Easing around a towering pinnacle, I venture hesitantly into the bottomless blue. There is nothing below me now except a vast undersea canyon that plummets more than four miles to the Caribbean Sea's deepest point. This stark realization causes my pulse to quicken. My eyes are drawn to amber sunbeams rotating hypnotically in the warm, clear water. A shimmering cloud of Creole wrasse appears at a depth of 100 feet, adding a fluorescent element to the light show. My short-lived anxiety melts beneath a blissful wave of serenity. The thrill of diving on walls and their associated pinnacles stems from the sensation of defying gravity. It's impossible to suspend yourself in mid-air above snow-capped peaks, yet divers can soar fearlessly over mountainous terrain as rugged and dramatic as any terrestrial landscape. And thanks to their distinctive geology, no place tops the Cayman Islands (click here) when it comes to sensational wall diving. Most first-time visitors don't realize that the three low-lying Cayman Islands are actually peaks of mighty mountains that would dwarf North America's highest summits in a side-by-side comparison. The geology lesson goes like this: Grand Cayman and the sister islands of Little Cayman and Cayman Brac are part of an undersea mountain range that runs from Cuba to Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula. Just south of the islands is the Caribbean's Grand Canyon - the Cayman Trench, which drops to unfathomable depths of 23,000 to 25,000 feet. Directly north is the Yucatan Channel, which also plunges several thousand feet. So what does all this mean for divers? They get to explore the mountaintops, which is truly a peak experience. Unlike rock climbers who must struggle to conquer barren cliffs, in these mountains you can glide effortlessly along breathtaking walls, Technicolor canyons and lush shallow reefs. There's no threat of an avalanche or grizzly bears, but watch out for frequent encounters with sea turtles, stingrays and a healthy assortment of tropical fish. Exploring the High Country It's easy to see how the dive site called Orange Canyon got its name. Descending through a series of sloping coral canyons off the northwest coast of Grand Cayman, divers arrive at a pinnacle cloaked in an eye-grabbing display of orange elephant ear sponges and gorgonians. While exploring the pinnacle and nearby canyons, I saw silversides massed under ledges and shared some quality time with a friendly hawksbill turtle - not a bad way to start a Cayman Islands dive trip. But it only got better during a week graced with idllyic weather and calm seas. Our second dive took place at the Oro Verde wreck. The 200-foot ship, which was intentionally sunk in 55 feet of water off Seven Mile Beach in 1980, has been beaten up by storms but still hosts plenty of tame reef fish that seem to know how to pose for pictures. After inspecting a pair of bicycles that look comically out of place lying next to the wreck, I found a colony of sly garden eels in a sandy meadow that outwitted me in a game of hide-and-seek. The same pattern repeated itself day after day: begin with an exciting deep dive on dizzying walls adorned with craggy pinnacles, tumbling canyons and cavernous swim-throughs and follow it up by visiting shallow near-shore sites packed with marine life. It's the Cayman way. Up North And Out East Visiting Grand Cayman's famed North Wall on the Manta - a custom-built, 45-foot catamaran owned by Sunset Divers (click here) that is regarded as one of the island's premier dive vessels - was a memorable outing. My dive buddy for the day, a University of Michigan geophysics professor who studies plasma, looked a tad nervous as we passed a crowd of horse-eye jacks at the base of giant pinnacle known as Ghost Mountain. But back on the boat he was all smiles and ready for more. At Della's Delight, we followed other divers as they entered a narrow shaft and dropped out of sight. My depth gauge inched past 90 feet before I exited the passageway along the North Wall's sheer face. The coral-encrusted wall, which extends for miles in either direction, is draped with a multitude of sponges in every imaginable size, shape and color. Later in the week, the adventure continued with a journey to Grand Cayman's sparsely populated East End. Leaving the crowds in George Town behind, we drove for 45 minutes past scenic coastal vistas, brilliant tree-sized bougainvillea and the occasional grazing cow. The underwater visibility was astounding at the dive site called Babylon, which features a dramatic wall and pinnacle with dense stands of black coral. At the nearby Snapper Hole, I spent several spellbound minutes in a cramped archway observing a pair of Bermuda chub perform an intricate underwater ballet. East End is also the site of Grand Cayman's newest dive attraction. Ocean Frontiers (click here) has launched a PADI Shark Awareness specialty course that culminates in an exhilarating shark encounter. The course is part of a larger research program involving efforts to tag and collect tissue samples from a group of about one dozen reef sharks that frequent the area. (To find out more, see the story on page 74 of this issue.) After making 11 dives in five days on Grand Cayman, I was packing my bags as the sun began to sink Friday evening. From my beachfront room at Sunset House (click here), I could see more and more people gathering near the seawall, gazing toward the cloudless western horizon. Deciding my dirty socks could wait a few minutes, I went out and joined in the ritual. Silence descended as we watched the sun slide lower and lower. Then, as the flaming red orb sank into the cobalt sea, loud cheers and enthusiastic applause erupted from the spectators. Sister Peaks The Cayman Airways (click here) plane took off before dawn on the 90-mile hop to Cayman Brac, which is situated next to its slightly smaller sister island, Little Cayman. By 9 a.m., I was on a dive boat pulling away from the dock at the Brac Reef Beach Resort (click here). My previous visit to the Sister Islands was mostly devoted to exploring Little Cayman's spectacular Bloody Bay Wall, which certainly deserves its lofty reputation as one of the Caribbean's best dive sites. But the recent day that I spent diving off Cayman Brac proved to be equally outstanding. The day began with a deep dive on the island's seldom-visited south side. My return to the boat was temporarily delayed by the spectacle of a solitary eagle ray flyi
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