Adventure Racing World Championship 2016
Caving at Bungonia
Author : Rob Howard
PhotoCredit : Rob Howard
It’s fair to say the caving stages at many races are a soft discipline, and they are sometimes just a quick in-and-out of a tourist show cave (as much for the benefit of the local tourism authorities as for the racers). Where races do go underground into genuine caving routes they tend to be not too challenging ... but not this time.
The Bungonia National Park has hundreds of caves spread around a forested limestone escarpment and is a real caving hot spot, and this is the World Championships, so this time the caving has been very ‘real’. And scary.
It is a complex stage, so much so that teams have a full 10 minute briefing before setting off and another 10 minute time-out to study the area map and 6 cave maps. They are told one cave is compulsory (a 30-60 minute route) and that they must complete 5 out of 6 CP’s. (There is a 4 hour penalty for each CP not clipped.)
There is a mandatory 5 hours for this stage, so teams don’t race through the cave. The idea was they would have plenty of time to complete them, but it’s been taking them that long anyway in some cases.
The caves varied in difficulty and depth, and the first challenge was to find them on the schematic sketch map, then find a way to them! It wasn’t easy as the caves are hidden in a forest and the only identifying marker was a 4cm square number attached to the rock somewhere near the cave entrance. The SWECO team also failed to find one CP once inside the cave, so had to do all 6 to get their quota.
And the caves themselves featured some tight and long squeezes. This was definitely no place for the claustrophobic! In the Acoustic Pot cave, ‘the flattener’ was a very long, very low crawl – a real test of nerve. When I saw the Czech AR team here they looked mighty relieved to come out and said they were glad they were not any bigger! Teams are only allowed in here one at a time and at all caves must leave rucksacks and tracker outside, to show where they are.
Once they collect all 5 CP’s, teams can go back to the TA, set up in the National Park campsite, but are not given access to their bags until the 5hrs is up. They can go into the sleeping tents however.
Even when they leave, the challenges of Bungonia are not over as they have to collect two CP’s in the dramatic Bungonia slot canyon while trekking down to the Shoalhaven river carrying their pack-rafts.
The trail is steep and the route down the canyon takes them over, under and between huge fallen boulders before they can reach the river and launch their rafts. (This is why it’s a pack raft stage, as the only way to access the upper river with a boat is to carry a pack raft.)
All in all it is another testing and tiring stage, and set in another fantastic location. And it’s definitely not a soft option!
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