ZRMANJIN BUK 2008
Tuesday July 15 th 2008, my trip in direction Croatia begins. I should have started one week earlier, but an ominous theft of documents and money a few days before the official departure and the necessity therefore to remake ID card, driver's liscense, various documents and some change money, has caused me more than a few inconveniances. With the alarm clock set to 5.00 and the early-morning fresh air, I get on my way in continuos thoughts about hopes and projects.
As I reach the Croatian border twelve hours later, the sight of my car with the big yellow and gross cart, courages the custom officers to invite me to sit at the side of the road for some more serious checks: fortunately I am in possession of an official invitation of the group DDISKF and this document makes explanations about the quantity and particularity of the materials much easier, so that after a series of simple questions, I am admitted to enter the country.
This year also, for the nth time, the meteorological conditions are unfavorable: Tihi calls me and tells me to change destination because in the area of the park of Risnjak during the night, there was such a violent storm that the spring of Kupa is flooding, its level has rised and the visibility which already usually is not exceptional has reduced notably. The new destination is Otocac where we will set up our base camp at the hotel/restaurant Boomerang. From there we will organize the explorations to look for the continuation of Majerovo Vrelo spring.
I reach the spring while the sun is lowering, in time to enjoy the red of the sunset at the edge of the entrance pool. In this moment Tihi calls me to tell me that because of a problem of the gear box it is impossible to change gears of his 4x4. Being forced to travel in first gear I will arrive with the speed of a thunderstruck snail.
Wednesday July 16 th, today is the day of the first dive, necessary to verify the strength of the current of the spring. While I am preparing the equipment, I break the handle of the emergency reel. When I dive for first to install an 8 mm rope until the principal gallery, the current seems to be stronger than last year. I have to work quite hard to reach -22m in the gallery, where in any case the current is certainly less strong. I resurface passing the second shaft which is the easiest one to pass because, being larger than the first one, the current is less strong. I resurface, just to take some tanks and to begin to place them together with Frf. He will install 15 liter tanks of oxygen and nitrox at -6m and -21m, while I will bring two 20 liter tanks down to -30 m, necessary for the progression, and one 10 liter tank containing nitrox to -35m. Before coming to Croatia I have met Aldo Ferrucci in order to receive some spare parts for my Copis as well as the new radial filter: well, today as it is the first time that I use it, I immediately realize how much more comfortable the respiraton with this new filter is in comparison to the traditional axial; and, in the radial filter I am able to put 3,6 kg of absorbent, an advantage not to underestimate in the case of deep or prolonged dives.
At the return, while I am parking the car among the Boomerang plants, I manage also to breake the small backview mirror; probably I am a little bit tired still of the trip and therefore a little bit too distracted.
Thursday July 17 th, Alen arrives to provide support to us. My objective is to prepare a 20 liter tank at -70m and to arrive near the point where the gallery rises, after the deepest point at over 400m from the entry, filming the whole section with my new video camera with Isotta housing.
Once the camera housing is installed onto the scooter, there is nothing else to do than lightening the whole construction with floats: the purpose is to make the whole construction neutral, but I will verify only in water if my calculations are correct. I agree with Alen, to go down for a check one hour after my departure and eventually 1h30' later, to send Frf for a second visit.
The sun is warm but fortunately, a light breeze allows me to put on the diving suit shade of a roof without sweating too much. In water, I realize that the scooter is balanced positively, due to the hurry which is never a good counselor, and which has hindered me from meditating the best about the principle of Archimedes. I remove some floats held by elastics, and make peace with Archimedes. Then I begin the descent; at -10m in the shaft, realizing that it is still too light, I remove the nth float and I am finally ready to depart. I also realize that I do not to have a good lighting system, but unfortunately it is what I have underhand in this moment and I have to make it suit anyhow. I had already realized that the light head had a spot which was too bright and I had tried, to veil them with a plastic sheet in order to soften the light. It was the only material I found in a shop, but I realize that the result is not the best, because the cave has very dark walls that absorb the light and the video camera it is slow with the auto-focus; I stop and I switch to manual focussing, but the management of the filming is not easy, because, I quickly pass the narrow zones where the walls can be seen and then, when I reach wide environments, there is nothing to be filmed.
I reach my target destination after more than 30 minutes and because the desire to do some filming which in the end was lacking charisma, was not brought to a good result. After having reached the end of the deep tunnel and on the way back along the guide line in ascent, I return using almost only almost fin propulsion, which facilities the job of managing the use of the video equipment. After one hour I am at the base of the shaft at -21m, I continue to ascend and, once arrived in the entrance pool I realize that Alen is in water because I see a cloud of suspension at the entrance portal. Unfortunately the present mud on the edges of the entrance pool doesn't help, when entering and getting out of the water to leave the water of the pool clear. Even being particularly careful is still not enough.
I resurface after 110 minutes from the 9° cold spring water. I am anxious to see the result of the video of this dive on the computer screen.
Friday 18 July I spend the day for equipment reinstatement, disturbed in the morning by a forecasted and unpleasant storm.
