Sardinia Easter Tour
Ben Banfield, Ben S, Gerardo Ocana-Fuentes, Gergely Ambrus, James Huggett, Jana Carga, Jarvist Frost, Jutta Schnabel, Rahel, Rik Venn, Sandeep Mavadia, Thara Supasiti, Tim Osborne, Tom Brown
In Absentia: Paul H (Passport stolen walking to stores), Jay (legs broken snowboarding)
No sleep in Stansted, 5am flight. Arrive in cold blustery Sardinia & fight our way through passport control. Were it not for the Cacti, I wouldn't believe we were in the Mediterranean, rather some Prisoner-esque escapade in Port Merrion. The surrealism continues at the car hire place, where they tell us that due to a shortage of what we ordered, we get a free triple-upgrade to... a Mercedes E270! What? I'm 23? I wouldn't hire a Merc to me. Let alone in a country where they all drive on the wrong side of the road.
Find the cars, drag the overstuffed baggage along. Manage to start it eventually. But some-one's nicked the hand brake, and put in an extra pedal 'down below'. After a few stalls, difficulty finding reverse, a few 3-point turns and appalling roads we managed to find somewhere to buy bread and espresso.
Made it somehow to the villa (3hr drive), then went for a Razz to the sea in the Merc (Orosei) and gazed at the Med, before checking out a couple of routes into Cala Gonone.
After fighting up past a herd of goats getting fed by a rather cheeky shepherd on one of the hair-pin bends on the concrete single-track road we reached the summit and parked in the first lay by. Beautiful ridge walk - amazing sculpted limestone amphitheatre, found a sprig of wild rosemary for our supper.
Back at the Villa, team Keen cooked spaghetti while the rest of us slumbered; all ate then slept for 14 hours or so.
We got off to a rather inauspicious start once we had picked up the hire cars at Alghero airport. I couldn't even get mine to start (for future reference in a Renault Scenic you have to press the start button, depress the foot brake and sing Auld Lang Syne backwards while farting the Marseillaise) and after stalling at the car park exit all three cars separated in three totally different directions. Once we had regrouped half an hour later in the same car park my nerves were a little frayed and I could read in everyone else's eyes the same thought: fuck, if we can't even get out of the airport, how the hell are we going to cross Sardinia to our villa? Remarkably everything ran smoothly after this hiccup and we drove in a perfect convoy to Irgoli with Gergely as mother duck.
There was still plenty of light left in the day when we arrived, so Jarv and I took our cars for a spin to the beach and then up into the mountains. Here we got our first taste of the grey roads on the map which live in that netherworld between tarmac and footpath. 'Hairy' doesn't quite do justice to the vertiginous drops and acute hairpins. The mixture of terror and reckless abandon on Jarv's face as he dodged rocks and sheep in the Mercedes was priceless. We stopped at the top and had a bimble around the ridge. The views into the valley beneath the setting sun were gorgeous and only reluctantly did we return to the villa that evening for the first of many pasta and tomato sauce suppers.
With three cars - we generally split into three groups:
Team Glamour: Rik & Tom in a Renault Scenic
Team Lancia: Gergely & Deep
Team Merc / Poser: Jarv & Jana in a Mercedes E270
Others flitted between the cars as their whims dictated.
Zoomed off down a lovely road from Galtelli. Amazing straight sections, beautiful visibility, great curves down from the mountains, little traffic. I am not a boy racer.
S'Orcu: Parked at Caletta di Fuili - lots of sports climbers clambering around. Headed up the main valley; first valley entering on left was not the correct one. Around the corner, a nasty goat-cave (SMCC's - solution chamber?) had p-bolts for climbers, and was indeed infested with climbers when we returned. Went up scree slope and found lower entrance - but it was full of 'canyoners' practicing! Crowded valley this...
Found the higher entrance - SMCC guide now describes it well. Locked with nasty padlock. Clambered back down, checked with the Sardinians (in Jana's Italian) that nobody official was there, and then broke into the lower entrance. There's a padlocked ladder - easy squeeze. Further gate within first chamber in cave can clearly be padlocked.
Lots of bats everywhere - but some-one's dug all the crawls with pick-axe and left A3 laminated surveys with 'you are here' dots on them. Clearly trying to turn it into a shitty show-cave. Horrible vandalism evident almost everywhere - but still some very impressive columns that were too large to saw & take away. Furthest-most chambers were stiflingly hot and humid - air tasted rather foul (CO2) as well.
