Caving: adventures in Kabylia
In spring 2014, Phil Bence and his partners in adventure took off to explore two caves in the Djurdjura Range in Kabylia. This Algerian mountain range is a karst area well-known among cavers worldwide. Two of the deepest caves in Africa are located there: Anou Iflis (-1200 m) and Anou Boussouil (-805 m). The primarily mountainous topography also hosts a diverse ecosystem whose extensive biodiversity is protected by several national parks. On a side note, the Barbary macaque is the only macaque living on the African continent and it is quite surprising to come across a monkey on the limestone pavement! An expedition report by Phil Bence rich with history and discovery…
July 21 2014
The Djurdjura Range: hope for cavers
Exploring these two deep caves was first accomplished in the 1980s by French cavers. Following this boom, the situation became much more complicated for political reasons, access to the range more difficult, and from 1995 to 2000 the army occupied the mountains; the "dark years" of terrorism.
For the last few years the situation has slowly stabilized and access is now authorized, although still highly regulated, especially for the foreign visitors that we are!
It is impossible to explore these cavities and canyons without being formally invited by a local club.
Through Tunisian friends we made contact with the CSSM in Bejaia, a dynamic and motivated team currently reviving cave exploration in their country.
Anou Iflis and Anou Boussouil: exploration resumes
During our stay, our plan includes exploring Anou Boussouil cave to target the few question marks left regarding the topography at 500m below the surface. While the first explorers followed the most obvious path, there are likely other lines to discover, and we need to take a look to be sure. Our hunger for the unknown continues to keep us going!
Fifteen of us stand at the cave entrance, a swallet that collects water from a vast sinkhole. There is no way we are going underground with the unstable weather…
The descent offers the chance for some to break their own personal depth record, an opportunity not to be missed! This is the first -500m descent for Maroua, the first North African woman to reach such depths. Highly symbolic, Muslim women clearly possess the motivation, energy, and skills to perform just as well, if not better, than their male counterparts. The aesthetic cave is easy to move through, a beautifully sculpted canyon right up to the major shafts, where it takes on an entirely different dimension.
A few hours later five of us stand in the dry chamber, just after a passing through a gallery referred to locally as the "salle des affamés" (or "hunger room"), searching for new passageways. Redha Atia stands with us; he has been the motivating force behind caving in Algeria for several years, and his obvious excitement and drive are a pleasure to see. After bolting a short buttress, we quickly discover two new passageways. In the first, a downclimb brings us to a breezy narrowing; Redha's small frame allows him to pass through and venture further along a meander to another narrowing that will require a little more effort to pass through.
The second passageway is simpler. A downclimb between boulders leads to a ten-meter vertical section where we fix a rope. Across the next sequence we make quick progress, downclimbing through an easy meander to a rather exposed buttress. We decide to stop here; the Algerians will have to continue exploring without us. Exploration in this cave just turned a new page, and our friends will write what is to come on their own; another important symbolic step forward in my view. During the rest of our stay, we explored other cavities but with much less luck. The other side of caving often translates to lots of work with little to show for it.
We once again have the fortune to venture through beautiful Asfis Canyon, first explored by French cavers during the same time period. They needed several attempts to reach the bottom of this narrow gorge, an impressive gash that cuts through the range. At the time, the canyon was considered "above ground caving" and they had placed fixed ropes for the roundtrip, just like in caving. We rebolted the waterfalls, in line with modern canyoning techniques, with 12mm expansion bolts and stainless steel anchors for the rappels. Asfis is a hidden gem, and we look forward to coming back to explore the upper section!
On every trip I consider myself lucky and privileged to be able to share my passion with cavers from all over the world.
A huge thanks to our friends from the Bejaia Caving Club, to their club's president, Hamid, for organizing everything, to Medhi for having instigated this adventure, and to our Tunisian friends.
I will definitely be making the trip back to Algeria, Inshallah!