Saturday July 19 th, the morning starts with compressor troubles, it seems to be blocked at the the first stage. Therefor only with the arrival of Alan who is in possession of another compressor, the tanks of Alen and Frf can be filled, and I would also like to focus on getting ready for the dive: I would like to go up again the shaft which was explored last year by Jean Jacques, to verify that there are no continuations: well, also being in really scarce visibility, Jean Jacques was not convinced about the absence of any continuation.
His memory is at my side and as I reach the spring, I realize, and perhaps it is not too strange, to have forgotten a part of the necessary equipment for the dive; I turn back to the base camp while Alan and Alen continue to refill the tanks.
The thoughts in the head are bouncing in all directions, it almost seems to me not to feel ready and I reflect that I have to give me a mental reset because I even seem not to have the usual hunger of exploration. The last exploration with Jean Jacques, a little less than one year ago, was exactly in this place, and here I am now, only that his friendship is irreplaceable and the lack is fierce.
At the end I make my decision and I succeed in getting in the water at 2 o'clock in the afternoon: perfect descent or almost, because the cable of the battery that I carry and that was supposed to be left at -36m ready to be used at reentry to feed the electric heating west, is entangled in the propellor of the scooter; annoyed I leave it at -30m (among -30m and -36m there are over 50m of gallery) where I take the 20 liter tank. I arrive at the point where I leave later the scooter 18 minutes and 400mt from the entrance and I continue in an ascending tunnel; at the first deep stop at -52m I realize that at both the sides of this fracture there is a possibility of exploration and therefore I leave an elastic to remember this fundamental point; I go up again up to the end of the line put by Jean Jacques to -31m: from there it is impossible to continue. I go down without occupying mmyself with the possibility of exploration: I want to turn back. The drop from -31m to -70m is completely vertical and then, about ten horizontal meters and down again until to the scooter. After 80 minutes I am in the little entrance pool at -12m and other 35 minutes later I resurface to the warmth of the rays of the sun.
Sunday July 20th. Today is a day of rest from the dives but devoted to physical training. Starting at 7.30 in the morning with a 46km bycicle tour; the initial temperature of 12° makes me wish for a fleece shirt, but a little later the rising sun begins to heat the atmosphere and I start to feel good. Passing by the villages, I feel the perfume of the bakeries and in the middle of the fields I smell the fragrances of domestic animals, freshly cut grass, etc. Back at the base camp a little less than one hour and a half later, I restore my energies with honey bread, cheese and tomatoes. In this moment Moonlight arrives and Frf leaves.
The rest of the morning I spend on preparing the materials for the dive of the following day. The climate is pleasantly warm and in the afternoon I go to the sea with Moonlight. We go to Senj, where I refresh myself with a little swim of about 2km. The water here is colder and less salty than elsewhere because of the presence of lots of springs of the nearby Velebit massive which drain their water below the level of the sea.
Monday 21 July, begins with an abundant rain fall already at seven in the morning, in a way to worry me. The Majerovo Vrelo Spring in fact is very sensitive and reactive to rain falls, which means that there is the risk not to have the time to recover the equipment inside the cave. While I am chewing on my breakfast, I reflect about recovering the tank from -70m depth and leaving the decompression tanks in the cave, which are easier to recover in case of flood. I begin to trouble with mounting the video camera on the scooter: I use lightings which have been lent to me, but they are in a poor condition. All of the o-rings have to be cleaned and one contact is disconnected; fortunately I have a welder with me, but all of this it makes me loose a lot of time. Once finished the handlings, I realize that I am much more limited than I thought in the use of the lightings because the supply cables are too short. Checking my Copis I realize that the emergency oxygen tank has remained with only 30bar of the initial 250bar; the reason is a loss at the first stage. I replace the o-ring but after a further verification I realize that also a second o-ring loses notably but, looking among the mountains of spare parts that I have with me and not finding one of of the same dimensions, I am therefore forced to change the first stage. I verify the batteries of the electric heating west and I realize that one of them is not working: the problem is found in the plug of the cable and I am forced to replace that piece, too.
It is already 12.40 when we get in car to reach the spring. It doesn't rain anymore and with 18 degrees it is the ideal to wear the dry suit, for not having to stay in 9° spring water with naked legs when regulating the trim of the scooter. When I close the dry suit I have almost cold, and I did not even sweat a little bit before. Alan and Alen will film my departure while Moonlight will assist me at the return.
