Tag Archives: Cave

SO you wanna be an EXPEDITION CAVER?

SO! You wanna be an EXPEDITION CAVER?

Calling ALL adventurous students!

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A motley crew of 40+ cavers, with a range of ages, will descend upon the Austrian Alps for the Dachstein summer Caving Expedition 2015. This is literally all the low down on the cave exploration scene in the Alps. It is as well renowned for its deep, tortious and hard alpine cave systems, as the Austrians are for lederhosen and beer. A staggeringly high peak of 2995m, the possibility of a 2500m deep entrance point to the water table below is tantalisingly closer than ever before. And YOU could be part of the team that is part of this historical event!

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The Winter project requires dry, frozen, stable conditions to enter the 100km long, 1.1km deep single monster cave at the main project to the far west (Sahara), deep snow, and involves a breath-taking 2-6 hour approach hike. This is however not for the light hearted, a 10-18 hour caving trip in extreme cold conditions is the likely scenario, and trust me when I say these cavers are literally rock hard and (sorry), rather insane!

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But nevertheless, it’s a most exciting trip to be had if you’re fed up of a gentle walk up Ilkley Moor, and if your local Hyde Park snowball fight isn’t quite giving you enough frost nip…get your crampons and ice picks at the ready and sign up to this winter’s expedition! For more info head to their Facebook page and have a chat with them, they’re a really friendly bunch once you get past the grimy remarks and jokes about your incompetence (I kid of course). A plan of the cave route can be seen here:

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As for THIS summer, the project involves connecting the hysterically named “Wat have U-got-Pot” and the Hirlatz (yes I think its German). So for the fit and keen there will be the opportunity to take part in the exploration of the mighty Wot-U-Got Pot (800m+ deep and 6km long) which requires camping underground for 4 days at a time. But do be warned, this is a dangerous, cold, flood-prone pothole that demands skill, ability, bloody-mindedness & a twisted sense of humour which I must say was provided by the bucket load this weekend (I can’t remember or understand most of it, but do join us if you want to hear some).

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It is this cave that gives Joel and his team the best hope of breaking into and connect to the massive Hirlatz Hole from WUG Pot- then it will become a 1.5km deep monster system and mastercave (1.5km+). Recently over the past few years teams have shortened the distance between these two mega cave systems to under 500m. If the connection is made the journey from top to bottom could well be the ultimate adventure sports challenge involving winter mountaineering, abseiling, caving and cave diving taking several days to complete.

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SO just think of all the mud, sweat, darkness, smelly feet, lack of sleep… I mean- ADVENTURE, EXCITEMENT, HEROIC APTITUDE, SWANKY CV BOOSTER (a ‘what scenario shows teamwork skills’ drill), and most of all FUN 2 weeks of caving during one of the most exciting times in caving exploration history in Europe. The price really is fantastic too (£250 for 3 weeks).  Here’s a little break down courtesy of Joel:

  • Expedition fees (to go towards metalwork/hardware, ropes, communal food, etc) £60 for the duration;
  • Weekly allowance (fresh veg, fuel, etc) €10 (so €30 or €40 for the duration);
  • Accommodation of approx €3.50 or €4 a night = approx €80 total;
  • Travel: very rough guide but maybe £100

hiking-austriaThe team are insistent that it’s not necessary to be a pro but the willingness to train and have a go! I think I may be going to simply take the photographs, document the expedition and have a nice hike and climb until I feel ready to undertake the caving trip- so if you fancy a nice sight-seeing holiday, come along! It’s not just all about that hard-core exploring, there’s plenty of other activities to do and get involved with, including prospecting in the mountains looking for new caves, continuing the exploration of previously discovered caves, assisting with the re-rigging as all the ropes and much of the metal work needs to be replaced.

And if deep dark caves aren’t your thing, there’s even an ice cave nearby that makes for a stunning tourist trip, just so you can pose with those new ice picks you’ve bought (lads), and girls yes you can pretend to be Elsa.

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For all you animal lovers out there, Joel tells me there are marmot colonies near by, gams in the hills at dawn (similar to chamoix), foxes, snakes, etc… Where you’ll be based at 1850m its about 100m below the transition from the superlative carpeted green slopes to more bare alpine scenery- a haven for wildlife, and wild ADVENTURE!

