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CHECC '19 Comp. Entry Thread: Caving Article Fit For National Geographic


Caving Article Fit For National Geographic ? Sponsored by National Geographic.  Prize is a 1 year subscription National Geographic.

A new addition to the list of sponsors this year. Not sure if you?ve heard of them but they release a monthly magazine. The magazine contains numerous interesting articles on everything from adventure, culture, travel and occasionally caving. Your challenge is to write an article suitable for this little known publication. Any aspect of speleology is allowed! The inclusion of photos, drawings, anecdotes and humour are encouraged!

Post your entries below!


Well-known member
Alright, no one else has entered, so here's an article

Why Caving?

A small child waddles through a field, holding his father?s hand, the helmet heavy on his little head. Ahead, his godfather is lifting the lid from what looks like a bin half-buried in the ground. The dark hole seemed big at the time, but it isn?t really. What followed was two hours of walking, crawling, and being pulled up some climbs, all in the name of adventure. This was my first caving trip, when I was only six years old. Caving may sound like some people?s worst nightmare. It goes against several of our innate fears, tight spaces, the dark, heights, water. But as a six-year-old, there was no fear, only excitement. I marvelled at the formations, having never seen their like on the surface. I spent the next twelve years going caving with my father and my godfather, exploring the wonderful Yorkshire dales, not the surface, but the hundreds of interconnected passages running beneath this stunning region of the United Kingdom. I learned how to ascend and abseil, opening more trip options, descending huge pitches, far from the light of day. Hardly ever did I feel fear. After all, my father said it was safe, so it must have been, right? Years later, when I was all grown up, I joined the caving club at university. They welcomed me with open arms, and soon I was immersed in the world of caving. Four years have passed since then, and I?ve pushed myself more and more in my caving, doing harder and longer trips. As fun as this was, it had its scary parts. While caving has many inherent dangers, there are thousands of safety measures we take to make it safer, be it when ascending or descending, checking the weather, or telling someone where we are going. Despite these precautions, on several occasions I?ve brushed with death. On every occasion, the only reason I was in that position was my own arrogance, not following proper procedure. I thought I couldn?t mess up, until I did. They say you learn from your mistakes, and I certainly have.

Speaking to people about it, the question I hear most often is why? Why put yourself through the horrible situations? Why do it when you could die? Why are you mad enough to go caving? One of the biggest draws of caving for me is the adventure. This isn?t the high street that sees thousands of people a day, these caverns have very few visitors. Some have seen fewer visitors than the summit of Everest. Humans have always strived to explore. You can?t live on one side of a hill without wondering what?s on the other side. And two years ago, over a two week stretch in summer, I got to satisfy this urge. In the Austrian Alps, the Cambridge university caving club has an annual expedition. I joined them, and explored a brand-new cave. There is something to be said for the feeling of turning around a corner to see a rack of stalactites and realising that your light is the only light that has touched them, ever. My time there was short, and I wish I could have spent months there, exploring every inch of the cave. However, the surface world was calling, so I had to leave.

I spend a lot of my time caving, maybe too much. But there is something about the underground world that calls me. Each cave is its own adventure, and there are hundreds of caves to explore. On a recent trip I took a friend of mine on her first caving adventure. We reached the entrance, a large gash in the hillside, and I turned to her, asking how she was feeling about it. Her answer sums up my reason for willingly going through tight holes, wet streams, and awkward climbs. Her answer was a single word. ?Curious.? Curiosity drives us as a race. What?s over the hill? What will we find out in space? What?s down the hole? You?ll never know until you go and look.






New member
Hello! Here's Aber's entry. An entire day before we're due to go to CHECC because we're always so well prepared  ;)




Claustrophilia amongst troglodytes
an overview of the emotional and physical wellbeing of subterranean explorers.
By Deri Williams & Adam Cowdrey

Over the years several people have conducted research and proposed theories on this bizarre psychological condition known as Speleosis. However, due to its obscurity and relative rarity, there has not been a continuous effort to study its cause. Therefore, in this paper, the author attempts to summarise the research done so far so that there is a consolidated body of research for the continued study.