Way on to upper-series looked rather steep! Fixed ladders in place; totally dry. A shorts + t-shirt cave.
Bue Marino: Walked back down valley, found some cigarettes on the beach, scrambled up a cliff and picked up a narrow foot-path. After two hanging valleys further, we found some cairns, wandered down the valley and found some stairs leading to the Bue Marino show cave. Cave was very well bolted. Dauntingly so. Boo rah.
Followed path back up valley, connected to main Fuli-Luna path and meandered our way home. Checking the S.125 for other paths / tracks to the Luna valley, we found a beautiful old hotel (of ill pink-painted repute) relegated as a stash for street signs.
After a twenty-minute panic-faff about the diesel level and a very windy road, we found the start of the path to the cave guarded by a small family of pigs. None of the maps or instructions were of any use in finding the cave entrance, which we only found after three hours of scrambling in brambles when Rik washed his dreads in the river and stumbled across the entrance by accident.
Once we squeezed through the gap in the locked gate we descended a twenty metre pitch/climb into the first chamber. Scrambled down and down until we found the stream-way. Water! We were all wearing wetsuits and the cave was warm, so the water and the wet duck that followed were most welcome. More small passage, then the cave really opened out and became much more inviting. Beautiful crystals glittering from flowstone rocks, pretty things hanging from the ceiling and mysterious still pools shaped like enormous gills. We got almost as far as the confluenza and then turned back.
We got a shock to see that we were an hour past call-out when we got out. Drive out was a bit stressful because the windscreen steamed up & we went over a large rock that wasn't there on the way down, but we got home with petrol to spare.
We left the ropes in the cave at the pushing front.
Got Rahel from Nuoro after a random search throughout the city. In the afternoon went to the valley for the first time with Sandeep, Rahel, Jutta, Gerardo. Managed to find Su Bentu and tested the car in various road conditions, and started to find Tiscali. Rahel stayed in the car, and the other four changed, interrupted by the arrival of a local van, which seemed to offer a lift. So we ran to the car, and managed to leave the description in our car... after a 20 min ride we stopped and the Italian guys (with almost more fingers then teeth) pointed to the mountain in front of us: Tiscali! After that they gave some vague description about the route, what we tried to follow, and eventually found a way up to the top probably used only by mountain goats before us... But we ate some sweets at a wonderful rock wall shelter, and as the rain stopped, got some beautiful view of the valley and the surrounding mountains. As it turned out, we were not far from Tiscali either, at least not in the horizontal direction... :-))
Team Glamour & Poser: Tiscali
Today we took a 95m rope and SRT kits for a very exciting walk in the mountain. Following Jutta's directions, in turn derived from the toothless locals, we searched for this entrance far too high up in the mountains. Having mistaken a 30cm large red lichen for a 30cm large red paint spot, we spend a good hour or two exploring little caves on the slope of Tiscali.
Back at the car as dusk fell, we cross-referenced a million incomplete and contradictory reports to decide that the lower path visible from the top was actually a better bet. We zoomed off (without kit) into the approaching dark. By following the path straight along (1.2km from car-abandoning spot) we reached some zigzags and suddenly found ourselves at a clear cave - Grotta Monumental.
This was being occupied by the Sardinian Unabomber. He had a shack constructed from drystone limestone (topped with a couple of solar panels), a dog, a shotgun and a herd of goats. The goats were crazy - left to camp out in amongst the stalagmites. When I was first there, I called out a few hellos. No response. It was only after the second party braved the now awakened guard-dog to explore the depths of the cavern with lights that they noticed the Goat Man. In amongst the enclosure, feeding his herd, he paid us absolutely no attention whatsoever. Rather eerie it most certainly was. Pity we had no camera.
Down back to the path - location of Tiscali should now be obvious from the SMCC map. Clambering off the cliff-face. Discover a wire-fence - ah hah, my UK caving sense is tingling. More desperate clamber the far side of the fence and JESUS! That's a big drop! Which happens to correspond with a missing section of the fence. Just time to GPS, cairn, add an extra arrow further from the path and then head home. Large red paint-spot entirely absent.
Not the luckiest day! Sandeep's phone & the laminated cave descriptions were left on top of the car at the Villa, falling off as we drove off.
