The main reason for my love of cave exploring is the fascination of discovery. What fierce exultation, sensual, almost erotic, in violating the virginity of a cave! What a delight to get right away from organised existence, where everything is subject to rules, is foreseen and accurately timed! What joy there is in setting out to try one’s luck, to forget the time and whether it be day or night, to confront with muscles, heart and brains an aspect of Nature that is both beautiful and hostile, whos hidden snares and wonders you meet with every step forward! To be able to commune intimately with this, your beloved, is sheer delight. The cave is not a lifeless place, it is a living thing to which we have to give ourselves; a thing that can be gentle and also be a savage whom changes in temper can render dangerous. And the harder it treats us, the happier we are to master it and make it ours. We need a Nature that is violent. For what has God endowed him with muscles, instincts, reactions, powers of judgement, if not to give battle? He is built for fighting, and it is but natural that he should seek an opponent in the unknown places where he has to call upon all his physical resources.

Others have taken to speleology for the beauties of the world below; they have assuredly been disappointed. True, that world is beautiful in its uncouth nature, in its colouring, in the luxuriance of its architecture. It is a joy to visit Marzal, Orgnac, Betharram; there is other and more intense delight in discovering these palaces of calcite, the small recess where the torch strikes fire from the jewels reposing there. But beauty is only an accessory; it is a real pleasure to find it underground, bit do not go there to find it, for you will certainly be disappointed.

What I love most is to battle with the waters of an underground river, to hold my own against water that tries to freeze my blood, to scale walls where danger lurks, where fear is gnawing at my heart. I want something that demands concentration, something that makes me suffer. I like freezing in foul-smelling tunnels where the slime glues me to the bottom. I need that sort of thing to obtain the full enjoyment out of the small crystal I find, the small incrustation built up by dripping water, to win a greater appreciated of the good, warm sun, of the enjoyments of the life I come back to on emerging from below. Search your inmost hearts, my fellow speleologists; then consider well and tell me whether these last are not the real motives for your activities in caves!

 

Excerpt from ‘One Thousand Metres Down’

Jean Cadoux 1953