Tuesday, October 26, 2010

More on Caving with the Glowworms!!

Our experience with the Legendary Blackwater Rafting Company (we did the Black Abyss trip!) was so amazing that I thought I’d post a couple more pictures and tell some more stories.

As Gregg mentioned previously, there really are a lot of guides in this area. And we assume that they explore different caves. The network of caves in this area is vast! So we also assume that the caving experiences in this area could be really varied. But the online information is … let’s say more concise than descriptive. We could probably have picked any of the companies and had a fantastic time, but in the end we went with the company that seemed to have the most overwhelming number of online (positive, naturally) reviews.
Apparently we’d arrived just prior to their active season. Lucky planning on our part! And when we gathered with the guide we realized we were going to be a very small group; the two of us, and a recently married couple from Los Angeles.

Brydie & Monkey were our guides, and I think Marcel was doing a sort of intern/guide-in-training thing, and helping out. Monkey was super friendly, and very good at the rappelling training. I think he was really quite busy, but we didn’t see much of him after the descent; most of what he did was “behind-the-scenes”. So most of our time on this trip was spent with Brydie, and I can’t possibly say enough about her! Brydie has an amazing energy and excitement about what she’s doing, and made even the gearing up in ridiculous wetsuits and caving gear into an adventure!
We started with a very, very quick rappelling lesson. Gregg & I have very little experience rappelling – the Empress Falls Canyoning trip in the Blue Mountains of Australia is the only prior experience we’ve had – and the equipment was different this time. We were both surprised at how little time was spent on the “rappelling training” portion of the trip. But just as last time, they make you believe in their ability to “catch” you if needed. And, just as last time, we both found that it’s harder to descend than you’d think. Maybe with more experience you could freefall, but I found myself again feeding rope to try to descend faster. It’s really quite easy, and I can see why – as Monkey said – climbers don’t find it to be the exciting part … it’s just a way to get back down after the climb. Of course we’re not climbers. We still find it a bit exciting!

The descent seemed shorter than I’d thought. Maybe 35 m (about 100 ft) just seems a lot shorter when you can’t see the bottom! We descended into an “hourglass” shaped hole in the ground. Just as you go in it gets really narrow, and then when it opens up again there’s very little light. Gregg went down first, so as I was descending I could hear Gregg talking to Brydie at the bottom. With the echo, and my eyes not yet adjusted to the dark, it was impossible to tell how far away the bottom was. And since my ever so slight fear of heights is apparently triggered by my ability to see the distance below, I had virtually no fear on this descent!

From the bottom of the descent, once your eyes have adjusted to the dark, you can see the glowworms! It’s an amazing sight. Tiny green spots that glow all over the top surfaces of the caves; they look like tiny stars.
When we’d all gotten to the bottom of the descent, we walked a short distance to the zip line (the “flying fox”, here). They’ve decided that the flying fox is “more fun” in the dark. We’re not really sure why, and Gregg thought it would be more exciting if he could see where he was going, but I loved it! It was over too quickly, but so much fun!

The flying fox deposited us on an underground cliff about 15’ above the river. We sat at the edge and had a hot cocoa and “cave cookies” break. They do this a couple of times during the trip to keep you warm and keep your energy up.

From the cliff there are a couple of ways down. One is to walk gingerly down the slippery slope, with some assistance, to the river below. The other is to leap off the cliff while holding an inner tube, and land in the river on the inner tube. We all took the leap. What a big splash! And the water is initially FREEZING! But it warms up quickly and, as with many decisions in life, it’s better to take the leap than to tiptoe in from the side!

Once we were all in the river we got a quick lesson on glow worms. They don't sound nearly as pretty as they look, but if you want more information on what they actually are, here's a link!

Big sections of our trip were spent either floating down the river in inner tubes, or walking (and occasionally stumbling) where the river level was too low to float. There were definitely a few tight spots. At one point as we were floating down the river the cave ceiling got so low that we had to push ourselves away from the ceiling and “walk” our way through! Yikes! That was a little freaky. But this is a network of caves, after all, so there were bound to be a few “tight’ moments.

We also climbed up a couple of underground waterfalls; it’s challenging to find good footholds while the water is rushing down on you. But Brydie was standing at the bottom, pointing and shouting and clearly directing us, and with all the guesswork taken out it’s a much easier prospect. I have to admit though … I had a moment right at the beginning. I think I may have actually said out loud “We’re going where? Up there? Seriously?”.

And the top of the waterfalls were a bit tighter, so we found ourselves crawling on hands and knees to get over the peak of a waterfall and into the next area. I did discover in a couple of the tighter spaces that I needed the lights on when I’m hanging out in those spots. Why yes, I AM ever so slightly claustrophobic as well as being the tiniest bit terrified of heights! But what’s a life without facing up to a few challenges?!

We spent about 5 hours on this trip, most of it under the ground. It was exciting, and surreal. And it was definitely one of a few major highlights on this trip!

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