This is the greatest cave exploration project in the world: no discussion!! Matt St Clair will be organising & will appoint key people to the role of “Dachstein Reps” as some of the lifers cannot commit 100% these days. If you feel you would like to assist in the organisation then please make yourself known. Dates are provisional but will probably be 3 weeks in total, see their dedicated Facebook page for more information: info.https://www.facebook.com/events/1490999744511831/

BUT WAIT!!!!

First of all, before you go jet-setting to the Alps with your shorts, T-shirt, trainers and multi coloured running leggings… there’s a few things you need to know about surface gear and caving gear, as well as the health and safety aspects to the trip. I’ll try and make it as painless as possible I promise!

Kit List

“NORMAL” CLOTHES (e.g., trousers, underwear, t-shirt, socks)

Recommended 2 sets for caving (one for each trip) and one for the hut. (You could get away with two sets one for caving one for the hut relying on the drying room – it should be noted that the term drying room is a misnomer, it just makes all things marginally less damp)

DO NOT BRING JEANS TO CAVE IN!!!!!!

(When wet they get cold, heavy and chafe, they also take ages to dry, fine for the hut though.)

BRING WHITE STUFF AT YOU OWN RISK

(Water in caves is often a bit muddy and can dye white clothes a permanent brown)

  • WARM STUFF FOR THE HUT

Caving huts can vary wildly in temperature (also good to keep warm on the way to the pub)

  • A FLEECE to cave in

Fleeces are ideal to cave in as they are warm and drain relatively quickly when wet.

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  • THERMALS to cave in

Very good for keeping you warm in wet caves. (A cheap set can be made with any tight fitting top e.g. modern rugby tops and a pair of thick tights (yes even for the blokes) looks silly? yes Warm? Definitely. I mean, who can resist a guy in tights? (Definitely me…guys don’t go for the 1D look outside of caving, only wimps wear girly tights for fashion).

  • WELLINGTON BOOTS (gum boots) to cave in

Wellies are quite simply the best footwear to cave in. The club has a good selection which it is happy to lend out but please email to request them as unless you were born with 3 size 9 left feet we may not have any in your size (particularly true for small/large sizes)

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  • GLOVES (marigold washing up gloves) to cave in

A controversial one this (some cavers like gloves some don’t) but good for keeping your hands warm they are cheap and can be god-send so you might as well bring them

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  • HAT to cave in

A wooly hat/balaclava is good for keeping warm underground. People with long hair should bring some stuff to tie it back e.g. hair bands, buff e.t.c

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  • SLEEPING BAG

To sleep in. No really.

  • TORCH

So you can find your way to your bunk/ back from the pub. Oh and the cave.

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  • WASH KIT (Tooth brush, soap, deodorant etc.)

PLEASE bring this guys to wash with. Don’t bother with beatifying stuff (hair straighteners), but perhaps a hint of mascara and eye liner..oh and concealer for those equally dark eye circles around the eyes from days of no sleep. Trust me everyone will thank you for it. Shower gel- many cavers don’t even bother to shower after a trip, merely washing will make you look like a god/goddess compared to the other muddy and smelly cavers.

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Because it looks so swish I hope this encourages the guys to get one 😉
  • TOWEL

To dry off with / avoid flashing everyone when getting changed and to hide from the prying eyes of cavers

  • MONEY

Money for the pub crawls and to buy dinner and any drinks

  • BEER/DRINKS

There will normally be quite a few drinks had Friday and Saturday night. We normally stop on the way at a supermarket. Even if you don’t drink alcohol it will probably be worth bringing some coke/ squash to quench your thirst. Missing something? The club has some spare kit it can lend (particularly wellies).

CAMPING

Please Bring:

  • ROLL MATT

A length of foam mat to keep you of the tent floor and hence much warmer.

OPTIONAL KIT (if you have it please bring it):

  • Any PERSONAL CAVING KIT
  • WETSUIT

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Some caves have some great (if cold) swimming opportunities. Chances of using one is slim but swimming in crystal clear pools deep underground is worth the effort of packing it. Please don’t pack your bikini.

