So I spend the night pondering whether or not I had the balls to rappel into the Cave of the Swallows. It’s over 1000’ (that’s more than 100 stories), and not many people have actually ever done it. They have less than one person per week brave (stupid) enough the try it.
I should also mention that I’m terrified of heights. It’s probably one of my own fears. I’ve rappelled before, and zip-lined quite a few times, but all of those were terror finished in minutes. The descent into the Sotanos takes 30 minutes, and the climb back up takes over an hour. That’s a long adrenaline rush!
In the morning Lucieno, who speaks a little English, has been my translator in the little pueblo at the Caves of the Swallows. He brings the climbing guide to meet me, and in a moment of machismo, I agree to go for it. (BTW, it’s not cheap either, at $350 USD). I figure this is a wonder of nature, the bottom is rarely seen by humans, and I’ll probably kick myself later if I don’t do it.
Now, it isn’t until after I’m all harnessed in and being led to the edge that I realize that Mariano, the guide, isn’t going down beside me. In fact, I’ll go down solo, and he’ll come down the same rope once I’m at the bottom. My level of fear has gone from “medro” to “muy, muy medro!”
Stepping over the edge was the most terrifying thing I’ve ever done. A 100 story fall isn’t something you’re coming back from. The thought occurred to me that even if I survived the fall, it would take at least 30 minutes for anyone to come to check for a pulse.
Halfway through the descent I begin spinning. I try different ways to hold my legs and arms to try to stop the spinning, but nothing seems to work. I spend the next 10 minutes trying to focus on fixed objects on the side of the walls, and closing my eyes a lot to keep from getting motion sick. Nearer the bottom the spinning slows down. I guess the rope has stretched all the kinks out! Now my biggest concern is that 25 minutes in the climbing harness has rendered my feet and legs completely numb, and I’m about to finally get to use them again.
Success! At the bottom I remove my caribiners, and try to signal on the radio that I’m off rope. It doesn’t work. I go old school and give the rope a couple of really hard tugs. A few minutes later the radio crackles that Mariano is on his way down.
I have the next half hour to myself to wander around. There is very little vegetation. Some mosses and lichens, and a few miniscule ferns. There is swallow guano in piles all around the edges, and overall its very dim, dank, and even your footsteps echo. I feel like I just stepped out of a space craft onto an alien world.
Once Mariano reaches the bottom he gives me a tour of some of the unique areas, including another Sotano that is very narrow (less than a meter wide) that drops down another 600’ to another large cave. He’s been down once.
There is a small shrine to a base jumper who’s parachute opened too late and was killed. That’s the only death that has occurred here, and base jumping is no longer allowed… not because of that, but because it disturbs the birds. Nice ecological sound decision Mexico!
Before long it is time to go back up. I’m dreading this almost as much as going down. Originally I had opted to climb my way back up with an ascender. Now I’m realising how tired I am, and knowing that I have to ride my motorcycle after getting the surface, I decide to take the guides up on the alternate method, which is to have them hoist you back up like a sack of potatoes. Well, this sack of potatoes knees are shaking!
Most of the way up I kept my eyes closed. The spinning wasn’t so bad this time, but each time they hoist the rope you go up 3’ and then drop back down 1’. The drop is very disconcerting, and that sensation lasts for an hour…. except for the 10 minutes where they stopped hoisting to take a break. They never told me about that, so for 10 minutes, with my radio not working, I’m hanging about 600’ in the air with no clue what’s going on above.
Finally, with numb feet and legs again, and my arms shaking, I get to the opening. I’ve done it!
Check that one of my No Opportunity Wasted sheet in the Face Your Fears column. Would I do it again? Hell no! But I’m glad I did.