The most dangerous worldview is the worldview of those who have not viewed the world.

- Alexander von Humboldt



Aug 20, 2013

Caving for beginners – Meghalaya



The Outdoor Journal

Caving is a niche adventure sport with not enough adherents in this part of the world. The Outdoor Journal gives you the ins and outs of this activity for an amateur spelunker

Caving is a sport to check out if you’re excited about exploring hidden spaces, don’t mind crawling in mud or through tight rock niches, and don’t panic when enclosed in a dark, damp holes in the ground. Hiking long distances, sliding over mud and slippery rock surfaces, rappeling down long vents, setting up anchors or jumaring up vertical sections, and sometimes even scuba diving underwater passages are all part of the package when you go caving, all supplemented with a healthy dose of beautiful rock formations, clear pools and other creations of nature you wouldn’t find in the outside world. It is a different place altogether, completely secreted away.
And to help you understand how to go about getting an access to this hidden world, The Outdoor Journal spoke to Ashley Erasmus Lyngdoh (who runs the adventure group Green Route in Meghalaya) and Sagar Sen, a computer wiz and outdoorsman, who share their first cave exploring adventure.
In India, one of the best places to go cave exploring is Meghalaya; with its seemingly never ending networks of caves, which have been included in the list of world’s longest and deepest caves. The most popular cave network among beginners is the Krem Mawmluh or Krem Mawkhyrdo, which has a bit of everything (wading through waist deep water, crawls under just 2 ½ feet of ceiling, stalactite and stalagmite formations, rock fossil formations and best of all..bats!).
The total distance of a beginner’s trek in this cave system is about 5 kms and boasts beautiful formations, the roar of an underground river system, vertical climbs and crystal clear pools with crabs and small fish- these creatures whitish or clear in colour, possibly due to pigmentation.
Krem Ri- Blai, Krem Chympe and other cave systems around Meghalaya are much tougher in terrain, environment and even harder to get to. Krem Ri-Blai is just one way down and one way up stopping to rest on false floors and crevices.
Meghalaya Adventure Association mainly venture and explore these caves for mapping and climatology studies with a team of biologists. One has to be technically qualified in mountaineering skills with ropework for most extreme vertical caves, especially in the Jaintia hills towards Shnongrim, Khliehriat, Pala Range etc.. SRT (Single Rope Technique) kits, harness, descenders and ascenders are normally used.
But the first step is suiting up! The Green Route provides its explorers with workshop dresses (or body suits) to protect against scratches, LED headlamps, gum boots, gloves and helmets. When exploring, the travellers are assisted by professional guides who help you navigate the caves safely. It is important to remember to stay with the group, ask for a helping hand when you need to jump a ledge if necessary, lookout for the person in front and behind you and try not to disturb the rock formations.
People with claustrophobia or other phobias related to darkness better avoid caving. Sometimes the stale air could also be noxious to some people.
The very principle of caving, however, is to explore the caves while avoiding harm to yourself, and to the cave. Unfortunately, caves such as the Krem Mawmluh are terribly polluted due to persistent mining in the area and the nearby cement factory. During monsoons, the caves are flooded with water and with this water, pollutants and plastics also make their way inside the caves. Therefore, it is essential to keep in mind that you minimize the impact of your visit to the caves.
Leave behind nothing but footprints…
Cost of first caving trip: The beginner’s cave will cost Rs 1,800 (USD 30)/- per head (inclusive of batteries, helmets, equipment).
Rs 1,500 (USD 25)/ guide (up to 4 pax).
Extra cost is Rs 1,500/- for transportation of equipment from Shillong to Cherra and back. You also have an option of riding to Cherra on Royal Enfields (as pillion of course) and cheaper at Rs 850 (USD 14)/- per bike. Rentals are Rs 1000 (USD 16)/- per bike.
Place: New Delhi

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Mar 19, 2019

Is ‘Sidecountry’ a Four-Letter Word?

A team of Avalanche experts define the word, and discuss how to deal with the phenomena. Do we attempt to stop the sidecountry locomotive, or shape the definition and attempt to harness its power?


This article originally appeared in The Avalanche Review, a trade and scientific journal serving the American Avalanche Association Membership. It was written by Scott Savage, Simon Trautman, Ethan Greene, and Doug Chabot.

Riding in the sidecountry is fun, and it is marketable. Google ‘sidecountry’ and you get 438,000 search results. As more people recreate in the sidecountry, ski areas promote it, equipment manufacturers capitalize on it, riders benefit through new technology and increased availability, the media eats it up, more people want the experience and WHAM! – we are lost somewhere in a very successful feedback loop. Ski area avalanche professionals and backcountry avalanche forecasters, however, are scratching their heads about how to deal with the phenomena; do we attempt to stop the sidecountry locomotive in its tracks or do we embrace the term, shape the definition to benefit our mission, and attempt to harness its branding power to educate the various user groups that recreate in terrain adjacent to ski areas?

