“Interview” is caving club “Pod RB” initiative dedicated to discussions with cavers from all around the world. What they share about their life above and under the ground, their caving experience, stories, dreams and future plans you can find in the following lines…
Tell us something about yourself in terms of caving experience. You may also wish to include role in your organization, function, personal features, activities, etc.
I’ve been caving for 22 years, mostly in the UK, but also taking part in international expeditions, most significantly to the Dachstein region of Austria. In 2018 I was part of the team that connected the WUG/Schmelzwasserhöhle and Hirlatzhöhle caves, creating he 9th deepest cave in the world. I have been in charge of the surveying project for the Dachstein expedition for a several years. I’ve also been heavily involved in digging projects in South Wales, and made several significant discoveries. I am also a Warden (team leader) on the South & Mid Wales Cave Rescue Team.
What made you start exploring caves and why you are still doing it?
My father who was a caver before me, and told me stories of his adventures when I was young. This inspired me to explore caves myself, and so when I went to university I ensured I chose a university (Reading University) that had a caving club. I soon became hooked! I enjoy the challenge, the adventure, the exploration, and the opportunities to go to places that very few (if any) people have ever been.
To which club/organization you feel you belong? Tell us something more about this group of people or organization, something about the main drive behind your activities and projects.
I belong to 2 clubs, and 1 rescue team:
- “Chelsea Spelaeological Society”: This caving club originated from the region of London, but nowadays it is focussed in South Wales where the club has a hut. The club is highly active in the exploration and surveying of caves in South Wales, which is the first area where I was inspired to get involved in exploration, digging, and surveying.
- “Cardiff Hill Divers”: This is a small group of caving friends in the Cardiff area who are interested in exploration and expedition caving.
- “South & Mid Wales Cave Rescue Team”: This cave rescue team covers the whole of South and Mid Wales. I’ve been a member for over 10 years, and a Warden (team leader) for the last 4 years.
What about your favourite cave, area of exploration or region:
- Brief history, when and how you discovered this cave, region, etc.: Dachstein, Austria. British led expeditions have been exploring the area for over 40 years. I became involved 16 years ago when I joined the expedition as part of a group from Reading University.
- Most existing period or moments from the exploration:
In 2015, I was leading a small team on a survey trip in the 800m deep WUG/Schmelzwasserhöhle. After more than 5 years of failed attempts to find the way on in increasingly difficult and dangerous conditions, nearly all hope of a connection to the Hirlatzhöhle had been lost. But while taking the time to survey a large dead-end chamber that had been visited many times before, we discovered a tiny draughting slot between boulders which had been overlooked by all previous explorers. This tight squeeze and pitch dropped us into a huge tunnel heading directly towards the Hirlatzhöhle. We new the connection was now a possibility!
In 2018 I was on the team who finally made the connection between WUG/Scmelzwasserhöhle and the Hirlatzhöhle, thereby creating the 9th deepest cave in the world. This was the culmination of over 40 years work by the expedition, so was a hugely significant moment.
- The cave/region in numbers – depth, length, potential, etc.: Hirlatzhöhle system: Current length = 114km, depth = 1560m. Potential length is many hundreds of km, and the depth could be up to 2200m!
- Cave features (if applicable) – narrow/spacious, cold/comfortable temperature, rivers, waterfalls, pits, etc.: Cold (approx 2-3C)! Deep shafts, narrow meanders, and then huge phreatic tunnels at depth, with lots of mud!
- Any major incidents during your exploration there: Thankfully no.
- Future plans and ideas: The next objective of the expedition is to find higher entrances, thus increasing the overall depth of the system.
We heard you are passionate about mapping caves. Can you tell us more about the challenges and what are your favorite tools/methodology?
For taking the measurements and sketches underground I use a Disto X2 and a PDA running Pocket Topo. I then use Therion to process the data and draw up the final maps at home.
The greatest challenges I’ve encountered are the cold temperatures and mud in the Dachstein caves. Also big pitches require a very careful technique and good communication between the members of the team.
Therion is a very difficult software to learn, and has resulted in many hours of frustration, but I find the end results are worthwhile!
What you have learned (in general about yourself, friends, life, etc.) through caving?
I enjoy challenging myself in tough conditions. No matter how difficult and unpleasant something may seem, I have learnt that if I take my time and think things through then I can always overcome it. Through experiencing these things with other people, and working together as a team, we have built strong relationships and friendships with one another.
If you have experience with cave incidents would you share with other speleologists, so we can all learn from your experience. What would be your advice in case of incident
I’m a member of the South & Mid Wales Cave Rescue Team, which deals with approx 5-10 incidents per year. Most of these are minor incidents (lost or overdue parties, or minor injuries), but occasionally we deal with something more serious. The most important advice is to always carry a good first aid kit and sufficient survival equipment, food and warm clothing to spend a long time waiting underground. Stay calm, and take the time to make rational decisions. So long as you told someone where you were going, help will be on its way!
What is your approach toward cave courses for new cavers, i.e. how you attract new cavers, how long the course lasts, on what you put an emphasis, etc.?
I assist Cardiff University Caving Club with leading trips for new cavers. We take the new members to one of the local caves, and lead them on a fairly easy route that takes approx 3 hours. We lend them all the equipment they need (oversuits, helmets, lights, etc) so that they don’t need to pay for anything themselves. We give them a brief talk first to ensure they understand the issues of safety and conservation.