Canyoning – Caving: Alessandro De Santis guide interview

How many years since you practice speleology?
I started in the early 90s, but I’ve been exploring caves since I was six. My mother is originally from an area near Cividale del Friuli where there are many caves, and as a child it was fun and exciting explore them.

Where does your passion come from?
My passion started the age of 20. Curiosity was triggered by the “Red Guide” of the Touring Club, which describes in detail many Friuli’s caves, referring to the “Two thousand caves – Forty years of explorations in Venice Giulia”, a speleology test by Luigi Vittorio Bertarelli and Eugenio Boegan of 1926. The guide was useful to find the caves since there was no GPS at that time providing very detailed explanations on how to reach them. At first I was an amateur but when my cousin, who practiced speleology and international shipments came to know it, he strongly advised me to attend a course for both safety and professional techniques. Since then i’ve been studing and practicing a to became an instructor and a cerfitied guide (College of Speleological Guides of Friuli Venezia Giulia).

Canyoning – Caving

This sport activity has a lot of natural aspects to offer as well, right?
Just as a naturalistic guide addresses a natural environment with all its components (biological, geologic, etc.) and analyze them, likewise the speleologist studies and analyzes the cave’s environment, which is definitely different from the outer one, considering mainly that there is NO irradiation by the sun; Life has adapted itself to live in very particular conditions. Caving studies all these aspects and much more. In Slovenia, a true speleology chair has been set up because it is possible to define almost a science in itself with so many lines inside it.

Considering Canyoning as one of the trends at the moment, is it similar to speleo?
Yes, canyoning or “torrentismo”, as we call it in Italy, can be considered very much alike. It is not uncommon for a speleologist, driven by curiosity and sense of discovery, to begin considering also forests, well-groomed mountain streams that develop normally in environments very similar to caves.

So you are saying that a cave has a lot in common with a river canyon?
I’m wondering what geologists would say here… Let’s say that for me canyoning is like going to an “open cave” exploration. In the end, a cave is made up of a water-erosion and the canyon is nothing but the erosion of a usually limestone or dolomitic surface and a deepening of the water spur. The analogy is thus evident. Many times the forts cut off caves complexes. Or inside the canyon there is access to caves that are perhaps small rivers like the Torrente Cosa and La Foce. In Friuli Venezia Giulia, amongst other things, there are really many.

Can Friuli Venezia Giulia be considered unique in the european caving enviroment?
I would say that, along with the Pyrenees and Haute-Savoie, it is probably the most representative speleological part of Europe. On the other hand, the word “karstism” derives from the Carso, which is above Trieste, it defines very well the geological characteristics of our region, as well as the Three Peaks of Lavaredo in Veneto or the Matterhorn for the Valle d’Aosta. Friuli Venezia Giulia covers an area with very important limestones, a very rich geological history, which is being studied by experts from all over the world. In Carnia (upper part of Friuli), for example, it is possible to study geology that in other places would require crews to move on a much wider area. Here, in very little space, you can see and study a lot of different things. It’s unique.


Let’s talk about Canyoning adventures, why are so engaging?
Playful and fun, lets you dive into fabulous landscapes, in a completely different perspective than those you are normally used to. Tours, is definitely immersive because of the “water-fun” component and adventure components: vertical distances to close by following the flow of the river, descending rope or, where possible, diving or jumping. All surrounded the beauties of nature.
This side of the “game”, however, should be taken seriously. Always consider the risks that lie behind us and be accompanied by an expert guide on both technique and safety.
Canyoning has grown a lot in popularity recently. What’s changed?>
In the early 90s a very important and influential journalist spoke of canyoning as “extreme sport” and gave it a semblance of limited activity.
This obstacle was partly overcome by the dissemination of knowledge about the activity, on the other hand also a technical improvement on equipment helped a lot.
For example, wetsuits completely changed the canyoning experience by keeping warm body temperatures in cold water for several hours.
At the beginning not many people know anything about this canyoning sport, fear and misunderstanding didn’t help. Very often people still confused canyoning with rafting.
When people try it, they discover s sense of satisfaction. It is also good as yoga-activity. We are committed to appreciating what surrounds us and everything and nothing else; Brain shuts off, relaxed and quite often get amazed.

Is canyoning suitable for anyone?
Yes I suppose it is. I had past experiences with groups with 4-years-old kids and gentleman of 70. There are peculiarities for every age to consider. For young people, the adrenaline part is usually more important, while mature people seek content: they want to discover the territory, going to see what are the geomorphological characteristics, habitats, animal species, etc.

Finally, what do you prefer: Canyoning or Caving?
Exploring caves is the adventure full stop. Suspense of what will comes after, a test for yourself maybe harder than canyoning. I’ll go with Splunking. Remember, is not a cave visit, it’s be a speleologist for the day!

Both activities relies on safty right?
That’s for sure. Although we also have to consider that caves are safe, always has been. It’s a protected environment. If there was an earthquake, in the cave it would not be felt because the energy discharges on the surface and not below it. When there are altitudes to pass, like canyoning, to face downhills or crossings with small railroads, you are always hooked to a secure rope, always. Not even temperature problems as it reflects the average temperature of the area of about 13-15 degrees.

Best time for canyoning and for caving?
Caving tours are available all year round on certain caves. Same for canyoning. Every season is different and so the activity. Water levels, temperatures, nature changes etc…

Well, thank you very much Alessandro to share some time with us. We are ready to go!