DUBAI // An explorer is poised to embark on his adventure of a lifetime – a descent into the world’s deepest known cave network to raise money for a school for deaf and blind children.
Toufic Abou Nader, 30, from Lebanon, a freelance sports events organiser in Dubai, plans to negotiate some of the most treacherous conditions on Earth, 2,197 metres underground.
Mr Abou Nader was due to fly to Russia on Wednesday before crossing into Abkhazia, a small state in the Caucasus that shares a border with Georgia on the Black Sea.
There he will meet up with an international team of explorers who will tackle the daunting Krubera cave network in the Arabika Massif of the Gagra range.
“I’ve been caving for about six years, mostly in Lebanon until I came to the UAE, but I’ve also done trips to locations in Oman,” said Mr Abou Nader. “It is potentially dangerous and you have to know what you are doing, but that is part of the thrill.”
Exploring requires intensive training and special equipment. Cavers often have to climb and descend through networks, and negotiate underground pools.
“There are risks, of course, but the biggest is human error,” Mr Abou Nader said. “When you’ve been making your way through underground tunnels for hours on end you can easily get fatigued and when you’re tired you make more mistakes.”
Those mistakes can lead to life-threatening situations.
“Fortunately we are going during the summer but if we went in spring there would be a higher risk of flooding, and that could be a very dangerous situation,” said Mr Abou Nader, of the Middle East Cave Expeditionary Team.
“You have to be very calm and know what you’re doing. I’ve had a close call in the past when the cave I was in flooded but thankfully I had the presence of mind to escape the situation.”
Temperatures hover between 2 and 4°C, but humidity is often above 70 per cent.
“There will be two particular stages we will have to be careful of,” Mr Abou Nader said. “There is a 100-metre tunnel we will have to get through where the walls are only about shoulder width apart.
“It’s so confined you can only propel yourself forward with your toes, so it’s definitely not something I’d recommend for people who have claustrophobia.”
There is also a 6-metre-long pool that will have to be swum in darkness and without oxygen tanks, because of the lack of space.
To help him on the journey he has to carry two bags weighing a total of 35 kilograms packed with ropes, batteries, a dry suit for diving, food and other supplies.
“My aim is to spend at least 15 days underground and we will have to keep a tight pace, with 12 hours of exploring each day, to reach the base camps where we rest,” Mr Abou Nader said.
“If I get an injury while I’m down there it will take a massive operation to be rescued.”
But he hopes the challenge will be worth it because he is aiming to raise US$10,000, or Dh36,700, for The Lebanese School for Deaf and Blind children in Beirut.
His friend Rayan Zgheib, 26, from Lebanon, took part in a trip to the Krubera cave in 2012.
“It’s a tough cave but it’s definitely a case of mind over body,” Mr Zgheib said. “You can be as fit and physically prepared as possible but if you’re not ready for it mentally you’ll get into trouble.
“It’s a big challenge but I’m confident Toufic is up to it.”
For more details visit www.caving4cause.org/expeditions/krubera-2016.