My last post on The Ominous Disaster Point caving experience was a recount of the actual events of the weekend and our caving experience. But I have spoken to many people (both before and since I wrote the article) who have cited me as being just plain crazy for caving at all.
Therefore, I’d like to attempt to describe the appeal of caving, at least for myself and those around me who enjoy it as a sport as well.
This post was originally published in 2007. It has since been updated for accuracy of links and content.
First, it behooves me to compare the thrill of caving to the thrill of mountaineering. Both are almost equally dangerous if not performed properly or with the right people. Getting noticed and rescued off the side of a mountain is arguably as difficult as from a cave. The trick is not to need to get rescued!
Both are activities that are enjoyed in the great outdoors, in an environment that is larger than life. The feeling of being ultimately so small in the grandiose world of the mountains is ever-present, and humbling to say the least. It is an honour for me to experience the mountains, and for mother nature to allow me to respectfully play in her playground.
To this one might say “Nora. Hello. You’re not in the great outdoors if you’re squashed inside some tiny cave”.
Which brings me to the appeal specifically of caving. Caving is one of those things very few people ever do. It can be dangerous if you don’t know what you’re doing, it requires a certain amount of know-how and equipment, and a team of other people who are willing and able to go caving as well! So to be one of the few people that ever experiences caving in general and the cave you’re in at the moment more specifically, is a very special thing.
Caves are also very fragile environments. Literally thousands of years of evolution create some of the soda straws, stalactites and stalagmites that exist peacefully in the cave. An act so careless as even touching one can ruin this delicate and special process. Respectfully admiring such beautiful things is an incredible experience.
You can also see signs of evolution in the shape and formations of the rock. You can imagine the cavern you are standing in as once being full of rushing water, even dating back to the days when the mountains were actually part of the ocean floor. Fossils are everywhere to be found, and the amateur historian in you can have a field day in a cave.
There is also a thrill in the exploration aspect. You see a tiny hole big enough for your body to fit through, and you wonder what’s on the other side. The ultimate achievement in a caver’s career is when they push through one of those tiny passages and discover a huge cavernous space on the other side, never before discovered. Or even better, they push through one of those passages to discover that the cave they were in connects to another cave entirely!
Caving is very much a mental sport (something I’ve gravitated towards with many of the sports I’ve participated in such as skydiving, motorcycle racing, and even mountaineering). It is very easy to get overwhelmed in a cave, allowing feelings of claustrophobia, cold, and isolation to take over. The accomplishment lies in keeping those feelings at bay and focusing on the task at hand. Similar to the concept of not looking down while scaling a mountain, not looking up in a cave is an apt motto!
And once you have conquered the fears associated with being inside the cave, and you emerge after a successful mission, the beautiful sights and smells (and brightness!) of the great outdoors can be appreciated all the more. The rush (for an adrenalin junkie like myself) is almost unparalleled.
Kelly has another take on his love of caving. Instead of being consumed with feelings of being under tons of rock, and feeling crowded or isolated, he says he actually feels cradled by the cave. He feels comforted, and the cave almost feels womb-like to him. I haven’t yet reached this level of appreciation, as maintaining the mental control to just get through the event is still at the forefront of my mind!
But whether it is the feeling of accomplishment, being proud of going places very few people ever go, conquering fears and keeping a level head, or appreciating the delicate nature and evolutionary trends inside the cave, caving is certainly a thrill for me and I look forward to the next exploration.