Monday 13 July 2015

Climber's Cave - 12 July 2015 - By Georg Laing

On Sunday the 12th of July we visited Climber’s Cave, one of the more appropriately named caves. Our always patient and very experienced guide Steven, along with members Pedro and Hani, were joined by soon-to-be member Georg (that’s me!) and three very enthusiastic visitors: Stian, Suegne and Natasha. 

One of the unsung joys of caving is experiencing it through the eyes of people from very diverse backgrounds. There’s something about crawling and climbing (and slipping and falling and rolling) that reveals hidden recesses of the human spirit that are otherwise obscured by the comfort of every day life. It’s difficult to emerge from a pit of utter darkness not knowing yourself a little bit better.
Pedro was on a mission to discover the cave’s hidden treasures (a secret which we will keep under wraps for now), so we left him near the entrance. The six of us journeyed onwards (or rather downwards), finding the drops bewildering but also exhilirating. We had the added burden of carrying bags containing caving ladders and other gear that tested our muscle and teamworking skills (something I think we passed with flying colours). 

It was at around the sixty meter level that we came to the realisation that going down was the easy part. An arduous climb was in store for us on our way back, a fact we quickly forgot though as we entered the longest and most exhausting crawl that most of us have done so far. Not to mention muddy and spider-infested! (It is a cave after all). At this point, Steven calmly informed us that any rain outside would flood the crawl space and we would be trapped on the other side (if we were lucky) until it abated. Thank you Steven.

Hani unfortunately could not join us for the entire crawl, as she was waylaid by an eight-legged menace. The rest of us pushed (and in one case quite literally rolled!) onwards. On the other side of the almost infinite crawl, another twenty meters of drop awaited us. Beyond this drop was the first descent that could not be done without the aid of a caving ladder. Putting our very lives in Steven’s hands, we helped him set up the first ladder.

Halfway down the ladder a very tight squeeze welcomed us. It was here that I discovered my buns of steel (#wishfulthinking) would not allow me to progress deeper into the cave. Dejected, I held watch over the ladder anchors while the others continued.

There was still about twenty meters of descent left, and the next drop required two adjoined ladders to climb. Beyond this, with no ladders left, the remaining four slid down a drop with practically no grip, into the final chamber where they reached the water table. Steven and Stian tested the waters, but wisely decided that it was probably not a good idea to venture deeper than shoulder height.
And thus began the long trek upwards. Fortunately Hani and I did not have to worm our way up that first ascent by wedging ourselves between walls. Exhausted as we were from that first forty meter climb, the crawl-from-hell did not offer any respite (on the contrary!) and we experimented with new ways of dragging ourselves and our bags through (except for our friend who once again rolled right through). On the other side a surprisingly sane Hani welcomed us. But we were still sixty meters below, covered in scrapes, bumps and muscles on the verge of striking.

How we finished that last sixty meters, I do not know. The climbs looked a lot more precipitous going up, and at times seemed insurmountable. However, courage and teamwork prevailed. The sunlight was a welcome sight and we were back in time to catch up with Pedro, who gave us a short talk on the local geology.

Naturally, Steven made Climber’s Cave look like a walk in the park, but for those of us who are still highly inexperienced cavers, it was a gruelling but thoroughly enjoyable challenge.
Thanks to Steven for taking us down (and more importantly, returning us) safely and for an all-round wonderful experience!

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