Monday, September 29, 2008

Spelunking

Original Post Date: September 21, 2008

For weeks, Adam and I have planned to go spelunking. My sister was unfamiliar with this term and did a quick Google search on the word. The first entry to pop up was from the "urban dictionary" indicating that "spelunking" refers to a search through certain body parts for used condoms which may have inadvertently slipped off. The second entry to pop up defined "spelunking" as "exploring a cavernous cave". While I agreed that the word "cavernous" was unnecessary, I assured her that we planned to engage in definition #2...and to never never mention definition #1 again.

As it turns out, we did not go "spelunking" which, according to our tourguide, carries a negative connotation. It implies that we intended to "raid" a cave with disregard for its fragile ecosystem for amusement rather than education. So we did not go spelunking after all. We went caving.

Adam and I enjoy outdoor activities like climbing, biking, and hiking, and we tend to prefer National Parks over sunny beaches as vacation destinations. The hike in a cave, however, was a bit more extreme than any we had done before. First, the release form. These are fairly standard in the US, and I am sure you're familiar with the basic premise that these serve to inform you that you are engaging in some sort of dangerous behavior at your own risk. But this release form is unlike any I have signed before. Luckily, the full text is available online so I can offer you my favorite excerpt:


13. Injuries are inevitable in caving some have occurred in Laurel Caverns even involving broken bones. Something as simple as a twisted ankle may require a long tortuous removal process involving up to twelve hours of immobilization in a rigid basket, thirty or more rescue personnel, an ambulance ride and hospital stay for X-rays and observation at the participant’s expense, and finally, exposure to unbelievably hyped media attention on your “dramatic cave rescue.” (NOTE: The grammatical errors are theirs, not mine!!)

Seriously. And yet, we still chose to go.

The guide begins her tour by making me sign a second form indicating that I am aware of my "inappropriate footwear" (no ankle support). Then, she explains that we will see bats which could be perched low enough for us to inadvertently knock them down with our heads. If that happens, we are to tell her so that she can put the bat back. Apparently, bats cannot take off unless they are perched, so a bat that falls will just lie on the ground and starve to death. Poor bats. I resolve not to hurt the critters, and we are off.

We ascend through the lighted, concrete topped part of the cave in about 10 minutes, which is the 55 minute tour for all ages. I can only conclude that it must be very boring. Then, we get to a more cavernous part of the cavern, and the guide tells us to turn off our lights, and we are in total darkness. Very cool. The eyes attempt to see, and the brain begins to invent swirling patterns - but site is not possible. The blackness is complete. Imagine being in a dense wood on a dark, cloudy night. This was darker. Close the eyes. Open them. The view is the same. We sat in silence, listening to the trickle of water which formed the cave throughout thousands of years. I breathed deep, inhaling the cool air, and was at peace.

After this, we reach the first "stream crawl". I stupidly ask what that means, and the guide explains that we will have to crawl through a small tunnel with an inch deep stream of cold water running through it. This was just as fun as it sounded. We then reach a narrow hole, where we are instructed to toss our belongings through to the ground on the other side, and then shimmy our bodies through the opening. I am reminded of that episode of Winne the Pooh, where Pooh gets stuck in Rabbit's hole, and he has to stop eating for days until he is skinny enough to pop through. Luckily, we did not have to resort to such measures. After this, we climb up a bunch of rocks, over a ledge, and then "chimney walk" up to a little peak. These parts were the most fun. Then it was time to make a decision: another "stream crawl" or climb over the rocks that form the tunnel. I quickly respond that we will skip the stream crawl. Next, the "moneymaker" which is another narrow hole which is best navigated by sort of diving in head first. This tends to empty the pockets of cavers.

On the way out, we are again charged with the decision to take or avoid a stream crawl. We decide not to be wimps and take the crawl. About 5 feet into the cold cold water, with my camera dragging about 3 inches deep, I see our guide's light 50 feet ahead. This seems very far away, and I think "Why did I do this?" because my jeans, which are technically too large for my reduced size body, are soaking wet. They become heavy and the cuffs begin to slide under the soles of my feet, so I have to roll them up. Wimpy or no, I think I will decline stream crawls on future caving expeditions.

All in all, I enjoyed the caving experience. Total darkness was awesome, there was a lot of old graffiti (mostly 1920's and 30's, but one as early as 1836, carved into the stone), and best of all, we were filthy dirty. Like fingerpainting, for some reason, being messy is part of the appeal of the activity. And yes, we saw bats, but they were all up at least 10 feet.

My flash was not able to overcome the darkness, but I got a few pictures that turned out half decent:

5 comments:

Maureen said...

"the 'moneymaker' which is another narrow hole which is best navigated by sort of diving in head first"

Hmm... sounds to me like you just wrote a new urban dictionary entry :)

Danielle Mari said...

I agree with Maureen. Especially accompanied by your final photo!

Seriously, though- you are a super stud... or whatever the feminine equivalent might be. I got claustrophobic just reading your post! I've been in that kind of darkness, though-- on a tour of Alcatraz they shut us into a solitary confinement cell. Great description of how that feels!

NICKI said...

Hmm...I didn't really notice my final photo's shall we say, "feminine qualities" until today...

CaraBee said...

What an adventure! Yeah, that last photo certainly catches the eye.

Liz Baer said...

Aww everyone else already said what my comment was going to be... That your last picture of the cave seems to refer pretty directly to the urban dictionary definition previously stated.