Entering the water, I realize that the visibility is slightly decreased and the current increased in comparison to two days before. Once recovered the 20 liter tank at -30m, I leave the operators at my shoulders and, making me pull by the scooter, I move toward the point of exploration. The electric contact of the scooters also goes crazy, forcing me a couple of times to use the detach-battery to stop it; in the end I realize that it is the emergency knob, which is not in the correct position, that keeps the contact of the relay closed . After 16 minutes I begin the ascent which brings me from -90m to -52m, there I connect the guide line of the reel and begin to lay out line. After about ten horizontal meters I reach a narrow passage and once crossed this kind of window, I find myself in a big room, wide about ten meters, high enough not to succeed in getting an idea of it and long, after having crossed it, about twenty meters. In direction of the most distant point, I notice a gigantic slide covered with clay that had been modelled by the centuries from which, even if suffering an almost irresistible attraction I keep at safe distance. The slide is at least 10m long and about ten meters wide, at the base tightening toward the other side: I remember the form of an avalange. I begin to go up again vertically but unfortunately the visibility is deteriorated by the few bubbless that exit detaching the clay present everywhere. At about -30m I move a little bit in horizontal direction: above of me the ceiling seems to be closed and the rock changes completely from brown dark color and becomes clear; I ascend a little further but I am not calm because the fog formed by the clay in suspension makes the impression to be surrounded by strange forms. I tie off the explorer line at -15m and here, after 77m of new exploration, the rock crumbles at hand contact as if there was a strong chemical erosion to the rocks and as if the water her was more acid than in the rest of the cave.
I let myself fall downwards, careful not to bump into the walls not to subsequently worsen the visibility. There it is below me, my beautiful scooter that will bring me toward the exit of the cave: I grab it, switch on the video camera which seems to work and start the return, helped also by the current which in this zone it is quite sustained. I recover the tank at -70m, I hesitate to take also the one at -36m but then confident in the forecasts of the next two days I decide to leave it. I arrive at the bottom of the shaft after 80 minutes, and when Moonlight arrives, I still have to stay 45 minutes before resurfacing from the water to meet the cold wind that is sweeping the lands.
Tuesday 22 the day starts again with dense rain and a temperature of 12° which removes every ambition to go to bike. No big problem, because I have to repare the lamps of the lighting system and then together with Moonlight I have to put in order the rest of the material, charge the batteries, put the undergarments and dry suit to dry, repair the inflator of the dry suit which is broken, etc.
Alan and Alen dive at Majerovo; upon return they report that the current has slightly increased and, considered that the forecasts are worse for the next days, the next day will be the last dive of this year.
Wednesday 23, last Majerovos dive, during which I hope to succeed in ascending further up and to do some topography. We are all ready to go earlier than usual, even if the endless series of small problems that keep on showing up, is not finished yet. The day is ideal to get ready for the dive, with a temperature of 12° and the sun hidden behind clouds. Alan and Alen prepare themselves first to film my entry into the cave. Moonlight will come to verify that everything proceeds well and to recover the material that I will bring, at the return from the exploration. What delight not to sweat while I am putting on the dry suit with the sun that comes and goes: in an instant I am ready to gear up with my Copis. Alan and Alen disappear under the surface of the water while I finish gearing up, I take my scooter and start the dive. At around ten meters depht, meeting the lights of the video camera of Alan, I move on using the scooter against the current and at the bottom of the shaft, I stop for a moment to allow Alan to proceed to -30m where I will recover the bailout tank. Blinded by the lighting of the video camera, I take the tank and start to follow the tunnel. To facilitate the job of Alan, I also would like to turn on the lighting of my video camera, which however doesn't want to know nothing about it and in an instant of nervous tension, I tear off video camera and lighting system from the scooter, hand them over to Alen and go on. I am so quick that, including the stops, I arrive at the bottom of the shaft at 400m distance in 14 minutes; while I am ascending, I prepare the mark for the topography and the guide reel. at -54m I begin to take the necessary data to mark the slope and the decompression passes by fast, being busy writing. Once reached the end of the line, I place the exploration mark, attach the exploration reel and begin with the new exploration. I continue to ascend up to 9m in a dismal environment, but I find myself in a blind zone. I would probably have had to turn to the right but at this point, the visibility is jeopardized and I am forced to turn back. The descent that leeds me to the scooter at -90m, is impressive and rapid. The scooter is there, waiting for me, I pick it up and start to move towards the exit: in the tunnel I am pushed by the usual current but the speed is definetively higher. During the decompression I meet Moonlight, to whom I hand over the two 20 liter tanks, the 10 liter tank and the scooter. I meet them again at -21m tied to the rope because Moonlight, after having verified that everything proceeds in the best way, has gone to make a visit to the cave. While I wait to finish the decompression stop, I untie the rope from the rock and I send the package of material to the surface of the lake using the current. At the exit from the dive it is raining, as last year and, dulcis in fundo, the front tire of my 4x4 is flat, pierced. Alen replaces it in the time that I need for changing. One moment to repair it, a ride along the countryside and then the hoped-for feeding on trouts, vegetables and cheese.
Thursday 24 we load the cars to go to Obrovac where Friday evening the exploration of Zrmanjin Buk will officially begin.
Friday 25 the day is off and I take advantage to get up early to do a bike ride. The morning air is fresh and this is a good because in this zone there are some hills with slopes up to 15%. I immediately find a steep slope to get out of the valley, then the road continues less steep until it reaches a group of houses where two slightly angry dogs pursue me for almost a kilometer, and make me establish my personal record of velocity in ascent. In the end the round ends with the sixty-first kilometer half of which in demanding ascent.
In the evening we meet a group of Hungarian speleogists at the restaurant, where the supper for the start of the new object of the exploration has been organized and where also the birthday of Tihi is celebrated.
