MCG Occasional Publication No. 5
The Wild Caves
by Peat Bennett
Our first day of Slovenian caving was a gentle introduction by way of the cave walk from the caving hut in Laze. This ticked off Vranja Jama that had an impressive large entrance emitting clouds, and our first sighting of Proteus. We then popped over to Skednena Jama for a through-trip complete with a skylight to light our way.
Our first real challenge was Najdena Jama. Typical of the caves in the area, we had a bit of trek through the woods, before finally finding a gash in the ground which turned out to be the entrance. This was actually a 3m chimney that led to a slope before gaining the next pitch. From here we abseiled (with lots of rub points) down to the main body of the cave, at which point the team split into two; Martin Peck, Julie, Natalie and I headed downslope past a stal boss to reach part of the cave that wasn't on the survey.
We arrived at a graffiti-strewn chamber with a bolt in the ceiling above a slope. Cavers being cavers we popped in a bolt and followed the slope to see where it led. A few feet down we encountered an overhang. However the rope didn't quite reach the bottom, so we fleeced Martin of his slings and just about made it down. Following deep glutinous footprints I then traversed round the side of a huge chamber with a pool 40m below. They led back up the chamber on the far side. Martin followed but somehow managed to follow the wrong footprints. After a spot of shouting across the chamber we were finally both on the same side. From here we followed a section of washed boulders down to another pool with lots of Proteus. Retracing our steps, we picked up the others. The fun bit out was trying to get back up the overhang as we only had one SRT kit, which was by now completely caked in mud. Back at the main pitch we met up with Louisa, Tim, Ben and Cara and headed out after having a quick look at what they had found.
The next day Tim, Ben, Martin Peck and I planned to do Logarcek which was probably the highlight of the trip for us. We followed the caving guide's description - drive to the last house out of Laze by a war memorial then head up hill. Unlike the previous day it didn't take long to find the entrance. The entrance series didn't give us too many hassles, but we were a bit surprised when we got to what was described in the guide as a hand-line climb. This was a 40m vertical climb down a flowstone with foot holes cut into it (not very conservationally minded) but we took the more prudent approach of rigging it as a pitch. At the bottom of this we first took the left hand passage that led off to stomping passageway. It was rather eerie when we arrived at Blaina Dvorana, a massive chamber. It was so huge that poles had been placed across the chamber to lead the way on and we could also hear trains crossing overhead - slightly disconcerting. This route finally finished at a sump full of Proteus. Back at the pitch we decided to go and have a look at the right hand passage. It was quite pleasant initially until we reached a wallowy section of mud that led to some impressive large formations. We had to climb down these to avoid huge holes in the floor. We then zig-zagged between these fissures before being stopped in our track by a huge abyss. There was a traverse line going round the side of this, but as it looked too unsafe for any of us to trust on this exposed section, we decided it was time to turn back.
Our next cave involved a mass visit to Zelske Jama armed with two dinghies to do battle with the river cave. While waiting for the first party to depart, we set up an abseil from a rock arch above the river for an exhilarating alternative route down. After doing this (more than once in some cases) some of us passed the time by recceing the second cave entrance. Adeptly led by Ben and trusty GPS we soon found the right doline but a bit more bashing through the undergrowth was required before we located the other entrance against the far doline wall half way up. Unfortunately it was gated and to add insult to injury it then started to shaft it down with rain. Not a pleasant change when we got back to the cars.
By the next day we were getting rather adventurous, rigging two caves in a day. Martin Peck and Ben rigged the pitch in Jama Za Teglovko, while Tim and I rigged Jama Na Meji.