  • FURRY / Thermal Undersuit

A giant adult sized fleece baby grow. Known universally by cavers as furries they are also sometimes used by sailors and divers under dry suits. These are the crème de la crème of caving insulation and many cavers’ first purchases. They can be very expensive so if yours is a non-caving one for use under a dry suit you use it at your own risk.

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Oh! I almost forgot. Warm underpants…I’m not fooling around here, its vital to keep yourself nice and snug down there. Nothing worse than soggy bottoms is there Mary?

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Well that’s all from me, write up on first aid and cave photography soon!

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Interview with Alex Jones

Alex Jones is wildlife cinematographer, producer, presenter, editor and extreme adventurer, who has created his own remarkable blue-chip documentaries as well as work on a whole host of films, TV shows and adverts. His unique skills using the EPIC Red have not gone unnoticed and he has recently won a prestigious Panda Award at the Wildscreen Film Festival, as well as his footage being used in a major new BBC series. I got the chance to chat to him about where his enthusiasm and love for wildlife all started.

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Growing up in California, he has always been passionate about wildlife- picking up snakes at age of 9 in his backyard, and has been filming ever since he can remember. It surprises me when he mentions that he really aspired to become an entomologist, having seen him as a full-on explorer and cameraman, it is seemingly difficult to imagine Alex sat in his room pinning down another Panagaeus cruxmajor to his collection rather than being armed with an SD card and another 6 hours’ worth of footage.

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“Their world is so different; a blade of grass can look like a tree from their perspective.”

And yet this makes sense; when you begin to look at his work. He has carried this love for what many would consider their worst nightmare over to what he loves filming- macro. His latest fascinating clips of a jumping spider, award nominated Curious snail and Sand-crabs were shot in his custom made set and studio which he built with his colleagues. They’re looking to get some sequences on side-winders as well as a variety of other hard-to film species, or those whose lives are largely left untold.

“To get the best quality footage, you’ve got to be able to get the lens ontop of them and have control the elements such as light, wind- except the behaviour of course!

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He tells me about the most varied things he gets up to on a day to day basis. Deliberately seeking out danger, nothing seems to phase The Adventurer– going into caves, old mine shafts inhabited by a myriad of snakes and bats. One particular place he went to, which was even too extreme for Alex, was a cave powdered with volcanic ash.

“When you enter into the caves, its very tight, you have to crawl on your stomach. The ceiling felt like flour.” He tells me he was hoping not to get caught out by a cave collapse…

The most dangerous encounter? Without question- Crocodiles. He was wrestling one which had caught him from under the water, he says it was an incredibly intense moment, particularly since it was 8ft crocodile Vs an 5ft 6 Alex. He describes the moment where he was in the water when it brought him down, his friend and fellow cameraman came to the rescue, but even he admits it was a close shave.

He loves all aspects of wildlife filmmaking. Everything he does currently is reflected by what he has seen with the enigmatic blue-chip series, such as Blue planet. In terms of presenters, he used to present more hands-on like his childhood hero Steve Irwin. However, the more inclusive and poignant reminisces of Attenborough have inspired him to take on a more “BBC” approached style of presenting to camera, although I still believe the acting lessons will slip out now and then when he is overcome with excitement by a dangerous snake- more Steve Backshall then!

What else does he get up to? He tells me he’s working all the time, editing, researching animals to film, scenery shots with friends. However when he does have the time, he enjoys hiking, extreme surfing, rock climbing, spelunking in Thailand, Africa, California. His seemingly limitless supply of energy emanates through to his camerawork. The EPIC Red that he praises highly, is easy to programme to his specific needs, looks beautiful, sharp, and a professional “work horse,” which can cope with extreme conditions- rain, sand.

“It’s the elements that you don’t see behind the scenes, that’s tough on any camera.”(He’s of filming sand dunes).

He offers us his top tips if you’re filming out in extreme conditions.

“Be smart about what you’re doing, think on your feet, depending on the situation. Deserts in California and in Montana have two very extreme temperatures throughout the day, you have to love it too at the same time because it will get to you if you don’t.”

