Why do people dive in caves

Cave diving

"The Little Man's Space Travel"

"Cave diving is the little man's space travel," says Andreas Kücha. He should know, because the carpenter from Swabia is one of the most experienced cave divers in Germany.

Like a spaceman and like hardly any other "sport", cave divers are often left to their own devices.

The caves in the Swabian Alb, for example, are not only some of the most beautiful in Germany, they are also often muddy. If several people dive there at the same time, the view is quickly zero and orientation is then only possible using aids.

Survive in the dark

Caves like the gigantic tunnel system that is hidden behind the Blautopf spring near Blaubeuren in the Swabian Alb are therefore now equipped with a guide line in the explored parts. That increases security enormously.

A nifty knot code in this line not only tells a diver in which direction the exit is. "He can also feel how far away the exit is from the number and arrangement of the knots in the rope," says diver Jochen Malmann, who is often out and about in the blue cave with Andreas Kücha and who developed the knot code.

Equipment developed in-house

It is not uncommon for the cave divers to develop their own equipment as the requirements are very specific. The "rebreather" is also something of its own.

This breathing apparatus makes it possible to stretch the supply of gas cylinders that have been taken with them for breathing in such a way that the divers can stay underwater ten times longer. So you only take two gas bottles with you instead of the theoretical twenty.

They are also heavy enough: Cave diving equipment quickly weighs 120 kilograms and is therefore sometimes only put on in the water.

With heating vest underground

The water in the caves of the Swabian Alb has a temperature of eight degrees Celsius. That means: A heater is needed, because even the best dry suits let the cold through after a while. And cave divers are often underwater for many hours. Only warm clothing will help.

Cave explorers like to wear warm functional clothing under their diving suit, as they are known from skiing. And a battery-operated heated vest with 40 degrees of heat output ensures that the diver still has enough time to surface even after a tear in the dry suit.

Without such precautionary measures, certain death would be inevitable in cold water after an hour at the latest.

No panic

Most cave diving misfortunes happen to beginners - and the very experienced divers. One of the biggest problems is dealing with life-threatening problems underwater. What distinguishes cave divers is the calm handling of panic.

Before the breathing gas mixture was switched to helium, nitrogen was the most important component, similar to our normal breathing air. But under pressure, nitrogen begins to act like alcohol, from 20 to 30 meters water depth it can creep into a deep intoxication. The pulse rises, the concentration falls, there can even be hallucinations - a deadly danger.

Saving ascent impossible

Rapid ascent can save scuba divers in open water from such a situation. This is also dangerous because the gas dissolved in the blood becomes gaseous again too quickly and divers without a pressure chamber also risk their lives. Nevertheless, the rapid ascent can mean salvation, for example in the event of a deep intoxication.

For cave divers, of course, even this dangerous escape route is often not available. Long passages, hundreds of meters of narrow rock passages often lie between them and the outside world. You must therefore keep your nerve even when panic arises, limit risks even more than normal recreational divers.

Cave divers are therefore neither particularly brave nor reckless: they would not survive. "It's like extreme mountaineering," says Andreas Kücha, "the trick is to recognize when you have to turn back."