Friday, June 29, 2012

Spelunking for Amatures!

An Adventure

Mammoth Cave Tour, KY

First and foremost, I think I just always wanted to write a blog where I could use the word Spelunking… now that I have achieved that goal, let me tell you about the other goal I reached on this beautiful adventure.

I hadn’t really given it all much thought till we pulled into the well manicured visitor center of Mammoth Cave National Park but once the reality of it hit me, that we might do more than just enjoy the picnic bench and gift shop; but actually go INTO a cave… let me say the anxiety and claustrophobia set in.  My friend Keith loves to check out caves, Heather not so much – but we headed to the map desk to figure out what Ranger-Led program might work best for us.  As part of the National Park system, I knew that the tour and facility would be top notch.  They had tours for the elementary (and out of shape) cavers to the pros and everything in between.  You could go for just over an hour or up to six and a half. 

Walking down into the mouh of the cave.
We chose the general Historic Tour: 2 miles, 2 hours, 440 stairs and over 300 feet deep.  It was about 95 degrees outside the cave so I was looking forward to the 54 degrees inside.  Bob, our tour guide explained the hazards…. Lots of steps, dark, tight places and not a lot of room for going back.  But we smacked down our $12 and headed down the lush green path to the mouth of the cave.  The cool air was a pleasant treat as we began our trek down through the opening in the sandstone entrance. 

This is one of the many bottomless caverns

Mammoth Caves has over 390 miles of surveyed passageways and more always being uncovered.  They think people have been going into these caves for over 4,000 years but folks did not really get into using the cave till about 300 years ago where mining for salts and crystals happened here.

Years ago, folks would use candles and smoke to
leave their mark on the celings of th caves.
Now, leaving your mark is highly prohibited.

We started in the Rotunda, a huge vast opening where remnants of mining operations of yesteryear still remain.  We walked along low lit pathways to smaller and smaller areas.  Bob stopped us at one point, asked us to turn off our phones and cameras.  Using just a lantern he talked about early folks who used this cave for shelter and mining – with no electricity running though it to light the way.   Then he turned off his lantern and we all gasped in the blackness, more than 100 feet below the surface.  He explained that this was how early cavers would have seen it when they put out their torches for the night.  Eyes open or closed, I could NOT tell the difference.  I had never seen such darkness.

We turned lights back on and meandered our way through water formed passages, some we had to turn sideways or bend over to get through.  My anxiety was there, but manageable unless folks were stopping in the small spots to take pictures – keep the line moving people!  We stopped at a rest area that was known to flood up to 30 feet deep when the weather was bad.  But we learned why Mammoth did not have the funky caved spikes (stalactites), because the sandstone acted as a sturdy roof and water rarely drips from above.

We eventually worked our way past bottomless caverns, over steel grate bridges and up the 155 stops of the Tower bring you back toward the Rotunda.  As we re-entered the wide, spacious cavern we started at I was excited to know that I have worked through my anxiety and fears.  I had not felt some accomplished in quite some time.
This is me in my VICTORY Pose, after all the skinny, low, dark and creepy
spots along the 2 mile trail.  A hug from my friends helped me feel
like I had accomplished a great victory!

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