Going Underground: Spelunking Part I

Joe and I celebrated our 10 year anniversary!

We wanted to do something memorable and adventurous and spelunking fit the bill.  We went underground with three guides and two other couples at the Natural Bridge Caverns north of San Antonio.

The entry of the cave is a shaft 22 inches in diameter.  Anti-math friends, that means across.

How wide is 22 inches?  Well, when Joe is standing normally, the width across his shoulders is 21.75 inches.  Mine is 17.5 inches.  You have to hunch your shoulders around to fit (since you can’t stay lined up right in the middle).  The shaft is 160 feet long.  It takes about two lifetimes four minutes to get to open room of the cave.  The only light is your headlamp.

(That is me with glasses.  In dim light, I can see things far away better with glasses.  I didn’t really think through the whole you-don’t-see-too-far-with-a-headlamp or  99-percent-humidity-means-foggy-glasses details.)

So getting into the cave was by far the worst part.  Fortunately, we didn’t have any problems with claustrophobia.  Instead, you experience what a pinball might if the pinball machine was made of sharp, jagged, vengeful limestone.  I have many bruises to prove it.

A normal tour was passing when I came down, so there were some lights on in the cave.  (We entered and exited the cave on parts the normal tours cover.)

from the cave floor with a camera flash (we come in through the hole in the roof)

with only the tour lights

Joe coming down – the tour had left, so only our headlamps are shining on him

Joe about to unhook on the landing (with flash)

Joe climb-sliding down to the floor of the cave

The long ride down did help your eyes adjust to low light.  Even five years ago, that much darkness would have scared me.  I was the don’t-even-close-your-eyes-in-the-shower type.  But I did not feel afraid of the dark at all!  Everyone probably asked, “Is my headlight on the max setting?” a couple of times, though.  Even after several hours it never felt like enough light.

Here’s how a formation a couple of feet in front of me looked with only my headlamp on it (most pictures have flash or multiple headlamps):

In the caverns there is more carbon dioxide than above ground.  That plus 99% humidity meant we often found ourselves breathing hard on the easy parts and out of breath on the harder parts.

A little hiking later we had to repel down a steep part.  Once before I had repelled and it was great fun – just kicking off the rock face and zooming down!  This was not that.  Mostly because it was steep but not vertical.  I could not see where I was going and kept slipping.  After one slip I stopped for a second and made a frustrated noise.  A guide shouted down, “You actually look graceful – you’ve made a lot of great saves!”  Considering this was the only encouraging thing any of the guides said all day, I took it as a compliment.  My theory is that I was going down faster than other people, thus requiring more “saves.”  Yup, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Joe is looking over the edge to take this shot of me (I’m leaning back) – you can see how the rope falls with gravity

Next, the crawling!  Continued in part II tomorrow…

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One thought on “Going Underground: Spelunking Part I

  1. Very interesting Kathryn and looks like great fun (for you! … Ha! Ha!) I think I will stay ‘above ground’ and share the adventure with you as you write your experience. Glad to hear that you have ‘overcome’ the darkness. It is great what ‘living in the light’ can do for us! Love ya, Aunt Sarah

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