Saturday 26 in the late morning we jump into the cars to reach the point where we will embark on canoes to reach the cave. Since a long time my dreams are in tune with those of the Croatian friends. It is this way precisely from the day in which, two years ago, I have seen the canyon and the entry of the cave. A part of the group, according to me more unlucky, will go on foot, the others including myself, will go with all of the material by kayaks on the river. Hardly left, while the canoe splits the water, I see a snake jump into the water from a branch of a plant and disappear among the vegetation, then the shape of a turtle which is diving off a trunk, grey herons, kingfisher and some hawks crowd the sky, and naturally innumerable swallows and birds of various types that complete the sound of the swash of the boats with their screechings. We reach the cave after the group that has gone on foot: our journey has lasted two hours while the " earthlings " have employed 1h and 30 minutes. In any case the progression by river is notably more safe and comfortable than the walk on foot because, by land, there are over 200m of altitude difference to descend on dangerous gravel and, the steep slope that follows, is very tiring. We are a great group of Croatians, Hungarians and Italians. After the disembarkation we still have half a kilometer of up and down over the rocks at the base of the valley but, considering that we are in so many and that the number encourages the forces, the weight of the equipments well distributed among us is almost not felt at all. Fortunately the water of the cave is about twenty meters from the entry and there is space inside the cave to change in the cool. Inside the gigantic entrance hall, wide about ten meters and tall an about twenty, happyly lives a colony of bats and the biologists of the group precede us to record their chattering; we speleologists and cave divers wait until they finish their job of espionage, just the correct time to position the equipment on the edge of the water, to prepare the rebreather and there I go, I jump inside.
Alen, who has the task to place the emergency bailout tanks at -6m and -21m, will depart 15 minutes after me. I will place one tank at -36m and I will carry two 20 liter bailout tanks for the exploration with me. Alan, who has previously explored for about one hundred meters, has anticipated that the cave is gigantic and that it probably goes down deep. The water seems to be turbid and this is a deterrent for exploratory scopes but, after some meters, the visibility improves as much to be able to see about five meters distance, but nevertheless, with such dimensions of the cave, five meters are not enough to easily find the continuation.
I avoid to go down in the first shaft that I see, I also avoid the second one and after around 50m of progression I am at -21m; from here I cannot do anything else than pushing toward a greater depth. At -36m I leave my 10 liter tank, and again I have to choose in which one of the two present passages is better to slip inside. I choose the one that in my opinion seems to lead theoretically in direction of the inside of the mountain: -… . I am in a fracture and it is not easy to follow a logical morphology…. - I continue the descent among rocks covered with clay but, fortunately with my Copis rebreather, I don't make air bubbless which surely would contribute to reduce visibility. I reach -55m and I am by now about 120m from the entry, in a completely closed room; I go up again up to -36m, attach the explorer line and down the second passage where I reach -40m, the tunnel begins then to go up again. I am still in the fracture where I ascend to -17m after having laid out some 50m of new line, but the passage becomes narrow and there are some jammed rocks between the walls above of me: I have to go down for finding a tie off point and to attach the line some meters further down.
Turning here, turning there, I am a little undecided, because I don't know how to determine the direction to go on and search, and the visibility is already very reduced in different points . Upon return I recover the 10 liter tank and take it to -21m, I tie of the line and make a jump toward the ceiling of the fracture: I slowly ascend to reach the surface, and my head breaks the surface of the water in a big room of about twenty meters hight and about ten meters width. Remaining in water I push a little further and after some meters, the black below me is widening and attracts me: I am convinced that the prosecution has to be at small depth because the walls are cleaned of the clay while, over -30m, they are covered with it. Once more I have to go down in such a huge environment without possibility to see the wall to my left. However, at -44m, I am once again forced to stop because it cannot be passed further.
A little disappointed, after more than one hour, I decide that the exploration for this moment is concluded and turn around: Moonlight will be waiting for me at decompression and in fact I meet him at -21m; an ok by hand signal and I continue my ascent. In total I have laid out 305m of line of which about 200m for the new exploration. I finish my dive after 95 minutes: Tihi is satisfied of the result, I am a little bit less, because I am aware of not having found any satisfactory passage for some bigger results. We leave the whole equipment at the site and return: two hours of canoe are expecting us and naturally along the journey I start a splash battle in a way, that I am nicknamed " angel Gigi " by the completely wet girls. We reach the base camp at 20, have supper, some guys make party with alcoholic specialties of different countries, Croatia, Hungary, Romania and others, including myself, go sleeping.
Domenica 27, Moonlight returns home taking with him the broken compressor, he will hand it over to Chiara that in her turn Monday will have it repaired. Wednesday the Piper (Pifferaio) will bring it back.
A part of the group of speleologists dedicates themselves to the exploration of a cave without siphons, while another reduced group, returns with me to the cave even if almost all the material is already there. We are in 12 of which six young girls, Naiads invited by the bosses of the groups to bring fortune to my dive. I still have to to dry the inside of the dry suit and the undergarment, that I have abandoned in the speleo sack after the dive. I fix a rope for being able to hang out these " cloths " and after a little the volunteers arrive bringing various pieces of equipment. I assemble the Copis with the filled little tanks and get ready for the dive.
