One reporter takes a deep look at caving in Canmore, Alta.

I could feel panic rising in my chest as I stepped closer to the slippery edge. Looking down was nothing but darkness, a deep hole in the earth. My hands were cold, my feet wet but adrenalin pumped through me, coaxing me to go forth. I let go of all of my doubts, closed my eyes and stepped off the edge.

I conquered my fear, rappelled down into the dark caverns of Rat’s Nest Cave and began my first caving expedition.

Caving is definitely an experience I will never forget. It was exhilarating, exhausting and made me push past my comfort zone (multiple times).

I was in a group of five other people with our guide, Nicholaus Vieira. We all had very different reasons for going caving.

Tyler Murray, started his own bucket list of things he wanted to accomplish in his life. “When I turned 30, something changed in me,” he said.

Us Cavers in the tunnels of Rat’s Nest Cave in Canmore, Alta. Photo: Ashley Tymko“I started making a list of all of the things I wanted to do: skydiving, rock climbing and caving. I felt it was time to start checking things off of my list.”

Robert Heslop has never been caving before, but decided to try it out because of his girlfriend.

“She has been before and is really into it, so I thought I would give it a try.”

Kevin Ho and Calvin Louie are two friends who wanted to move away from the norm and try something adventurous.

“It looked really interesting so I thought I would give it a try,” Ho said.

Regardless of our reasons, we were all in for a big adventure.

The hike up

The 30 minute hike was a bit more laborious than I expected as it was entirely uphill. I am in decent shape but still found myself huffing and puffing by the time we got to the cave entrance. Don’t let this deter you; the view in itself was well worth the effort.

Once we got up to the cave entrance, we began to put on our gear: coveralls, knee pads (which proved extremely useful), gloves, harness and hard-hat with a headlamp.

The entrance was through a locked metal gate in the side of a mountain and looked very small on the ground. Once you got up close, however, you saw you could fit through with little effort.

One thing I learned while caving, spaces are only considered small if you physically cannot fit through them.

Once we all climbed up and got into the cave it was pitch black. Nicholaus shut the gate with a loud, echoing clang and, all of a sudden, I was panic stricken.

Thoughts of breaking that gate open and getting out clouded my mind. I didn’t think I was the claustrophobic type, but fear of the unknown ahead gripped me.

I closed my eyes, swallowed my nerves and followed my group down into the darkness.

The cave

The cave was extremely slippery. My shoes, which were running shoes not hiking boots, did not help in the least.

The entrance of Rat’s Nest Cave in Canmore, Alta. Photo: Ashley TymkoI was surprised at how swiftly I adjusted to being underground. My adventurous side briefly came out and I was ready to take on whatever lay ahead.

It was only a few minutes until we rappelled down deeper into the cave. Once we were all on the ground the journey began.

My group was in the “Adventure Tour” that Canmore Cave Tours offers year-round. We were in the cave for approximately four hours and half of that time was given to us to explore.

Guide Nicholaus would take us down into small chambers that had different tunnels leading in and out of it. He would wait in the main chamber where us new cavers would test our courage.

When I say chamber and tunnel, they probably mean something different to you than to practiced cavers.

A chamber is a room big enough that you can crouch or sit comfortably. You can also fit multiple people in these rooms.

A tunnel is a passageway that is just large enough to squeeze your body through with minor adjustments.

Hence the words “test our courage.”

I have to admit, I refused to explore through the tunnels in the first chamber that we arrived at. When I saw all of the other people in my group squirming and jamming themselves into these small crevices I felt my blood pump violently through me. Nicholaus tried to convince me otherwise, but I couldn’t do it.

As the tour progressed, I tested myself more and more, but it was definitely a slow process.

Overcoming fear

Although I struggled to conquer my fears on this tour, I would not give it up for the world.

Nicholaus said something to me before I rappelled down the cave. I told him I was terrified and he replied, “Of course you are. It’s fear in life that keeps us alive and going.”

That stuck with me and really made me push through.

I repeated those words of advice to myself all day, but especially at the parts where I had to inch forward through a tiny tunnel on my back with my stomach touching the cave walls.

At one point in the tour, Nicholaus asked if we wanted to explore the cave in the dark. I honestly thought he was joking, but once we arrived at another chamber he asked us all to turn our headlamps off.

Once the lights were off, we were consumed by darkness. It was as if the world just turned off. Everyone grew eerily silent as we awaited instructions from our fearless leader. You could hear the soft droplets of water hitting the cave floor. It was oddly calming.

He just told us to crawl forward until he said stop. He also advised us to keep our headlamp off as long as we could.

I cannot describe to you how badly I wanted to turn mine on.

You had to feel your way through everything, every second. He assured us we would all be fine but the thoughts of falling down a hole or going the wrong way kept popping in my mind.

After what seemed like hours, I finally made it safely to Nicholaus. It was over. I did it.

That was something I will always remember.

Experience

After the crawl in the dark, our guide took us to the largest part of the cave. It was massive, 50m high. He also took us down to where some water pooled and the sides of the caves were beautiful.

Going into the cave, the majority of it you are going down. So, you guessed it, we had to climb up to get out.

Overall, caving was a unique experience. It was an incredible opportunity to challenge myself. I recommend it to anyone looking for something new.

atymko@cjournal.ca