One of the factors that has hindered research is that sufferers of speleosis disguise their crippling disorder as an innocent sporting hobby. Key symptoms of speleosis include an affinity for tight spaces and mud, an inhibited danger response, infantilised humour, and a sudden obsession with calcite formations. Some may argue that alcoholic tendencies should be on this list, but whether excessive beer consumption is a symptom of speleosis or a cause is still hotly debated among the handful of people who care. Another contentious topic is the flocking behaviour of sufferers, and their tendency to recruit. It is unknown whether this is simply a human response to seek those that can empathise with their presumed mental anguish, or itself a symptom of the condition.

Post-traumatic speleology and drinking
Early speleosis research was focused around caving as a response to the horrors of war, as many soldiers returning from the front lines of the great war turned to cave exploration. These soldiers founded many of the existing caving clubs. One of the first papers on the matter describes how caving was a form of self-harm that manifested due to the inability to reintegrate into society (Swildon et al, 1956). This paper argues that the gruelling physical punishment in a muddy environment mimics the Somme and allows the afflicted person to re-live their trauma in a controlled environment, thus allowing them to come to terms with it. Others adopted this theory, proposing that alcohol over-consumption (Belfred, 1958) and the decrepit, remote caving huts (Pitts et Shepton, 1959) are also part of the sufferers attempt to isolate themselves from society and subconsciously self-harming. However, as the years progressed this theory fell out of favour, as new generations who had never seen war continued to cave, and the fact that these Mendip based researchers had no actual caves to test their theories with. Swildon would lose his psychiatry licence after it was discovered that much of his research had been fabricated, and that data that had apparently been collected at Hunter's hole had in fact been collected at the Hunters Lodge Inn.

Alcohol-induced Troglodytism
Following this, AIT became the dominant theory in the confined world of speleosis. AIT hypothesised that speleosis was a symptom of brain damage caused by a sudden increase in alcohol consumption (Gill et al, 1972). This aligns with the trend of many cavers beginning to show symptoms after joining their respective university clubs. It is thought that this brain damage affects the regions of the brain associated with societal conformity and higher reasoning. As a response to this inhibited function in these areas, it causes the caver to regress to a more primitive state, specifically that of our cave-dwelling ancestors (Gill et Swinstow, 1982). It is proposed that under AIT theory, sufferers of speleosis are unable to cope with the complexity of modern life, thus will resort to their base instincts and seek an environment with less stimulation. Further research has suggested that this is why cavers have such unusual behaviour above ground. The simple games of squeezing and table traverses are means of establishing a social hierarchy based on objective physical attributes, rather than complex meters of success and authority that exists outside of their self-imposed isolation (Rose, 1976).
The main flaws in this theory are that only a small subset of students go on to suffer full-blown speleosis, and no risk factors have been identified. Further still, by the time a caver is showing conclusive symptoms of speleosis, they have suffered a significant number of knocks to the head, thus making it difficult to determine whether the observed brain damage is a cause of the disorder or an effect of it.

In recent times, as society has grown more accepting of those who do not conform to conventional gender and sexuality. There have been discussions that speleosis has been miscategorised as a disorder, and is, in fact, a form of sexuality in the vein of masochism (Darren, 2008). Much like pain-based fetishes, many people struggle to explain why they enjoy caving, even though it offers no obvious pleasurable stimulus. Perhaps due to the suppressed nature of their sexuality, cavers seek comfort in a world of shafts, wet holes, and phallic rock formations. This also aligns with the more sordid aspects of caving culture, which is rife with songs laden with sexual tension. Sexuality also explains the random distribution of those affected without any obvious causes. Further supporting this argument is that 97% of those suffering from speleosis chose sexual partners who are also sufferers (Whitewall et al, 2002). It is perhaps then that caving videos should be considered pornographic, as those grunts of effort may be grunts of pleasure, and the expedition a speleological orgy.

