By Tom Dare
THIS INCREDIBLE video shows cave explorers chipping away at a tiny crack until it is just large enough for one of their number – a Briton – to squeeze through unlocking a claustrophobic cave system within.
Eye-watering footage shows freelance photographer and professional caver Stewart Donn, 54, originally of Gloucester, creating an opening in the ground for friend Patrick Fitzgerald to squeeze through.
The video then shows Stewart moving around the cave system, squeezing through the smallest cracks and gaps as he crawls his way through a series of underground caverns in the Mount Gambier region of Western Australia.
Stewart and his wife are both avid cavers, and he often takes a camera along with him to document his explorations.
And he says it’s the thrill of delving into the unknown that keeps him coming back for more.
“The exploration, the hope of ﬁnding new tunnels and territory that no one else in the world has ever seen is a big draw card,” he said.
“This doesn’t happen very often as ﬁnding new cave in your back yard is hard to do and takes perseverance, you generally have to go farther aﬁeld to ﬁnd this.
“On a more regular basis it’s the joy and excitement of being in an alien environment, weightless and moving through a three dimensional landscape that excites. You need to rely on your mates and diving buddies for back up in unforeseen circumstances which builds strong friendships.
“Spending time with your mates on a weekend with similar goals and reliance is also very much a part of the enjoyment. There’s no place for ego’s and bulls**t.”
One of the main reasons Stew is always seeking out new and unseen caves across Australia is due to his love of scuba diving, with many of the caves he has come across deep enough to dive in.
And he says that his main goal in the immediate future is to return to the same spot and to seek out new caves to explore and possibly dive.
“In the short-term the plan is to keep going over to ‘the mount’, and look for new caves,” he says.
“New entrances are opening all the time due to land movement and wet weather, and we have a small group of mates very interested in ﬁnding new caves to dive.
“We all get those moments when the heart rate can get up a bit and things get interesting but your training kicks in and you stay calm and ﬁgure it out. The trick is to slowly raise your experience and awareness of situations so you spot problems before they happen and prevent them. If in doubt, end the dive and return to the surface.
“A standing rule in cave diving is that any diver can call any dive at any time without recrimination or explanation.
“When you’re returning along a tunnel that was clear when you went in but is now silted out on the return journey and the line that you are following appears to go into solid rock, that can get the heart rate up.
“You stop, feel around and try to ﬁgure out where and how the line got pulled into an area you weren’t aware of. Once you’ve done that you move on and out and the heart rate starts to come down.
“We use the “rule of thirds” as a minimum. That is a third of your usable gas going in, a third coming out and a third for contingencies, such as lost line or out of air situations, yours or your buddies. Sometimes, depending on the dive, we will use quarters or sixths.
“But if you’re not out of your comfort zone, you’re just on holiday, you’re not having an adventure”