What's The Attraction of Deep Cave Diving?

I just read a good book-“Diving Into Darkness”. It is a gripping tale-about an airline pilot David Shaw, and his friend , Don Shirley. They had undertaken an extremly deep dive (>280 meters), in a flooded cave in South Africa, known as the Bushman’s Hole. Shaw was a very experienced diver, but wound up drowning. Ironically, he undertook the dive to recover the body of a young man (Deon Dryer), who had drowned in the pool 10 years before.
As I say, it is a good story, but I had to ask myself-what do these guys get from this? I cannot imagine this activity as worth the considerable danger of these very deep dives. Consider this: you are breathing a mixture of oxygen, helium, and nitrogen. The worng gas mixture can cause you to pass out. Decompressing requires you to spend >11 hours in the deep water. plus, it is cold and black. and what is there to see? Just a mud bottom with rocks-kind of like stumbing around in a dark basement…only you have a very good chance of drowning, or being crippled for life (the bends).
So, I found myself scratching my head-why? This Dave Shaw was a senior airline captain-he could go anywhere in the world he wanted-so why blow thousands of dollars and risk your life to dive in a flooded mudhole in South Africa?

The thrillseeker’s motto: Crash and burn = right to life.

I just read a similar story. I don’t have the names with me, but they were doing a cave dive somewhere off of Mexico. One of the divers was diabetic and ended up passing out from hypoglycemia and dying (he usually brought something sugary in case, but forgot this time.) The article was mainly about a friend’s attempt to retrieve his body. The friend was a dedicated explorer and inventor of an oxygen recycling device that lets divers stay down almost indefinitely, but the rescue attempt was really harrowing–he lost hold of his lead line twice while carrying his friend’s body and had to find it again in complete darkness.

His primary motive was exploration of the unknown. He had wanted to be an astronaut, but failed out on psychological grounds–they felt that he was to independent to work as a team member.

He was very blase about the dangers. His view was that the world is full of people and the loss of a few lives (including possibly his own) in the interest of breaking new ground in exploration was more than worth the cost.

Yeah, I really don’t get the appeal of this sort of thing (or of climbing Mt. Everest, for that matter). I guess some people enjoy the idea of pushing themselves to the limits of physical endurance and having the bragging rights of saying they did something most people would not or could not ever do.
I also think that there is a bit of denial of one’s own mortality. Even if intellectually aware of the risks, I suspect most of those guys don’t really believe they’re personally in danger because “I know what I’m doing” and so forth.

Oh, yes, they absolutely do.

They’re going to find Atlantis sooner or later, right?

Being unaware of the risks, and think those risks are worth taking are two completely separate issues.

I’m well aware of the risk of space flight. I’d still be willing to do it right now if someone told me I had the chance.

I’d go so far as to say that if they offered me a seat on the next mission to Mars/the moon, with an 80% chance of no return, I’d still take it. It’s not just about the thrill. It’s about possibly discovering something new and unheard of. It’s about contributing to something far, far larger than yourself.

[quote=“Trocisp, post:7, topic:479368”]

Being unaware of the risks, and think those risks are worth taking are two completely separate issues.

I’m well aware of the risk of space flight. I’d still be willing to do it right now if someone told me I had the chance.

I’d go so far as to say that if they offered me a seat on the next mission to Mars/the moon, with an 80% chance of no return, I’d still take it. It’s not just about the thrill. It’s about possibly discovering something new and unheard of. It’s about contributing to something far, far larger than yourself.
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This is what I’m getting at-of course , a trip to Mars would b very significant. But this cave (where Shaw lost his life) is just a big pit filled with water-nothing to see or discover.

That’s what you think now.

You just wait until someone discovers Mars down there.

More importantly,

Most folks who do this kind of stuff would be perfectly happy if the chance of getting hurt or dieing was ZERO.

Most cavers or cave divers are NOT adrenaline junkies. For the vast majority its all about the thrill of discovery. The ones who brag about the dangers or think somehow it makes them more “manly” get a big case of the :rolleyes::dubious: from the rest of us who would rather have it be totally risk free.

Because it’s not there.

I certainly see the appeal in being able to got to and explore some sort-of secret place that almost no one can actually get to except me.

Not that you’re going to catch me in any of these tunnels.

Here is a way to think about it.

