News Y&D

Reporting from Congress

Earlier this year the BCA granted two groups of keen young people some funds to go to the International Congress of Speleology in France. Both these groups have provided their accounts of the week, describing how such a small provision from the BCA has managed to benefit their clubs and them as individuals.

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University of Bristol Speleological Society

This summer, a small contingent of the University of Bristol Speleological Society (UBSS) ventured out on an expedition to the 18th International Speleology Congress in Savoie, Southern France. Elaine, Gabriel, Merryn, Elliott and Zac drove down to the region with a car stuffed with caving gear and excited cavers, ready to learn about scientific breakthroughs at the conference and venture down some of the local alpine caves…

Our core reasons for attending were to learn about the recent developments in international Speleology, explore a caving region new to us and meet new people from around the world.

Our first trip was to Gouffre de la morgue, which roughly translates as The Chasm of Coldness, a fitting name, as alpine caves tend to be around 10 celsius cooler than caves on MendipThe temperature difference was made stark by the scorching weather above ground and on the climb out. The three-pitch cave introduced some of the character of alpine caves to the group, which was important as Gabriel had not caved in the region before. The largespeleotherms and abundance of space were a welcome change from UBSS’s local Mendip caves. Of particular interest were the cave salamanders, which scuttled around minding their own business.

We also visited the meandering Tanne aux Cochons and the Grotte De Préoux. These caves both had character in the formation of their chambers and passages offering us experiences unique from those available in the UK, the scale of the chambers as well as the formations were far removed from anything in the UK.

As well as caving, the group attended talks on speleological matters ranging from infrastructure development in Texas to recent surface karst analysis in the County Clare, Ireland, delivered by the notable geologist Robert Watson. The ever-growing field of speleology was on full display. Members of the group attended talks on their own personal interests such as Speleothem climatology.
It was also wonderful to catch up with other cavers from the UK, many of whom we had not seen since before the pandemic. The networking too also allowed us to make connections all over the world.

The attending group brings back an intimate knowledge of the caves of the Savoie region to the club as well as many new social connections and a broader knowledge of the cave science scene. We are all immensely grateful to the BCA for the grant as without this many of our members would not have been able to attend this event.

Reading University

The conference was fantastic bringing together cavers from all different countries and cultures. The sear scale of the event showed us caving in a light we’ve never seen before, all the exhibitions, shop stalls and passionate people have forever changed how we think about the sport of caving. 

The caving itself was challenging and the caves beautiful. Our student members travelled deeper than they ever had before and across terrain that we will never forget. Dining on Savoir cheese at 236m below the surface. The photos and stories from that week will circulate through our club and worried grandparents for years to come. In the same way french caving has revitalised our passion for the sport, we hope it will inspire those new to caving to seek new heights.. Or depths.

Additionally it was interesting to see a different attitude to rigging and discuss its impact on safety and speed of caving with other conference attendees. Our skills at SRT have vastly improved and Harry hopes to use this to finally tackle the UKs deepest pitches. 

Our members sought out many interesting talks and stumbled across many more, learning so much more about what we’d previously thought was a small world of caving and cavers. James has seen a new application for his environmental science degree within caving and Training Officer Chris has found a million new ways to cave and a thousand new caves to try.

The exhibitions introduced us to the exploration of artificial cavities, beyond only mineshafts. Demonstrating an archaeological application of caving that has fascinated many.

We were surprised by the comedy films, historic boudoir cave photography and the phenomenal contestants in this year’s photography competition. Ben has already begun to delve deeper into the world of cave photography, currently looking for a camera and researching the art.

The clubs’ new treasurer, James, described the event as “exciting” and “illuminating”. He hopes to harness the invaluable experience he’s gained for the betterment of the club next year. Bringing caving to a new generation of British youth and building a better calibre of university club.

The days were filled with discovery and fun and the nights with unforgettable experiences. Hundreds of cavers jumping and dancing to Jazz, Rock, Techno and folk music, We refused to miss a moment of it, briefly appearing in the conference’s summary video under the ‘party’ section. We were surprised to find so much similarity between clubs half a world apart, finding the same classic games we played back home and discovering many new games and fun activities. 

Best of all, the thousand-odd cavers on site at any given time were without exception approachable and enthusiastic, and we’ve made many connections that we hope will lead to lasting friendships. These connections have expanded our caving horizons and will help and encourage the club to run and join trips abroad with ease and preparedness for years to come. 

As for our small group of young Brits, we enjoyed a fantastic holiday together and I hope represented British caving in a thoroughly positive light.

We have so much to thank the BCA for, the passion and dedication you have for youth caving is unmatched and without you, trips like this would not have been possible. 

Thank you all.

Everyone enjoyed themselves and many members hope to attend Brazil’s conference in a few years time. 

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