Journey to the centre of the earth: British climbers drop nearly 4,000 feet into cave once dubbed “world”s deadliest” to capture haunting images of world within a world
Once feared by explorers as a killer cave where all but the most daring feared to tread these pictures show how humans have triumphed over the underworld.
At 3,680-feet deep (about two-thirds of a mile) six people, including one-female Briton have died while exploring the Gouffre Berger limestone cave in south eastern France.
It was the first cave to be explored over 1,000 metres under the surface of the Earth and was named after the man who discovered it – Frenchman Joseph Berger.
Into the abyss: The Gouffre Berger limestone cave in south eastern France was the first over 1,000 metres deep to be explored
Subterranean wonder: Six people have died accessing the underground lakes and labyrinthine caves
Teamwork: A caver awaits a ride in HMS Badger 1 at the bottom of Scialet des Fees Anglaises in the Gouffre Berger
But now these stunning pictures show how safe the once deadly caves can be – with a huge group of 200-cavers descending in one huge expedition captured by British photographer Robbie Shone, 32, from Manchester.
“These cavers are adventurers descending for the thrill of it,” said Robbie. “This cave used to be considered dangerous but is now far more accessible to cavers.
“Because of how significant Gouffre Berger is in the history of caving reaching the bottom is a rite of passage for many inexperienced cavers.
Setting off: Chris Blakeley climbs down Puit Aldos, one of the entrances to the feared Gouffre Berger
World within a world: This caver”s grueling descent is rewarded with this stunning view of an underwater pool
Challenging: Sarah Payne, left, tackles the rope traverse at the head of Puit Aldo while Martin Holroyd, right, tackles a narrow section called the Meanders
“It”s possible to get to the bottom in a day but I camped for three days so I could spend time on my pictures.”
Cavers, many of whom were British, used ropes to rappel down vertical shafts and swam across hauntingly beautiful underground lakes.
The adventurers were dwarfed by mighty formations as they used lanterns to navigate the huge caverns.
“There are sheer drops to descend,” said Robbie. “As well as passages flooded with water. Once the bottom is reached there”s a real sense of being someone very deep underground.
“There are the initials of the original explorers in the last flooded cavern. That”s the end for dry cavers – those who don”t cave dive underwater.
“After that if you want to go further you have to pull on diving gear and explore the totally flooded tunnels.”
Last minute preparations: A group of 200-cavers descending in one huge expedition captured by British photographer Robbie Shone
Careful: Chris Blakeley climbs a section called Puit Aldos. Six people have died exploring the cave
Tight squeeze: Cavers crawl through a 10 metre stretch but other sections have lofty, cavernous spaces
First discovered in 1953 it was the deepest known cave at the time – and has a rich history of British achievement with the world record for the deepest cave dive going to British diver Peter Watkinson and his team in 1967.
Watkinson and other team members received international acclaim for reaching the deepest point possible on foot and then completing a perilous 130-feet underwater dive.
Because of Gouffre Berger”s limestone walls water can penetrate the cave is liable to flooding after heavy rainfall, which caused five of the deaths, including Briton Nicole Dollimore from Oxford in 1996.
Cavernous: First discovered in 1953 it was the deepest known cave at the time
Flood fears: Because of Gouffre Berger”s limestone walls water can quickly penetrate the cave after heavy rainfall