Caving Trip in Lozère, France

          Caves are weird! They seem to be the opposite of Cave abyssthe 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 Rappeling down a shaftaround 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!

 ConcretionThe 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.

Narrow passeway

A narrow section (this one is still decent)

Classic stalagmites

Classic landscape

Example of what kind of weird concretions we can find down there

Example of what kind of weird concretions we can find. This one looks like the jellyfish one we saw.

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.

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53 Responses to Caving Trip in Lozère, France

  1. selah says:

    thank you for visiting The Dappled Path, and for liking the storm post..
    I have been in two caves, one was Lewis and Clark Caverns in Montana, USA and the other was called Jewel Caves, I think that was in Wyoming. Lewis and Clark was scary to me.. lots of little tunnels and slides to work through, but the large caverns were amazing. I remember that at one point they turned out the lights and if you haven’t experienced darkness in a cave, you haven’t experienced darkness..

    Jewel Cave was different.. you took an elevator down to the cave and it was pretty much just looking at the roof of the cave as I remember.. not like the Lewis and Clark at all where we had to walk a long, narrow path to get there and back.

    • That sounds amazing Selah! Jewel Cave sounds like a tourist attraction, but still nice to see! The Lewis and Clark sound like reeeal caving tho! On my two caving experiences we turned the lights off and I remember feeling like I was blind for a few minutes. It was so frustrating to try to see something but remain in complete darkness. So, I understand what you mean :). It’s a good memory.

  2. Jude says:

    Great post. It really made me feel almost as though I was there. The picture called ‘The Narrow Section’ was just downright terrifying. Don’t know how you do it!

  3. Ohhh, this looks so cool! But I was starting to hyperventilate looking at your pics…claustrophobic, here. Good on you for doing this!

  4. Monica says:

    This sounds like an amazing experience. It feels like a total loss of control in a confined space! Don’t think I could go there! But it’s great being able to share this with you, Orel.

    • Orel Di Angelo says:

      The pleasure is mine Monica. I hope I’ll have to do this kind of stuff again, but I first need to improve my climbing skills.

  5. Thanks for stopping by my blog. I am reading your post about caving. Check out my tag “caving”. I recently went caving in Tennessee. I altered the images.

  6. I will leave cave exploring to people like you. I admire what you do, so people like me can enjoy the photos and experience the journey with you.

    • Orel Di Angelo says:

      I’m glad to hear that because I always write my stories trying to bring the readers along my trips with me. Happy New Year!

  7. Cabbie Notes says:

    Hello, I nominated you for the Versatile Blogger Award. Here are the details: http://wp.me/p1Qr4a-7I. Thank you for sharing your travels!

  8. Hi Orel,

    Caves are indeed wonderful. Did you see some salamanders? It would be neat if they were Olms; nevermind that it’s outside the Carpathians

    Sebastian

    • Orel Di Angelo says:

      Hello Sebastian. I haven’t seen no salamanders unluckily. I’ve heard they aren’t so many over here. I’ve seen some troglobite shrimps though :). Have you ever seen Olms?

  9. Sanjana says:

    oh wow! This looks exciting! I’ve never been caving myself, although I have been through a lot of dark cave-like tunnels in Cappadocia, but there was never that element of danger that I see here. Nor was it very strenuous, as all we had to do was keep walking, there was no crawling or climbing involved.
    I think I’d like to try this at one time… but I doubt I have the stamina to climb up the rope. Climbing down, as you say, is the easiest part!

    • Orel Di Angelo says:

      Hi Sanjana! There are all kinds of caves, and I’m sure you can find a guided trip to do that would only require some basic crawling and scrambling :P. They would make you do some cool yet safe stuffs. I wish you a happy new year!

  10. The picture of the cave Abyss is a pretty sweet one. That must have been quite an experience!

    • Orel Di Angelo says:

      The pictures aren’t mine. They all are close from what I saw during my trip excepted for cave abyss (our entrance was very tiny). You can access the original picture by right clicking and then selecting “view image” under Firefox.

  11. What a thrill it must be to do this! I enjoyed reading about your experience. Maybe I won’t chicken out the next time my boys want to go caving in New Hampshire. Thanks!

