Spelunker looking forward to a month underground

Toufic Abou Nader previously completed the more than 2,000 metre descent into the 17-kilometre long Krubera-Voronja cave in the Gagra mountain range in Abkhazia, Georgia.

Cave diver Toufic Abou Nader in the Krubera cave network. Photo courtesy of Gergely Ambrus / Inverse Everest​
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DUBAI// An adventurer who spent more than a week journeying through the deepest cave network in the world is now gearing up to spend more than a month underground.

Toufic Abou Nader completed the more than 2,000 metre descent into the 17-kilometre long Krubera-Voronja cave in the Gagra mountain range in Abkhazia , Georgia.

After five days of preparation descents of between 100 and 400 metres to place food and other supplies along part of the route, he began his nine-day mission in the darkness on August 8.

“I had done a lot of training prior to the trip so there wasn’t any fear from my part going into it,” he said. “That didn’t mean there weren’t moments during the descent that didn’t make me scared.”

Now he is preparing to face the same fears again, but this time for much, much longer, when he enters into the third deepest cave network, the Illuzia-Snezhnaja-Mezhonnogo cave, which lies more than 1,700 metres under the same mountain range.

Although not as deep, the network is far more extensive and will require intense preparation.

“The network is about 24km long and so is much more difficult and will involve spending 35 to 40 days underground,” he said.

Described as tough technical challenge for only the most experienced spelunkers, the term given to people who explore caves, the immense network is made up of two caves called Illuzia, and Snezhnaja.

The 30-year-old from Lebanon, who works as a freelance sports events organiser in Dubai, was accompanied on his Krubera expedition by five other adventurers from Hungary, who filmed the trek.

As a result he had to carry an additional bag packed with camera equipment as well as his own supplies.

“The bags were very heavy so that made it more difficult but it was exhausting work throughout,” he said.

“The cracks and crevasses were so sight sometimes you could barely breath and when you’re taking extra bags with you it makes it even more difficult and getting 50 metres across took two to three hours on some occasions.”

The most difficult part came three days into the trip when Mr Nader was faced with a 6-metre free dive in complete darkness in an area known as “second life”.

During the journey through the caves Mr Nader had to wear two separate layers of clothing, the first of which was a thermal lining which was covered by a climbing layer protecting the body from bumps and bruises.

For the underwater swim, a hydro suit had to be worn but during the initial attempts to dive he realised there was a hole in part of it.

“The dive involves going underwater from a narrow hole which then goes vertically on a diagonal down, you then have to swim for six feet in one breath and go up again on another diagonal,” he said.

“I had been checking videos of it before and was confident but when we got to it I realised the YouTube videos were of a different area and all my planning had gone out the window.

“The problem with the suit was that air kept getting trapped creating buoyancy which meant it took several attempts to get underwater.

“The water was very cold and it’s completely pitch black but my big worry was the suit getting snagged as I made my way up.”

The full 2,197 metre depth involved a final free dive down a very narrow tunnel and as a result only professional cave divers even try to attempt it,” he said.

If he is successful in his next cave trek, Mr Nadar is considering setting his sights on conquering a challenge above ground – Mount Everest.