Alen and Frf will enter the water one hour after myself to look after me during the decompression. I have so little hope to reach great results and to be engaged in a long time dive that, thinking not to have to make pee, I don't even put on the condom for this necessity. Therefore I start with just one tank of 20 liters and once reached -21m I pick up the 10 liter tank. I reach the surface in the room of the day before and this time I cross it on the low left where I attach the line to a spike and I let myself fall down. A vertical jump of 40m but at the end, I find myself at the line put by myself previously; I go up again moving in the hope to find a tunnel, but there is nothing. Approaching to the surface, I see a narrow passage that leeds to a dry zone which is not very big. Once reached the surface, I let myself sink to -20m, to verify if by chance, some hidden continuation exists: nothing to be done.
I return to -21 to the 15 liter tank and let myself sink down the hole that returns in direction of the entrance; at -40m, when I see the line put by myself the day before at the second attempt, I am resigned to return in the zone already crossed. I leave the 10 liter tank at -35m and continue looking for continuations at the left side, when finally there is one. I am at -40m, attach the line, and there I go: hoorray, it continues! Among the clay, I cross a kind of tunnel, some muddy narrow passage that seems to close and then, having turned the angle, I succeed to advance. Going up again to -30m, I reach a narrow passage that seems to widen beyond. I slip in but, alas, once reached -24m after 80m, I am in a closed room. More and more demoralized I return, being well attached to the guide line that I could lose otherwise because of the little visibility, until I am back in the fracture from where I started.
At -45m I see a small passage on my left, and I go to check it again:it is wide about 80cm but, after 5m, voilà I am in a large environment that leeds downwards: this makes me worry because desolated I think that it ends like the others. At -60m I am in a zone that takes the form of a forced conduct and this is a new fact, that tickles me to continue a little bit further.
At -70m the wall is folded to form an elbow and I am curious to discover what there will be behind: I go and I find a forced conduct with a diameter of about 5-6m that parts in a horizontal way; this is perhaps finally the correct continuation. I depose my explorer reel ready to be taken up for to the next exploration, and turn back: I have laid out only 70m of new line but I am really happy now because I believe to have found the correct passage that will bring me into the system.
I meet Alen and Frf at -35m, I signal that everything is all right, they go up again and I enjoy the turbidity left by the bubbles of their open circuits. I resurface after 119 minutes; then some time to take off the Copis, put all the things in order and here we go again on the canoes. A little tired I don't have desire to start the splash battle but at halfway home, I am brutally provoked with drops of water in the face and since this regenerates me, the fights have their beginning: practically we reenter all completely soaked. Back to the camp, to supper and singing.
Monday 28, a day of rest: I go for a bicycle ride but limit myself to 40km because my legs are stiff and they don't go as they would have to; during pedalling I reflect that the slopes are like the decompression phase during which I can stop and think, while the descents are like the underwater exploration, which meens that it doesn't give to me time to look around because the speed is high as is the concentration. After this I go for a long swim in the sea and relax completely. Tomorrow I hope for a good day and therefore I close the eyes dreaming of a beautiful exploration.
Tuesday 29 the early-morning row in canoe is an amusing cure for good humor and against stress; reaching the cave for first, I take advantage to let the dry suit catch some sun to remove the uimidity and I also have to prepare the Copis. When finally everything is ready it is already afternoon: I take two 20 liter tanks with me and start. I am finning calmly and in a determined way, until I reach the shaft that brings me to -70m and where I can make a pause: the visibility seems to be slightly better, but anyhow the walls around can't be seen. I pick up the guide reel which is behind the curve and continue in this magnificent tunnel of ovoidal form for around 40m; I reach another shaft, I am at -73m where I leave a 20 liter tank containing 19% of oxygen. From this moment I feel more free, like this, still going down I pass in a tunnel which again changes morphology. It seems a fracture that I pass up to -90m where it is tightening abruptely becoming wide one meter and high some meters. Fortunately immediately after this, it seems to take back notable forms but it doesn't go down below -98m; continuing, I ascend up to -80m where ther are no further passages.
I return to -73m where, when first I left the tank I had the impression of an alternative way, again I attach the line and go to the direction of my interest but, after about ten meters, nothing, everything closed. I return to -80m and cross the ceiling of this shaft, I slip into a tight fracture for about twenty meters but nothing, no other choice than returning to -98m and trying to go up again the narrow chimney observed while I was returning. Starting from the most adapted point to attach the line, I take up again my ascent in the chimney which has a diameter of one meter and a half, with a lot of clay inside: I move slowly slowly trying not to make damages to the visibility and when at -70m the dimensions become impossible, I realize that it is not worth trying to continue. After having cut and tied off the line, I go down with visibility zero and for this I bump several times into the rocks until I reach the wider zone with decent visibility.
Unwillingly 45 minutes later I to ascend towards the decompression stops, at -35m I take up a battery and expect the punctual visit of Alen and Frf with the second battery. The dive finishs after 183 minutes. A little break at the exit of the cave, a snack, and then we jump in canoes on the river.
