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CAVING IN BELGIUM
FAQ's (Frequently Asked Questions): a must for beginners



 

1. What is speleology?
Speleology means "visiting or exploring caves".  It is often done as a recreational or sporting activity; in this cave "classic" caves (that are already known) are visited.  A minority of cavers is really "exploring" caves; this means searching and discovering new ones.  Especially here one finds lot's of common points with "SCIENCE" at large.  Such cavers are often "all-rounders" who have good knowledge of geology, hydrology, cartography and so on.
But whatever the motivations of a caver are, speleology is a very adventurous thing and probably the only remaining possibility to "go where no man has gone before"!

2. Who should I get in touch with?
Caving club Avalon of course...one of Belgiums most active clubs.  But there are lot's of other Belgian clubs!  In fact there are two different federations, grouping over 200 clubs.   You can get in touch with the Flemish Federation (Verbond van Vlaamse Speleologen) or the Walloon Federation (Union Belge de Spéléologie). Have a look at our  "links-page"where you'll find links to other clubs and to the two federations.

3. What do I need?
To practise "caving" you'll need quite a lot of gear, that is required to cope with underground obstacles such as pitches, lakes, rivers and so on. Of course this depends upon the nature of the cave and even with a minimum of gear (some old clothes, an overall, a helmet and light) you can explore some Belgian caves... in the company of experienced cavers of course! Normally, gear such as ropes, kitbags, boats, ladders will be provided by the club. You will have to buy your own "personal" gear sooner or later (in our club, novices can borrow this for a couple of months). You will need a helmet and adequate lighting, rubber boots, PVC-oversuit, thermic undersuit, kneepads, sitharness, chestharness, descender, jammer, "croll", karabiners, cowstail, maybe a "ponto" etc. (some of these terms might sound pretty weird..!)

4. What will all this cost me?
A complete personal set of equipment will cost you appr. 750 Euro. But don't panic: most of it will last for many years. If you keep your eyes open, you might find a part of it second hand (sometimes people do give up caving and sell their stuff). You don't need to buy it all at once: start with the helmet, light and oversuit. We can recommend a very good caving shop, owned by an excellent caver: De Berghut in Hamme. In general, you also have to pay a yearly contribution to be member of a club and/or a caving federation.

5. Are there any (physical) requirements?
No! But pretty soon you'll find out that some people like caving and others hate it, that some people are really gifted for it and others are absolute bunglers. For this reason we suggest that you never buy gear or pay membership fees too soon: first try it out a couple of times! Anyway, as said, a certain talent and "suppleness" are welcome. As in every sport you can divided cavers into 3 categories: those who will never make much of a job of it (a minority); those who can keep up with it (the vast majority) and those who are super-talented and for whom the sky is the limit (a small minority). As long as you don't belong to category 1 there is nothing to worry about.

6. How do I start with it?
Find yourself a club: they will take you along on some easy caving trips. They will provide all gear and give you some basic training. If you like it, then join the club and go caving as much as you can.

7. I suffer from acrophobia or claustrophobia!
Well, if you REALLY suffer from it, then it looks real bad for you. But our experience is that the vast majority of those people only THINK that they have these "phobias" and that in reality they won't have any problem at all in a cave. Everyone has a certain fear of heights or constricted spaces: put me on top of my roof and I'll don't feel at ease! But going down a 150 m pitch in a cave doesn't bother me at all: I feel safe because of the rope. Going down deep pitches or squeezing through tight passages is something that you have to build up: the first time you go down a 25 m pitch you'll feel scared: later on, you'll go down laughing!

8. I'm 2 metres tall and I weigh 115 kilos...is there any problem?
Better join a rugby-team then! In caves you'll often find "squeezes" (narrow passages) and it will be frustrating (for you and the team) when your friends can get through it and you can't. An average length/weight is recommended...

9. Will I have a (good) insurance?
Both Belgian federations (VVS and UBS) offer a good insurance which will cover not only public liability, but rescue-costs and personal risks.

10. Is this a dangerous sport?
Not really. Accidents are very rare (in Belgium , a few every 5 years), heavy injuries or fatal accident exceptional. Cavers are really well-trained when security is involved. Far more accidents happen in sports such as cavediving or canyoning.

11. Where do you practise it?
In Belgium of course, more precisely in the "Ardennes" (the Southern part of Belgium). Most clubs also go regularly caving in France (which is still THE caving country) or other European countries. A few clubs go even further: Mexico, China, Vietnam, Indonesia, Jamaica...

