Five years of Lebanese cave exploration by Spekul

Merheb Fossil Light


Since Steve, one of our caving club members, started working in Lebanon back in 1995, several small-scale expeditions were organized in this fascinating country. We worked there together with local cavers from ALES (Association Libanaise d’Etudes Speleologiques), SCL (Spéléo Club du Liban) and GERSL (Groupe d’Etudes et Recherches Souterraines du Liban), which we updated with the newest techniques during these years.
With mountains up to 3000m and 70% of Karst, caves up to –600m and a Mediterranean climate, Lebanon is quite a nice place for caving.
We hereby present some (but far from all) of our most interesting results.
Mgharet Mar Challita (Qnat)

Voute Mar Challita FadiMar Challita cave (named after a nearby chapel devoted to Saint Challita), below the village of Qnat, North Lebanon, has been well known since the Bronze Age. It was explored in the early fifties by SCL and mapped for some 500m by ALES in 1994. They ended at a very narrow squeeze just above the water line, with a strong draft. It was described as follows (4)  '... deux séances de désobstruction au marteau + burin, sans grands résultats. La suite du réseau appartiendra à ceux qui utiliseront des méthodes plus radicales.'  In September 1996, three of us went down to the squeeze, of which two large parts on the left side were blasted away, using two cartridges. Attempts to do the same on the right side failed, probably because the rock was soaked wet there. However, the obstacle could be passed in quite a sporting way. Later on the obstacle was widened just a bit more by our Lebanese colleagues, whose body-shapes aren’t always compatible with the sport they’re practicing…
Behind the squeeze, 530m of very beautiful active passage were found. On top of a red-colored cascade, there are two ways on. The left and narrower gallery leads to an impenetrable sump and a too narrow side passage in which part of the water disappears. On the right side, the main passage is followed by a wet crawl to end in a large chamber where the water comes out of a two by two meter sump. Here, a narrow and muddy rift with icy draft (Mar Charrière) might bypass the sump, but it requires lots of digging.
One year later, September 6, 1997 we are back at the cave for filming (the movie was later on given to the local municipality) and further exploration. The sump was dived by Vincent Coessens and rigged up to an air bell with plenty of formations. It is clear that further exploration of this sump would be very paying and could give clues about the bypass.
The entrance to the cave has now been closed to protect both the natural and historical richness. Recently we were told that a group of open water divers explored the sump and reached a dry passage. Their reports are however very messy from speleological point of
view, as they did not care about the passage but only about deep water!

Mgharet Al Hamam (Pigeons’ Cave, Bcharré)

Pigeons’ cave was one of the many holes in the 200m deep canyon of the Qadisha valley. After a closer look from the opposite side, we noticed a pile of 3 rocks behind a bush in the cave entrance, which Steve Qadishalooked like a stonewall. Many caves in the valley were inhabited in Medieval and even earlier times and used as hideout. As this cave was not yet explored because of its high inaccessibility, exploration would be worthwhile. However, none of us had an explanation on how the inhabitants could ever have reached this cave…
Together with cavers from GERSL, which have many archeologists amongst their members, we started the descent towards the cave. Hanging on the rope at the cave level (but still some 25m away from it), we got more and more convinced that man piled up those stones.

It took us several weeks to make it to the entrance, as the cave had to be approached from the side. Quite a long traversee was rigged, whilst half of Bcharré town was watching from the other side of the canyon (the local priest was praying to God to support the climber).
The cave showed several signs of inhabitation; apart from two stonewalls, we found a square basin that was dug out in the floor, and several holes in the walls. Total development was however very disappointing from speleological point of view.
The mystery on how people ever got there without using modern abseil and climbing techniques remains a mystery.
When going up he ropes again, National Security, which had been alarmed that we were taking away the gold, awaited us. The only shiny things they found were our survival blankets!

Mgharet Ain el Libne (Aaqoura)