  12. Cave Abyss is a fabulous photograph

  13. apollorose says:

    This sounds like an adventure; a challenge of mind, might and stamina. You captured it remarkably in the way you wrote, taking each step as if a person was going into a cave.

    You are right when you say that in literature and the movies it’s the norm to see a cave as anguished and fearful, but I think also as a place of safety. I guess it depends on the plot.

    There are so many places and things to discover. :)

    • Yes you’re so right! I was focused on the claustrophobic aspect of caves when I wrote the story, but I totally agree with you. It’s the safest shelter someone could think of. I find that these two opposite aspects make caves so mysterious.

  14. Anonymous says:

    Good story. I haven’t explored any caves to the depths and extent you describe, but I have found some interesing caves along the Salmon River, which is my backyard in Idaho. One in particular is fascinating because though it is only a room of about 60′ wide and 30′ high, it has a shallow pond of water on the floor and a series of side windows that allow one to view the river far below. It also has a spring fed waterfall trickling over these windows that adds even greater beauty to it all.

    I have also seen it in the winder when the waterfalls are frozen and drippings from the cave ceiling consist of frozen stalagtites and mites, and the most unusual creative forms of nature. It is like stepping into fantasy world.

    And I would also agree with you about urging people to confront their fears through engagement in the outdoor world. . My belief is that everyone should spend a night alone somewhere out in the middle of nowhere, at least once in their life, Not to worry for those whom have never done such, nature’s blanket is everywhere.

    As a river guide, I have had a guest or two over the years that had never slept outside before, even once in their life. It was astounding to watch their transformations of the human nature kind. While I found it astounding that these mid -aged people (one was 49) had never camped out before, the natural revelations they experienced excited them so much, they were like little kids opening gifts at Christimas time.

    • Whoops, didn’t mean to be anonymous here. Sorry bout that.

    • AH! You have such a great job. I totally share your conception of our relation with the outdoor world. And that’s so true, nature creates the most unusual forms underground. It’s so interesting and weird. It’s crazy that some people never went camping. While in Scotland I dreamed of doing a solo bivouac on the very top of a mountain, see the sunset and the sunrise from there, but I didn’t have the chance yet. I’ll do it as soon as I have the opportunity.

      • Yes, take that opportunity. As my lifestyle is outdoor oriented, solo camping, group camping, ect is pretty ordinary for me. But, I continue to see extraordinary things and why I will continue doing more. such as the overnight sleep-outs on various mountain tops during a full moon. It helps one appreciate why wolves howl at it so. Mysteries of the nightly orbs call out to us, and we anwser back in our own pathetic ways best we can.

  15. Heru Legowo says:

    What a wonderful moment and experience …

  16. Pheebz says:

    I felt claustrophobic just reading this! Sounds so exciting though, I’d love to give it a try – just maybe not for 6 hours :P

    • There’s a lot of different kinds of caves. You can find a lot of them where getting dirty and muddy or do some climbing isn’t required :D. It’s a good experience, there’s just no danger.

  17. Qu’il est bon de découvrir le monde sous toutes ses formes.
    Il me faut de l’espace, donc une merveille quand c’est une grande salle, une catastrophe quand il s’agit de passages étroits.
    Je suis faite pour voir le ciel. Heureuse de découvrir le reste en images avec cet article :)

  18. scillagrace says:

    There’s an “American tourist cave experience” which consists of going along a walkway in a developed cave and listening to a guide point out formations that remind them of something. Like, “We call this one the plumber’s butt…you can figure out why.” It’s pretty dumb, actually. I like the undeveloped ones that post signs asking you not to disturb the hibernating bats. I guess I’m somewhere in between at my age. Thanks for stopping by my blog! I like living vicariously through your adventures.

    • Ahahah! The American tourist cave experience pretty much sounds like the European tourist cave experience. I even heard a French friend tell me about this plumber’s butt too (or was it someone else’s butt?)!!

  19. Gina Marie says:

    Nice description of your experiences!

