Subterranean Travels: Why I'd rather be Underground

Travellers, like ants, are getting in everywhere. Planes and cars mean people have gotten into secret and remote places and photographed them all over. That’s both how and why I came to go underground. I was inspired by the pictures I saw in National Geographic of Eisriesenwelt ice cave, it was a landscape like that of another planet, and it was as if it had never really occurred to me that there would be anything interesting to look at under the earth’s surface. Now I venture inwards to escape the tourist ants with their flashes and do some proper exploring.

There are two ways to visit a cave and two kinds of caves to visit. Each cavern has its own structure and pattern and origins but the big difference comes with access. Spectacular caves with their mouths near the surface regularly become attractions in their own right as 'show caves'. Caves like the Grotte de Dargilan and de Choranche in France have been lit so that their most usual and beautiful formations seem to glow and Washington’s Ape Cave has had it’s lava tubes lined with non slip walking tracks. At the extreme end of accessible are Gouffre du Padirac which has an elevator to get down into it and gondola like boats which take you through an ever surprising series of caverns, and Grotte des Demoiselles, which has a funicular railway which will deliver you into the cave’s belly. Skocjanske Cave is one of Slovenia’s most popular tourist attractions and has been fitted out with its own cable car which takes you from one rock bridge, created over eons, to another to give you a better view of the cascading stairway of pale limestone.

The other kinds of cave are the domain of the caver, bright eyed and often damp they carry three dimensional maps and plenty of rope. Though the caves they explore have more often than not been visited before, this kind of caving will take you into the world’s secret places. Here you can touch stalactites and stalagmites, feel their slippery, dripping edges and understand how they’re formed, or be surprised when tiny slit like tunnels spill into vast empty caverns. The disadvantage is that it’s very hard to get the perfect photo in the pitch black.

Not everyone is wired for subterranean exploration but as you can see it’s surprisingly open to anyone who feels themselves drawn down into the unknown.

More of the World's Great Caves

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