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C o n t a c t




by Roberto Rinaldi

(published in "Mondo Sommerso" - May 2003)


This gigantic tunnel impresses. It impresses even more for the thought that it is an abyss without bottom. The absolute black in which swim compared to the clear emerald waters of the little pond in which we dived in at the beginning of our adventure. The Elefante Bianco spring has been closed for several years by now. Closed by an ordinance of the mayor of Valstagna after an accident that has cost the life of two scuba divers. A measure that has taken away one of the most appreciated destinations for the ones who are into this type of diving. A prohibition that has even increased the charm of this cave and the desire to explore it. As it happens with all forbidden things. We arrived in February and leaned out to the banks of the little pond in which the waters of this great spring meet the surface. An expedition of the Aquatica Team led by Luigi Casati has been put together in order to collect water and sediment samples inside the cave. The most important explorations in the past had been led by the great Swiss Speleologist Olivier Isler: it was him to reach the known greatest depth, 139 meters, stopping at about 365 meters from the entry. Luigi is fascinated by this gallery by the exploratory possibilities which are deduced by the morphology. Isler told him that he turned around in a sub-horizontal section of the tunnel: almost a promise that there is still so much to discover. For an exploration of this kind, Luigi has put together a great expedition. As usual the group is coordinated by Jean Jaques Bolanz, his instructor of once and since then companion of adventures. On the shoulders the equipment is transported from the road until the base camp, which is organized around two tents which where provided and installed by the Speleological Group Grotte Giara Modon. A shelter that will protect the equipment from the cold and will allow a comfortable changing in case the external temperature become too cold. This way the first two or three days pass by: transporting tanks, dry suits, compressors. And then the phase of verification of the already prepared gas mixes begins. The members of the team immediately will be occupied to prepare the cave within the depth of fifty meters. The first one to enter the water is Walter Naibo, he will lay out the main line. Although the cave had been in fact visited frequently up to these dephts and was therefore perfectly equipped, the floods in spring have taken away by now the old main line. In fact, one job to be done will be to clear the cave taking out all pieces of line that accidentally could be a danger for the cave divers of the group. The new main line has to follow a rational route. The line must be fixed to the rocks of the cave in a way that every passage is free, away from the bottom and well visible, following the easiest, fastest and most rational route. The following tie-offs then have to make sure, that in the case of a possible broken main line only one segment is interrupted, allowing the cave diver to use his emergency spool for searching the remaining part of the main line, which still remains fixed to the rock beyond the interruption. It is a technique simple and common for cave divers: the technique of sectioning and searching the main line. The line has meter marks and every now and then labels of duct tape that show the distance in meters from the entry and through a small arrow the direction of the exit is indicated. A good line setup is a basic requirement for the safety in a cave. Naibo leaves an entire exploration reel with meter markes line is left at a depht 50 meters, in the place where Gigi will continue the work of preparation of the cave for the exploration. The main line just prepared becomes the guide to position the whole series of tanks containing different mixtures which will serve both to manage emergencies, as well as for the necessary decompression. A long work of precision. A work on which every safety prerequisite of the expedition depends on. For this the analysis of the contained gases in every tank becomes an almost maniacal rite, for this absolutely every tank is labeled with a sticker on which the total pressure, the partial pressures of the varied gases, the analyzed percentages and the operation depht are indicated. In the meantime, while the work inside the cave proceeds, Ennio and Caramella are busy fixing some chains to the rocks on the bottom of the little pond. The habitat will be anchored to these chains, and thanks to a wrinch lift, it will allow Luigi to decompress in the dry from 12 meters until the surface. Luigi and I will have to realize a film on behalf of a production of RAI. Our job begins when the preparation of the cave up to -50 meters is completed. I will film Luigi while he lays out line from - 50 to - 107 meters and while he clears the cave from the old line. We go down to the little pond with a double tank of 20 + 20 liters on the back, filled with the ternary bottom mix. We breathe from a small 10 liter tank filled with a hyperoxic mixture. The water of the little pond is clear, even after our entry into the water. Through the smooth surface trees, mountain tops and our companions' outlines on the shores appear. Until two clusters of bubbles break what seems to be a sheet of glass. They break it and erase the images of the external world. As to remember to us that we are not here for that, but to get down into that dark cave about 15 meters below. I take a picture of Luigi who descents elegantly and passes through the opening with agility. With one hand he clipps the tank with enriched air off the harness and hooks it onto the main line. I do the same. We are at around 25 meters, we will find the tanks again at our return and they will serve us to continue the decompression. Advancing with fin propulsion we keep the wall to our left. Shortly after we are at -50 meters. Luigi picks up the