A promising start in search of Su-Doku, as Jutta calls Su Bentu, brought to a halt when we found the main leading to 'La Casa' obstructed by roadworks. However, the local workers were very kind and cleared up the area and paved the way for us to go through. To demonstrate due gratitude, we offered them Ben II (aka Bentu, to avoid any confusion with Ben I, but with addition confusion with a cave) as a slave to move around some rocks for a few minutes.
The caving trip ensued and we finally reached the entrance after a 15 min walk up the hill. For Sandeep, it turned out to be a 30 minute walk, up-down and up again, after we realised we had forgotten the chocolates and buoyancy aides. Soon after, Gergely and Sandeep rigged the first rope down the short pitch into the first chamber. A short walk and some crawling were followed by a tricky descent down a balcony where Sandeep had to be rescued by Gergely. At the bottom, a short and uneventful walk advertised our long-awaited reward - an endless string of lakes 5m wide, 5-10m long and anything between 3 and 10m deep at the bottom of a 20-30m high canyon. It was 7:50pm, and time to wake up. I lost count of how many lakes we had to negotiate. Perhaps13 or 15, before we decided to come to a rest and enjoy a brief 'dinner'. A last look at the beauty we were about to leave and a few jumps in the green-blue pond on the way back made this trip my most memorable night in many years.
Team Glamour: Pushing down Su Palu (Tom B, Rick V, Jutta, Tim, James the bearded, Jana, Jarv (20 minutes)
After our sweat-inducing adventure in Su Palu on Sunday - James, Tom and I resolved to form a crack team capable of penetrating the cave's further reaches spurred on by the promise of "Sardinia' most decorated passage." Having lost the two Bens to Sandeep's temptingly easy Su Bent trip, Team Glamour recruited Jutta and forged an uneasy alliance with 'Team Merc', comprising Jana, Tim and Jarvist 'Schumacher' Frost.
No more than half an hour into the cave, and unlucky Jarv felt a rumble from deep inside the wetsuit. Caution being the better part of valor, he opted not to risk filling skin-tight neoprene with the rejected contents of his poorly guts and made a swift exit. The rest of the team continue and we made quick progress to the point halfway along the Alta Loma where we had turned back on Sunday.
Here, though, we got bogged down in the route finding and further progress was inevitable punctuated by the usual chattering, hesitant movement and, of course, getting stuck in the squeezes which chip away at one's advenurous resolve. After walking in circles around 'La Confluenza', a maze of water passage and streamway just after the Alta Loma, we finally joined 'The White Nile'. This is a long streamyway which connects to the main body of the cave, including the enormous 'Lilliput' and 'Disneyland' chambers.
Halfway down the White Nile we reached the '9m Cascade', a fairly small pitch at a waterfall that we had intended to descend with our 20m rope and standard metalwork. Unfortunately a quick survey of the pitch revealed that it would be preferable to return the next day with a bolting hammer and longer rope. We dumped the bags containing our wetsuits before heading out for an early night, itching to get back to the White Nile...
Jarv: Tummy troubles; 6hr solo walk down Luna valley I am a greedy pig. My fifth helping of fresh Tiramisu (i.e. raw egg) the night before had the rather predictable effect on my stomach. Both the Villa toilet and the woods near the car-park had been the recipients of my rather unscheduled productions. Hoping that everything that was intending to leave had made its way out, I never-the-less pulled on my old wetsuit and readied to go caving.
Alas it was not to be. In the chamber beyond the first pitch, I was feeling more than a little worse-for-wear and so took a few group shots of the Team Keen before making a swift bottom-clenching exit (though I paused to add a rebelay and tidy up the rigging on the way out). Managed to get changed & into more suitable clothing than Neoprene before I had to approach the woods once more.
My caving plans ruined for the day; I packed the little food that didn't go underground into my comedy-sized rucksack, filled the side-pockets with bogroll, chucked in the Sigg-bottle of water and started walking down the Luna valley. Unfortunately, I didn't have any small-scale maps of the valley - so I had no idea how much further it was to the sea.
This is the best valley walk I've every done! Its absolutely amazing. The limestone stacks either side of the valley are beautiful, the hills brilliant, the (mostly dry) stream-bed a really epic place to walk along. Though it is one valley, twists every few hundred metres or so turn it into a series of excitements - always wondering "what's around the next corner". After three hours walking I turned around, so as to arrive back in light. From later consulation of the map, I was just a few hundred metres from the sea, where the valley becomes particularly sinuous.
