Photo by J. Pint




© 2005 by John and Susy Pint

Updated September, 2013





It all began in April of 2001 when we attended the first Symposium on Middle-East Speleology organized by the Speleo Club du Liban in Kaslik, Lebanon. Here we discovered that our hosts had great experience in matters speleological, including cave rescue, a subject we were especially interested in, because Saudi Arabia has no organizations trained or equipped to rescue someone trapped in a deep underground maze....

Opening session of the Symposium 

Photo by J. Pint


We were determined to remedy this situation and in June of 2002, three Saudi geologists plus John and Susy Pint flew to beautiful Beirut for a basic Cave Rescue course.

We stayed at the Bella Riva Hotel, just overlooking the beautiful blue Mediterranean. Only a few steps away, there was a long Corniche where hundreds of people love to go walking in the cool of the evening. Here you could see Muslims and Christians, men and women strolling together and it gave us a glimmer of hope that maybe the rest of the world might someday learn to live and work together in harmony as the Lebanese seem to be doing.

Our friends at the Speleo Club du Liban kept us jumping day after day with a heavy schedule:

There was much discussion of vertical cave gear and techniques...

Here we are explaining the workings of a rack to the Lebanese who had heard of the gizmo but had never used one. They seemed a bit shocked at the notion that all phases of cave rescue could be accomplished without the use of a Petzl descendeur

Photo by S. Pint





...and we had ample opportunities to try out a variety of approaches to ascending, rappeling and even the use of carbide for lighting.


Just a few of the gadgets used in vertical caving. 

Photo by S. Pint





Every day we spent hours immersed in a very thorough First Aid course, explained in Arabic and French, where we learned how to do everything from immobilizing arms and legs to distinguishing between the living and the dead.


As you can see, Abdulrahman made a very realistic "accident victim" 



Photo by J. Pint





At the same time, we practiced climbing up and down ropes and cable ladders at the club headquarters.


"Vive le Petzl" says Mahmoud while demonstrating his mastery over the bobbin.  



Photo by J. Pint





We also learned all about speleo-stretchers: how to lift victims, get them on the stretcher, strap them down and then how to move the thing through rough and unfriendly places. We began this study in a pine forest and soon graduated from flat fields to rocky gullies.


"Stretcherology" is  a lot more complicated than I would have believed.



Photo by S. Pint





Well, there was a whole lot more, including sessions on knot-tying and setting bolts  as well as the practical application of the same, as you can see in this picture.


Saeed Al Amoudi has traversed out to an overhang on a natural bridge from which he will rappel down to the river below.



Photo by J. Pint






All of this training came together nicely on Sunday when we drove out to cold, wet Rouaisse Cave, located 'way up in the mountains, for a simulated Cave Rescue.

Ah, the mountains of Lebanon! Peaks of sharp limestone rising through the pine trees, bright yellow "broom" perfuming the air and narrow, twisting roads overhanging sheer cliffs.

A dirt road took us to the entrance of the cave. As we arrived, two sonic booms exploded above us and we looked up. Two white streaks stretched across the sky. “Every day the Israelis fly over us and do this to remind us of their presence,” commented Sami Karkabi, Lebanon’s caving pioneer. Half the Speleo Club was out there changing into thermal underwear, coveralls and "Wellies" (long black, rubber boots). Soon we were organized into teams, each with its own captain and everyone under the command of one leader. We were reminded again and again that good organization is the key to a successful rescue and we were instructed to keep our mouths shut and be serious at all times.


A few minutes later we were snaking our way down steep canyon walls into a cold, wet cave with a low ceiling. Around 500 meters inside the cave we found the "victim" underneath a tent improvised from one of the space blankets that Lebanese cavers always carry inside their helmets. The victim, we were told, had suffered a broken leg..

The Victim, bundled and ready for transporting.


Photo by Speleo-Club du Liban





Just getting our patient onto the specially constructed Cave Rescue Stretcher turned out to be a tricky job.  Then we learned that "an earthquake" had just occurred and we would not be able to leave the way we came in. There was, of course, another way to exit the cave, but we would have to traverse...


This fissure-like tunnel is mostly narrow with lots of knobs and sharp shelves poking at you from both sides. So, you squeeze your way along and every once in a while you come to a wide spot where you think "Ah, that's more like it," but then you discover you are dealing with a new problem, because these wide places are inevitably flooded with icy cold water and the only way to pass them without getting wet is to stretch your legs far apart and try to climb above the pools. Since we cavers from Saudi Arabia had no "Wellies," we did our best -- at first -- to keep our feet dry, which is no easy trick if you are short!

Well, somehow I succeeded and arrived dry shod at a lineup of maybe eight rescuers who were in the process of passing the stretcher along from person to person...

