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Top 10 Caves and Gorges

Padirac Cave

The Padirac Chasm or Gouffre de Padirac is a cave located near Gramat, in the Lot département, in France. The chasm itself is approximately 99 m (325 ft) around its rim with a diameter of approximately 35 metres (115 ft). Visitors descend 75 m via a lift or a staircase before entering the cave system. The cave, at a depth of 103 metres (338 ft), contains a subterranean river system that is partly negotiable by boat. This cave system is regarded as “one of the most extraordinary natural phenomena of the Massif Central”. The chasm was created at an undetermined point in time when the roof collapsed into a large internal cavern. It is known that the cavern existed in the 3rd century, and was inhabited during the 15th and 16th centuries during which time Potassium nitrate was excavated from the area. The cave was first explored, in 1889, by Édouard-Alfred Martel. Much of the credit for opening the cave system is owed to Guy de Lavaur (1903–1986), who came to Padirac in 1938 and managed to penetrate 15 km (9.3 mi) of the passages. The first tourists visited the cave on November 1, 1898, however the site was officially opened for tourism on April 10, 1899 by Georges Leygues, the 87th prime minister of France (then called président du conseil). Today, although the cave system is made up of more than 40 km (25 mi) of galleries, only 2 km have been opened for tourism. Since the 1930s, visitors can access the underground cave system by descending 75 m by lift or stairs, and then exploring the cave system on foot and by boat. Padirac holds the record for the most frequently visited underground tourism facility in France.

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Cheddar Gorges

Cheddar Gorge is a limestone gorge in the Mendip Hills, near the village of Cheddar in Somerset, England. The gorge is the site of the Cheddar show caves, where Britain’s oldest complete human skeleton, Cheddar Man, estimated to be over 9,000 years old, was found in 1903. Older remains from the Upper Late Palaeolithic era (12,000–13,000 years ago) have been found. The caves, produced by the activity of an underground river, contain stalactites and stalagmites. Cheddar Gorge, including the caves and other attractions, has become a tourist destination. In a 2005 poll of Radio Times readers, following its appearance on the 2005 television programme Seven Natural Wonders, Cheddar Gorge was named as the second greatest natural wonder in Britain, surpassed only by Dan yr Ogof caves. Two main caves are open to the public – the extensive Gough’s Cave and the smaller Cox’s Cave, named after their respective discoverers. Both are known for their geology, and it has been suggested that the caves were the site of prehistoric cheese-making. Gough’s cave, which was discovered in 1903, leads around 400 m (437 yd) into the rock-face, and contains a variety of large rock chambers and formations. Cox’s Cave, discovered in 1837, is smaller but contains many intricate formations. A further cave houses a children’s entertainment walk known as the “Crystal Quest”. There are about 350 officially graded rock climbing routes on the 27 cliffs that make up Cheddar Gorge, which are generally open to climbers between 1 October and 15 March each year. There is a clifftop walk from Jacob’s Ladder along the crest of the gorge and back to the road, with views of the gorge. A caving experience is offered within Gough’s Cave. There is a path of 274 steps, built up the side of the gorge, known as Jacob’s Ladder after the Biblical description of a ladder to the heavens. A watch-tower at the top provides a 360–degree view of the entire area and village. An open-top bus tour operates during the summer. Cheddar cheese is made in the lower part of the gorge.


Dan yr Ogof

Dan yr Ogof, also known as the National Showcaves Centre for Wales, is a 17-kilometre (11 mi) long-cave system in south Wales, five miles north of Ystradgynlais and fifteen miles south west of Brecon within the Brecon Beacons National Park. It is the main feature of a show cave complex, which is claimed to be the largest in Europe and is one of the major tourist attractions in Wales. The first section of the cave system is open to the public, but the extensive cave system beyond is scheduled as a National Nature Reserve and is open only to bona-fide cavers. The bones of some 42 humans, as well as numerous animal bones, have been found in one of the nearby chambers of this cave system. In a 2005 poll of Radio Times readers, Dan yr Ogof was named as the greatest natural wonder in Britain. The cave was first explored by two local brothers in 1912, Tommy and Jeff Morgan, using candles and primitive equipment. Completely unsure of what they would discover, they armed themselves with a revolver. The Morgan brothers’ initial expedition was halted at a large lake, which they later managed to cross by coracle. They eventually crossed three more lakes in the same manner, but were stopped by a tight crawl. This squeeze, known as the Long Crawl, was first passed by Eileen Davies, a member of Swansea University Caving Club in 1963, although it is claimed that it was first passed by Peter Ogden of the same Club in the October before. The initials ‘PO’ were found by Eileen Davies at the pitch to Gerard Platten Hall. Peter Ogden had not descended the pitch due to a period of bad weather.Exploration has been steadily continued by later cavers who have extended the cave to its present 11 mile length. Some of this length was reached by cave diving. One of these explorers was Martyn Farr, who wrote a book about the system in which he claims that the system will eventually be extended to at least 150 kilometres (90 mi).