Back at the Merc I raided Jana's bag for her sweeties, and listened to Tom's classical CD on the impressive Mercedes sound system. The others were soon back; lights shining out of the gloom as they wandered down the path.
Gergely: 7 peeps in Laucia; Canyoning down Caletta di Fuili
Team Glamour: Deep within Su Palu
Team Glamour hit the road early as usual and we were underground by midday. Carrying 50m of rope and a bolting kit in Gerardo's enormous tackle sack slowed us considerably in the low wet squeeze before the Alta Loma but we avoided the route finding blunders of Tuesday and arrived in good time. I initially tried to find a away of avoiding any bolting but in the end conceded and put in two spitz. Having not rigged for at least a year I was rather slow but the knots were sound and the new bolts kept us well out of the waterfall. Everyone coped very well with the extra-tight rebelay on the new bolt and we used the rest of the 50m rope to pass a fairly fast-flowing section of streamway.
Here the cave really starts to get exciting! We went to the end of the White Nile and to a giant underground lake peppered with flowstone and formations. We had to hold our steamy breath in order that our combined headlights could penetrate the darkness to illuminate the far wall. Walking back up the beautifull decorated White Nile we spotted a way up on the left which we believe was 'El Alamein', a gigantic fossil passage occasionally strewn with boulders making route finding a challenge.
Following this led us to an exceptional room with a sandy floor and a derelict campsite. We resisted the temptation to eat any of the suspicious tinned meat products which had been left there and settled for a quick kick-about with a football that had been left at the camp. Continuing on, we hoped to find the passage know as 'Liliput', which is apparently huge and covered with stalacmites. We were stopped in our tracks on top of a 30m pearly white mushroom on which a rope dangled down in at least at 40m free-hang from the roof. None of us had the guts to climb such an old-looking rope, so we opted to turn back and explore the Blue Nile where it runs along El Alamein.
At this point James' wetsuit was really taking its toll, as it was exceedingly tight and didn't allow him to breathe freely. With this in mind we stomped a little way down the Blue Nile to reach a small chamber in which the walls and ceiling were entirely covered in formations. On this high note we decided to turn-back and head out of the cave. De-rigging and excit went off without a hitch but we were all exhausted as we left the cave around midnight. We were back at the hut with hours to spare on our callout and exhilerated.
Su Bentu: To the UFOs (Gergely, Thara, )
Feeling positive from dry canyoning on the previous day (Can you call that canyoning?). My right knee felt fine - only occasional short bursts of mild pain when walking down the stair. I felt definitely up for a day of "easy" (cough cough) trip to Su Bentu, having heard Gerado proclaiming its underground lake wonder two nights previously.
After an early morning started, five of us packed neatly into Gergely car. Excitement resonated within the car as it entered the dirt road section toward the car park. This followed by a chance encounter with the workers on the road, who kindly cleared the way for a small car, after a short negotiation. It is a marvel to see an interesting turning manoeuvre by sand digger.
With completely dry caving gear (This was the first time I will be underground in Sardinia!), I was excited to get going. The plan today was to get to the massive chamber at the end of the cave.
Entrance was easy to find. The large opening near the clearing narrowed down to a small tunnel barred by a gate - too easy to open. The blow of fresh air was strong through here, countering the unpleasantness of 5mm wetsuit that started to steam me alive. The rigging was done in a slow progress. Soon, we were following smaller passages through a damp mud crawl, into the Chaos, a series of passages intertwine to form a maze. Some decor on the wall are interestingly beautiful, without having to proceed further into the system.
After a few rigging faff fest, we eventually dropped down into the beginning of the Lake Series. At the first sight of remarkably clear blue still water (disrupted by Gergely who immediately jumped in), I was awestruck. A reflection with headlamp on the waves selectively lighten some sections of the side wall, creating a feeling of private swimming pool during the night. In a sense, it was our little private pool for that day.
After a few bombings with buoyancy aid with Gergely, my temperature inside the wetsuit started to readjust toward my comfort zone. We swam for a numerous lakes, each separated by the gour pools so large that we need to climb them. Soon we arrived at the 6m climb, above which is the continuation of more canals. After a few attempts Gergely managed to climb over 6m and set up a hand guide rope. I joined him soon after. While waiting for Rahel, an idea came up. We decided to help by pulling them one by one. This was, when I realised how my long cow-tails really is!
