Summer Expedition 2003 - Surveys
Gardener's World Surveys
Rik Venn describes this summer's expedition to Slovenia.
Imperial College Caving Club is an elusive and strange organisation, steeped in its own jargon, tradition and proud history. In some strange fractal way, my joining of the caving club has been a bizarre macrocosm of caving itself. When I joined the club last year, I was cautious at the prospect of climbing into a foreboding vertical concrete tube in Wales. Similarly, when I arrived at my first meeting in Southside bar, very much the fresher and anxious to make the right new friends, I was apprehensive at this scruffy beer swilling bunch, most of whom seemed dreadfully old. But as I ventured into that first cave, and as I was drawn into the maternal bosom of the club my fears first shrunk, then melted away. Just as I was hooked on caving I felt inexplicably bound to the club after only three or four trips. Thus I was led out to Slovenia this summer as the only fresher: to meet some old faces and some new ones; to eat, live and sleep on a mountain for a month; and above all to venture into unexplored caves!
Overview on Slovenia
The Julian Alps in Slovenia are the closest geological feature to South Kensington which house enough virgin caves to warrant an expedition. Imperial College has been exploring cave systems on Migovec mountain for around ten years. System Migovec is the largest of these. With 4 entrances, 11.3 Km of passage and a total depth of 900 m it is incredible to think that this was all discovered by a student club with help from the Slovenian locals. Although there are still a few unexplored leads in this fantastic system, the bottom has already been found. Much more interesting and exciting is 'Gardeners World'. This was discovered by Ben Ogborne in 1999 and was originally named 'Ben's Crap Lead' due to the unpromising appearance of the original entrance to the cave.
This years expedition focused all of it's efforts on Gardeners World. At the end of the 2001 expedition, the last Imperial College trip to Slovenia, the cave was about 530 m deep and looking very promising. This cave is particularly vertical. All myths of caving as a sport dominated by crawling and squeezing were completely dispelled by scores of jaw-droppingly enormous vertical shafts. The biggest of these is Concorde, big enough to accommodate 2 of it's namesake nose to tail. That's over 80 metres high. You can barely see the headlight of a caver on the perfectly smooth floor from the top of this perfectly cylindrical, perfectly natural colossus.
Carrying and Rigging
The first four days were spent by me, Tetley, Clewin and Martin carrying all the food, tents and caving essentials up the hill to Migovec plateau where all the cave entrances are to be found. The plateau is around 1000 m from our base camp in a tiny village called Ravne and around 2000 m above sea level. The traditional 'up, down, up' from Ravne was exhausting to say the least. However, after several days of this Brian, Colm and James arrived and we were well supplied and feeling fit enough to go caving. The cave was rigged ( rope put in place ) and 'Camp X-Ray' was set up by Irishmen Martin and Colm around the limit of exploration in a horizontal sheltered passage called Friendship Gallery. Martin and Colm had followed a lead in friendship gallery which quickly became too tight and two Slovenes, Robert and Bogomire, ran out of rope trying to get to the bottom of a really big pitch at the end of Friendship Gallery.
Underground Camp and The Big Rock Candy Mountain
I was on the next trip with Clewin. We travelled down to camp X-Ray, put in some ropes on the more awkward climbs in Friendship Gallery, then went to bed in the camp. Camping underground ranks among the most unnerving experiences of my life. Surrounded by small candles and lulled to sleep by the soundtrack to Blackadder on the tinny camp stereo, we gradually drifted into sleep. It's impossible to know how much time passes underground without a watch and when we awoke it could have been 6 hours later or 16. All I knew was that as I opened my eyes as I woke, the surroundings went from black to pitch black. We switched on a headtorch, ate some breakfast and sugary tea before setting out and reaching the bottom of that really big pitch. It was later found to be around 85 m tall and I can't describe the feeling as my feet touched the floor of 'Big Rock Candy Mountain'. We went on to discover around 200 m of an underground stream going on so far that we had to stop. We turned back at around 7:00 pm and caved through the night until we emerged around five in the morning, starving and absolutely shattered. This had been an epic trip in the grand old Imperial tradition.
Meanwhile, on the surface, life went dozily on in a sheltered area on the surface known as the bivvy, which served as larder, kitchen, and living room for the expedition. Non cavers Andy, Janet, Tom and Pete H. went on walks in the surrounding mountains. Between caving trips, I chose between playing guitar, sun bathing or just sleeping all day to recover from caving. Nights were spent talking, eating and drinking 75% abv rum. News from the bottom came up every day with weary cavers through most of the expedition. The news was invariably good as there was simply so much to explore.
Tetley and James were next down. Unfortunately, Clewin and I had not surveyed what we had found so James and Tetley were left with the unpleasant task of taking the careful measurements necessary to make a good 3D map. They discovered another pitch at the end of the streamway. Colm and Brian descended that pitch the next day, going on to run around in miles of tube shaped passages. Everything discovered by Irish tinkers Colm, Brian and Martin seemed to end up being named after places in Dublin. More exploration was done by Pete J, Dave, Jan and Shed. The main body of new leads were in the section originally pushed by Brian and Colm. Agonisingly on the last trip, Tetley and Pete were left gazing down a passage to which they could not see an end. They heroically de-rigged all the new bits of the cave and handed bags to me, Jan, Shed and Brian at around -400 m. We all swiftly left the cave leaving Tetley to finish the de-rig, which he did in record time, emerging for a hearty supper and bed.
There ends the tale of this year's expedition although needless to say that a fantastic time was had by the expedition's members in nearby Tolmin swimming in the river, eating delicious food and enjoying all the joys of modern life which we had deprived ourselves of during our time on Migovec. The final depth of gardeners world was around 750 m and it now stands at over 3 Km long.
