JOURNEYS BENEATH THE EARTH Autobiography of a cave explorer by David William Gill. 2002. 292 PB Available from Amazon for $42.70: Go to Amazon and search for Journeys Beneath the Earth.
David has been visiting caves for over 50 years, nearly as long as me but there he similarity ends as he has been exploring caves as far away as Malaysia and China. You will notice that many of the names of cave explores mentioned in the text are designated as ‘the late’. Sadly they are no with us. This book is a fitting tribute to their memory.
After caving extensively in Britain, David describes in some detail an epic trip to the Gouffre Berger in France lead by the legendary late Ken Pearce, the giant black bearded iron man of caving. Ken used to say “If you’re not hard, you should not have come”, and cavers abandoned his expeditions in droves. But Ken managed to bottom the Gouffre Berger by diving two sumps. A new world depth record at the time.
Dave also made four expeditions to the Gouffre Pierre St Martin which were a huge success as he made some great discoveries which have become a part of the history of exploration of this world classic cave system.
To visit caves behind the Iron Curtain was something of a first for western speleologists. Although the trip to Poland did not produce any great discoveries, it did provide a link to cavers in the USSR.
The expedition to Mexico was a great success, many new caves were explored and surveyed. Dave excelled himself by catching histoplasmosis. After a month in a Mexican hospital they arrived home. Dave visited his own doctor and was duly x-rayed. A few days later he had a phone call to return to the surgery. The doctor took one look and referred Dave to the Monsall Isolation Unit in Manchester. Dave stayed for a few nights and it seemed that they want to empty his body of blood! Later he received a phone call from the consultant. He asked if Dave could attend a conference of doctors at the Manchester Royal Infirmary and a taxi was duly sent to pick up Dave. Every three months the doctor presented a few cases of the strange diseases to an assembled group doctors. Later with Dave sitting on a chair on a large stage in front of a few hundred eminent physicians, the consultant explained the symptoms and showed the audience the x-rays on a projector to a hushed and shocked audience. When he had finished it was their turn to ask Dave questions. Dave was given instruction not to tell them the name of the disease. The questions came thick and fast and when asked where when he started to feel sick, a very audible sigh of relief swept the room when he said Mexico. When asked what was he doing in Mexico one very smart doctor added the question, was there any bats in the caves. He remembered reading about a disease associated with bats but could not remember the name. One doctor asked if I would go caving again considering the risks and the assembled doctors seemed surprised when the answer was yes!
Exciting opportunities continued to come Dave’s way. Mike Boon had a proposal; he was organising an expedition to the Nare Cave in the Nakanai Mountains of East New Britain, Papua New Guinea. He wanted Dave to join his team. This was a great compliment as Dave was the only man in Briton that Mike visited. The Nare entrance was a huge hole, 320 meters in depth by 150 meters in diameter with the largest known underground river in the world with 20 tons of water a second flowing across the base of the shaft and into a large tunnel. Later Mike fell ill and Dave took over as expedition leader. Four months later with 4.5 tons of equipment and an expenditure of £39,000 the Caves of Thunder River was finally conquered.
It seems strange that a 25 year long hobby became an occupation. Dave is now working as a full time speleologist at the Gunung Mulu National Park, Sarawak