A few lakes, we came to the duck by-pass, which wasn't a duck when we arrived. This is assisted by a hand line, which worryingly rubbing against the rock at it attached. Rahel, being tired, Sandeep, being cold (he was wearing 3mm wetsuit!) and Ben, being IC caver, decided that it was the time to head back. While wishing not to stop Gergely and I from going further to the end, we decided to split up. The call-up time was set to 1am.
Off we went, just Gergely and I. We zoomed passed the next few lakes with ease, as my knees were doing nothing. A left turn at "56 Corner" followed by a few more longer lakes we arrived at the drier section of the cave. From her the cave feature changed once again from water to drier, sandier and loose limestone boulders.
The walk was pleasant and the progress was quick. My body temperature surged once again. My glasses were frequency fogged up. It felt like walking into the darkness, since my headlight couldn't even see the end of the passage. The 30 - 50m walls on either sides were quite flat, giving an impression that someone have caved this passage out. The navigation was easy, as there was only one main passage. Occasionally, this was blocked by rock formations, which can be passed by a small gap often on the left side.
Soon our route took us in a chamber filled with sand dunes. In the middle, a slab of stone rose up like a UFO that have crashed into the sand. Further on the passage sometimes filled with shallow water, which hindered our vision for our foot placement. The a 2m diameter stal was seen on the sandy floor. Attempts were made to photograph, but the cave was too steamy, and quality of photo came out very dis-satisfactory. From the fallen stal, it wasn't long before we encountered the active gour pool, which just filled the whole chamber. The steps of flat mushroom-like rock finished with an active stalagmite, giving an impression of a throne room. From there, the underground campsite (although I wouldn't want to camp there. It has too many small pointy rocks all over the floor) wasn't too far in, and it was only 7pm, a mere 2 hours since we left the group.
From there, we ventured into the Sahara. As the name suggested, it was just dunes after dunes of sand. Some interesting patterns can be found marking on the sand floor. Right out of nowhere to the right, another active gour pool under a mushroom -like rock - Oasis. The water was so good after being so dehydrated. My body until this point has worked in attempt to cool my body down from steaming wetsuit. Further along, we passed Black Hole, a 90m hole, which we could only saw 10 m of it, and Conical Chamber, so named because of upside down conical rock which marked the entrance.
After a few route finding difficult we eventually found the route toward the grand chamber. Upon entering, the shear size of the chamber just overwhelmed us. A sit down and eating ritual followed, without realisation that we only explored a fraction of the chamber. This fact was realised soon after a rest. It was a time to explore. The chamber was mostly filled loose rock, which piled up to form a mountain of death. A small foot misplacement can trigger an avalanche, one which I triggered inside the cave. The wall of the chamber was also surprisingly flat. The ceiling made a right angle connection to the wall, while the water tickled down the flat wall, depositing iron compound, which make the wall reddish in colour.
Once at the top of the mountain of boulders, I decided that going any further toward the end, might jeopardise my chance of making it back alive.
The return trip was made with haste, as we were slightly behind our estimated schedule, taking every chance possible to lie in a pool of water to cool our body down. By now, I already started to feel the effect of dehydration and pain in my knee began to creep in. This was only worsened as I fell as I attempted to enter one of the lakes, bruising my left chin. Now that both my legs were affected, I was delight to find ourselves in the Lake Series again. Good swim and several careful by-passes, we reached the bottom of the pinch and it was only midnight. Slow climb out and we were out of the cave just on-time (1am) to catch others napping in the car.
A massive 12.5 hr trip - my longest so far...
Went to Su Bentu with Sandeep, Rahel, Ben (Broken), Thara. Started at 12.30. I derigged the ropes, with my first ever hangers put in.... Sandeep came after me and checked it. (brave guy) We crossed the first 7 lakes, where we stopped on Monday; having wonderful jumps from a perfect jumping stone. Some tricky climbing came afterwards, I had to wait for some minutes before crossing to a traverse some 7 m above water level. After the successful action we used a rope with butterflies on it to climb up the overhanging, the climb starting from the water eventually became really funny and long. By the end we managed to find the best technique, basically clipping on the rope and pull up the person at the end... More lakes follow, and we got to the Duck, where I decided rather to climb up than going under water (ok, we didn't have Sandeep's magnificent goggles...) This point was the end for the three guys, they got too cold and there was still a lot to go till the end. It was 4 pm. So Thara and I got the camera, some fruits, watch, and the small fashion tackle-sack, which proved to be really uncomfy....