Rigging Jama Na Meji would have been an easy affair apart from the mosquitoes attacking Tim while he rigged a Y-hang over the lip of the pitch. Luckily for me, I had liberally applied DEET. The swarm of mosquitoes might have explained why Tim tried to abseil down the loop from above rather than continue down the next part of the pitch. Two rebelays later and we were at the bottom. Down slope a hole at the bottom was signposted as dangerous. We could see why with an extremely loose right hand wall. It led to a pretty chamber with a tube heading off that had been blasted. Following this another chamber was gained, containing what looked like plastic explosive. From this a tube headed off to a wallow in mud before popping out in another chamber with a choice of two ways on. To the right closed down with a huge draft being emitted through boulders. To the left led to a slippery climb up a mud bank with a hand line. Further along we came to a pool in the floor with a Tyrolean going across and a hand line down to the pool. We went for the Tyrolean option to get to a tube on the far side. This brought us to a traverse which was rather slippery after now being caked in mud. We climbed up over some flowstone to reach a decorated chamber, and pretty much the end of the cave.
On the way out Tim had a closer look at the pool. Jumping in he landed up to his knees in mud. We found that the reason for the hand line was to reach an SRT rope on the far side from the entrance that led into the ceiling. We'd had enough of mud by now, so headed out to meet Ben and Martin on their way down the pitches. We left them to explore and went over to Jama Za Teglovko with Natalie, Louisa and Cara who had rejoined us after their stroll over to Vranja Jama to look at the Proteus.
On arriving at Jama Za Teglovko we admired the intricate rigging of the entrance pitch to three trees. I managed to slip on rock at the entrance and was rather grateful for the invention of cow's tails otherwise it would have been a quick descent. At the base of the pitch were quite a few animal bones. The cave led on to a muddy traverse with a slippery climb up onto flowstone. On climbing up on to this we reached quite a pretty section with the flowstone cascading down to the end of the cave. On the way out we met Ben and Martin coming back in, who pointed out a hole underneath the main pitch. Tim was duly dispatched and reported back that it led to a 10m pitch down.
Next day Tim, Louisa and I commissioned the good ship Knibbs for a trip down Zelske Jama. After inflating the dingy inside the cave we set sail along with pump and puncture repair kit - just in case. We headed for the terminal sump first which involved a few porterages to clamber over rocks or flowstone. Here we could see a diver's line heading off in crystal clear water which looked quite inviting. However, we resisted the temptation and turned back to beach the dingy at a dry passage that we had passed on the way in. After climbing up two fixed ladders and a tricky climb over a flat slab of rock we reached a pretty section of passage, at which point the cave started to gain more impressive dimensions. Walking through a rectangular passage with stalactite teeth we came to a T-junction. To the right, led to the second entrance we had poked our noses through a few days earlier while cowering from a thunderstorm. This section had loads of stalactites bent by the wind. The left of the T-junction led to copious amounts of mud and the way on. We called it a day when we reached a draughting dig in boulders.
The next two wild caves ticked off in a day were an easy SRT cave, Brezno V Zavoju, followed by a Mendip-like cave, Mackovica. We were only able to find these after Ben (who had returned to Blightey by now) had texted us details of how to plug coordinates for the Slovenian grid system into the GPS.
We found Brezno V Zavoju easily enough after Cara spotted a cave sign on a tree. Couldn't have been much closer to the road even if we had wanted. The first belay point was to the tree directly above a slash in the ground. After a 5m pitch we landed on a shelf above a rebelay that was lassoed round a stal boss. We then followed the slope down to the next rebelay 4m below. A deviation and two more rebelays finally had us on the floor. Tim and I had a bit of a dig in the floor, while Martin Peck showered us with stones while descending the final pitch.
