Will and Mayang's Travels - Caving, July 2007

Will decided to go underground and explore some caves.  He went with his friend Ian, and was guided by two caving experts, both of who have been caving for many years.

The first day's caving was with Pete Denver (left).  Will's friend Ian is on the right.   Pete took us to a very narrow cave ('Calswark Cavern'), because all the nearby alternatives were flooded after recent heavy rain. Mostly were crawling on our stomachs, it was never possible to stand up and often not even possible to sit up.  The caves were very wet, sometimes we were crawling along in underground rivers.  It really was quite unpleasant.  But it was interesting!  It was so cramped and wet that it was almost impossible to take pictures, this is the only picture I took, taken in one of the wider bits of the cave.

In the afternoon it was time to practise abseiling techniques.  Pete taught us how to safely wear our harnesses and abseil down a small cliff.  This was to prepare us for more advanced cave work on day 2.

Day 2 arrived and it was time to get ready in our caving kit again.  First Ralph took us to a very small cave, 'Suicide Cavern' where we practised our rope technique some more.  It's only 'suicide' if you don't take proper equipment or a guide with you.  Fortunately we have both.

Next, the day's main event, was into the 'Giant's Cave'.  Cavers seem to be mainly small people, maybe the big ones cannot fit through the gaps.  So even this is not a very tall cave, it should be called  'Normal height people's Cave'.  The entrance looks full of mystery.  Our guide Ralph (dressed in yellow), is one of Britain's top cavers.  When he's not caving he helps to run mounteering expeditions in the Himalayas!  We could barely keep up with him, even though he'll soon be 70 years' old.

We headed into the cave.  It's also a river, so there's water running all the way through, and inside there's waterfalls and occasionally the main way is flooded with water (luckily we could take a detour, we are not cave divers yet!)

This is what it looks like inside.  Actually, this is with the flash of a camera, in reality it's much darker.

This is closer to what it's really like inside with just a headlamp. This is taken with the light from my headlamp lighting up Ian, and his headlamp lighting up the wall.  The lamps last for about 12 hours and we all took backups, so we didn't have to worry about losing light.

We descended further into the cave along the route of the river, looking at the weird rock formations formed over millions of years.

The it was time to practise some rope work.  First we abseiled down (not shown), then to climb back up, Ralph taught us SRT (single rope technique) which allowed us to ascend up a rope using a harness and specialist equipment.  It was very hard work, first we had to stand up in the foot harness, then slide the slider up, then sit back in our body harness, and slide the other slider up.  Then repeat.  In the 100% humidity of the cave, it was very sweaty work.

Ian climbed up next, then me last (but there was nobody to take my picture).  We dropped then ascended about 30 feet on each of 3 different 'pitches'.  One ascent (not shown) was almost inside an underground waterfall, so we got pretty wet.  The water was only about 10ºC, so it took up a lot of body energy staying warm once we got wet.

After about 3-4 hours underground, concentrating hard to stay safe, we were quite tired.  Ralph still seemed to have as much energy as when we started!

So, we made our way back upriver to the entrance of the cave.  It's was great to see sunlight again, and to know that soon we could remove our wet clothes and eat some food.

On the way back to the car, the world seemed overwhelmingly bright and green!

Ralph called his wife once we are back on the surface.  If he did not call within a few hours, she would alert the local cave rescue organisation to come and search for us.  But we knew we were in safe hands - Ralph himself is one of the co-ordinators of the cave rescue organisation (this sign is on his 4WD's windscreen).  But his wife had bad news for him - he had to immediately go and assist with a cave rescue elsewhere.

So we had to quickly take our things out of Ralph's car and let him rush off to the cave rescue.  He sent me an SMS the next day - the rescue was an especially difficult one, it took 10 hours.  And he left us at about 5pm, so he must have been underground until about 3am.  He had been caving with us since 10am!  What a man.  I hope I can move as fast as him when I am nearly 70!

All pictures and other media are Copyright ©2007 William Owen Smith and Mayang Adnin.