We started to go with a good speed, reached the magic 56 corner, which turned out to be the 57 corner (there is a big 57 painted in the wall, for mapping). Swam through the longest lake, and found the tricky left turn, crossing through a small keyhole leading to a perfectly round deep pool. Some tricky climbs, and we arrived to the first huge chamber padded with sand. At a tricky climb a stone is glued to the wall - tricky cheating Italians! In a huge chamber we pass by a stalactite which fell down from the ceiling; its diameter is about 2 m and I guess it used to be about 10-15 m long; never try to be too big :-)) We tried to take some photos, which are good for indicating the size, that's what you can see through the white drops... the case was not really waterproof, maybe it didn't like the several hours spent in water. Going on we see beehives from the bottom, really interesting formations; getting to a huge ghour floored chamber of about 7 m width, with a huge stalactite inlet ideal for drinking from. After this we arrive to a huge chamber, what turns out to be the Camp Chamber!! We made the route to here in 3 hours after the separation. This was the number one goal, so we already felt delighted and ate some fruits which survived the lakes. I wouldn't choose this chamber for camping though, the stalactite chamber is much nicer and just about 20 mins from here...
Heading off for Sahara; wonderful sand dunes of about 4-5 m height in a large passage (somewhere 20 m wide). Soon reaching the oasis, an active inlet in the middle of the sand, with really nice pools and stalactites, just the right time to fill up our water resources. Passing by the Black Hole is not that scary, but still we know that it is a 90 m deep pitch... finding the way to Conical Chamber, which is like a huge vertical cone of some 30 m diameter. After some crawl we manage to arrive to a huge chamber what we believe to be the Grande Frana, the last chamber of the cave!!! This being the ultimate goal, we feel really happy, get rid of the wetsuits and the excess fluid inside. Thara feels that this chamber is not big enough though, at least not as big as it should be; it is 'just' about 50 m long, while on the map the size is more than 300 ms. So we start to get to the end, and reach a place where we must stop: the thing in front of us is really hard to compare to anything in size we have seen before!! The lights reach nothing above us, the echo last for several seconds, and the left hand wall looks like going up to the sky! Where is all the rock missing from here? It is indeed really long and high, but we can't see the whole thing because of a huge hill in the chamber composed by fallen rocks of a height about 40 m. We start to ascend and realize that this might be the most dangerous part of the trip, as the whole hill is constantly running down from under our feet; we have been going on for more than 8 hours now so extra caution is needed, as nobody probably wants to rescue from this point of the cave.... somehow we manage to get to the top, I descend down on the other side to the end marked by a 15 m high dark stalagmite. Thara takes some photos of the big darkness, just to prove that we have seen it :-)
The way back starts at 9 after eating some chocolate, unfortunately we didn't get the cognac choc. (Later it turned out that the other 3 guys got out from cave about this time). Our temperature increases more and more, so we happily jump to every small pond; the first deep lakes are just about half-way. Thara's knees still work quite well, being quite a miracle... A last big drop from the Olympic jumping stand, reaching the pitches, getting out at 1 am - mission completed! The whole trip was about 12 and half hours.
Team Merc: Celebrating German Engineering
Out of bed at 10am, on the road by 11am, changing amongst the pigs by 1pm. Can't seem to close the boot. Oh dear. Let down by German engineering...
Forestry guys give us a hand attempting a fix - no joy. Nasty gear-scrunching sound come from within. Tie it shut with my walking-boots shoe-laces. Won't need those today!
Find a mechanic in a crazy ghost town. Everyone asleep for the Siesta. Find the one open cafe, populated (except for the waitresses) entirely by men, clearly escaped from their wives. Streets deserted, except for old crones swaddled in black dragging firewood around. Seriously weird.
Garage opens - its raining now. Dude pokes mechanism with a screwdriver, undoes many hex-screws to gain access & thumps the underside with the flat of his hand. Now it magically works! Many thanks said - he doesn't even charge us.
Now drive off to buy Pizza, finding our way in time to ghost town #2, perched on top of a mountain. Takes a few people stopped & asked until they remember that their town has a Pizzarie in it. It's semi-shut, but the nice lady is charmed by Gerardo into firing up the Pizza ovens and doing us some delicious food. 5pm by the time we're eaten - too late to go caving today.
Drift off down to the sea, spend an hour or two on the beach, looking at the yachts of the Marina, skimming stones and (Gerardo only) swimming in a wetsuit. Long drive back to the villa.