12. Is any training necessary? Where can I do this?
Caving techniques can of course be learned in a cave... but a few "indoor" possibilities exist such as the training hall of Speleoclub "Le Redan", located in the cellars of the Koekelberg Basilica (Brussels), where you can practise rope-techniques every unpaired Monday evening. Another well known site is "La Roche aux Corneilles" (Bomal); a 40 m high rock in the valley of the river Ourthe. Several old quarries (e.g. Villers-sur-Gambon or Senzeilles) have also been equipped to learn rope-techniques..
In addition, a good physical condition is necessary and some regular training (jogging, biking, swimming) is recommended.

13. Are there any courses that I can follow?
Sure: the Flemish (VVS) and Walloon (UBS) federations organize each year courses about caving techniques, rope techniques, rescue techniques, surveying etc. But in lots of clubs novices receive also a good training, so attending these courses is not obligatory.

14. Do you need a diploma?
No! You will, after having followed (successfully) a course, some kind of certificate or diploma. This is however not necessary for practising speleology or becoming member of a club or federation.

15. How many cavers/clubs are there in Belgium?
The Flemish Federation (VVS) groups about 35 clubs, totalling some 600 cavers. The Walloon Federation (UBS) totals 850 cavers . There also are non-federated cavers, but this is a minority since you must be member of one of the federations to obtain access to a lot of caves.

16. Are there a lot of caves in Belgium?
Yes there are. During a recent (and gigantic) inventory, by the people who made the fabulous "Atlas du Karst Wallon", over 3767 karstphenomena were counted. Not only caves, but also sinkholes, depressions, resurgences etc. These are equally important, since new caves are often found there! About 250 "real" caves are longer than 100 m, or deeper than 20 m. All Belgian caves together add up to some 150 kilometres of underground passage.

17. Are there any maps of these caves?
Every discovery (cave, gallery, passage) must be surveyed: that's the rule! Surveying is a pretty boring and often difficult task: every piece of cave-passage must be measured (length, compass bearing, inclination; using special instruments) and sketched in the surveybook. At home, all these measures and sketches are used to draw a nice survey of the cave. These surveys are very important and are often published or sometimes bundled in "atlases".

18. Where do I find books about caves (are there any books?)
There are lot's of books. If you would buy everyhing that has been published about caves, you would have to be Onassis! All caving federations and often clubs have libraries: the Flemish federation (VVS) has +/- 650 books and many magazines; the Walloon Federation (UBS) has a very big library in their HQ in Namur.

19. What is the biggest cave in the world?
In Belgium, the biggest cave is the Han-sur-Lesse/Gouffre de Belvaux System that measures over 12 kilometres. The deepest Belgian cave is Trou Bernard, 140 m deep. Have a look at our webpages about the longest and deepest Belgian caves if you want to know more.
But, if you take a look at the rest of the world, then you'll see that Belgian caves are real small! The biggest cave in the world is Mammoth Cave (USA) with an incredible length (this means the sum of all underground passages) of 627 kilometres. In fact, there are now already 20 caves known worldwide that are bigger than 100 km, and 742 bigger than 5 km!
The deepest cave in the world is the Voronya Cave (Georgia) with the - again incredible - depth of -2195 m!  There are 3 more caves deeper than -1600m: Lamprechtshofen (Austria), Gouffre Mirolda and Gouffre Jean-Bernard (France). Already 93 caves are known that go deeper than 1000 m!  And all this figures are still growing from year to year!  More recent statistics can be found on Caver Bob's website.

20. All caves look alike, don't they?
Wrong! De underground landscape is so varied... Of course, you'll know about nice flowstone formations because that's what you see in showcaves. But caves also feature wild underground rivers, roaring and often very high waterfalls, pitches in all sizes (up to and over 300 m deep!), beautiful lakes, gigantic halls, narrow meanders, low crawls, canyons and so on. No two caves are equal, some are pretty straightforward, others are very complex mazes. All this comes in a large variety of colours: rock, flowstone or water (black to emerald green to sky blue).

21. Is there enough air down there?
Almost all caves are ventilated, this means that there are airflows that can be very violent in some caves. These airflows refresh the air all the time, also at big depths (even at 500m or 1000 m depth). Water running through caves also provide oxygen. Very exceptionally, some dry dead-end galleries or pitches are not well ventilated and an accumulation of CO2 gas can occur (only in warm caves).

22. This must be a difficult sport, isn't it?
This depends of several factors. In the first place, the cave: is it a tough one or an easy one? The choice (easy caving or not) is however up to you. In easy caves, which are often horizontal, caving is not difficult at all. In vertical caves however, you'll need rope techniques to cope with pitches, waterfalls etc.. and caving will be a lot more difficult. If you like the challenge of real deep or big caves (deeper than 500 m) you will have to be in a perfect shape and you must know all techniques by heart. Such trips often last longer than 15 hours (up to 25-30 hours!). Even longer trips are made using underground camps

 

 
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