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Discovering the underground world
Discovering the underground world
Sara Lebbos

Jeita, Kadisha and Kfarhim grottos are some of the most beautiful underground sites of Lebanon. In fact, the country abounds in cavities and galleries which one can discover thanks to caving. This sport is not very safe; however, if one practices it under professional supervision, the adventure is well worth it… So put on your safety helmets. Are you ready? Let’s go…

It’s 7:30 a.m, a typical summer day. A vehicle is heading towards the north of Mount-Lebanon. In Jal El Dib area, (northern Metn), it joins four other cars whose occupants are also loaded with bags and some particular equipment: helmets with head lights, carburet helmets (which lighting is provided by a flame), crabs, ropes, nonslip boots … The group of amateur speleologists is heading towards the cave of Rweiss, close to the village of Kartaba, in the heights of Jbeil district. Instructors from the Lebanese Association for Speleological Studies (ALES) check the material. Correct fitting of the helmet but also presence of a compulsory trench coat or anorak. The warming sun which heats the surface cannot find its way to the interior of the cavity. Everyone is ready, now. It is time to head in.

Step by step, towards the world of the unknown!

The cave has its own entrance doors. “Light your Lamps!” one of the instructors orders. Indeed the blinding light of the outside contrasts with complete darkness in cavity. No way of taking even one step without the light of the lamps fixed on the helmets. The members of the group span the rocks scattered on the entry of the cave. The exercise requires concentration to avoid losing balance in this cave which is still horizontal for the moment. It is necessary to be very careful with every movement. The weight of the person does not matter. "They should mostly be able to rely on their body, and especially not to be afraid”, the association explains. As a matter of fact, confidence is the most fundamental value of a professional or amateur speleologist.

While advancing carefully, one feels that the slope of the ground is accentuating. It is now a question of going down on the rope to reach the second stage and continue. The instructors know how to direct the members in doing the right gestures. Each person also uses on their material, starting with nonslip shoes. Thanks to the instructors, going down on the rope is an enjoyable accomplishment.

The sunlight finally yields to half-light. The path becomes increasingly difficult. Between paying attention to each step and trying not to be outdistanced by the instructors so you don’t get lost, the adventure is increasingly enthralling. It is essential to follow the instructors up-close, and especially if you are a beginner or if you’ve never been to that particular cave.

It is not a question of a cavity of only one part, nor of a ground where it is easy to move. It is a true city which can extend on kilometers cross-sections from surface, such as for example the cave of Rweiss. One can see several ways opening in front of them, in all directions, undoubtedly carrying out towards 1001 different places, of which some can be completely unknown… A young speleologist also member of ALES explains that “inside the cave, there are several rooms, pits, guts, that we did not discover yet. They can be very dangerous. To fall or just get lost there can be fatal! »

A thousand-year-old city

Each rock in the cave tells a story. Each stalagmite draws up the family tree of an extraordinary natural universe. The stalagmites formed throughout centuries, or even millenniums, thanks to the limestone of water, give birth to natural works of art making the interior of the cave a true museum of calcareous creations, sometimes captivating. The subsoil water infiltrates in the layers of limestone to form cavities over millions of years. The association stresses the importance of exploring these cavities while making sure to protect them from “human ignorance” which can destroy the work of million years in less than one second... People often enter the caves, break the stalagmites, take some of them and then throw them a few days later, when the limestone disintegrates, they explain. “This is how they deform the cavity”. This deformation weighs heavily on the cave.

Sources of drinking water

Generally, the speleological resource is present in mountain chains. It is particularly located in the north, the south, Mount-Lebanon and in the Bekaa. ALES is one major actor, active on the ground. "We are already well connected with the various villages and localities in the concerned areas” they point out. First reference? Shepherds. They know the mountainous areas very well. They can serve as guides for any cavity. “To tell you the truth, no cavity should be neglected; it does not matter if it is small or large. Sometimes, small cavities can lead us to enormous pits such as Attin Azar in northern Metn". Attin Azar was discovered by chance starting from a small hole of 15 meters. Today, it is the second largest pit in Lebanon spreading over 515 meters. It includes an impressive underground drinking water river. ALES engaged and undertook the project of this pit. They work there and work with the State to pump water outside, this will provide drinking water to a whole sector in northern Metn, starting from Bikfaya and Mrouj and passing by other villages.

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