Hours driving: 7 Hours on Beach: 1 Hours in Cafes: 1 Hours Caving: 0
It started raining this evening, and didn't stop till gone dawn... What would be the effect on the caves out here?
Team Merc: Rained Out in Sa Palu
Again in Su Palu - this time with Jarv. The aim was to get to the Blue Nile. We enter the cave at 3pm, by 6pm the waterfall was rigged (the previous team had derigged). Cool! Underground canyoning followed - we didn't get far - due to the rain last night the water level was higher, and the cascades rather nasty. We had SRT anti-buoyancy rather than buoyancy aides... To dangerous to go on.
Sad to turn around, especially concerning the enormous amount of food that we had with us. But we passed the waterfall at least. On the way out we met Gergely crawling out of some horrid scrot-hole after having left his group in a small chamber. We choose to go back via our beautiful high-level route, and waited for them in the Pool Room and took some photos.
Good little relaxing trip.
Jana Carga and Jarvist Frost
Team Glamour: Tiscali and others
After our fantastic push into Su Palu on Wednesday Team Glamour decided to take it a bit easier on Thursday. Rik, Jutta, Tim, Gerardo and I set off for the Su Bentu Valley (what's it called?) where we split into two teams: Rik and Jutta going up to the Tiscali cave and Tim, Gerardo and I venturing into Su Bentu. We had some route-finding problems at the start, twice finding ourselves returning to parts of the cave from which we had come. However, armed with the exemplary training Rik had given us on our push into Su Palu, we soon put our heads together and found the way on. After the first three pitches we swam up twenty-eight pools (I know the previous trips into Su Bentu called them lakes, but compared to the one in Su Palu on Wednesday, whose end we couldn't see even with all our lights concentrated in the same spot, the pools in Su Bentu were puddles). It was fun swimming with the buoyancy aids, but somehow Tim and I missed the exhilaration of pushing Su Palu, with all its variety and scale. This is probably being unfair on Su Bentu, since we only really saw the start of the cave, but Wednesday will remain my most memorable caving trip.
When we got out Jutta and Rik weren't back from Tiscali, so we made our way up the mountainside and met them just as they were derigging the cave. The drive back was a little stressful because it had been raining for 24 hours and the hill on which diggers had been laying piping was a mud-bath. On the way down we hadn't so much steered as slid down the road, so I was a little apprehensive about getting back up it. Round about the middle of the mud the wheels started to spin, so everyone else got out and pushed. This holiday was been excellent off-road driving practice.
Team Glamour: (Rik, Tim, Thara)
Afternoon began with kit cleaning faffing. Later it was decided between Rk, Tim and I to go on a little hike around the area. How we were. It took us almost two hours to get to base of the mountain to climb, passing a dead fox that was hang by its anus along the way. It stench penetrated my nose when I decided to take a photo downwind.
With failure to find a church marked on the map, we decided to the jump the fence into a farmer land. Many more fences we soon needed to jump to over. Following goat track, we reached a shepherd hut half-way up, which allowed us to follow a plastic water host to the top by 5pm.
On the way down, we decided not the come the way we came, and traverse alone some random farmer's (or Italian politician?) fence until we reached a nice road via jumping over the fence again. Further down, we found a swimming pool surrounded by barbed wire on the mountain, in the middle of nowhere!
After a few faffs, we were caught trespassing by the puppies the farmer set to chase us. Luckily, the guy was quite nice, and even show us the way to our villa, accompanied by a puppy that tried to prove his worth.
On Friday evening Gerardo pulled out all the stops and cooked a roast. He'd had problems sleeping ever since he saw the family of pigs near the entrance to Su Palu, so he finally exorcised his roast pork demons with a splendid meaty feast. At about ten we started to get a little concerned that we had not heard from the group at Tiscali consisting of Gergely, Deep and Rahel. It seemed inevitable that since we had washed the car the same morning we would be cursed to return to the valley and coat the car in mud yet again. Fortunately we got a text message from them five minutes before we were set to leave.
Team Merc: Su Bentu to lakes & Derig
We had thought that we would never get to see this cave - but it needed to be derigged, and so we had to go underground, despite the beautiful sun underground. Finally - at 13:30 (after being ready myself at 11am), Jarv stopped being lazy and we left. We stopped an hour and a half away from the cave - the rain-washed road now too horrific to contemplate taking the Merc down it. It was 4pm by the time we went underground. After 3 dodgy pitches and some crawling we came to the lakes. Initially we went downstream (there was quite a flow after the rain), entering an enormous gour-dam chamber. We swam around in (what we now realise are) the sumps for a while, but couldn't see the way on. Impressive chamber none-the-less.