exploration reel prepared by Naibo and continues. In this place the bottom disappears below us, the walls are widening, we descend downward and we lose therefore the contact with the ceiling. From time to time I dissuade the attention from the monitor of the videocamera and see the shine of the lights disappear in the black. Luigi remembers the route from his preceding explorations. He proceeds in a fluent way, finds a series of rock prominences at which he stops for the necessary sectioning of the main line. Here he takes out the shear and cuts the old line to pieces: they could be very dangerous. I look at around admiring the tunnel that indeed in some parts becomes very beautiful. Among the rocks I discover the run of the waters that climb from the womb of the earth during flood periods. I follow the erosive forms graven into the solid limestone. There are sections in which the walls are smooth as polished marble, then sections in which the rocks seem petrified walls of children's sand castles. The two 250 watts lightings illuminate the scene with a full and warm light that puts the shapes in evidence. The amazement for the beauty of the environment overcomes the fear of a dive in such a hostile environment. I look on the monitor to assure good shots, the most beautiful lighting, the most unusual rock shapes, the most elegant movments of Luigi. Shortly after we are at -100. We have passed around 200 meters of tunnel. Luigi ties off the line of the guide reel that he has used, he leaves a new one, clipped in at that point with a bolt snap: we will be here tomorrow and descend for some more meters to leave a 20 l tank with bottom mix which will serve for continuing the exploration. Then we ascend slowly. Luigi now focuses with more attention on the cleaning of the cave from old line. He cuts some pieces that fall on the bottom becoming then harmless, he cuts others in pieces so small that it becomes impossible to entangle. At around eighty meters we pass a spectacular rock arc. Beyond it we are again in a gigantic room, impossible to illuminate with our lightings. It is here that someone like me, who doesn't know much about speleology, understands how much important experience and the correct line setup is, which is then to be followed with maximum attention at the return. As much as it counts to have a sufficient stock of proper gas for the depth which is intended to reach, it is important to be equipped as has to be, with a functionable and reliable guide reel. Following Luigi our dive doesn't have any inconveniences. I can dedicate with calm to the photo camera, with him caring about the inspection of the route and the removal of everything which could turn into an obstacle or into a danger during the following dives. And like this, after the first deep stop at -70, we continue the decompression relaxedly. It is beautiful to exit into the bright waters of the little pond in the end and to stay there for the last stops at the sun, leaving behind the dark of the belly of the spring. Our dive of the next day also passes without obstacles and we leave the 20 liters tank filled with a mix for the operation depht of -107. In the following days Jean Jaques dives, reaching the depth of 120 meters, at a distance of 310 meters from the entrance. There the light of the lamp is lost in the intense black of a shaft of which the end can not be seen: Isler had spoken of this after his dives. Everything is ready for the real exploration. Samples of water and sediment have been picked up until the depht of - 98 meters. At his third dive Luigi pushes until -132 meters descending the shaft and reaching the new tunnel. We are by now at around 330 meters from the entrance. For the first push dive Luigi is loaded with three 20 liter tanks of bottom mix on his back. For the progression he will use the other 20 liter tanks that Jean Jaques and the others have prepared along the way. From -50 to -120 Luigi will move with an underwater scooter, from there on he will continue swimming. Already at the first attempt Luigi succeds with an extraordinary performance: he reaches -150 meters of depht, pushing the limit of exploration to around 410 meters from the entrance in a dive that will last well 370 minutes. The limit of Isler has been passed for almost 50 meters of new line and 11 meters of depht. The Elefante Bianco spring is the deepest spring in Italy. But these are only numbers. During his dive Luigi also had to guess the route, lay out main line, and pass more than 200 meters of distance for going and returning at dephts between -120 and -150 meters by fin propulsion. Three days after: a new dive. I follow Luigi up to -50, where the 20 liter tanks and the scooter are waiting for him. From there he disappears. With me stays only the image of the three enormous tanks that he transports on his back. I imagine him while it is proceeding by now along the known route: up to -107 meters where another 20 liter tank waits for him, then ahead up to -120. Attached to the scooter he passes the fifty meters of level tunnel at around -120 on the fly and dives down the shaft. At -127 meters there is a rockslide which obstructs the base of the shaft and which goes down to -139. Still another a horizontal section, then a definite drop to -150. Luigi leaves the scooter there and proceeds laying out new line by fin propulsion. Later he will tell of a very beautiful tunnel, which continuously changes direction with a series of wide and spectacular curves. The water has engraved beautiful erosive structures onto the walls there. At -162 meters the tunnel continues. Luigi stops. We are 465 meters away from the entrance. At 10 meters below the level of the sea, since the little pond is +152m above sea level. There's nothing else than to return back, to follow the line and to face around 410 minutes of decompression. It was midday when he entered water and the sun it shone on the Alps. It is night when he gets out and the stars shine around the tops of the mountains.