One of the great slopes on Gornergrat with plenty of sidecountry opportunities, near the top, with the ever-distracting Matterhorn in the distance. Location: Zermatt. By Doc Searls Santa Barbara, USA

Currently, defining sidecountry is similar to defining pornography; people disagree on a formal definition but you know it when you see it. In our opinion, sidecountry is very useful term for describing a certain combination of human behavior and geography. It is intuitive because most people understand that sidecountry refers to the terrain adjacent to ski area boundaries. This terrain is easily accessed, easily “lapped”, and in many cases highly visible. Observing this reality and thinking about the term in a geographical and behavioral sense is important because it showcases the idea that sidecountry terrain is used differently than backcountry terrain, and as such, suggests that sidecountry users may have different needs than those traditionally addressed in avalanche education. We believe that using the term benefits avalanche professionals by allowing them to relate to audiences and be succinct when speaking, writing, or educating on sidecountry topics.

“Sidecountry is backcountry”

“Sidecountry is backcountry” is a recently coined phrase that is also highly descriptive and accurate regarding particular aspects of sidecountry. Sidecountry avalanche rescue is effectively a backcountry rescue – regardless of the proximity to a ski area, organized rescue may not arrive in time. Since ski areas do not perform avalanche hazard mitigation work in sidecountry terrain, the phrase is probably an effective tool to communicate avalanche danger, especially to novice and casual sidecountry users. “Sidecountry is backcountry” is a simple message that is easy to understand. There is power in this: power to educate, power to simplify, power to feel that one is addressing the problem. Unfortunately, we are not dealing with a simple problem or a singular, simple user group.

Ski areas do not perform avalanche hazard mitigation work in sidecountry terrain.

Novice, casual, and experienced sidecountry users have different levels of expertise, attitudes, decision-making techniques, and educational needs. In addition, novice and casual users are highly influenced by experienced users. A cursory look at recent sidecountry accident and near-miss reports reveals that experienced sidecountry users appear to be involved more frequently than the less experienced individuals. The experienced group generally visits the same sidecountry terrain frequently enough to become familiar with terrain features, may actively manage or mitigate avalanche hazard (slope cuts, cornice drops, etc.), and at times may have more intimate knowledge of the slope-scale snowpack structure and stability than local avalanche professionals. Most importantly, an “I’m going there because it’s there and I want to ski” attitude seems to be common; experienced users access the terrain and then decide whether to mitigate or avoid hazard or just forge ahead. Will telling these more risk tolerant individuals that “sidecountry is backcountry” reduce their risk? Will it help us communicate with them? Sidecountry may be the same as backcountry in some ways, but routine sidecountry users and backcountry users are disparate user groups.

Skilled, experienced professional avalanche educators can create effective sidecountry-specific educational programs and presentations. As we have learned while reaching out to snowmobilers, relevancy is everything. Just as force-feeding traditional avalanche education to someone who never gets off their sled is ineffective, so too is drawing a “backcountry box” around someone who skis out-of-bounds 50 days a year, but rarely or never uses skins or established backcountry stability evaluation and decision-making techniques. Sidecountry is a growth market for snow sports equipment and clothing manufacturers, and these companies may be interested in supporting educational and outreach efforts to sidecountry users (their customers). Instead of abandoning or over-simplifying the term, maybe the ski and avalanche community would be well served to take advantage of the strong, established sidecountry brand by partnering with the media and outdoor gear retail industry to accomplish the following:

  1. Define sidecountry as the unique geographical and behavioral issue that it is, focusing on the specific dangers associated with sidecountry recreation
  2. Identify and define specific user groups
  3. Tailor, market, and promote user group specific educational programs

The term ‘sidecountry’ is descriptive, intuitive, and useful. We agree with the recent NSAA Journal Editorial “There’s No Such Thing as ‘Sidecountry’ ” that the avalanche and snowsports communities must better communicate that riders are on their own when they leave ski area boundaries. Our common goals are to educate the public on the inherent risk of avalanches outside that boundary and to help users reduce their risk in this terrain. In our opinion, we can enhance communication by acknowledging the difference in behavior and risk tolerance between user groups, by identifying and targeting the needs of those groups, and by partnering with those that have the marketing and promotional power to deliver the message.

Read Next: Charge Hard, Stay Smart: Guidebook Guru, Fritz Sperry, on Safety in Avy-Prone Backcountry.

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