the Laundry Shoot, we explored deeper into the caves while Russell taught us about stalactites, stalagmites, columns, deposits, etc. It was all truly fascinating, especially for someone who used to read geology books as a kid.
Before leaving the cave, Russell presented us with the ‘challenge’ cave. After Sanjay and Roshan had checked it out, I thought screw it. I crawled my way to the entrance and peaked in. It represented 7 metres of crawling on my stomach with very little room to move. My brain raced – Am I really going to do this? Yes. No. Yes. No. Sweet Jesus, am I insane?
About a microsecond later, with the support of those behind me, I dove in. To get through this particular cave I had to crawl on my elbows and drag myself along in that way. I pushed as best I could with my feet but they weren’t really providing much help. In the middle of the crawl, the floor dipped a bit, requiring a bit of a back bend. Interesting, but not impossible. Near the end of the crawl things tightened up and twisted. The only way for me to get through was to put both arms out in front of me and wiggle-pull myself through. It was AWESOME! Once I made my way through, the cave opened up into a small chamber that continued to descend quite a way. I didn’t go down there as Russell hadn’t mentioned that we should and I figured I shouldn’t risk it.
Shortly after I made my way in, Chloe popped through in typical Chloe fashion – all smiles. And then, despite being out of his comfort zone, Chloe and I helped pull Rick through. We were pretty much all smiles; laughing and amazed at what we had just done, and thoroughly enjoying the tiny chamber that we found ourselves in. I really can’t describe how amazing it felt.
Of course, to get out we had to go back from whence we came. Chloe led the way, with Rick and I following behind. I got a bit too close at one point and ended up with a Rick-boot to the face. Thankfully I had a helmet on so it wasn’t too bad.
After that, my level of feeling awesome was through the roof. Sadly, the tour was all but over. We investigated several amazing geologic structures, stopped for snacks, and then made our way out. It was great to see the sunshine, but I could have spent a few more hours in the caves. Thankfully, I know I’m going to do this again.
A huge thanks to Rick for organizing this. A most awesome adventure, and something I won’t ever forget.