He admires the one and only award-winning Doug Allan and marvels at his endurance in his specialized field of polar cinematography. Talking of awards, he was very nervous about Wildscreen- his incredibly epic and thrilling shots of the beach master in California, won in the youth and against all odds category. He got the amazing opportunity to meet Doug Allan, Emma Blackwell, Fergus Beeley and many more! Here are some photos of the exciting awards night:

10285199_575849352542941_874010301232851276_oThe equally talented Emma Blackwell with Alex Jones. 10733835_927901867220685_812892603592160564_o

A Panda award!

What the most technically challenging shoot? The most challenging to film he tells me is his award nominated elephant seals of California.

“Only shot in 4 days, the first 2 days it was raining, but it was incredibly hard. The 4th day he got most of the shots. But was worried that I couldn’t get it all. I was all very stressful, equipment was failing too, weather bad, and I was alone with no help from crew. Intense! But staying with them all day you figure out behaviour, and with some smart thinking and being fast with your actions- it become the norm.”

He also tells me that it was emotionally hard sometimes to witness the helplessness of the seal pups being smothered by the testosterone pumped and over-amorous males which will crush anything and anyone in their way.

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He’s recently joined the brilliantly exciting Animals bytes TV. His latest episode features a Rattlesnake which was made a year ago which they went off to find, check it out here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=at9M0i25Al0

“They’re the 2nd biggest, cause more deaths that any other snake- its very aggressive. My favourites are side-winders. I found it in a cave (200ft).” Just the day to day itinerary of a cameraman!

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Having already secured one award under his belt, Nevada is next with his curious snail nomination. (See it here:).

Hopefully there will be lots to come from the Adventurer on our screens, we wish him the best of luck in his career! If you didn’t hear the interview for my radio show, catch up here:

Caving Trip to Selgil (13/08/14)

I am officially “batty” now- I have descended into the depths of a cave and followed my fellow subject of research!

This is the second time I’ve been in a cave this summer…but this time I was actually ascending and descending it with karabiners, cows clips, descenders, hand and chest jammers, D-ring and a WHOLE load of rope! This stunning cave is located within walking distance from the Horton in Ribblesdale train stop in the Yorkshire Dales of roughly 2km. We left the Leeds train station at a later time of 9:10am, tickets will cost you £16 for a return, a with a rail card around £13. The weather, as usual was changeable with sheets of light piercing even the darkest of nebulous clouds, the occasional shower then patches of rather pleasant sun. ALWAYS take your rain jacket and thermals, that’s one thing I’ve leant the hard way! I keep forgetting that summer in the UK is rather different to a Spanish one! The walk to the site was equally as changeable, but nonetheless breath-taking. I felt quite safe with the three caving members of the Leeds University Union Speleological society, Michael, who has been caving for over six years, Katey who has been on more than 60 trips and Brendan who had recently joined the society a year ago, but nevertheless experienced.

IMG_3740The climbing team looking summery in their shorts!

They were all so welcoming and helpful, and exceedingly patient with my sometimes futile efforts! I literally had a crash course in Single rope technique (SRT) and vertical climbing/ascending/descending the day before with Michael and Kristian… then thrown into the deep end!

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The journey ahead…

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IMG_3935Selgil cave, the dry route which we decided to try out.

There were two entrances, the wet route is to the right hand side of the walk from Ribblesdale where the stream thunders down into a waterfall within the cave, or to the left is the dry (more like dry-ish) route which is the one we selected. We got dressed in the open into our oversuites and hooked up all our kit, including a cave helmet.

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IMG_3791-001IMG_3745Katey, rearing to get going! (above). Mike posing for the camera with all the kit.

Katey descending into the cave via the dry route, we didn’t fancy our chances with the wet route on a rainy day! (Above)

The wet route is advisable only in dry weather! The route was all rigged by Katey and Brendan; we descended from the entrance 6m down into the cave with a 15 meter rope. It was a little daunting at first, I must admit, trusting in the gear away from the safety of The Edge! But I was always in safe hands and so trusted everyone and the gear. It was rather fun! We got to the bottom, and could hear the discernible roar of the waterfall tumbling down in torrents. I am SO glad I put my camera in the water tight daerum drum, the spray was a bit of a nightmare for any photographer… I was also lucky that the only damage to my camera was scratches on my 600D screen!

