#48) Caving: How to Explore the Inside of a Mountain

Posted on Posted in Badassery, Blog, Season 1

Time: 6 Hours

Cost: $0-$150

Difficulty: Physically: Medium, Psychologically: High

Badassery: 4 Unreasonably tight squeezes out of 5




So Underground No-One Could Hear Us

Which may or may not be a good thing….Slightly off key singing and impromptu jam sessions aside, caving was another one of 52skillz’ “Ooo this is super fun and also incredibly terrifying” moments. From an optimistic viewpoint, you’re satisfying man’s instinctual need to explore and discover knew things.

“Today we are left with few options of unexplored territory. The world’s greatest mountains have been conquered. The depths of the oceans have been reached. Flying into space is not available to the common man. Everywhere else can be seen via Google Earth. Caving remains one of the best options for the individual to set his foot where no other man has been and no satellite can see.”

The Art of Manlieness

Which, similar to Urban Exploration, can be one of the most exhilarating and fulfilling activities one can do.

But from a slightly less optimistic perspective, you’re putting yourself in a situation where your survival instincts kick in and say “WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING?!? WHY WOULD YOU GO DOWN INTO THAT TINY CRACK WHERE THERE COULD BE A LION WAITING TO EAT YO FACE?!?”.

$20 Says there’s a Lion Waiting behind that Rock

As to why we are wired to enjoy doing insane, life threatening things I have no answer. But what I do have an answer for my unequivocally attractive and intelligent reader (have you been working out?), is how to get started safely, and efficiently in the world of caving.

A Beginners Guide to Caving

Tip #1: Start Out Small, and With Someone Experienced

My first experience with caving was a relatively relaxed one. Largely because caving is a pretty dangerous activity, and going super hard your first time is not the most intelligent thing to do. Like many activities involving extreme conditions, its important to start out small and with someone who has a decent amount of experience.

I was lucky enough to have a good friend who has been caving for the better part of a decade to show me the caving “ropes”. If you are not in the same situation I was, try networking a bit for friends of a friend that may be interested in introducing you to the sport. And at last resort, hiring a tour agency to show you the ropes is always as option as well. (Depending on your budget of course, as rates can vary between $100-$150 for a 4 hour excursion).

The friend who took me out works for Canmore Cave Tours, which is a great place to get your feet wet in the world of Caving. If you’re in that area, and have the doe to spend… check them out! The tour guides are great, and the caves and safety is top notch.

Tip # 2: Have the Proper Gear

Like many extreme sports, the gear is the difference between you coming out of the cave relatively unscathed, or coming out with a mild concussion, bruised knees and a dislocated shoulder. Using feedback from Calvin, as well as some research online, I have found the 3 most essential tools to have if you’re going to caving:

  • A Climbing Helmet: You bump your head a lot. Unless you want 13 goose-eggs and a concussion after your first day, you need this.
  • A Headtorch: According to Calvin and a number of caving related blogs, a headtorch is the most important part of your set-up. Which makes sense, because there is literally zero light 170 feet underground. Good luck getting back up without this.
  • Knee Pads: Crawling around on hard rock without protecting your knees sucks. Spend an extra $10 to get those things covered!

Everything else, such as good hiking shoes, a small backpack for food and water and a pair of coveralls is often suggested, but not necessary when caving. As well, from the 6 hours I spent in the cave, I think that a sweater is a good thing to bring because it can get pretty effin chilly when you’re down there for extended periods of time.

Tip #3: Get Ready to Feel Uncomfortable

In order to cave, you need to be prepared to feel larges amounts of anxiety during many not so opportune moments. I long embraced the feeling of being in a confined space. I sleep in my car, would create small forts as a kid, and 9 times out of 10 feel more at home in a small room than a massive house. But this feeling was not consistent when that confined space consisted of two large slabs of rock, that could totally eff your day up if they wanted to.

Not to say that they would. Those guys have been sitting there for thousands of years, unmoved and are extremely unlikely to crumble as soon as you step into their domain….but that doesn’t stop you from hesitating. DAMN YOU BRAIN AND YOUR ABILITY TO THINK IN BOTH ABSTRACT AND LOGICAL FORMS.

So if I had one last tip for people to go caving, it would be to get centered, think logically and go into those tight spaces with the knowledge that:

“There is no such thing as stuck, just temporarily lodged”

-Calvin K.

Just ask this guy

What Did I Learn?

That I am not as psychologically tough as I thought I was.

You may have been able to tell in the video, but for a good portion of that trip I was on the edge of “Holy crap this rock is about to fall on top of me”, or “Why the hell am I repelling 65 feet into a black abyss that likely has gigantic spiders in it”. And though it was new, and I have a right to feel that way, I think that I was operating way to much on a level of fear. Fear for the ropes to not hold me as I repelled down, or fear for 10,000 year old cave to fall in. Which is all bullshit, and a pretty restricting point of view.

That in mind, I would say my biggest take away from this experience is that when you’re going into a new situation that seems a bit daunting, take a step back, look at it logically and ask yourself “What are the real concrete reasons I wouldn’t take this opportunity to the maximum of my ability?”. And typically, I find there isn’t a whole heck of a lot.

Thanks for reading, hope you enjoyed, and happy learning!




3 thoughts on “#48) Caving: How to Explore the Inside of a Mountain

  1. Do you have any caving experience? Would love to hear your thoughts on how caving noobs can maximize their first experience!

  2. Hey Stephen, glad you enjoyed your time in the cave and thanks for speaking kindly of us. I just thought I would add a couple of things to your great post for those who might be keen to try out the sport of caving.

    First to reiterate your points, going with someone who is experienced and having the right equipment are certainly the best pieces of advice you can give. There are lots of ways to get into the sport, but “winging it” is definitely not the approach we would recommend.

    In addition to participating in a tour, most areas have caving clubs who are very welcoming to new members. In Alberta the Alberta Speleological Society (caving.ab.ca) is a great resource. They offer trips, courses, equipment, and lots of experience to help new cavers get their feet wet (sometimes literally).

    The exciting thing about caving is that every cave is different. Some are so big you never have to bend over, and some so small that you wiggle on your stomach the whole time. Some require the use of ropes and technical equipment, and some barely more than helmet and headlamp. There really is something for everyone if you can get over the darkness.

    Thanks again for sharing your experience!

    1. Hey Adam, thanks for the additional information! Its always awesome to hear some advice from people who are in the industry to get some clarification in case I missed anything.

      Thanks again for giving me, and the viewers the opportunity to give caving a try 🙂

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