I have been in a few caves in my life. Some with guides some not. Lewis and Clark Caverns comes to mind as an incredible example of the hollowed earths potential for beauty.
My sister in law and I have started a bit of a tradition to book some bucket list activities for our summer entertainments in Banff National Park. When she mentioned caving I paused. In the past I have sat in caves and watched others shimmy down a shaft or cotort their bodies into impossible crevices. I agreed to go and made a promise to myself that this time I would not sit and watch I would face my fear.
The hike up to Rats Nest Cave just outside of Canmore is an easy 45 minute warm up. We got some instructions from our guide on how to put the harness on under our coveralls which was comical to watch and do. I would be glad for the orange jump suit and knee pads once we got going into the cave.
The rock is quite slippery in places having been polished to a glass surface over the decades. There were ropes to help pull yourself up into the mouth of the cavern. You have to have upper body strength to leverage which I am lacking so it was challenging.
Caves are full of illusions. What appears to be impassable is the way forward. What is wide open and seems simple enough to pass can lead to a 100 foot drop or dead end. We went down 55 metres as we squeezed through rock piles, slid across bridge like formations and landed right by an underground little pool. You have to turn your lights off at this point. Everyone is always curious how it feels to be in the earth belly in the dark. The cave felt very young and fresh. It’s only 10 thousand years old which is nothing in cave years.
What you go down you must come back up. I had put that mantra in the back seat on the way down to worry about later.
It was later. We started back up and everything looked very different now. The easy parts had become hard the hard parts were now easy. You know you have come this way before and yet some how it appears to be uncharted. The guide said lift you leg up on a tiny notch half way up the sheer glass like wall. Then pull yourself up. Hmmm. What is option two? I made a couple of attempts then got some help with a borrowed knee to put my foot on.
It took some serious self talk about my abilities and realizing that unless I wanted to be pulled out if the cave it was up to me to now ascend back towards the surface. Push, pull, squeeze another inch forward and rest. I finally made it back to the entrance. I was feeling pretty elated. I did it!
Mind over matter. We often limit ourselves and resolve to live a watered down version of life. It feels empowering to push through the tight squeeze. It builds confidence for next we face our fears that we are capable of many things.