We then moved on to the second pitch where we were carefully picked our way along the route with cows tails and avoided accidentally dislodging any loose rock. The route to the left side was far drier, which we opted for! This was only 12m down, (we had 20m rope) but still a little daunting for a first timer like me! It was a good feeling though as you glided gracefully (well, perhaps not me!) down on the rope using the descender. It takes a bit to release your hard lock then soft lock because your life is literally handing on that rope, if you slip up, its a long way down….

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Once at the bottom, I could hear the others further down the third pitch, then we descended ourselves. This was the furthest one down and required two steps of getting to the edge, then staying clear of the water falling from above. This was definitely the more daunting of the two pitches, and as I peered over the edge, I was glad I had misplaced my contact lenses! It was however, really beautiful, once I was off and descending, light flickering from my helmet painted the cave with an orange glow and light danced off the wet surface of the limestone rock. The spray hung in the cave like a blanket and created a slight haze.

Mike had to shout commands to me as I neared then end as the thunderous downpour of the waterfall echoed and resonated throughout the cavern. Whilst he was doing something technical further up the pitch, I waited gazing at the bottom with the scenes of what once was an ancient sea floor. I even saw fossilized remnants of coral on one of the slabs. All around me, I could see new sections of the cave forming with soft sediment being deposited at the sides. Katey and Brendan then reappeared from the bottom which was an easily accessible hop-down into a walkable section of the cave. When Mike joined us we decided to take a couple of cave shots and used our head torches as flashlights.

IMG_3847The depths of Selgil, Mike shines his torch and the wet surface of the cave reflects with enough light for my long 30 second exposure.IMG_3850Some more light painting in the dark with Kate as our model.

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I used ISO 6400 to get some cave portraits, and then used flash for some other closer up shots. Then we took long exposures (30 seconds), of Katey and the cave, whilst the guys acted as flash assistants. They did blur but they were certainly fun to take! I couldn’t progress any further without my camera get wet, so I returned it to the daerum drum and headed down with the guys to complete the walk. The source of the noise and spray became apparent as I hopped down and the waterfall was visible in all its resplendent glory. It was truly breath-taking, admittedly I was very cold and wet due to inappropriate underclothes, but even that didn’t dampen my spirits! The trip wouldn’t be complete without #CaveSelfies which we eventually got right!

IMG_3836.CR2Cave selfie! We got it just about right, but Brendan was just out of the shot, sorry man!

We eventually reached the “Duck“, which as the name suggests, requires you to duck and crawl through to the other side. I decided to wait with Brendan, I was too wet and quite cold, and didn’t want to get soaked! But the cavern itself was lovely to look at, as was being silt being deposited with shining particles that glinted and danced in that light emanating from our head torches. We switched them off to fully appreciate how dark it was, 70 meters underground, I literally could not even see my hand in front of my face- most certainly an adept description of pitch black!

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As Mike returned we then headed back up to the 3rd pitch to start ascending. Now the hand and chest jammers were used rather than the descender. This was the point at which I began to get nervous as I ascended with my hand jammer, which seemingly ‘jammed,’ and fear began to creep in! Mike reassured me I was fine and doing well, as well as encouragement from Katey and Brendan down below. Then, what seemed an age, I eventually reached the top, a little shaken but relieved. It is very enjoyable and rewarding, and I will be back for more! But it was scary as a first timer, and I feel good to have gotten over my fear of swinging from heights! When we stepped out of the entrance after a good 45 minutes (due to my inability to shimmy up the rope with the same speed and agility as the others), a gorgeous border collie greeted us, with his mane being whipped up by the blustering Yorkshire wind.

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I was glad to be out, I was pretty cold and hungry but also exhilarated by a fantastic trip. I never felt in any real danger with experienced people, more of a heightened panic moment. We played with the dog, who apparently took a shining to Brendan’s yellow oversuit!

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IMG_3904Ready to catch his new chew toy. Photo taken with flash, Aperture mode, 5.5, ISO: 800

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“One man and his dog…”

We got undressed then headed back down the track to the pub for a well-deserved cup of tea and sandwich. What a day! I will most certainly be joining this September. The next social is go-karting in September which will be great fun, will keep you updated on all the caving- I am officially known as Bat woman now!

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