Descent 297: Caving Across the Globe

From tight and wet digs in Derbyshire, to the discovery of huge river caves in Indonesia, the latest issue of Descent covers it all. Peter Burgess reviews the latest issue.

Regular readers may have noticed that we didn’t review Descent 296 – this was not an oversight, but, sadly, simply down to a lack of resource caused by more pressing priorities. At Darkness Below, we continue to support our best caving magazine, and we encourage everyone to take out a subscription so you can discover what your fellow cavers get up to both in the UK and abroad. We should always remember that the magazine is not just there to report on the caves and underground places of the world. Just as important, and perhaps more so, it is about those people who explore such places, which brings us together as a worldwide community of like-minded people.

Here is some of what you will find in the latest issue of Descent.

Two pages of Newsdesk contain brief stories of cave-related news from across the world. The story that caught my eye was from Australia, and it describes how scientific work in caves has enhanced our understanding of changes in the climate. The work has shown how glacial periods in Australia were wetter and more amenable for human populations than had been thought previously.

In the Peak section we learn of Project Crich, an update on digging in Ganthony Hole. Roles have changed within the Derbyshire Caving Association with a plea for volunteers to take on the roles of Project Officer and Training Officer. The effect of Storm Babet in October 2023 on water flow within the Castleton catchment is reported by John Gunn who also provides an update on current water level monitoring at several locations in the area.

John Cordingley attended a course in paperless surveying organised by the CNCC which he reports on in the North section. I confess this is something that I would probably benefit from, having spent much of my caving life using compass, tape and notebook to record old mine-workings as well as the occasional cave passage.

The Devon section has two articles; one being a tribute to Bill Tolfree, an active Devon caver for much of his life, and the other an account of work in the Kingsteignton limestone outcrop to find caves.

It is good to see reports from CHECC as a feature in Descent. We have a report on the recent Southern CHECC meeting at the South Wales Caving Club HQ, along with the winners of some light-hearted competitions at the same event. It is encouraging to hear that the recent BCRA Cave Science weekend was attended by young and old, and the value of this “collision of different generations” was appreciated.

In the Forest of Dean much digging is going on, and recent efforts are covered in this section. We learn that Paul Taylor, the FoD Descent correspondent, has received a much-deserved honorary membership of the Royal Forest of Dean Caving Club.

Each year a summary of UK rescue incidents from the British Cave Rescue Council is published in Descent, and this issue contains the report for 2023. It is always a good thing to look through the incidents to appreciate the risks we can face as cavers, and also the assistance rescue teams provide to other services, especially for non-cave related incidents.

In “Serendipity”, Chris Scaife writes about an expedition to Malaysia’s Gunung Mulu National Park where a team of cavers discovered and explored some wonderful new sections of cave. Chris puts over the air of excitement they had exploring large new river cave passages, and the sense of disappointment that comes when a new section of cave closes down. The photographs of the new cave passages add much to this excellent report.

On another continent entirely, in Peru, Pete Talling reports on the exploration of an area of caves I suspect few of us have ever heard of. The Pico Del Oro plateau in the north of the country had been visited briefly in 2022, with a single tantalising lead that had to wait for another expedition. In 2023, Pete returned with a small team of cavers armed with 650m or rope and enough optimism to persuade the team to take another look. This report entitled “Is Optimism a Strategy?” shows how there are times when just going with a good feeling can reap rewards as the initial discovery in 2022 led to a most impressive stream cave Tragadero de la Soledad. This together with other discoveries in 2023 means that a further visit is planned for 2024. Watch this space!

To demonstrate that there is some good original exploration possible in the UK, Mark Richardson writes in “Attaining Unobtainium” about some determined digging and resulting extensions to Rower Hole in Derbyshire. The advice Mark gives to anyone wanting to visit this section is to be slim and to take great care as there are some very vulnerable calcite formations be aware of, as well as one section not yet properly stabilised.

Those of us cavers who have brought up families will appreciate the sentiments expressed in Carolina Smith’s article “Of Gods and Kids” in which she describes a holiday in Crete with her partner and two-year-old son. If you are going on a holiday with a young child and want to explore some underground places while away, this article will be of great help especially if you are thinking of Crete. Carolina describes a number of easily visited caves on the island and gives them each a caver rating and a child rating.

Bob Mehew writes in detail about the risk of suspension trauma in the event of a caver getting “hung up” on a rope. It is useful to understand the physiological effects of becoming immobile while undertaking a rope descent or ascent, since when it happens you may not have a great deal of time to act. Understanding what to do could make all the difference to the eventual outcome, and might even save someone’s life.

The final feature article of this issue is by Andy Goddard. In “Mermaids and Angels” Andy reports on expeditions to Northern Thailand, where some caves formed entirely in conglomerate rock were explored. A better picture is slowly emerging of these unusual caves.


We are lucky that there are a number of dedicated cavers who are prepared to write of their experiences for us all to read. Regardless of whether these activities take place within the UK or internationally, the reports we read are primarily about cavers and their enthusiasm, and not just about the caves themselves. A cave is a cave regardless of where it exists on this planet. The excitement experienced when exploring new ground has no borders. I look forward to reading of more exciting caving in the next issue and in the one after that. As long as there are cavers happy to find the time to put pen to paper, I am confident we will always find something good to read in Descent.

If you don’t already have a subscription, why not start one – visit the Descent website to set one up.