To continue our series on extreme hiking I thought I’d talk a little about spelunking (or caving). A friend recently mentioned that caving was really just hiking in 3D which I thought was a good explanation, though I would add it’s hiking in 3D with no weather or sun! I’m a bit of a mapping enthusiast when I hike but I can’t even imagine how you could start to map a cave unless you had some sort of box-shaped mapping device. Forget about using a GPS either – those will stop working at the mouth of the caves.
The other thing I’ve noticed about spelunking is just how dark it is inside caves. Obviously you need to be prepared whenever you enter a cave (the rule of thumb is to bring 3 light sources) but most of us don’t have a real concept of total darkness until we enter a cave. This also makes caving much more dangerous than a typical above-ground hike and I highly recommend going with an experienced guide and bringing safety equipment like helmets and ropes.
I’ve been in a few caves over the years and perhaps my favorite is Cumberland Caverns in central Tennessee. As a Boy Scout our group went on the “wild tour” where we were forced to crawl on our bellies and squeeze through narrow passages and muddy paths. More recently I made it out to Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico where a friend and I went on the standard walking tour of the cave, though we were disappointed to find out advanced reservations are necessary to go on their version of the “wild tour.” Carlsbad Caverns is amazing for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the fact that millions of bats live in the cave during daylight hours. If small spaces don’t freak you out, seeing all these bats will!
Yep, caving really is hiking in 3D and I’d say that qualifies it as an extreme way to hike. Just be safe on your 3D hike – that extra dimension can be tough to get used to!