The Irish ‘sporting scientists’ who found 60 caves in Papua New Guinea

The team are among the nominees for the annual Outsider awards, for achievements in Ireland’s outdoor and adventure scene

A member of the expedition team surveys unexplored passages in Hayamaene Cave, Papua New Guinea. Photograph: Jack Healy

A member of the expedition team surveys unexplored passages in Hayamaene Cave, Papua New Guinea. Photograph: Jack Healy

 

On Thursday February 2nd in Dublin, the fifth annual Outsider magazine awards will be handed out to those deemed to have “achieved extraordinary things on Ireland’s outdoor and adventure scene.”

Do you think you’re fit and active? Well, it’s a fair bet you’re not a quarter as fit as nine-year-old Dillon Lynch from Cork. He has climbed the highest mountain in each county, alongside his father. Dubliner Rachael Lee (37) is the fastest Irish person of either gender to swim the English Channel. She trained by doing 16 kilometre swims every morning in her local pool before going to work at Dublin Fire Brigade.

Then there is blind, paralysed athlete Mark Pollock (40), who returned to competing last year and completed a 57-kilometre race for the Giant’s Causeway Cycling Sportive. Pollock did the race on a tandem bike, with his training pal, Simon O’Donnell in the lead seat.

Dubliner Jim Duffy (54) skied down a slope in Italy last year. He has been paralysed since he was in his 20s, and since then, has not been able to walk unaided. But last year, he skied down a slope in Italy

There is also the team of 14 people, 11 Irish, two English and one German, who went caving in Papua New Guinea, and discovered new cave networks in the meantime. Stephen Read was their team leader. Why Papua New Guinea?

“The caving scene is quite small in Ireland, ” Read explains. “We’d all know each other, and most of us would spend our weekends caving. It’s getting header to find new caves in the world to explore. It’s a cliché, but it really is the equivalent of being the first person on the moon when you find a new cave.”

The cavers had a friend who was filming in Papua New Guinea for the BBC television series, Lost Land of the Volcano. He came back with stories of pristine rainforest and many caves. “He gave a talk at Ballyvaughan one weekend, and after a few pints afterwards, we started to get our head together about going out there to find new caves.”

In 2010, seven people, including Read, went out for four weeks. They discovered 24 caves over a six-kilometre region. “With every cave we went into, we surveyed and mapped it,” Read explains. They worked with a local tribe, the Kosua, who guided them around.

They returned in 2015 with a 14-strong team, and went to a different area in the north. “This time we covered an area of about 70 square kilometres in the jungle. We found 36 caves.” The team split up and between them, they explored 60 caves.

Read describes caving as “the sporting science”. The team are still working on a report from that second four-week trip. When it is complete, they will put it up online, so that other cavers visiting the country can follow in their footsteps.

Full list of Outsider Awards onoutsider.ie. Winners will be announced at an event in the Sugar Club, Dublin, on Thursday February 2nd, 2017

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