Do you remember the excitement of going somewhere neat for a vacation? Maybe you’d seen some photos that piqued your interest. Or perhaps someone told you it was a neat place and you just “had” to go there. Or maybe it was just someplace you had never been and thought “what the heck, lets just go there and see whats what”.

So, imagine you are there. This analogy could modified to be for amusment parks or museums or even just a particular city. But in this case, lets make it Pretty National Park USA.

So, you get to Pretty National Park. Its pretty and nice. You wander around, sometimes (most times even) its just a pleasant outdoor park. But, here and there, is some really neat stuff like a fantastic waterfall, an exposed fossil of a scarysoaurus rex, a rare and beautiful type of flower, or something else cool. Maybe its not even any one particular thing. Maybe its just the feel of the whole package together.

After enjoying this for a bit, you run into Ranger Rick. You get to chatting and he points to the nearby ridge line. Then he tells you this:

“See that ridge? Nobody has EVER been over that ridge. Nobody has flown over it either. No human eyes or machines of man have ever “seen” whats over there. We are not even sure “over there” even exists for that matter. Now, as you have seen, our park here in this valley is a nice place. Makes you wonder whats in the next valley over, if there is one.”

Would you not be damn curious to cross that ridgeline over into the next valley?

Thats what cave exploring is all about. Often, its just another hole in the ground. Or it could be one of the prettiest, rariest, and most unique places on the planet. You don’t even know if it even EXISTS or not till you find it. And you’ll never know what you find once you are there.

Some small fraction of cave explorers are ego/fame/macho driven, but again most are not.

Take this sentence: Look at what I found!

Now, place your emphasis on different words in that sentence. Makes a big difference in what that sentence really means philosophically.

I’ve been the first human to see some places on (in) this earth. I’ve been places that so far I am the only human to have see em. Some of these places might not see a human vistor again for a long, long time, or perhaps never again. You could certainly read that and think what an arrogant, bragging SOB.

But I consider myself very luck and humbled, even priviledged, to have had the chance to do so. And anybody else with a modicum of intelligence, physical ability, and a curious nature could do the same.

Its all about the intellectual thrill of going there, even if there ends up being just another so so place.

This is second in scariness to deep sea exploration, for me. I get a little woozy just thinking about cave stuff. I don’t know why, but deep space is downright inviting next to caves and deep sea exploration.

Why dive at all? Because time in the water is better than time on land.

Seriously, though. Humanity has a strong drive to explore strange new places, and cave diving is a very strange new place. Cave diving is also a very advanced skill, and most (if not all) cave divers acknowledge, respect, and train for the risks involved.

I’ve done some spelunking in the past, and I certainly can understand the appeal of exploring an unknown cave. That’s a kind of secret place, apart from the rest of the world, and you’re amongst the select few who will ever enter it. A little like being in your secret cabin in the woods when you were a kid. Plus a dark hole in the ground just has to be explored. God drilled dark holes in the ground so that men would explore them, or created mankind so that dark holes in the ground would be explored (not sure about the theologically correct stance). That’s scripted in our genes as proven by our remote ancestors hanging out at Lascaux.
On the other hand, people who want to dive in (or even enter in) dark, looming, water, obviously filled with some ancient hatred for mankind and commanding obscure forces are clearly nutcases, as proven be the numerous grim skeletons of daring fools lying on the oceans’ floor. If God had intended us to dive, we would have evolved gills.
One of my nieces, who is a diver, would probably say the exact opposite.

I assume a cross-breed would find a hole filled with dark water irresistibly appealing.

I had a very vivd nightmare about this a few weeks ago. I’m not in the least claustrophobic in waking life, nor am I afraid of water, but I was both in the dream – worming through vertical stone passages so tight I had to skip my oxygen bottle off my back and tow it behind me, deeper and deeper into the dark.

In the dream there were roughly man-sized squid in the cave, but they couldn’t see us – not because they were blind, but, as my guide explained, because the cave also contained small parasites that attached themselves to eyeballs and sucked out the viterous fluid. “You’ll be fine as long as your mask is tight,” he comforted us.

We went down hundreds of feet. I woke in a cold sweat and couldn’t sleep again that night.

Ugh.

Note that I have not read either of the books mentioned above, nor did I have any reason to think about cave diving any time recently. The dream came out of nowhere.

(I think the parasite idea came from this.)