Dave Wilson's photos are now online.
Hot off the press, surveys [see above] of our discoveries.
Latest News from the Pushing Front
Update: 14th August
Final pushing trip (Tetley and Pete) revealed 250m of stonking passage (horizontal of course).
Cave about 3.2km long, 750m deep. (t.b.c.)
No connection but loads of storming leads for 2004.
GW derigged in a day (metal work taken out, ropes left coiled at top of pitches).
Efficient derig of bivvy (including a superb pissup/bithday party for Janet with Champagne and sausages).
Flowers given to the farmer's wife went down very well as did the chocolates, wine (and a sneaky packet of ciggies)
Last night we were at the Soca till 2:30 am, tonight we are having our final expedition meal, tomorrow the van heads off towards Blighty.
Update: 12th August Part 2
More information on who did what. in the last week or so.
Tetley and Dave went down Sunday morning, exiting Tuesday 2-30am. Had a look at end of Leprechaun and high-level passage above. Securely rigged and surveyed Take Nothing / Moondust past point of initial exploration by Brian & Colm, Surveyed one side-passage just after streamway. Took photographs in Take Nothing / Moondust (~5 locations) and around Playboy Junction.
Brian and Martin went down Monday morning, exiting Tuesday evening. Pushed end of Leprechaun down short pitches and climbs. Dug through sand choke to continuation of phreatic passage beyond. Rigged uncertain traverse. Found another small streamway (as yet unexplored).
Pushed main route up rift passage to drop. Surveyed ~200m. Martin got infected finger (grit rubbed in near base of nail). Had to go to doctor to get pus drained. Out of caving, so on carry-down-hill duties. Rub-point at top of Zimmer (rope caught round small flake) nearly resulted in Brian taking 50m lob - sheath and some core sliced through.
Shed & Jan down Tuesday, out Thursday morning ~2am. - told about Zimmer on way down by B&M, and did initial re-rigging. Some time taken learning new parts of cave (neither had been beyond end of main pitch series previously) Continued work in Moondust.
Pete J. and Rick down Wednesday, out Thursday evening. Pushed & surveyed end of Moondust, rerigged Zimmer. (Zimmer now has no ledge - just 2 drops)
Brian and Dave descended Thursday morning, out Friday 6pm. Pushed end of Leprechaun down 3 climbs on naturals (bolting with Spits not possible in decayed rock) Surveyed (including one leg where we had to split a leg because a 30m tape just wasn't long enough) to junction with large (climbable?) aven up to left, with a low way to right leading to slope which soon gains drop requiring some rigging. Rubbing natural hangs *seem* OK even on cheap 9mm - rock seems weaker than rope. Some climbs a bit iffy - surfaces get more slippy each time they are climbed on
Photos in: Leprechaun (~ 4 locations), the oxbow bypass in highway 52, Camp X-ray, and the pitcheads of Space Odyssey and Tesselator on way out.
Saw Tetley & Pete J set off down Saturday just before I walked down to Ravne with my gear.
A nice steady climb from camp X-ray to the surface is about 6 hours with light/medium-weight tackle bag, and from the end of Leprechaun it's currently about 1.5 hours back to camp at a steady sweat-free pace.
Update: 12th August Part 1
I've just got back home (Tuesday lunchtime.) Went down GW on Thursday for a photo/pushing/survey trip with Brian, and got out Friday evening. The phreatic series (Leprechaun) is still going on (and on, and on), though the rock is a bit rotting in places - long through-bolts may be needed next year to rig some small climbs properly? Tetley/Pete J. went down to camp on Saturday for the last pushing trip, combining that with initial derigging. The main straight-ahead lead in the 'cascade' series (Take Nothing / Moondust) closed down, but there are still several promising leads running off it in the region of the streamway.
When I left the bottom, there was a pitch to drop and a nearby shaft to climb at the end of Leprechaun, (and the small streamway part way along it), the various leads off Moondust, and there is still Leopard and the down route at Zimmer, so there's absolutely loads to do next year, possibly with a deeper camp. When I get my pictures back,I'll post some scans on my website.
Update: 3rd August
We've been running two person camping trips every night since last Monday.
Two Slovenes, Robert and Bogomir, rigged the top of a big pitch at end of f-ship gallery.
Colm and Martin push Fall's road, it gets too tight, but is following under f-ship gallery, so probably enters later.
Clewin and Rik finished off the big pitch. 80m in total. Enters a reasonable sized chamber, with a streamway heading off. They explore streamway for ~200m before heading back.
Tetley and James push streamway to a pitch (not actually in stream, but at top of rift in phreatic-esque section) and survey back to pitch.
Colm and Brian descend pitch (actually 2m climb) and run wildly around the place finding shit-loads of horizontal phreatic stuff. One passage (Leprachaun series) heads towards Mig System, and goes down at the familiar angle of the main fault at the bottom of the system. Other passage is a fossil cascade dropping ~40m with some pristine pools. Stream eventually joins on left, leaving immediately on right, with phreatic stuff continuing straight on. Colm and Brian find at least 300m, with no end in sight! Leprachaun is surveyed, as is the big pitch in preparation for descent to Tolmin on Sat.
All except Dave W and Tetley down for pizza and pivo.
Meal in Hotel Krn takes about 3 hours to arrive!
Survey data entered on computer.
Colm wants to call new passage 'Withnail Outlet', guess why.....
Update: 30th July
Camp X-Ray up and running.
Toasty and warm.
Falls road closes down. Needs semtex or pipe bombs.
Far end of Friendship gallery goes! A few small pitches, then a big one, at least 50m! As yet undescended.
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