Irish Caving Or Just "Subterranean Swimming"

Authored by:
Martin Humphreys

Irish Caving Or Just “Subterranean Swimming”

My big adventure this week was a caving trip with the DCU caving club in County Claire (Western coast of Ireland). I have very few pictures from this weekend trip due to how incredibly flooded the caves were. All I can say was that nothing I could have heard before this trip could have prepared me for how intense the experience was. The club leaders said that we were going on a "Freshers Trip" and that we would not be using ropes in the caves, we would only be walking in a largely horizontal manner. I sort of took this to mean that our trip would be sort of boring and introductory. I couldn't have been more wrong. From the very beginning of my first cave, we had to walk through a waterfall to enter, and after that, things got steadily more and more wet. From walking downstream, to crawling neck-deep upstream, and climbing up waterfalls, I had no idea that by the end of the trip, no surface of my body would be dry.

Above is a picture of what a typical evening of training looks like for the caving club that I am part of.  We practice twice a week for 3 hours, so by the time we all leave we are rather exhausted and sometimes go out together to grab something to eat.  The gear that we are all using in that photo is the same gear that we use in the caves so it is good practice to get used to it with safety mats underneath of us before heading out into real, dangerous caves.

We arrived at the cottage where we would be staying for the next two nights very late Friday evening, long after the sun had gone down, so I really didn’t have any idea where I was until the next morning.  When I woke up, I walked over to the window and this is the sight that I was greeted with.

This, unfortunately, is the only photo I got of the cave with my camera, due to my lack of having a waterproof case.  Though, it is possible to get a little notion of just how wet the whole endeavor was, from this picture.  All the rain on the trees, the waterfall (barely visible toward the back of the hole), and the mud outside of the entrance all flowed down into the narrow opening.  After entering through the waterfall, we trekked a few kilometers down the cave as water rushed all around our feet.  The two veterans of our group of five said that they had never seen it so incredibly wet down there, but it made many subterranean waterfalls along the way look absolutely gorgeous.  After we got as far down as we could safely go with all the water trying to pull us deeper, we had to turn around and crawl back out.  This involved climbing up waterfalls, squeezing through ravines so narrow that it was impossible to turn one’s head to look back, and crawling under fallen boulders that forced anyone left dry to fully submerge their body in the river.

These are just a couple of shots of us post-cave.  I found out the hard way the caving is certainly not a sport for the faint of heart, but I am really glad of that.  I found that I fell in love with the challenge of it.

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