Toxoplasmosis Speleonus
Though usually considered a psychological disorder, there is a fringe movement proposing that speleosis is actually the symptom of parasitic infection from a member of the Toxoplasmosis family. These parasites are most well known for their actions on rats, where they reverse their host's natural aversion to cats and cause them to try to play with them. This causes the rat to be eaten, allowing the parasite to complete its life cycle in its secondary host (Bluejohn, 2014). This paper, the only one on the topic, suggests that a novice caver contracts the parasite from cave mud while on their first trip. As cavers frequently eat mud-covered food, the parasite would enter through the digestive system before making itself at home in the bloodstream. From there, the hypothesised parasite would alter the host's danger perception, as with the rat, to cause them to seek out caves in an unnatural way, and to encourage others to do the same.
As mentioned, there has only been one paper on the subject and it has been met with much criticism, most notably that there is no evidence whatsoever for this parasite, and that the author was recently spotted wearing a tinfoil-coated helmet.

The literature on speleosis remains quite sparse, with little hope of that changing in the future. The stigma against those with speleosis, as well as most psychologists being unwilling to collect data from a live caving expedition, means that the mind of the caver will likely remain as dark and inaccessible as their beloved potholes.

As etymological studies will tell you, the way in which word meanings have developed over time has helped to shape societies and the individuals within them. As an Ancient History student, I?ve always admired how certain activities were viewed by different periodical societies. Spartans identified exercise and eugenics as most important whereas late republican Rome valued philosophy and political rhetoric. Speleology, it seems, can be analysed in much the same way.

?Caving? originated as primitive shelter yet has now become arguably one of the most treacherous forms of adrenaline sport. Although speleology encompasses many sub-categories: tourism (Wookey Hole/Cheddar Gorge in Somerset, UK); adventure caving; cave diving; cave rescue; SRT; etc; the ?family? vibe of the sport has essentially established an all-encompassing society.
The caving community exists across all categories of speleology but the most recognisable for me is the British university society of CHECC. The Council of Higher Education Caving Clubs has links with all the university-based caving societies in the UK and organises several big community events throughout the year. My first freshers? trip with Cardiff University was to SWCC (South Wales Caving Club) but I ended up caving with Nottingham CC? and a pineapple. My earliest experiences of adventure caving therefore proved to me that ?caving?, in its basic form, has not changed its core values since pre-historic times. Moreover, the atmosphere in and around the caves when university clubs convene is homely and accepting, albeit still primitive in some respects.

Looking at my experiences with Anna, the Nottingham pineapple, in my first year and the freshers? weekend to BCU in the Mendips this year, its not hard to see how my love for caving has grown. But where did it begin? If I search my childhood, there are several indications of what could?ve led me down this tunnel.

Unlike etymology, the origin of my passion for caving is almost impossible to pinpoint. Many experiences could have been a partial impact: from the influence of literature with ?The Hobbit?, to the blatantly obvious connection to my regular childhood visits to Wookey Hole; or perhaps it was the logical choice of hobby due to my childhood passion for tree climbing, paired with my deathly phobia of strong wind. Whatever the genesis, the sport plays, has played, and will continue to play an intrinsically vital role in my near future, starting with living abroad in Italy next year where there is a national speleological society.

?La speleologia?, as it is known as there, and my experience of it so far thus can not only be used to define caving as awe-inspiring and adrenaline inducing but also as a form of global community. After all, even the Greeks had myths of a labyrinth underground which could take you almost anywhere in the known ancient world. Consequently, I believe that caving as a society sport can not only offer intricate adventures underground but also help create paths on the surface.


Well-known member
?Caving? . . . has now become arguably one of the most treacherous forms of adrenaline sport.

So ? would you care to argue (in favour of this point of view)? I don't see caving in those terms at all.