Wednesday 30 morning we hand around the photos, we chat, and we go to the island of Pag in the Novalja sea, a destination of young mass tourism: 200km of roads fortunately not chocked by traffic. In this place however, the quantity of people in the parking lot frightens us, as frequenters of the dark and the calm, for which immediately we choose a calmer place. It gets better in the evening, when we turn back: a bath in our adored pools of fresh water, complete with little water falls, excellent for a relax.
Thursday 30. Today's dive will be dedicated to do a topographical relief of the main points to have a trace of the course of the cave: I hope to rouse some explorable passages for the future during the job. I choose to begin with the tunnel that leeds to the deep zone and which it is the main tunnel in this small system. In one hour, I succeed in completing the job up to -75m, finding a couple of exploratory possibilities. I go up again up to -21m and from here I start again with a new sheet, for doing a topography of the exit of the sump, the aerial part and the second sump. Even if not being in exploration, the obbligations for decompression are valid anyway and therefore, during ascent, I am forced to stop. No so bad, because these stops give me opportunity to stroll about and to notice some details about the fracture which I am in. Finished the deco, I return to the surface, and continue my job in another submerged part, descending again to -40m. Another time out of the water, I sketch other details of the aerial part, then again I down to -21m where I recover the bailout tanks and begin the last ascent which will bring me to the entry of the cave. At -15m I meet the lights of Alen and Frf and after 120 minutes I am back at the surface.
We will leave this solitary and attractive place to turn towards other targets. With exeptional calm we dismount the base camp and prepare the sacks to load onto the canoes. The Piper (Pifferaio) and me, who are alone on the canoes and therefore slower, set out for first: the wind helps us pushing at our shoulders, with long and violent blows. Six canoes are necessary to transport all of my equipment and the rest of the material; some things of Alen and Frf still remain, tomorrow they will do one last visit inspecting the little pond which is formed in front of the cave.
Friday 1 August The Piper and I charge the little tanks of my Copis, we get the materials in order and pack them in the trailer and in the cars, under the boiling sun that is roasting us; we interrupt the cooking throwing ourselves into the waters of the river Zrmanja.
Saturday 2 we depart from our camp at 8 in the morning, because we have an appointment at Crni Lug for a television interview toward the end of the morning. There are over 200km to cross of which a part has to be done on district roads because of the partial closing of the highway. Arrived at the village, they are expecting us near the little pool formed by the river Kupa. There is a comprehensive demonstration of skydiving and a swimming competition at the place: we are introduced to the public, then interviewed, and then we are free to approach Gerovo. Melita, Frf, Alexander and I meet Moonlight there, who has arrived from Italy in advance. We leave the trailer at a private property and go, only by our cars, to our base camp at Kupari where we get ready for a first transport: we pass a piece of washed-out road with my 4x4, then about half a kilometer quite comfortable road to be done on foot. We carry two 15 liter and four 20 liter tanks. Finally with the dark, the moment arrives to go to sleep.
Sunday 3 there will be the first exploration in the spring of the river Kupa: Izvor Kupe.
Frf was forced to go home for health problems and his girlfriend Melita follows him: the Piper (Pifferaio), Moonlight and I remain. The Piper and myself will go into the water: the visibility is not the best which is already to be seen looking from outside. I depart for first laying out the line next to the rope left by a group of Croatians and Slovenians who were here to make a dive one month ago. As already foreseen the visibility is about 2m. In the dark shaft I follow the rope which they have asked me to recover afterwards, until I reach the bottom at -65m and from here I continue in strong inclination until -75m where the rope finishes with a tail of white line and a piece of lead. A little further appears a piece of line abandoned to its destiny, fluctuating after being cut off the rope: I follow it at safe distance from the place where it is not fixed anywhere, not even in the place where it is interrupted at -85m. Nothing can be seen but, as I can follow the bottom, I continuoe to go down between rocks and gravel in a place where it is not easy to make tie-offs because the rocks are smooth and the line slips off extremely easy.
When the left side of the tunnel appears after about twenty meters of progression, I move toward the center where I believe the section is taller, my sight is clouded but it is only one side of the mask which is misted and this is very annoying in an environment of this type, with water temperature of 7 degrees and at over -100m of depth. I arrive in a strange zone with just fine gravel on the bottom and not even a single stone: not so bad, because I place the exploration reel for the next time and beginn the ascent. At -115m, about 180m from the entry, I go up again trying to observe the walls around, but with the water so turbid, it is nearly impossible and, not having the tied off the line in many points, during the ascent I end up on the left wall, full of trunks and branches and above of me, I don't see anything. Stop after stop, at -21m the Piper arrives with the battery for the heating vest. At least from here I am able to see the light of the sun and against the light, some enormous trunks blocked inside the tunnel: after a 94 minutes dive I return to the surface.
Monday 4, a day of rest for me, Alen and Gordan who have joined us will make a trip in the water while the Piper will explore the shaft next to the one gone down by me yesterday: he will verify, with a slightly better visibility, that there are no conjunctions among the two shafts, going down to -59m at a distance of 80m from the entry.
