NEWMARKET’S Tim O’Connell is one of a handful of Irish people ever to reach the world’s lowest point as part of an expedition that descended the 2,191m Krubera-Voronja cave in August.
Tim was one of a group of four Irish men to take part in the expedition, in which they were joined by cavers from France, Lithuania, Serbia and Spain.
Krubera-Voronja is located in Abkhazia, a region that has declared independence from Georgia but which is still claimed by Tiblisi.
Tim said that conquering the cave tested the mind and body. “It was very tough for the first few days, both psychologically and physically. We were down there for about nine days in total. It took three or four days to get down, to reach the bottom. We were resting for a day or two and then we came back up. At the start, it was difficult, we were carrying a lot down and it was tough but at the end of it, we were completely used to it and we were enjoying the experience,” he said.
There was only so much preparation that could be done for such a feat because there is so little that is comparable to it, he said. “It was much bigger than anything we’d have in Ireland, so there was no preparation that you could do really, to get you ready for the real thing. The other guys doing it were very professional. I was among good company and that can be intimidating in itself.”
That said, he made sure he was in excellent physical condition before going. Tim has been an active member of the Clare Cave Club since it was founded a few years ago and got a lot of support from it.
“I was running about 10 miles a day, every day, for about a month before it. I was trying to be in a cave as much as possible. The more experienced guys in the club like Colin Bunce, Terry Casserly and Quentin Cooper would have done a lot of rope techniques with me and equipment preparation. I did an overnight preparation with the four other Irish guys up in the North to get to know them.”
Pushing his own boundaries was a large part of the reason for Tim taking on Krubera-Voronja.
“A lot of it would have been to see could I do it, would I be capable of doing it. The Clare Cave Club had been in Yorkshire and places like that and the larger caves that we’ve done have been the more exciting and challenging ones. I suppose it’s the same as someone running a marathon, a lot of it’s about the experience of doing it.”
No one in the party had any serious injuries but they were in danger at one time. “There was one incident where it was raining on the surface and what’s called a flood pulse passed through the cave. We were within 10 minutes of a narrow area where we more than likely would have been flushed, that was about day five.”
He says he’s delighted to have the challenge completed. “I’m relieved to be out of it. I’m glad I did it but I wouldn’t be doing it again tomorrow. I’d probably do it again in a year or two,” he said.