Caving: Descend underground and explore a world rarely seen…
Water drips in the darkness and the beam of your flashlight wanders over the limestone walls. At your feet a cold stream makes its way through the rocky interior. Your breath comes out in clouds, swirling in the beam of your headlamp. Condensation glitters over the cave walls, illuminated by the light. Over 250 million years ago these limestone walls were formed by an ancient sea. You can still see the remnants of that time embedded in the cave walls. Crinoids, fossilized worm-like creatures from before the age of dinosaurs, haunt the entrances to these caves. Their shapes, entombed in the rock, are a reminder of how old the surrounding walls really are. As you descend beneath the earth, it’s almost as if you are stepping back in time.
Caving offers you a glimpse into the dark underworld that sits below us. Fossils, stalactites, stalagmites and even strange wildlife all characterize a world we rarely see. British Columbia’s Vancouver Island has over 1000 caves to explore. Horne Lake, Upana and Little Huson all offer passages beneath the earth. If you savour the dark and cramped nature of spelunking, exploring these subterranean wonders should be on your list of things to do in BC.
The Horne Lake Caves are just north of Qualicum Beach on Vancouver Island. At the end of a gravel road off the 19A Highway you’ll find Horne Lake Provincial Park. Riverbend Cave is the gem of the park, but entry is only allowed by tour. If you would like to explore caves at your own leisure, Main Cave and Lower Cave are open from 10am to 9pm during summer every day until mid September. Free of charge, you can explore Main and Lower as much as you want. Listen for the echoing splash of a waterfall. Keep an eye out for lingering bats. And make sure to check around the cave entrances for the fossilized remains of crinoids.
The Upana’s Caves in BC are rumored to be the deepest caves north of Mexico. The caves are on Head Bay Forest Road and are about 17 km (10.5 miles) west of Gold River in the north central region of Vancouver Island. Upana has about 100 different caves ranging in size. Some are as big as an ordinary bedroom. Others run hundred of metres deep into the bedrock of limestone. For a shot of adrenaline in the dark go deep underground and take a guided tour of the White Ridge Cavern. That particular cave is named after a rushing river that cuts through the cave’s limestone interior. Regardless of how experienced you are as a spelunker, Upana’s range of caves will be sure to satisfy both the novice and the expert.
For those who aren’t fond of descending into dark chasms beneath the surface of the earth, but are still intrigued by the adventure of spelunking, Little Huson offers some fun and accessible caves. These caves were created by the Atluck River and are found near Port McNeill, north east of Vancouver Island. Easily accessible and a short walk from the parking lot, these caves may be just what you need to get hooked on spelunking. Little Huson’s caves are perfect for the inexperienced cave explorer. There is no need for special equipment. The caves are big and easily accessible. And, they’re not quite as dark as the caves at Horne Lake or Upana. There are no guided tours so you’re free to explore at your own leisure in Little Huson. Make sure to check out the Cathedral Cave, a huge stone gateway the Atluck River rushes through.
Caves are a different world. The air is wet and cold. Dress warmly when you explore Vancouver Island’s caves. Wear sturdy footwear. Many of the caves in BC require climbing and scrambling. And there are certainly some tight passageways to crawl or shimmy through. You should always have two sources of light when entering caves. Headlamps are perfect because they free your hands for climbing. And for those times when the passageway gets a little too tight, helmets are very helpful. Helmets can be rented at Upana or Horne Lake. A helmet and strong shoes can go a long way for staying comfortable beneath the earth.
If you love to explore and are looking for a thrill, Vancouver Island’s caves may be exactly what you’re looking for. Spelunking is a unique adventure and offers sights some people will never see in their lifetime. Take a tour or explore for yourself some of the Island’s caves. When you arrive at the cave opening and you see the darkness beyond the gaping hole in the rock, feel the cold air that drifts from the cave’s interior. The best adventure you’ll ever have in the pitch black is just beyond that craggy entrance…
Main image: Caves at Mystic Beach in Vancouver Island British Columbia
Crinoids, fossilized worm-like creatures from before the age of dinosaurs, haunt the entrances
"The air was soft, the stars so fine, the promise of every cobbled alley so great, that I thought I was in a dream" - Jack Kerouac