The downstream end of Mgharet Ain el Libne, on the Aaqoura plateau, was explored by Lebanese cavers in 1962, one year later the upstream end was discovered (1300m). British cavers visited the cave and partially climbed the cascade at the end of the cave. In 1987 the known parts were mapped by GERSL. The Cascade Terminale, was climbed through a series of chimneys in 1993-94 by ALES to reach a second level.
In September 1995, the area above the lake was further explored by Spekul. Using our aluminum scaling pole, we discovered a third and fourth floor (105m above the lake, total development: 460m).
During the same trip, another team checked the inlet which fed into the lake; here a wet crawl of about 200m gave way to an active meander, which seemed to go on forever. It was Fadi Baeyno (ALES) who reached the end, a 10m high cascade in 1996. In the summer of that year, Spekul explored higher levels (second and third floor) in the new part, and the whole meander (1.5 km) was surveyed.
In the summer of 1997 we managed to get up the 10m cascade, after many hours of climbing and maypoling. Behind the cascade, the right-hand lead was explored for 400m up to a mud sump. The passage on the left, which is more narrow remained unexplored.
One year later, the gallery towards the sump was surveyed, the other end was explored for some 40m… to end in another bell-shaped chamber where an 8m cascade came down.
This cascade was climbed in 1999, using the maypole as a fishing rod. In front of us, the ever ongoing and narrowing meander, which was followed for some 400m (175m surveyed, with the help of Fadi Nadr (SCL)). We stopped at a 2m cascade, which will probably be climbed later on this year. The cave is now both Lebanon’s third longest and deepest cave, with a total surveyed length of 4093m, and a denivelation of 212m.

Jabal Libne section

Figure 1: Simplified section through part of the Aaqoura massif. (1) Mgharet Rechmi, (2) Mgharet Merheb, (3) Nabaa el Kiddab, (4) Ain el Libne. C4a: Lower Cenomanian, 200m layer. C4b: Middle Cenomanian, totaling 260m in two parts; C4b1 (180m) and C4b2 (80m). C4c: Upper Cenomanian, limestone and dolomitic limestone. (A.Ghaouche & O. Kallab 1991, V. Coessens & L. Debontridder 1999)

Mgharet Merheb (Aaqoura)vince merheb flowers
Mgharet Merheb is another cave on the Aaqoura plateau. It was explored over more than 100m by local villagers up to a 7m pitch that gave into the active level. It was explored and mapped (302m) by GERSL in 1989. They ended in a large chamber with a lake below a 25m cascade.
Hoping to find the same kinds of galleries as in the nearby cave of Ain el Libne (this cave develops in the same kind of limestone) we attempted to climb this cascade. A lot of effort and adrenaline was put in this undertaking. It took us three days to reach the top of the cascade and another day to get on top of the pitch above it, from which a 50m free hang can be rigged. Unfortunately, the active part gets too narrow very soon, where the water comes out of a small hole. An attempt was made to find a high level bypass. This led to the discovery of a very beautiful fossil meander with some remarkable formations, which again ended after some 70m. The survey however shows that both levels are superimposed; a more thorough search or even a dig might lead back into the active level. Blasting remains an option in the active part. Climbing the pitch in Mgharet Merheb is probably one of the most spectacular climbs ever undertaken in Lebanon.

Mgharet Jbab (Bouhairet Toula)

Jbab entranceThis resurgence, used as drinking water supply, was explored for 40m by SCL in 1986 and ALES in 1993. Both teams abandoned exploration of this narrow and lowering water passage, due to lack of wetsuits.
In November 1995 the cave was visited by Steve and Lieve (Spekul). Behind the lowest passage, they continue to crawl on hands and knees through a one meter wide riverbed. A 10m wide
and 6m high chamber is reached, filled with large blocks. Further on, the right side of a beautifully decorated junction terminates after about 35m, where the roof meets the bottom. The left side again leads to a widening passage, where an alternation of 5cm strata (clay and limestone) can be admired on the right. A fossil passage the leads to a lake below a 4m cascade. At this point, there is about 400m of limestone above us!
One week later we return to the cave, together with Fadi Baeyno (ALES). Using far Western techniques and the support of all gods of the 16 different official Lebanese religions, we managed to climb the cascade. The meander behind it, unfortunately gets too narrow after 15 meters. The cave was mapped by ALES in early 1996. They measured 725m of development. The highest point on top of the cascade lies 32m above the entrance level.

Entrance of Mgharet Jbab


ALES, 1996. Speleorient 1. 96p.
COESSENS, VINCENT. 1997. Libanon 1996-1997, het vervolg van de Spekul exploraties. Spelerpes nr 83: 10-20.
COESSENS, VINCENT. 1998. Expés Spekul 96-97 au Liban. Regards nr 31 : 2-10.
COESSENS, VINCENT. 2000. Libanon 1999, exploraties op het Aaqoura en Tannourine Plateau. Spelerpes nr 89 : 50-55.
GERSL. 1988. Liban Souterrain nr 1. 51p.
GERSL. 1991. Liban Souterrain nr 3. 82p.
GERSL 1998. Liban Souterrain nr 5. 380p.
SCL 1999. Al Ouat’Ouate nr 11. 138p.
SMEYERS, STEVE. 1996. Grotten in Libanon, verslag van de Spekul exploraties. Spelerpes nr 79: 3-11.

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