...We were "seated" alternately with our backs against one wall and our feet braced against the other, the idea being to slide the stretcher over our laps...

Deep inside the Passage from Hell.




Photo by J. Pint





Now, all of us were perched on top of pointy or knobby protrusions which mercilessly pressed against our bottoms when the stretcher rested on our knees. Of course, this was even less of a joy ride for the “victim” as there was often not enough room for the stretcher to pass through right side up and we’d have to turn it sideways, just barely scraping by.

The moment the stretcher had passed us, our team leader had us hurrying through the Passage from Hell in the opposite direction and then climbing up and down heaps of rocks and racing through other rooms in this maze of a cave, to end up…yes, you guessed it, once again back at the beginning of the same Diabolical Passage!

Well, the second time around, I once again managed to straddle the pools of cold water but I had a premonition that I couldn’t be so lucky three times. As we approached the line of sherpas, I could see that a new system transporting the stretcher had been initiated. Several rescuers had chimneyed their way up above the rest of us and were suspending the stretcher from the Cow’s Tails attached to their harnesses. It was up to us folks on the lower level to grab the victim in case the people up above slipped...

The stretcher supported from above 


Photo by Speleo-Club du Liban





...And slip they did!  “Saeed was there one minute,” said Mahmoud, “but I turned my head a second and when I looked back, he was gone.”

In fact, bits of the wall above us were breaking off all the time and one of our tasks was to keep our hands cupped over the victim’s face at all times, even though they had put special plastic goggles on her. The importance of this was really brought home when a rock weighing half a kilo plopped down from above onto the victim’s stomach!

Once again we passed the stretcher on to another group and raced around through other routes, back to the beginning of the Passage from Hell. One glance told me my position was going to be right at the one spot where the water was nearly waist high so -- goodbye dry feet -- I just plunged in.

At this point we had all pretty much forgotten about keeping silence and the small talk all along the echoing fissure created such a racket that Rena, the coordinator for this maneuver couldn’t hear or be heard. She finally shouted everyone else down, but I could see how useful it would be for each team leader to carry a whistle.


As you can see from this picture, our adrenalin was running at full speed throughout the simulated rescue.

Photo by Speleo-Club du Liban






Once we got into larger passages, moving the stretcher became much easier, even at several points where it had to be pulled nearly straight up a wall to a higher level.


Accompanying the victim up a steep incline.


Photo by Speleo-Club du Liban





 At last we reached the point where we could see daylight ahead -- what a relief!  I figured the exercise we all got in those few hours was equivalent to spending all day in a really tough cave. However, the coordinators pointed out that, because we people from Saudi Arabia hadn’t come prepared for wet caves, they had shortened the planned route considerably, limiting it to what they considered “dry” passages and leaving out an area where the freezing cold water is up to your neck. The Passage from Hell was, apparently, “heavenly” in comparison to the one we never saw! We exited the cave at 1 PM, but the longer route would have taken us another seven hours!

Besides Rouaisse Cave, I also had a chance to revisit Kanaan Cave which has flowstone floors as well as walls and is simply dripping with formations of all kinds. The Lebanese call this cave The Temple of Speleology and we had visited it briefly with Sami Karkabi on our first trip to Beirut, but we had had time only for a quick look and we left this magnificent cave with our tongues hanging out.

Of course, I was dying to return to Kanaan for a few “decent pictures” which, to cave photographers means spending AGES fiddling about in the same spot. Now, the three Lebanese who took me there were all tired out after a very long day but still willing to go… and even willing to pose!

In Kanaan Cave, even the floor is flowstone and glistens like a sheet of ice.

Photo by J. Pint





Of course, we couldn’t leave Beirut without a visit to famous Jeita Grotto, one of the world’s finest show caves. Now, the first time we visited it, we were with Paolo Forti and Bill Halliday who pointed out all sorts of details one needs to know about transforming wild caves into tourist caves. This time we were accompanied by geologist Jim Leanderson, who now teaches in Beirut and who has been doing a study of earthquake damage inside Jeita. Hopefully, techniques he is working on will help us learn more from the cracks and fallen speleothems in Saudi Caves.

"...And that bat --which nobody else but me saw -- was THIS BIG!"  Paolo Forti proclaims to a somewhat incredulous Bill Halliday

Photo by J. Pint





At the end of the week, we knew we had only scratched the surface of Cave Rescue and First Aid, but at least we have taken the first steps. With a new highway now creeping across the Summan karst, I suspect there will eventually be cries for help from people lost, stranded or hurt inside some dahl and we may be called upon to put these rescue techniques to work sooner than we think.

The Rescue team. Yes, it really did take 20 people to rescue just one!  "Victim" Maie Fara can be seen in the back row. still attached to the stretcher.


Photo by J. Pint





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John and Susy Pint