The sponsors of the expedition:

This expedition of the Aquatica Team has been realized thanks to the companies Aquatica and Best Divers. Aerotecnica Coltri has furnished the compressors. Utengas has sponsored the technical gases.

A particular thanks goes to the Municipality of Valstagna which has emitted the permissions and to the speleological group Grotte Giara Modon for the help and assistance at the site.


Doctor Morelli and the doppler:

During the last day of the expedition doctor Luca Morelli, expert in hyperbaric medicine, arrives. It was interesting to measure the level of bubbles present in the organism of Luigi after such a demanding dive. Therefore the data of blood pressure and electrocardiogram of all the divers who would dive that day were registered and doppler tests have been effected. At the end of the day the same examinations were repeated with everybody. What has struck me in particular was the fact that despite of the effected dive and of the gas mixtures used, the values in terms of bubbles after the day were comparable. All very low in the Spencer scale. Except those of us that had effected various rather quick ascents and descents to bring up and down the necessary things for the assistance of Luigi. Values obviously measured in the field, and not yet carefully analyzed by Doctor Morelli, but extremely interesting. Interesting also another element: the measured bubbles in the body of Luigi have increased for about four times after he had gone up from the little pond to the base camp on foot. A walk in ascent of about fifty meters. Attention when they tell you not to make efforts after the dive: it seems true that this could be dangerous!



Gas consumed:


16  40l tanks of helium


13 40l tanks of oxygen


1 20l tank of argon

Total number of dives: 105

Total number of push dives: 2

Total number of tanks for the push dive: 5 20l tanks

Number of tanks in the water for safety and decompression: 21 tanks, from 15l to 20l

Total number of tanks available: 80, from 4l to 20l

Total lenght of new line: 465m

Total lenght of broken and dangerous old lines removed: 600 m

Number of sediment samples: 4, up to the depth of -98 m

Number of scooters available: 5, used up to 140 m of depth

Number of regulators Poseidon Jetstream: 55

Number of regulators  Poseidon Cyclon: 15

Number of regulators Apex: 6

Number of regulators Kirby Morgan: 4

Number of 500W lighthings: 1

Number of 250W lightnings: 2

Number of 100W lightings: 5

Number of HID lightings: 5

Number of compressors: 4

Number of liters of gasoline for the compressors: 100l

Number of oxygen analysers: 5

Number of helium analysers: 1

Number of mix panels: 3

Number of precision manometers: 4, of which 1 digital

Number of long hoses: 3, of which one with 100m of length

Mixtures used for push dive:

Push Dive


8% oxygen - 82% helium


8% oxygen - 80% helium


9% oxygen   - 75% helium


11% oxygen - 65% helium


15% oxygen - 60% helium



18% oxygen - 40% helium


32% oxygen - 35% helium


45% oxygen


47% oxygen


50% oxygen


55% oxygen


60% oxygen


65% oxygen


100% oxygen in habitat

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