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
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
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
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
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
18. Where do I find books about caves (are there
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
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