Hallein Salt Mine

The Hallein Salt Mine, also known as Salzbergwerk Dürrnberg, is an underground salt mine located in the Dürrnberg plateau above Hallein, Austria. The mine has been worked for over 7,000 years since the time of the Celtic tribes and earlier. It helped ensure nearby Salzburg would become a powerful trading community. Since World War I, it has served as a mining museum, known for its long wooden slides between levels. There are several named tunnels in the mine, including the Obersteinberg opened in 1450, the Untersteinberg, the Jackobberg, the Rupertsberg, the Wolf Deitrich tunnel and the Dr. Nusko tunnels. They descend all of the way to Hallein. There has been scientific research which used ancient human feces found in the older tunnels to determine how resources were shared between cultures. There is a 90 minute guided tour which covers 1 kilometer. Visitors put on white coveralls to protect their clothes inside the mine. There is a 400 metres (1,300 ft) electric train ride into the mine which leads to two sets of 42 metres (138 ft) wooden slides. Visitors straddle two wooden rails and slide quickly down to the lower level of the mine. There is a boat trip across an underground lake before exiting the mine.


Grand Canyon

The Grand Canyon is a steep-sided canyon carved by the Colorado River in the United States in the state of Arizona. It is contained within and managed by Grand Canyon National Park, the Hualapai Tribal Nation, and the Havasupai Tribe. President Theodore Roosevelt was a major proponent of preservation of the Grand Canyon area, and visited it on numerous occasions to hunt and enjoy the scenery. It is considered one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World. The Grand Canyon is 277 miles (446 km) long, up to 18 miles (29 km) wide and attains a depth of over a mile (6,000 feet / 1,800 metres). Aside from casual sightseeing from the South Rim (averaging 7,000 feet [2,100 m] above sea level), rafting,hiking, running and helicopter tours are especially popular. In October 2010 the North Rim is the host to anultra marathon. The Grand Canyon Ultra Marathon is a 78-mile (126 km) race over 24 hours. The floor of the valley is accessible by foot, muleback, or by boat or raft from upriver. Hiking down to the river and back up to the rim in one day is discouraged by park officials because of the distance, steep and rocky trails, change in elevation, and danger of heat exhaustion from the much higher temperatures at the bottom. Rescues are required annually of unsuccessful rim-to-river-to-rim travelers. Nevertheless, hundreds of fit and experienced hikers complete the trip every year. Camping on the North and South Rims is generally restricted to established campgrounds and reservations are highly recommended, especially at the busier South Rim. There is at large camping available along many parts of the North Rim managed by Kaibab National Forest. North Rim campsites are only open seasonally due to road closures from weather and winter snow pack. All overnight camping below the rim requires a back-country permit from the Back-country Office (BCO). Each year Grand Canyon National Park receives approximately 30,000 requests for back-country permits. The park issues 13,000 permits, and close to 40,000 people camp overnight. The earliest a permit application is accepted is the first of the month, four months before the proposed start month.


Blue Mountains (New South Wales)

The Blue Mountains is a mountainous region in New South Wales, Australia. It borders on Sydney’s metropolitan area, its foothills starting approximately 50 kilometres (31 mi) west of the state capital. The area begins on the west side of the Nepean River and extends westward as far as Coxs River. Geologically, it is situated in the central parts of the Sydney basin. Consisting mainly of a sandstone plateau, the area is dissected by gorges up to 760 metres (2,490 ft) deep. The highest point of the range is Mount Werong at 1,215 metres (3,986 ft) above sea level. A large part of the Blue Mountains is incorporated into the Greater Blue Mountains Area World Heritage Site, consisting of seven national park areas and a conservation reserve. The Blue Mountains area includes the local government areas of the City of Blue Mountains, the City of Hawkesbury, the City of Lithgow and Oberon. The Greater Blue Mountains Area was unanimously listed as a World Heritage Area by UNESCO on 29 November 2000, becoming the fourth area in New South Wales to be listed. The Greater Blue Mountains Area is inhabited by over 400 different forms of animals. Among them are rare mammal species like Spotted-tailed Quoll, the Koala, the yellow-bellied Glider, and Long-nosed Potoroo. There are also some rare reptiles, like the Blue Mountain Water Skink. There are also some dingos in the area, which form the top predators and hunt for grey kangaroos. The Blue Mountains are a popular destination for Rock Climbers, Mountain Bikers and Hikers as well as canyoning and other adventure sports. These sports are well catered for by guiding companies and equipment stores located mainly in Katoomba. Popular climbing destinations include the Centennial Glen cliffs near Blackheath, Mount Victoria, Mount Piddington and Mount Boyce. Climbing is currently banned on The Three Sisters. Mountain biking takes place mainly on the many fire trails that branch away from the main spine of the Great Western Highway, such as Narrow Neck, Anderson’s Fire Trail and others. Likewise many of the fire trails are popular with day hikers, though many dedicated walking trails exist away from the fire roads. Canyoning in the Blue Mountains is a popular sport and caters for various skill levels. It does carry with it inherent dangers but for those with the appropriate skills or those looking to take a guided trip there are many great opportunities to experience a different view of the Blue Mountains. There are numerous abseiling options available in the Blue Mountains including single and multi-pitch routes. There are some restrictions though with certain areas being closed for abseiling.v