    I did some spelunking as a teenager at a summer camp in the Ozarks. It was simultaneously spooky and exhilarating. I emerged from the cave muddy, tired, and far more appreciative of nature’s wonders than I’d been prior to entering.

  20. Nice blog Orel, I think I’ll have to follow your travels!
    Thanks for liking “Simple Enough” on my Photography Unposed blog!

  21. elizabethre says:

    You are very brave! I got claustrophobic just reading your post. I like the idea of conquering fears and gaining confidence through dangerous expeditions, but I’ma big fearty :)

    On the light thing in the depths (8th Paragraph), some bright spark needs to invent a portable light that would solve that issue.

    Great post.

  22. dilipnaidu says:

    Amazing and inspiring! Orel you inspire me. Be safe.

  23. Shiv says:

    In the last year I’ve developed a bad case of claustrophobia. So reading this post scared the crap out of me. Which I guess is a testament to your writing skills :) I breathed a sigh of relief when you finally made it out of there. Like scuba, I think it’s fascinating that there are entirely new worlds down there, but it just isn’t for me. I want to keep pushing myself though. Maybe I can overcome it in the future.

    • I don’t know if you knew that but some people, they don’t do scuba diving in the sea. They do it… in caves!! It’s the most extreme and dangerous sport I’ve ever heard of. The idea of being stuck in a small passageway is scary, but the idea of being stuck in a small passageway underwater, or worst, get lost in an underwater cave, is enough to make me suffocate ahahah.

    • puputupuna says:

      Can I ask you if something specific happened that caused the claustrophobia to develop bad so recently? I have been claustrophobic all my life, and just thinking about scuba diving used to make me feel really scared and uneasy. But guess what? Now I´m a certified PADI scuba diver! And when I think about diving, it makes me feel calm and relaxed :) So you really can overcome phobias if you want to! I´m not suggesting anyone with claustrophobia to go diving or caving, because it might also be a bad experience and even dangerous if you lose your nerves, but what I mean is that if you want to, it really is possible to become the boss of your fears! And when you do, it´s great :)

      Caving though is still today something I can never imagine doing….!

      • Shiv says:

        It’s awesome that you were able to conquer it. I live in Japan and I think it may have something to do with the earthquakes. I’ve experienced three pretty big ones in the couple of years I’ve lived here. I have visions of being crushed in my apartment :/ But yes I’ve read that gradual exposure is maybe the best way to rid yourself of phobias. I tried scuba diving last year in the Philippines. I wasn’t able to do all the dives required to get certified but I’m glad I tried at least.

  24. Alex Autin says:

    AWESOME POST!! How inspiring! I was excited and smiling the entire time I was reading it. I’m very interested in caving, though I’ve only done very little of it. As you wrote… it’s about facing those fears..I’m a little claustrophobic and also have a fear of total darkness. Caving is a perfect way to deal with those fears! There are some great wild caves here in Texas, I just need to find a buddy who would also enjoy it…lol….and hopefully someone who has more experience then I do.

    • Ohh! And you should hire a guide because caves are real labyrinths! I think it’s very good to fight your fears but I know claustrophobia is very hard to contend with :D.
      PS: Don’t watch the movie “The Descent” before you do it (meaning : watch it!) :D

  25. beingouthere says:

    Sounds like an interesting activity but it’s definetely not for me! I would immediately develop claustrophobia. Especially in places where I would have to have to “bend, wriggle, crawl and pray not to remain stuck”. Have you seen “127 Hours”?? Not a good idea to go there solo. At least have someone at the cave entrance and use a safety line for signalling and stuff….

    • Hello out there! Yes I saw the movie. I found the guy really irresponsible :) but hey now he has an iceaxe instead of an arm and that’s kind of cool!

      Anyway yes some people do solo caving and I find it crazy. I could hike alone but I don’t even do that for safety reasons so I’d definitely not do caving alone. I think people who go solo caving really know what they do because it must require serious skills. Unless they really want to die I think they at least tell a mate where they go and which route they’ll follow. But in a way I understand why they would do such crazy things lol.

  26. Debra Kolkka says:

    There is an interesting cave near us in Bagni di Lucca called Grotta del Vento. It is not terribly adventurous, but fun all the same.

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