Adventures in the Dark
The first thing that people say to me when I mention going caving is “Oh. That’s not really my thing…”
Closely followed by
“I don’t like the dark!”
“I hate cramped spaces!”
“It sounds very cold!”
“Isn’t it wet?”
“I know I’m going to hyperventilate….”
And my immediate response is always “Try it once and it will be THE most awesome experience. You won’t be able to stop talking about it for weeks”.
First thing is first.
- Proper caving lighting equipment is mega powerful – so you’re not ever in pitch darkness. [Remove mental images of all adventure horror films that show people grappling around in the dark].
- Caves have passageways and chambers! Yes, OK, part of the experience is that you do a bit of crawling, a bit of scrabbling, maybe some rope techniques. But if you’re at a caving site approved for beginners you can expect to be able to walk around vertically for a lot of the time too!
- It really isn’t that scary as you always cave with a qualified Instructor or Leader and they ensure that the cave and the route is within everyone’s capabilities.
Now I can’t emphasise enough the need to go with a qualified Instructor or Leader.
Don’t be attempting to navigate caving systems on your own! I’m always stunned at how easy it is to lose orientation underground – you just don’t have the sensory cues that you’re used to. Even going back to the same cave, I honestly can’t differentiate one chamber from another. So a qualified Instructor is a must for your safety and enjoyment.
And just like any sport or activity having the right kit can really make the difference. Yes, the temperature is low. And in places it can be wet. But you get big heavy-duty overalls to protect and insulate you. It’s comfortable and you have complete freedom of movement.
Our caving Instructor always tells us that for adults the hurdles are psychological more than physical. The safety is all common sense stuff – a bit like being by the pool. You know it all already. No running! No jumping! No pushing!
Caving is a very physical activity – but you almost don’t realise just how much because underground your movements are so small and careful. At the end of a caving session when the group reaches the final portion of the route and comes out into the light, everyone collapses on the ground, exhausted and blinking in the sunlight and thinking “YES! That was incredible.”
Caving will always be my favourite group activity. That feeling of being completely cut off from the rest of the world is a singularly unique experience. It really does feel like all that exists is you and your group. It is an epic sense of achievement and bonding as you help each other along and enjoy the thrill of discovery in these amazing spaces.
Wherever your adventures may take you this year, be sure to discover the secret of what’s lying underneath!