Verdon Gorge France

The Verdon Gorge (in French: Gorges du Verdon or Grand canyon du Verdon), in south-eastern France (Alpes-de-Haute-Provence), is a river canyon that is often considered to be one of Europe’s most beautiful. It is about 25 kilometres long and up to 700 metres deep. It was formed by the Verdon River, which is named after its startling turquoise-green colour, one of the canyon’s most distinguishing characteristics. The most impressive part lies between the towns of Castellane and Moustiers-Sainte-Marie, where the river has cut a ravine up to 700 metres down through the limestone mass. At the end of the canyon, the Verdon river flows into the artificial lake of Sainte-Croix-du-Verdon. Because of its proximity to the French Riviera, the canyon is very popular with tourists, who can drive around its rim, rent kayaks or hike. The limestone walls, which are several hundreds of metres high, attract many rock climbers. It is considered an outstanding destination for multi-pitch climbing. There are routes encompassing cracks, pillars and seemingly endless walls. The climbing is generally of a technical nature, and there are over 1,500 routes, ranging from 20m to over 400m.


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Vikos Gorge Greece

The Vikos Gorge is a gorge in the Pindus Mountains of northern Greece. It lies on the southern slopes of Mount Tymfi, with a length of about 20 km, depth ranging from 450 m to 1600 m and width from 400 m to some metres at its narrowest part. Vikos is listed as the deepest gorge in the world by the Guinness Book of Records. There is a natural viewing platform over the deepest part of the gorge at Oxia, a location 3 km by a newly-constructed road from the village of Monodendri. Another viewpoint over the gorge is at Beloi, on the eastern side of the gorge, accessible from the village of Vradeto. A hiking trail descends into the gorge from Monodendri. The trail then leads north through the gorge to the springs of the Voidomatis river, from where paths lead out of the gorge to the village of Papingo on the north side of the gorge, or to the village of Vikos on the south side of the gorge. It is also possible to hike south through the gorge from Monodendri to the 18th century stone bridges near Kipi.

Eisriesenwelt Austria

The Eisriesenwelt (German for “World of the Ice Giants”) is a natural limestone ice cave located in Werfen, Austria, about 40 km south of Salzburg. The cave is inside the Hochkogel mountain in the Tennengebirge section of the Alps. It is the largest ice cave in the world, extending more than 42km. The cave is open from May 1st to October 26th every year. Its operating hours are 9:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. in July and August and 9:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. in May/June and September/October. Temperatures inside the cave are usually below freezing, and warm clothing is recommended. Photography is not permitted once visitors are inside the cave. The tour begins at the entrance to the cave, and continues inwards to Posselt Hall, a large room with a stalagmite called Posselt Tower in the centre. Past the Posselt Tower, one encounters an ashen cross on the wall of the cave, marking the farthest point of exploration of Anton Posselt. From there one can see the Great Ice Embankment, a massive formation that rises to a height of 25 metres and represents the area of greatest ice growth. Next is Hymir’s Castle, named after a giant in Norse mythology. Here stalactites create a formation called Frigga’s Veil, or the Ice Organ. Next on the tour is the Alexander von Mörk Cathedral, one of the largest rooms in the cave and the final resting place of von Mörk’s ashes. The final stop on the tour is the Ice Palace, a kilometre into the cave and 400 metres underground. From here, visitors must turn around and walk back through the caves to reach the entrance. The round-trip tour through the cave takes around one hour and 15 minutes


Atta Cave Germany

The Atta Cave or Attendorn Dripstone Cave inAttendorn is one of the largest and most beautiful dripstone caves in Germany. The cave was discovered during the quarrying of limestone at the Bigge Valley Limestone Works on 19 July 1907 and was opened up by the owners to tourists that same year. Today the Atta Cave is the most-visited show cave in Germany, receiving around 350,000 tourists per year, and is an important economic factor for the town. Amongst its attractions are numerous calc-sinter flowstone drapes, colourfully tinctured by iron oxides. There are also many stalactites, stalagmites and stalagnates. Several pieces of calcite crystal formations were moved into the public area of the cave in order to be displayed there. The total length of the cave is 6,000 metres but it has not been completely surveyed. For the show cave section there is a roughly 500 m long circular tour. It is reached through a 90 metre long gallery through which visitors are guided. The original entrance is sealed today with a metal door. In one part of the cave, cheese is stored, a water curtain is supposed to help stop the smell spreading too far. The cave is still in private hands today. It has been criticised for its high entry charges and ban on photography.


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