A short drive to the other side of Laze, taking a track by a crash barrier and then following a path brought us to Mackovica. The entrance was more impressive than we had been expecting. We followed a worn route to a breakdown chamber then took various routes through boulders to arrive at a huge chamber. A stomp downhill brought us to the end. Retracing our steps, we took a left hand passage, Blatini Rov. This section proved to be entertaining, involving traverses and muddy climbs with the assistance of somewhat dodgy hand lines. Finally we reached a small tube leading to a muddy chamber. Popping out of this we reached a muddy sloping bank. A hand line was rigged to aid getting down and more importantly so we could get back up! At the bottom we reached the glutinous mud of the normally filled sump pool. Opposite, we spotted some rifts that led off into the distance. We all declined traversing along these apart from Tim, as they were extremely slippery after the mud bath we had just had. So Tim went off for a furtle, to report back that he had climbed into an aven with several cascades. On the way out Louisa had a bit of difficulty with some of the climbs and we had route finding problems trying to get out of the large chamber. As a result we finally exited at around 9pm. Not surprisingly when we got back to the campsite the others were starting to get worried.
Two days later saw us armed with the repaired Pacesetter 200 and the Knibbs' dingy to tackle Tkalca Jama. After slogging down to the entrance of the cave with all this kit we found that the entrance was rather dry. We thought we'd do a quick recce to see if there was any need for boats. However, we kept walking and walking with only a few pools encountered. Finally we reached a narrow section of the cave that was jammed full of tree trunks. A way through was found but we soon reached the end that had even more tree trunks wedged in. Tim and Martin Peck investigated a climb for a possible way on but nothing was obvious. On the way out we inspected the cave flora and fauna including a toad.
After this we went hunting for Jama pod Cesto (cave under road) that the Shepton Mallet Caving Club had done a few years before. This took for ever to find but we found two other caves: 3865 ST and 3865 JRKD. The first one didn't go anywhere; but the second was about 50m long, quite pretty, but full of mossies.
During this time Cara had found the cave we were looking for. It turned out to be quite picturesque, which was surprising for being so close to the road. We then went off to look for Pajkovka Jama, another cave that the Shepton had done. This reminded us of Goatchurch with its maze-like passages. It was good fun with a few nice formations. Again it took a bit of finding.
Our final wild cave was Gradisnica and after reading the cave description we knew we were going to encounter something rather intimidating. On approaching the entrance we found a gaping chasm with the take off ledge sloping into the hole to add to the vertigo. Once over the edge we got to a Y-hang with an awesome 50m free hang. Two rebelays later and we reached a horrible sloping floor that funneled into a big black hole.
I passed the rope bag to Tim so he could start rigging the next part of the cave and waited for Cara to come down. After dangling at the Y-hang for 20 minutes trying to lock off her stop, she turned back. I went to see where Tim had got to by traversing the left hand wall which was more like a scree slope - so rather daunting. After crossing a gulley with the aid of a traverse line, I followed it down and continued to traverse round to the left to reach the head of the next pitch at the top of a slope. After the initial Y-hang we had four rebelays on the way down to land on a huge debris mound. Next we headed down to the sump, trying not to lose our wellies. Luckily we found a bit of streamway which made it slightly easier going. At the sump pool we found loads of proteus. With no other way on we headed back up to the debris mound. On the way we spotted the head of a hand grenade poking out of the mud. Needless to say we didn't investigate too closely.
Our last cave of the holiday was the show cave Krizna Jama. Meeting up with our guide he supplied us with oversuits and fetching white wellies. The trip was pretty impressive with the highlight being the calcite encrusted streamway. Due to this the guide was very particular about where we put our feet, pointing out damage caused by previous trips. This also explained why we had to wear the white boots, so as not to leave marks on the calcite.
Following the initial walk we got into a dinghy and paddled our way upstream with a few porterages to reach the final stop, Kalvarija. Disembarking we inspected the formations and had a few Kodak moments. Just before turning back we peered down Pasani Rov which became too low for the boat to pass.
Back at the first lake we lingered a moment, to watch a group of tourists at the start of their trip. The lights were turned off except for those underneath their boat to illuminate the crystal clear green lake.
List of Wild Caves Visited
Mendip Caving Group. UK Charity Number 270088. The object of the Group is, for the benefit of the public, the furtherance of all aspects of the exploration, scientific study and conservation of caves and related features. Membership shall be open to anyone over the age of 18 years with an interest in the objects of the Group.