Excuse my language.
But I am seriously over the moon about what I did last night.
I am insanely claustrophobic. Like take-the-stairs-because-crowded-elevators-suck claustrophobic. My biggest challenge as a firefighter was getting comfortable wearing an SCBA mask. Which now is no big deal, but its different when I’m working.
If you had asked me a year ago if I would willingly go 10 stories underground, sliding through manhole sized rock chutes and crawling on my hands and knees through calcite covered underground passages, I would have given you a resounding ‘Hell no!’
But a lot can change in a year. In this last year, I have pushed through every fear and boundary holding me back, except for my claustrophobia. Until last night.
At 5:51 last night, I pulled into the parking lot of Canmore Cave Tours. I reluctantly threw a jacket on and trudged up the stairs, into the waiting room with 15 other people, mostly strangers. We were all here for the same reason: To test out Canmore Cave Tours newest tour, Halloween in the Rockies. The plan? Gear up, hike up to Rats Nest Cave, descend into the cave and then watch a horror movie.
The movie of choice? The Descent. While the scariest part of this movie is actually the inaccuracies (seriously, an Ice Axe?!). watching it in a cave, deep underground definitely added a whole new element of horror to the evening.
If you think that I’m crazy for picking a horror movie night as my time to challenge my fear, you should know that I LOVE horror movies, so that was actually what convinced me to go into the cave. I have worked for Canmore Cave Tours as a social media manager since June, but I have blatantly refused to go into the cave. Until now.
After gearing up in the Cave Tours office, we headed out for the cave. The trail head is about a 7 minute drive from the office, and as we all parked and dug out our head lamps, the light was fading fast.
The hike up to the cave is short and a little to the steep side, but the twinkling lights from Canmore looked beautiful in the distance. We hiked our way up to the mouth of the cave, and under a tented tarp, we all put on our harnesses, knee pads, overalls and helmets and got ready to enter the cave.
Getting up to the cave is a little bit of a scramble, and then you duck through a freshly unlocked gate and you are in the cave. For me, the hardest part of the experience was actually the entrance: that first tightening of rock around me, the darkness below. But there is something incredibly reassuring about being in a climbing harness and clipping into the rope system that gets you into the cave; it gave me something familiar to focus on, a job to do with my hands and a distraction for my racing mind.
Once in through the entrance, its a bit of a squeezy slide into the first cavern, where the cave opens around you. We hung out in this cavern for a bit, watching about half an hour of the movie, before it was time to move on. The guides took down the screen, and in the floor of the cavern behind it was what appeared to be a tiny hole. When Max, one of the guides, announced that that was the route forward, my stomach clenched a bit.
In all honesty, the hole looked smaller from a distance, and when I got up close, I could see that it opened up below. The wooden ladder built into the rock was reassuring, and in I went.
For the next 2 hours, we worked our way down an impressive system of caves, stopping in different caverns to watch the movie, section by section, until we made it to the Grand Gallery for the ending. We even got to explore an area called The Grotto.
The Grotto is a deep section of the main cave, with a pool of water in the bottom and calcite covering everything. This pool of water represents the future of cave explorations in Rats Nest Cave, one of our guides, Chantal, tells us as we stare into the water. Cave divers have gone into the water, searching for more passageways. A research team put green dye into the water, and it came out below the mountain 4 days later, so there is definitely a passage there. But who knows if it is passable by humans. That remains to be discovered
. To this date, adventurous cave divers have found 4 chambers beyond the Grotto; following narrow channels underwater in SCUBA gear. Each channel has led to another room, with another pool of water, leading deeper and deeper. The idea of exploring these unknown reaches of our world is incredible and I look forward to hearing what is found. It was pretty cool to see in person, all the things that I had only seen in photos up until last night.
Last night was an incredible experience. A genuinely life changing experience. I faced my last, greatest fear. Sure, there were some parts that I really did not like, but after getting through them, I felt incredible. Would I go back? Hell yes. I already have plans to go back. I look forward to continuing to work through this fear, until I’m no longer even the slightest bit afraid. A huge thanks to Chantal, Max and Lisa, our guides last night who were encouraging and patient and made the entire experience incredible.
While Canmore Cave Tours’ Halloween in the Rockies event is sold out, they have some amazing plans for Christmas coming up, so stay tuned for more on that!