Heading upstream, we found the way on, but decided to stop after just a few lakes. There was not much light with just the two of us, the bottom of the lakes disappearing into murky blackness. It was all rather sinister with just two of us - though I'm sure it would have been wonderful in a big group with lots of light and laughter.
Anyhow, it was quite lake the derig was going to take some time. I had never swam before in a cave - very nice new experience! We need to come back sometime!
No-one thought to told us that there was a hand-line, krab and a few slings stashed after a number of lakes. Never mind. There will be a corner of that distant passage that will forever be IC3.
Walk back to the car was exhausting - a straight 90 minutes with obscenely large bags bulging with wet kit and wet rope, packed down with some extra metal work.
Jana Carga and Jarvist Frost
Team Lancia: Gergely, Sandeep, Jutta & Rahel
After some faffing in the morning Rahel, Sandeep and I head off for Tiscali. In the rushing the callout time is told to be definitely short, as we underestimated both the length of the walk and the time spent in the cave. Checking out the road at the valley proves that we have to leave the car there and walk to the cave. It takes more than 2 hours, and the wellies and wet wet-socks prove to be extremely uncomfortable, leaving loads of blisters behind. Rigging goes quite slowly as well, but not as slow as derigging (that was me). At one end of the chamber we find a small crawl leading down; it seems to be quite recent exploration. This leads to a lower level of the cave, which consists of a lot of rather big chambers and passages, which once used to be member of a probably big system. Evident marks of a big river can be seen. Now this level is filled up with mud and stones, making exploration straightforward: you just have to dig off the chambers! The Italians seem to be quite lucky... Several good-chanced possibilities can be seen for continuing on, and maybe these passages lead to a huge underground system under the valley - there is no water on the surface at all, being quite strange for such a huge valley.
The ascending goes slowly, the pitch is over 100 m, and we are rather tired as well... the 95 m rope of course doesn't fit into the bag, and everything gets stuck at every possible places. We realize to be late, but running is impossible with these feet, so we can just hope the rescue team doesn't start - we can't make calls from the valley either... Finally getting back to the car, and soothing the others at home. This is one thing which is organized better than in Hungary; instead of call-out time, we always hope that the ones underground found something new :-)
Anyway, a good lesson to study. On the way back several animals try to be killed by the car, fortunately none of them manages so. Arriving to the villa, eating the rest of the dinner, and start to pack... Another good cave, which seems still to hide the best parts. Maybe on our next trip to Sardinia...
Homeward Bound (Saturday)
The epic faff. Gear washed, dried and stowed. Mild panic as Team Lancia overshoot their callout by 90 minutes. Go through El Presidente's possessions to find the wodge of Euros to pay landlady. Carefully packed gear resorted, ropes packed in tackle-sac, rescue coordinators appointed, SRT kits rebuilt and readied. Then a text-message from the blue.
Rope repacked, more gassing in Jutta's carbon-monoxide friendly drying room. A few hours sleep for the drivers, hidden away in the upstairs flat, others clean through the night. Alarms at 4, finally leave the villa at 5. Soom across the Island in darkness, chased by the pink tinged dawn. Finally at the airport, our first hot day of the holiday.
Ryanair baggage ladies rather anal. Don't listen to our explanations that our gear is wet. Flight obviously only half-filled anyway.
I walk up to the lady to check in. My hold luggage - 15 kilos. Told to place hand luggage on top. Display now nearing 30 kilos. Am told that I have too much. Take plastic bag of wet neoprene out of hand luggage and place on floor. Now everything is somehow ok.
Have my check-in label. Walk ten metres away; shove everything that anybody has on offer into my big rucksac. Everyone else doing the same. Carry it to the baggage check-in. All ok.
Shuffle onto security - don't seem to enjoy my wet-socks, but all ok.
Check-in girls turn up at the boarding to give us evils. Fantastic moment where man collecting boarding passes hands a 50-odd thick wodge of them to his nearest neighbour, who hands it to the next check-in girl, who hands it to the final check-in girl, who places it on the table which was within reach of all them. This, and they still have 15% unemployment.
The long, arduous, walk from South Ken tube to stores. Batter open the doors - weigh my baggage - an impressive 38kg. Screw you Ryanair.