Tuesday 5, already before having breakfast, I run off to put glycerine into the two displays of my Copis to increase the depht limits, even if it is designed that already without changes, it can be used up to -150m without problems. In this cave I believe that there will be many surprises and my optimism it is high up like the stars.
The glycerine is not very liquid and it is necessary to wait that all the air bubbles go out; after the first filling up, I have the time to eat. I return to my displays and with the help of the Piper I complete the job: not even the smallest air bubble appeares on the monitor, but turning on the electronics, with surprise, I realize that something doesn't work: the used glycerine is not adapted for this use.
I phone the guy who regarding the Copis and the Megalodon is my technical reference, Aldo Ferrucci, who tells me to clean off everything and to look for some glycerine not conductive or for neutral oil. It has become late and while I polish everything with patience, the Piper climbs up on to the trailer which is parked at Gerovo to take the exchange head of my Copis.
At midday, after having transported the material in front of the cave on the shoulders, I still have to prepare my Copis, but fortunately it is not a long job; I prepare three 20 liter bailout tanks, together with the Piper I organize the assistance and begin to change. In water, not only an o-ring of the first stage loses gas and I have to replace it, but I also quarrel with the mask which continues to mist all over: Irritated I get off helmet and mask and I repeat the operation anti-fog with a beautiful spit and some "let's hope that this will do". The always efficient Piper quickly hands me over the tanks in correct order, and therefore, even if I don't see Alen who should be filming my preparation, I approach to the rope and I go towards the bottom.
Visibility is about twice as much but the bubbles which I believe are of Alen, and that rise exactly around my line and the rope, hinder my vision and slow me down. Alen is at about -30m together with Gordan and when I overtake them passing at their outside, I resolve the problem and I can continue my descent towards the bottom of the shaft. In the place where the line leads horizontally I begin finning, up until I reach the bailout tank at -80m cheering up because, even if I don't succeed in seeing the whole cave because of its dimensions, the general visibility it is really improved. At -100m I leave the company of many graylings and the tank with the topography mark: I am more agile and with small effort I reach the exploration reel. The section with the gravel is huge, and once estimated the perils of the environment, the mind returns to focus on how to find a tie-off point, which direction to go and whether to move away from the wall that rises from out of the nothing at my right side. I don't succeed in fixing the line on the few rocks which are too smooth; at -125m I get entangled in the line with the fin, with agility I disentangle and I am free. I don't like the type of line which I am laying out because it is too loose and I continuously find it wrapped around myself in more and more unpleasant positions.
Enough! At -135m, about 230m from the entry, I leave the exploration reel waiting sweetly and return back. At -120m, while I am going up for trying to see the ceiling, I use the fins as a support on the bottom and provoke an avalange of gravel that begins to slip below me; fortunately the section is very big and this situation doesn't worry too much me even if it is annoying to see gravel to flow below me like a river. Here is is, the bailout tank where I take the topographical mark and begin to mark down direction, depth and distance; in some points I see the wall, in others the ceiling then, while I am doing a deco stop at -90m, I realize that what supposed to be the wall to the right (during the descent) it is nothing else than a huge rock that measures 8m for about ten: the beautiful thing is that there is no trace of the wall itself: perhaps with some meters more visibility, it would be easier to observe this gigantic hole in the limestone.
At -24m about 55 minutes later, the Piper appears with a 7 liter tank with gas breathable up to the surface, the battery and the water bottle; I hand the two 20 liter tanks over to him, of which one equipped with a second stage that loses from the membrane (another small accident), I write on the slate to return 45 minutes later and remain alone inside the shaft. He returns punctually with the exchange water bottle and battery, I write down that I will finish the decompression after 45 more minutes. After 155 minutes I salute the loneliness and resurface among about twenty people who have stayed to wait for me.
Wednesday 6, at 10 in the morning, we are expected at the organizational center of the park for a press conference with a lot of of Croatian national television and journalists. Tihi, the Piper and I are sat at the table with the representatives of the park and the protection of the waters of the river Kupa.
In the afternoon we dedicate ourselves to the search for the oil for the Copis and to the setup of some equipments.
Thursday 7 everything seems to go smooth: at 10 o'clock we have already loaded the car, at 10.30 we move towards the spring. For the first time in this expedition, everything seems to proceed without obstacles: on the edge of the entrance pool I prepare the Copis, I insert the freshly prepared radial filter, the tanks, the head, negative test, positive test and verify the analyzers. We replace the regulator on the 20 liter tank, we prepare the batteries, the cooker for the tea, etc. When everything is ready I go to the forest equipped with toilet paper to meditate; I hope to see a bear or a lynx, common animals in this park but nothing, my mind only sees the line to be followed, the trunks to avoid, when to inflate the dry suit and when to begin finning, I can already feel the rhythm inside. Nothing or almost nothing can stop me now: I join the others and begin to get ready. The tasks to be completed are defined, I jump into the water to refresh before starting to sweat too much and luckily with this temperature it is easy to stop every stimulus to perspiration. I gear up with the Copis and finally I enter the water. I reach the bay by swimming, at about ten meters distance, where the Piper hands me over the two 20 liter tanks which I will carry with me to the bottom: I realize to have lost a band of an anti-freeze and the forced stop doesn't decrease my concentration which remains so high to not even realize that Alen is behind me with the intention to film the operations.
