After having being silent for a few days, we’d like to continue sharing with you the experiences of the CAVES2014 crew. We will continue from where we left, with Luca’s blog about his experience “Into the darkness” – and Mission Log Day5. The CAVES2014 team thanks everybody for their support and understanding.
My eyes are open, but they may as well be shut in the complete, perfect darkness that surrounds me. I have seen and felt darkness before, an absolute absence of light. Somehow this feels different, and I’m keenly aware of it. Perhaps it’s because I know where I am and I won’t let anything make me forget it.
The quiet breathing of my crew mates is the only reminder that I’m not alone. We set up a bivouac last night, abandoning the relative comfort of our base camp in order to have more time for exploration and science. It took us about two hours to get here, and time is precious – also, it’s not easy to move around here. I’ve been trying to understand why a lot of this landscape looks familiar to me, and I finally realized that it reminds me of the many underwater environments that I have seen while scuba diving. It makes sense: a lot of it has been shaped by water flowing, ebbing and flowing. Except that when there’s no water it’s extremely hard to move around. The sand turns to mud, the rocks are slippery, with edges as sharp as a shark’s tooth.
But then you turn a corner and everything changes: it’s surprising, sudden, inexplicable. The way we move around is not different from the way I imagine an expedition to a different planet. We move slowly, deliberately, trying to take in every sight we get by turning our heads around and illuminating this strangely alien world with our headlamps.
When we arrived at the site that we had chosen as an advanced camp, around noon, we had a hearty lunch, then we picked our roles: Sasha, Sergey and Scott would start surveying the cave from the last point that had been mapped by a previous expedition. Matthias and I, accompanied by an instructor, are the scouting team, advancing further and trying to figure out the best route. I’m excited: I know this part of the cave has not been mapped, and it must’ve been years since anybody passed through.
The instructor that accompanied us is Francesco, and I couldn’t be happier. He’s only thirty years old, but he’s one of the most experienced cave explorers in the world, and very laid back.
We pass the last surveyed point, called the “water tower”, and we enter a huge room, vaguely round, with various rock formations that capture my imagination. To my right, a long and narrow structure protrudes from a hill, right above a round, small hill with another small mound of rocks on top: I name them “Adam’s Rib” and “Eve’s breast” on the spot,. Behind me and to the left, a very tall, round stalagmite stands with an incredibly wide base and a rounded top rises over thirty meters high with two smaller, skinny stalagmites on top. I can’t resist: I call it the “Calvary”, and the main room will be the “Purgatory”.
Francesco shows us a small branch that had been seen the previous year, but not mapped: inside, stones have been turned into perfect spheres by water churning them over and over. It’s an incredible sight: some of the stones are as small as eggs, but some are as big as cannonballs and even bigger. I think it should be called the “Armory”, but it has already been dubbed the “ballroom hall”.
I push further down and discover a shaft: it’s about ten meters deep, but it’s so long my light gets lost in the darkness. It will have to be explored by a different crew. We, instead, decide to start climbing through a different branch. After a bit of searching and a lot of huffing and puffing through very narrow passages, we discover another room: this one is humongous, with a steep climb towards the blackness. Right above the entrance, a rock formation has the multi spheroid shape of a gigantic trilobite – there’s my “Leviathan’s gate”.
We start to climb, and still the ceiling is so far away that no light reaches it. The blackness surrounds us and engulfs completely. We can feel the empty space as we continue upwards. Then Matthias, who’s farther ahead, lets out a sound of surprise: in front of us is an impossibly tall fault line, perfectly vertical, smooth, white, with brown vertical stripes. It has to be over one hundred meters high. The timeless, majestic sight is so powerful it takes our breath away. A natural, perfect wall of rock. The “Wall of Gericho”.
We get back to the rest of the group to share our discoveries and then it’s time to go back to our bivouac.
My eyes are open, and there will be no sunrise to greet them. It’s our last day of exploration. I can’t wait to go.