Madre de Dios Speleo 2008


Years of expedition experience have led the team to think very hard about the potential risks involved in all the adventurous activities they undertake, and to ensure that risks are always fully understood and minimised. For this expedition this process has already begun, but in Chile the risks will be constantly reassessed in response to circumstances that arise during the expedition.

There are many potential risks. One of the most obvious is the possibility of shipwreck or sinking of yacht or a Zodiac due to adverse weather conditions. Charlie Porter has many years experience in these waters, and his boat is of sufficient size to be able to cope with strong winds and tidal streams, and is fully equipped with safety equipment including a life raft, EPIRBS, and flares. Charlie has a satellite phone and a radio and he will receive weather information every day which will enable him to make informed decisions about where it is safe to go and where it is safe to anchor. There is a requirement whilst in Chilean waters to report our position and plan to the Chilean Navy every day. They will come searching in the area of our last reported position if they do not hear from us. The expedition will use two zodiacs so that if there is a problem with one, the other can provide assistance.

Whilst ashore the team will also have a satellite phone to enable communication with the yacht, and possibly radios to enable communication between groups, although it is likely that they may not function in the terrain. Callout systems will be used, both between the shore party and the yacht and amongst shore parties, both for above ground reconnaissance and when caving. People will not operate alone, and caving groups will usually consist of three, although in caves deemed to be low risk pairs may work in the cave.

Flooding is the greatest potential risk in the caves, and caves broadly fall into three categories; low risk fossil caves with no water, moderate risk caves with active streams with dry areas or evidence of low flood risk, and high risk caves with active immature streamways and evidence of flooding to the roof. Moderate risk caves will be explored cautiously and only to a very limited distance from an entrance. High risk caves will only be entered in the unlikely event of a prolonged dry period. With her knowledge of cave hydrology Lou will advise on this as cave safety officer.

Other risks in caves are falling rocks and injury. Caves formed of unstable boulder chokes will not be explored. All expedition members will have the correct equipment and backup lighting, and everyone is aware of the remoteness of the situation so will take extreme care whilst moving through the cave. In the event of an accident if the group cannot exit the cave independently, all expedition members will be brought in and work together to assist the injured caver out of the cave. In the unlikely event of an accident in which the group cannot resolve the problem, the satellite phone will be used to obtain assistance from the Chilean Authorities.

Ben is the expedition medical officer and has medical knowledge from his training as a professional podiatrist, and has long had a keen interest in expedition medical issues due to the remoteness of the places in which he has undertaken expeditions. All expedition members have undertaken expedition first aid courses and many have practical experience of helping injured cavers or paraglider pilots. The expedition will take a very extensive first aid kit that will go on all shore trips, and individual members will have small personal first aid kits which they will have with them at all times. If an injured or ill expedition member requires a doctor or hospital and conditions permit the yacht will transport them to the mainland. We are investigating potential provision of local rescue services. All expedition members will have full medevac insurance.

Hypothermia is likely to be a risk and all expedition members will be properly clothed to deal with the wet and cold conditions (e.g. thermals, buffalo kit, balaclavas, good waterproofs). If ashore overnight, people will always have a complete set of dry clothes (that must not be used outside the tent) and a synthetic sleeping bag that can be used at the end of a cold wet day to warm up. Great care will be taken to ensure that tents remain dry. Mountaineering tents that have been tried and testing in severe winds will be used and rocks and extra guy lines will be used to secure them against strong winds.

Weather forecasts will be used to minimise the risk of the shore party becoming temporarily stranded if adverse weather makes it impossible to return to the base boat, but extra food will also be taken ashore for this unlikely eventuality. Buoyancy aids will be mandatory when on deck, in a Zodiac, or on land whilst working close to the shore.