Caves are weird! They seem to be the opposite of the open air: dark and austere. They scare and fascinate us at the same time, and are often used in literature and cinema to evoke anguish and fear. But what are they really like? Two friends and I took a trip underground, to see what’s going on down there.
We started our journey with an early walk in the mountains. Our guide brought us to a big crag. It wasn’t raining, but we could hear rumbles of thunder now and again. We put our suits and harnesses on and rappelled the entrance shaft. We spent six hours in the cave.
Now 10 meters underground, there’s no light anymore, and the noise of the forest is totally muffled by the rock. We progress, traveling through various places. Sometimes, it’s a huge room, so high that the light from my head torch can’t even reach the ceiling. Sometimes, it’s a passageway so narrow that I have to bend, wriggle, crawl and pray not to remain stuck.
Progressing underground can be really tough and slow. You can only see few meters ahead, at best. You need to be constantly alert of the obstacles, not only in front of you but all around you. It’s often difficult because the passageways are so small that you can’t even turn your head to look around. You always end up hauling yourself along, crawling and struggling to move forward like a trapped rat in an old damaged pipe.
The descent of a shaft or an abyss is the easiest part of the job, because then you have to go all the way up using your arms. Yeah, that’s why one needs to actually know their limits in order not to be out of breath halfway up the rope. When I think of the caving team that recently reached the depth of 2190m (7200ft) in the abyss of Krubera-Voronja, Georgia, I can’t imagine how hard it’d been to get back to the surface!
The underground world is fascinating but really gloomy. It’s rock, and only rock. Sometimes, however, we find interesting formations such as draperies or flowstones and stalagmites. For example, one looked similar to a giant jellyfish. Most of the time, the rocks are smooth and rounded, and it’s like we are on a moon where the ground would be wax-covered. But sometimes they have sharp and aggressive forms.
Only one thing disrupts the intense silence: water. So, it’s easy to start freaking out, thinking of the slimy and uncolored creatures that could hide in these obscure areas of our planet. But actually, the worst-case scenario would be an encounter with an inoffensive cave salamander :)
It’s possibly the darkness which is the scariest thing, because you can’t have an overall view of the surroundings. It is as if the darkness swallows all the light your torch gives off. I wonder how explorers deal with the threat of dead batteries during long expeditions.
The way back to the surface is an awesome experience. I was down there for only six hours, but I can imagine what the sensations are when you stay for one or two days. So, as we move back to the entrance of the cave, we hear muffled rumbles that get louder. Once at the bottom of the shaft, I can see with surprise that an impressive quantity of water is flowing down into the cave, forming a small stream. We climb up the shaft, with a heavy rain to contend with. In a few seconds, we’re soaked. Finally outside, we are exposed to a world of light and noise as a thunderstorm rages. What a change! We go down the valley and see that the path we took this morning is now blocked by a powerful stream of orangey water created by a flash flood. When we eventually reach the car, I realize it’s like we’d left the real world for a few hours, and now we’re back :)
Caving can really make us stronger. I think that an expedition and especially a solo one can make you conquer your fear of the unknown, darkness, and tiny spaces. I guess frequent caving can help one to quickly develop a strong sense of orientation and self-confidence. I wouldn’t practice caving for its scenery, though, but because I could improve a lot of skills.
I didn’t have my camera during this trip so I attached a few pictures that I found on the Internet to illustrated the story.
Have you ever done caving? If you haven’t, I recommend you to do the experience. Of course I understand why you wouldn’t :P If you have done it before I’m curious to know what it felt like for you. I wonder if everyone likes it for the same reasons. Maybe there’s something to understand that I haven’t.