I have seen some remarkable landscapes and sailed across magnificent seas, but I today I walked to new heights of incredible and descended to one hundred and twenty-one metres below the surface of the earth into the heart of the Aven d’Orgnac cave system. Oh my god does not explain it enough. It was a truly awe-inspiring experience.
After the initial video display of the history of the cave: first discovered in 1935 by Robert Joly, we embarked on our descent into the centre of the earth. Seven hundred stairs through a dimly lit tunnel into the initial cavern. This cavern one hundred and twenty metres long, eighty metres wide and scarily high at its peak took my breath away.
The natural entrance shone majestically thirty-five metres above us allowing in the only natural light through the four kilometres of tunnels and now redundant underground water courses. Massive stalagmites were rising twenty metres into the darkness above as stalactites cascaded from the ceiling of limestone and calcium above. What a truly alien environment to be witness to.
All sense of distance, time and direction disappeared. Perception was only of light and dark and the cool twelve degrees celsius that surrounded me. Initially the air only felt a little humid, but within minutes you were standing in ninety-five percent humidity and you felt the cold begin to creep through your hands and into your core. As I said it wasn’t too cold, but we were going to be heading deeper and deeper and the temperature was going to remain low for the duration of our journey.
The lighting was truly spectacular and controlled by the guide as he walked us through the different sections of the first cavern. Each section telling a story of this living breathing organism. It all takes place with three simple elements: water, rock and carbon dioxide. I was amazed that it takes one hundred years for one cubic centimetre of stalagmite to grow. I was also amazed at how incredible these features become based on the distance the water droplets fall from the ceiling of the cave.
Walking into the top of the second cavern, I stopped in my tracks as I stared across this wide expanse under me. It had to be two hundred and fifty metres in length and the roof was eighty metres above us. How insignificant did I feel right there and then. Tears began to well in my eyes as I was overwhelmed with joy to be able to stand here humbled again by natures beauty and grandeur.
Further down we tramped through the catacombs and fields of crystals and broccoli shaped displays. Stopping to just simply admire the shapes and the luminescence as light breathed through the coloured forms. A more extra-terrestrial environment you could not dream of. The CO2 levels were increasing the lower we descended.
Standing on the viewing platform of the third cavern the air was thick. There was very little light and I could just make out this massive form. When the lights went on, there in the middle of the cave was a beautiful hanging monster. Some fifty metres long and hanging like a stunning velvet cinema curtain. The stalactite was immense and it was gorgeous. Words cannot explain how truly stunning it is. Pictures do not do it any justice.
A light show set to an intricate modern classical piece illustrated the diversity of the third cave but also the beauty it held. We were standing about fifty metres above the cave floor and if we were to descend another thirty metres, we would need to have space suits as the CO2 levels were deadly. I thought about that as we descended back to the surface in a high speed elevator.
Without the elevators, the CO2 immersions from all of us and every tourist who entered the cave can actually damage the caves integrity as we return to the surface via the stairs. It has died four times previously and now they have closed the majority of it to the public. It is with our respect that nature will continue to provide for us. We must protect, respect and revel in our planets beauty, because regardless of us……nature will continue patiently.