Austria

A typical day on the Caving Club's summer expedition:

Only nine months since I started caving, here I was: the first person ever to set foot in this passageway, 200 metres below the surface of an Austrian mountain.

I was there with members of Imperial College Caving Club, and this was the final trip of the expedition. We had passed the obstacle that stopped us last time, a 9m vertical drop in the cave floor. My caving buddy hammered a bolt into the wall and we tied on a rope so we could abseil down. Once at the bottom we were in a never-before explored part of the cave, walking into the unknown.

Clambering over the boulder strewn ground we noticed the gaps between the rocks, wedged together 2m above the 'real' floor. Unsure how stable our footing was we treaded with caution further into the cave. We felt the character of the passage change; an eerie draught started sucking along the passage, our voices starting to echo off something a very long way away. As we passed the last corner we suddenly emerged into the blackness, our lights swallowed up by the sheer enormity of the chasm that opened up before us.

We hurled a chunk of rock into the pit, counting the seconds until it reached the floor. One... Two...Still Nothing...Three... Boom! Rattle! Rattle! Fifty metres deep!

This was a real monster, and would need more time to conquer than we had. Longer underground would risk alerting the rest of the team who awaited our return, snug in our mountain-top camp so we had to leave.

5 hours later the two of us were standing at the entrance to the cave, cold and exhausted but with an immense sense of achievement. We staggered back to our camp, navigating by cairns that had been erected over the previous 4 weeks in good time to join our friends around the campfire, to chat elatedly about our discoveries over fantastically warming curry before collapsing into our sleeping bags.

Does the cave continue beyond that last enormous drop? Nobody knows. There could be kilometres more to find, or it could end around the next corner. It will take another expedition in another year to find out - only this time you could be there as well.

About the club
Although caving is certainly challenging, both physically and psychologically, it is neither competitive nor macho. Caving is the perfect team sport: since everyone's safety depends on the group, there is no room for showing off. The aim is to use people's different skills in cooperation, to further common goals of exploration and enjoyment. No prior experience is required: all the necessary training is done within the club, drawing on the experience of our older members. All trips are tailored to the skills and wishes of those taking part & you will never be asked to do things that you are unhappy with or that we do not feel you are ready for yet.

ICCC runs regular weekend trips to caving destinations around the UK - usually costing £25-30 inclusive of all training, equipment, transportation, accommodation, food and leadership. As well as our summer expedition (normally to Slovenia), we have a week-long tour in Easter to somewhere warm, and long- weekends to destinations around Europe in the spring and summer.

We meet weekly on Tuesdays in the Union from 7:30pm; with additional rope- climbing practice in the trees in Princes Garden. Pick up a flyer at freshers fair or check the website for more details.

Sandeep Mavadia

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