Vail Daily column: Summer in valley offers so many options for fun |

Vail Daily column: Summer in valley offers so many options for fun

Kaitlyn Merriman wears a huge smile as she descends into the darkness of Fulford Cave.
Special to the Daily |

The thing about living in the Eagle River Valley in the summer — and I’m not complaining — is that there’s too much to do. Honestly, that’s a large part of the reason why I moved here. Why commute 30 minutes or more to the mountains when you can live nestled among them with virtually no travel time to your next adventure? In the winter, the recreation possibilities are easier to choose from: ski or snowboard, snowshoe, cross country ski, ice climb.

That’s still quite a few; but if you don’t own ice tools, crampons or skate skis, then your quiver is that much emptier. But in the summer —oh, the places you can go! You can day hike, mountain-bike, rock climb, camp, backpack, road bike, raft, canoe, kayak, stand-up paddleboard, swim, sail, base jump, climb a 14er and ski down, read in a hammock in the sun by a river, go birding, go spelunking or caving, zip-line, garden, play soccer, play sand volleyball, disc golf, regular golf, etc. I think you’re catching what I’m throwing.

So how do you choose which outdoor activities suit your lifestyle or your wildest dreams? Well, I’m not here to tell you that that’s up to you and your own imagination. But I will regale you with a story from my first summer living in this land of opportunity.

Trying something new

The take-home message of this story, other than leave no trace, is that it doesn’t matter where you go or what you do this summer, as long as you’re in good company.

I first heard of Fulford Cave at my place of employment. Never having been caving before, the idea of being dozens to hundreds of feet under the surface of the earth with zero natural lighting in the ideal habitat for the most obscure creatures I could imagine made my breath a little shallow, but my intrigue was peaked. So I gathered some friends, one of which had experienced this particular brand of subterranean adventure before, and set a date. On the full moon in August, we would enter the land of the troglophiles, or animals that live their entire lives in a cave.

The day of our maiden voyage arrived and it occurred to us — how does one go caving? Is there more to it then squirming through a hole in the ground? Yes, there is. You need headlamps, extra headlamps, batteries, extra batteries, knee pads, helmets, boots, gloves, tough pants and jackets and a map of the cave. Without these items, you’re as blind as a blind bat, because bats aren’t really blind. And what’s more, you can’t just go stomping around in the cave pretending you’re an ogre in a village of tiny princess castles.

There are speleothems, or cave formations, such as stalactites, stalagmites, anthodites and helictites, that took millions of years of redepositing minerals from countless water drops to form. And with one carelessly placed foot, or one overenthusiastic gesticulation, those perfect spires of ancient cavernous mystery are a memory witnessed only by the nonexistent eyes of the troglobites.

Adventure to remember

So with the mantra of “take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but (delicately placed) footprints, kill nothing but time” in mind, we prepared ourselves for the journey. By the light of the full moon, soon after midnight, we wriggled our way into the belly of Mother Earth. When you’re underground, it doesn’t matter if it’s night or day, but by entering at such a late hour we were the fortunate sole human inhabitants. Headlamps illuminated, we picked our way through the labyrinth of narrow passageways, smelling of minerals and untouched water.

We silently slunk into the Cathedral Room, an aptly named space that opened into a vast cavern reaching nearly 100 feet vertically and horizontally. Distributing and lighting a dozen tea candles throughout the sanctuary, we doused our headlamps and sat in the magical twilight. Between the giggles, echoes, and spontaneous introspection, what transpired was one of my favorite experiences below- or above-ground.

The take-home message of this story, other than leave no trace, is that it doesn’t matter where you go or what you do this summer, as long as you’re in good company. Whether that means you and your best furry, four-legged friend on a trek to Whitney Lake, or you and your 15 closest pals around a campfire up Homestake Road, be satisfied with the company you keep.

Kaitlyn Merriman is the community programs coordinator at Walking Mountains Science Center. She purposely used big words in this article to inspire readers to look them up. Here’s another one: Cryptograegris steinmanni.

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