We gathered in a Winnipeg parking lot, met the guide Scott and three men who were experienced cavers and already members of the Speleological Society of Manitoba (I am putting that on my resume as it sounds very official and intelligent). I paid my minimal membership dues ($15) then received a book called Caves and Karst edited by W.D. McRitchie and K.M. Monson. We jumped into cars and headed north of the city toward the direction of the Peguis Reserve and Fisher Branch, Manitoba.
As we drove along I opened my new book to realize I had joined a secretive and exclusive society as the book contained graphs, charts and a language with which I was unfamiliar. I joked with my friends that I was excited to receive a book but I had no idea what it was telling me. More research to come complete once back at home after the adventure's end.
I keep forgetting that I am not in Alberta and that there are no mountains in Manitoba. In my mind's eye, we were going to climb a slight hill, find a hole in the side of said hill, walk in and cave around a bit, but there are very few, and I mean VERY FEW hills in Manitoba. My expectations were about to be challenged, as they often are.
When we reached the first location, we parked our cars and dressed in our caving gear. Protection and physical safety are most important elements to caving, and one's personal sense of style takes a back seat.
|Christa and Steph in the hood(?)|
|Bright colours so hunters don't shoot us.|
I did not wear bright colours.
Prime hunting target.
|Stephanie with two experienced cavers|
After a brief stop, we headed to the first actual cave. Upon arrival my hill was no where to be seen, but there was a hole in the ground. That is what we were here to do, crawl into a hole in the ground?!? I remembered that Scott had warned me that I should not expect huge caves and wondrousness but I flippantly dismissed his comment. I was not disappointed but I had to adjust my perspective to realize that crawling into the belly of the earth was going to be as cool as walking into a small entrance of a vertical rock formation, which is what I had been expecting. Mental flexibility in traveling; a requirement for a good experience.
|Christa being lowered into the first cave. |
We used climbing ropes for safety
and a permanent ladder to descend into the cave.
|Me at the bottom of the cave entrance looking up.|
|Cave wildlife found by Stephanie.|
Such a cute frog!
As we crawled on our hands and knees, on our bellies, pushed ourselves backwards we got a feel for the first cave which included changing rock formations, a frog, piles of dried poop and bats. Very cool! Hole in the ground or not, I was impressed and excited to be caving.
|The bottom of the ladder in the cave.|
I am in the first small room looking out into the cave .
Sparkles from the rock formations appeared on most of my pictures. Think of it as glitz and glamour!
We waited at the top of the cave for the last two people inside for what seemed like a long time. After they appeared one of the men explained to us that they had found a large pile of small bones, and one of the men was a palaeontologist / archeologist who had worked at the Royal Alberta Museum for 25 years, was explaining to the other what they had found. Are you kidding me?!? This trip just moved from excitement on the travel scale to phenomenal!!!
The palaeontologist picked a collection of bones out of his pocket and began to explain, "This is a femur of a small animal, probably a rabbit. This one is a piece of the arm of a prairie mouse, oh yes, and one half of a hip joint....." and he went on as we stood there is awe at our luck. The excitement in the group rose to a new level as we headed to the next cave.
|The Provincial Parks officer came out to visit us to ensure we were doing well.|
She had a bullet proof vest on and a gun. Wow, what a job!
We moved onto the next cave.
Another hole in the ground with a different name and a very different experience.
|Christa goes into the cave.|
|Stephanie heads down.|
This cave had two entrances and an area Scott called 'the slide', a wider low passageway used to move from one cave area to the other. In the winters cavers can slide on their bellies as the ice formations allow for slippage. At the end of the summer, we were required to slide on our bellies and manoeuvre with our hands and feet to reach the other side. At one point Stephanie broke into a yoga downward dog pose trying to figure out how to move between the two caves. Of course we broke out into fits of laughter attempting different yoga poses in a dirty, dank smelling cave.
|Between the two caves, sliding on my belly.|
|Christa and I enjoying the cave.|
|Stephanie at the bottom of one of the cave entrances.|
|Wildlife! A wee snake that may have fallen down the cave hole.|
We continued to find bones in most of the caves we entered. When I found the bone below a theme for the rest of the day began. The paelantologist told us it was a backbone of a large mammal and we women became concerned that this was the backbone of an inexperienced caver brought to the caves last spring, killed, then left to decompose in order to find interesting bones the next spring by new, unsuspecting cavers. It was of course a bone of an animal but that did not stop the jokes, teasing and laughter for the rest of the day about caver safety and trusting no one in the group (especially when the shovels and axe appeared in the last cave).
|I found a piece of a backbone of a large mammal.|
The second last cave was the largest and most spectacular. Not a large entrance but we moved from the first room to the second by a three foot tall and four foot wide oval opening in the furthest most wall. After navigating the hole you had a choice of moving along a ledge on all fours on either side of the cave, or of jumping from a lower rock ledge onto the cave floor. I learned that we each have our own caving style and while I used a combination of both, some just launched themselves onto the cave floor bracing her/his body for a solid landing.
|The authentic darkness of the cave.|
|More fun with Stephanie|
|Enjoying the cave and its rocky ledges.|
|Christa crawls along a ledge.|
|The group plans another trip while in the largest of the caves.|
I captured this wee snakes tongue popping out of its mouth.
|Rock found in the last cave. |
Very cool crystals or limestone here.
We needed a geologist with us as well.
|Down Down Down|
|A tight squeeze for all|
Christa was jealous of the backbone section I found because it was large, until she found a large piece of femur in one of the last caves. Then she used it for a dubious purpose. We should have known she was the cave killer all along. ;)
A quick caveat here, I was the least prepared of all the cavers. I showed up with hiking boots, long sleeved shirt and long pants. The rest of it was provided by my adventure group members or our fantastic guide. The gloves, helmet, light, ropes, etc made the experience easier, all provided to me by other people. At the end of the day we laughed at my ridiculousness in failing at following the Boy Scout motto, 'be prepared'. Thanks to an experienced guide and good friends, as they prepared me.
|My favourite shot of the day.|
Caving starts again the spring and I shall be there, new equipment and all.