Spelunk, Spelunker, Spelunking

According to dictionary.com, to spelunk is to explore caves, and subsequently a spelunker is someone who explores caves, usually as a hobby.  

On Saturday, I allowed my husband to talk me into attending a field trip with him and student's from his school, to go spelunking (definition: "to go" and explore caves) at Laurel Caverns.  I wasn't particularly interested, but DH gave me the "it's a childhood dream of mine" speech so I gave in.

In the end, I am glad that I went.

So, the picture above was taken in the "public cave" section.  You can see that's well lit and attractive looking, although what you can not tell from this picture is that it's a massively steep hill (heading down - we had just climbed up it.)  

But we weren't in the "public cave" section - oh no.  We did "lower caving," which is an undeveloped cave, that including sliding down slippery rocks, lots of mud, crawling through small spaces and lots of head bumps.  And once you get to the very bottom - 47 stories down, according to our guide - you turn around and climb another 47 stories back up; the only way to get out.

I'm dehydrated and ready to go!
One of the rules was that you had to have a headlamp.  I didn't quite understand why that was necessary if I had two flashlights instead, but once we got in there I quickly realized that I would need both of my hands for all of the climbing I was going to have to do.  The other rule was no bathroom breaks, for three solid hours, which I was deathly afraid of.  I dehydrated myself for hours beforehand and am still suffering from that.  But, I didn't have to pee during the caving, thank god.

Allow me to state the obvious - caves are dark.  We turned out our lights at one point and the blackness is absolute.  You think that maybe you can make out the ceiling, or perhaps see a shape right in front of you, but that is - in fact - an illusion. It's your eyes trying to find light.  Apparently, if you were stranded in a pitch-black cave for an extended period of time you would go completely blind after about three weeks - your retina's try so hard to find light that eventually they burn out and you go blind.

A little sleeping bat
 47 stories sounds like a lot, but when you're basically going down 10 stories in one scary little drop, it actually goes by quite quickly.  More time was spent sitting in the "rooms" looking around than actually going up or down.  But those moments were nice because you could actually stop and look around, take in your surroundings and remind yourself that you are underground.  Going UP 47 stories was obviously much more difficult than going down.  While I felt like we spent over 2 hours going down and exploring, the trip back up was actually fairly quick and I was definitely sweating even though the temperature in the cave was only 52 degrees.

Cave picture with the flash
It's hard to capture the essence of caving in a photograph.  The flash reflects off of the rock, removing any sense of depth that you might be trying to capture.  Without flash is a little better, but the constantly moving lights create blur, and it's still hard to get a real sense of what you're experiencing.

Cave picture without the flash
Spelunking (at least for me) is one of those experiences that I struggle to describe.  I can't really do the experience justice.  Walking into an enormous, dark, undeveloped cave, climbing over enormous boulders that have fallen from the ceiling, crawling on my hands and knees in a very narrow space under tons of rock, sliding down the sides of rock walls on my butt, and sloshing through little creeks of water that back in the day actually carved out this cave is hard to describe.  Thinking about where you are in the earth is a little surreal.  Imagining the hundreds of men back in the late 1800's and early 1900's that entered this very same cave with little more than a torch and a candle (which they then used to write their names and the date on the ceilings) feels like experiencing a piece of history.  And imagining how scary it would be if that torch or candle burnt out and you were left in there to die - a little creepy.

Taken from the top of a rock before I slid down to join the group
There were a ton of opportunities to explore, and the more adventurous among us had the opportunity to crawl through small tunnels were there was actually a small river running through it.  In the picture below, DH actually climbed up a large section of rock and come out through that small hole that you can see behind his right leg.

If you ever have the opportunity to go spelunking (and I mean real spelunking, not lit cavern spelunking), I highly recommend it.  I can assure you that it will be a unique experience giving you a glimpse into a world you probably knew nothing about. 

And, if nothing else, you'll walk out of there looking really rugged and tough.

I NEVER look this tough


Corinne said...

That looks so fun but I have to admit - my claustrophobic self would have freaked out!

Lisa said...

Actually you'd be surprised at how roomy it was in there! There were very few small spaces, and most of those were optional!

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