I attach the bailout tank, turn on the lights and go down, following the line in the center of the lake. At -6m a quick stop to verify the function of the sensors: two perfectly lined up and one slightly out of balance but nothing to worry about. I go down sidewards until the vertical drop, I am at -12m, I move away from the wall to avoid the trunks at -20m, down there the exploration reel is waiting for me. The automatic valve for the immission of trimix into the Copis works perfectly so that I have only to compensate; I pass the tank at -36m, at -55m I begin to inflate the dry suit to slow down. Perfect! I reach -63m without bumping into the trunks, I let myself fall towards the bottom. The LED on the mouthpiece simplifies my progression notably, because it constantly communicates the partial pressure of the oxygen to me, avoiding for me having to look continuosly onto the display. I begin finning with the planned rhythm, the respiraton it is not troubled thanks also to this spectacular filter that makes it incredibly simple. Visibility is about 4m: I stay high in comparison to the line, still no trace of the ceiling, but at around -110m I risk to suddenly bump into it: from here up to my exploration reel below on the gravel, the height of the tunnel is about 6m, but still no trace of the walls.
To the right I see a big rock where I try to fix the line, but it slips away; I continue, trying to remain on the right, passing some stones and gravel. The LED at the mouth piece confirms that the flow of oxygen is regulated perfectly because the PpO2 doesn't increase. At -150m one tank is entangled in the line because I'm not used anymore to soft line material like this. I see the two walls tightening together and below me lie enormous rocks: I slip into the wide passage, 2m large and few more than one meter high, and even if it seems that some meters ahead the the passage is widening, I decide that for this time my exploration is finished.
I fix the line to a small prominence of rock, I look at the computer which marks -154m and 17 minutes, and I begin to turn back. The narrow passage of about fifteen meters that I am passing is not the route that I have been going down but I am aware that the line was not fixed well to the rocks, and has moved following me; in case of scarce visibility this is one of the most dangerous situations that can occur because there is the risk to get jammed without a possibility of solution. At -120m I have the impression that there is a tunnel at my right side, but it will be for another time. During the long deep stops, I delight moving to the right and to the left, but without always perceiveing the walls, because in many places the section is wider than about ten meters from the line. I pick up the two tanks at -100m and -80m, then the caving rope mentioned before. At -35m I find myself with five 20 liter tanks and 40m of 10mm caving rope, at -24m I hand everything over to the Piper and I keep only the two tanks with nitrox 35% and 50%. A little more than after one hour, he arrives with the tea, the battery of the heating vest and the writing slate and again I entrust two 20 liter tanks to him, next appointment another 45 minutes later. The next course of food and drinks for me and my request to the Piper to make Alen come down with the video camera and to organize the final visit of Gordan. Alen arrives without television camera but with the third battery and more tea. Gordan makes a visit at the moment when there are only about thirty minutes missing to the end of the deco. At the exit, after 209 minutes some curious tourists and Gordan with dry suits on are ready to take my equipments out of the water.
Friday 8: the day passes by calmly, with photos shot, tanks filled, memories expressed in words. The evening and the night, while a violent storm throws down bucketfuls of water, the thoughts turn to the consequences that it will have on the spring.
Saturday 9: the forecasts have not been wrong about the quantity of water that would have fallen; the stream formed on the road has dragged away our sandals and the river Kupa has turned brown and turbulent. At this point, as I consider that the game is ended, I begin preparing the equipments to be definitely loaded into the car, but Alen, who is not convinced, takes the bicycle and pedals towards the spring. Upon return he tells that in the little pool formed by our spring, the visibility is not changed and the reason of the turbidity that we observe from the place where we are now, which is in the valley, derives from a small spring that discharges at about halfway between Izvor Kupe and our position.
Pleasantly amazed, at midday we return to our spring because in spite of the weather we can dedicate to another beautiful try of explorations and this time, with Alen and Gordan who will make the documentation, it will be the Piper who, as I can easily imagine, will have the pleasure of the discovery and the explorer's shiver.
Report of the Piper - the "Pifferaio":
after the storm which has raged for the whole night, partially in my mind I am
already in Italy. From yesterday afternoon in fact, the heavy rain anticipated
by the meteorological office, had led us to consider the exploration in the
spring of Kupa practically to be finished.
After the dive of the Piper is over, at the outside of the spring, besides of tourists, some executives of the Park and friends have arrived, bringing strong reinforcements to load the stuff for good and thanks to them, in a single trip, we are able to transport all the equipments to the car.
Although the routine of the exploration is combined with work and discomfort, we are also enjoyers: back at the shelter we enjoy food and drinks crowned by a gigantic cake of whipped cream offered by the association Udruga Kupa to celebrate the result.
Special thanks to:
To the sponsors:
To who has sustained the expedition:
To the speleological group Szegedi Karszt - és Barlangkutató Egyesület (Szeged Karst - and Cave Research Association) (www.szkbe.hu)
As well as to the two Italians that have followed me:
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