Friday, September 19, 2014

Caving in County Clare

We saw an announcement for a free caving trip in our go-to Dublin Event Guide and couldn't resist finding out more. The Dublin Caving Group was trying to raise awareness of the Irish caving hobby and had arranged for equipment and guides for a beginner caving adventure under The Burren in County Clare, on the northwest Atlantic coast of Ireland.

We were heading out early on a Sunday morning, and Dublin was foggy and quiet when we made it up to City Centre.

Foggy Dublin, Ireland
Foggy Dublin

This was our first real trip to the west side of the country, and we were going to The Burren, one of the most unique and beautiful landscapes on this already unique and beautiful island. After a long trip from Dublin to Galway and south to our meeting point in Lisdoonvara, we donned our caving gear and prepared to hop into the cave.

Cory and Sara, Ready for Caving Poll na Grai, The Burren, Co. Clare, Ireland
Cory and Sara, Ready for Caving

I couldn't resist taking a few photos of the hills around the cave entrance. We were just up a small hill from the Atlantic, and the Aran Islands were clearly visible even through the haze and fog.

A Lane in The Burren, Aran Islands in the Distance Co. Clare, Ireland
A Lane in The Burren, Aran Islands in the Distance

 We didn't take the camera into the cave for awesome cave photos. It wouldn't have held up to the water, mud, and tight squeezes down there. By the time we left the cave, we were glad we didn't drag our poor camera through what we had just been through. I did find some great photos of the same cave from this excellent blog post and will insert some of them here. Remember these aren't pictures of or by us- just the same cave.

The cave we explored is called Poulnagree in English, which comes from the Irish Poll na Grai, which translates to "Cave of the Heart" or, "Heart Cave." The entrance was in a willing farmer's field on a steep hillside. We turned on our headlamps and climbed in with our team.

The first part of the cave was wide enough and tall enough to walk through comfortably... but it wasn't like that for long. Soon, we were squeezing through narrow passages, climbing over gaps by bracing ourselves to the walls on our way to a couple of large caverns the leaders had marked as our goal.

The first cavern (called an "aven" in caving terms, we learned) was amazing. The ceiling was so high it was almost out of sight. Our leaders said the top of this room was about 30 meters above the floor, this huge room after such a tight squeeze and climb! Water was dripping down in this room at the rate of a heavy rain, and our leaders said that in a wet week, there were proper waterfalls gushing down the walls and from the ceiling... not sure if that would be for me...

Farther in from that big aven, our leaders wanted us to experience a real cave crawl, through a tunnel so short and so narrow that cavers have to go through on hands and knees. In we all went in a line around a couple of bends. Then, just to give us all a really exhilarating experience, we turned around to face back to the entrance and turned off our lights.

We were to try to navigate back through this crawling space with no lights. They say it's dark in caves, and they are right. Cavers talk about the total lack of light photons in caves, and they are right. I don't think I've ever experienced a complete lack of light, where blinking doesn't change your vision at all and you can literally not see your hand waving in front of your own nose. It was quite a thrill, but we all made it out of the crawl and were able to turn on our lights for the long walk back to the surface.

After the long climb/crawl/squeeze/walk back to the surface, it was almost disappointing to step out into the hot sun- especially with our layers of cave clothing and protective over suits and helmets. To help ease our pain, the whole cave group was set to rendezvous at a pub in nearby Fanore village.

After such an intense and grueling afternoon, it one of the best pints I've ever had.

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