Tolminski Migovec Cave Exploration
M2 — Kavkna Jama
“To climb Mont Blanc by the Grepon route is one thing, to survey M2, as Totter once said, is quite another.”
We fly into Trieste on Friday and drive to Tolmin. On the way in we admire the snow capped peaks with trepidation: would the weather allow us a trip this weekend? The forests on the slopes are turning red and golden. A sight to behold. Arriving at Tetley's, we notice all the shutters are drawn and the lights out. From the darkness Tetley emerges to open the door. He is suffering from Tolmin lassitude, a condition brought on by the flu, by having hiked 40 miles in Yorkshire the previous weekend with his school boys (and girls) and possibly by the lingering trauma of last year's super action. After some deliberating, Tetley decides that in his condition he would only slow us down and bravely decides not to bring his caving gear. His generous and selfless sacrifice will not easily be forgotten.
Shortly after repacking our equipment, Izi arrives and we drive off to Tolminske Ravne, the starting point for the trail to the Migovec Plateau. The trail is intimately familiar to anyone who has been on a summer expedition, but at night, in the Fall and with a dusting of snow it seemed strange. The crunch of the snow, boots on wet leaves, the bubbles of light bobbing in the dark, give it an eerie quality. After an hour or two we reach Kal, the mountain hut of the Caving Section of the Tolmin Alpine Club (JS-PDT). In the hut were Tolmin cavers Fratnik, Samo, Zdenko and Maver (pronounced Mauw-er) and Grega from Nova Gorica. Packs are dropped, boots swapped for slippers, sit beside the stove, shake hands and greet everyone. Tradition dictates that the new guests are offered fruit tea to rehydrate after the hike and a shot of liquor for health. In this case the liquor is a particularly fine Jagermeister made by Maver's grandmother. As soon as we are settled in, Izi and Fratnik start preparing a large pot of pasta with tinned meat and tomato sauce. A vast pot is soon standing in the middle of table and we all tuck in. Rationally I know that we are eating from the pot to save washing up, but a part of me believes that it is also a testimonial to the spirit of sharing and the brotherhood of cavers. I am tempted to be polite and only eat my share, taking spoons of pasta in turn. Tetley turns to me, raises his eyebrows and says: “Don't eat because you are hungry, eat because you want to get out of the cave tomorrow”. I follow his advice and proceed to gorge myself. Soon more people start arriving: first the Cadrg people: Eric with Karin and Tjasa, then Dejan and Bozo with two cavers from Ljubljana Miha and Mojca (pronounced Moi-tz-a). More pasta is cooked, boxes of wine appear, spirits are high, here is the crème de la crème of cavers, Destiny weighs heavily on our shoulders, tomorrow the Connection will be found. I notice that Fratnik has stopped drinking wine and swapped to tea and take his lead – I do not want to be completely hungover tomorrow. At some point we leave the hut to test out Bozo's new petrol drill. It is huge – how is he going to lug it through the cave I wonder? Soon enough I fold for bed, full of dreams of the glory that lies ahead.
The next day we wake up, have a summary breakfast of bread and pig fat and pack up. In the meanwhile animated discussions in Slovenian are determining the Plan for the day. Izi, Fratnik, Bozo, Dejan, Miha, Mojca, Jarv and I will go to M2, the rest will visit Primadona. Jarv and I have brought surveying equipment and our primary goal will be to measure the finds from the past few years. The rest of the team will travel to the bottom of the cave and continue the efforts to widen the terminal rift. The rest of the M2 team has packed and gone. Bozo is carrying the most terrifyingly large backpack I have ever seen. At the last minute Jarv and I realise we have not brought any food for caving and start scouring the hut looking for food. We managed to scavenge 6 Frutabellas (yoghurt-fruit bars), a 200 g piece of bread and a small (100g?) tin of tuna. In our minds we expect the surveying will not take that long. Tetley also accompanies us up to the cave entrance. Again walking up to Mig in the snow is a strange mix of familiar and new. The usual path zig zags across the dwarf pine, but in the snow it is possible to simply go straight up through – or rather on top of – the vegetation. From the ridge of the mountain we can finally admire the Plateau, it's covered in snow and a few hundred meters ahead of us is the rest of the team. We walk on, passing the rock arch that we cook,eat and live under during the summer. It is covered in a deep layer of snow, but still is a familiar and loved place. Reaching M2, we change into our caving gear, bid farewell to Tetley and start caving. It is 11.30 a.m. when we start caving, we had set off from Kal (the mountain hut) two hours earlier.
The entrance series of the cave has only two small pitches, the second of which is permanently rigged with an aluminium ladder. The cave is a long rift, constricted in a handful of places and certainly awkward if carrying heavy tackle. After half an hour we reach the main pitch series in the cave. First of all is Kletnik's shower, this pitch is a long hang in the drizzle. During a storm if can be very wet indeed, as Gergely and Paul discovered in 2008. After the shower, two more small pitches, some more rift passage and we reach Silos: a 100 m shaft discovered by the Tolmin cavers in the '70s. Fratnik replaces one of the bolts and we all pile on in. It is a truly awesome shaft, I have not been caving in a few months and admit that I get in a bit of a bind on one of the rebelays, the hand jammer has to come out of the bag – I hope none has noticed. Later on Izi tells us that he has spied Fratnik using his cow's tails – uncharacteristically cautious! At the bottom of Silos more rift and a selection of short pitches leads to the '70s bottom of the cave. Again there are quite a few section that could do with a little work with hammer and chisel, but nothing is too horrendous. We pass the site of the '70s camp. Some graffiti times the visit by the Tolmin cavers to 22-10-1977. Exactly 34 years ago some of the people I am caving with today were here. We reach the limit of the survey and stop for lunch. It is apprimately 1.30 pm or so. Getting to the bottom of the cave has taken 2 hours and I feel in great spirits, not cold, not sweaty, looking forward to a tuna sandwhich, a few hours of survey and out by sunset. We share out the bread and eat our tuna. After the Slovenian cavers are off, we sit in the Bothy bag that Jarv brought and have a little rest. Neither of us has taken any tea or coffee this morning, so we eat a Pro Plus to perk us up a little.
Soon Jarv and I start ascending the climb that Tim and Fratnik explored in '09 and start surveying, Jarv takes book and instruments while I operate the laser disto. A short climb and some meander leads to the pushing front: a silted up rift. I poke my head in and feel uncomfortable in the confined space. In my most reassuring voice I tell Jarv: “This is just the passage for you Jarv! You might want to take your harness off”. I then sit back and wait till Jarv wriggles his way into a small chamber along the rift. He widens the passage a little by removing some of the silt with the entrenching tool we found on site. We both get a good feeling from this section. It drafts strongly and looks exactly like the passage around Kill'em All. We have to think of a name for the passage. Impressed by Tim's effort in free climbing this, we settle on “Wizard of Oz”.
We return to the chamber where we had lunch and keep surveying down the main passage. The rift has been widened, but surveying it still quite a nuisance. We need to think of a new name, since the passage has been widened so succesfully with chocolate, we settle for “Kinder Surprise”.
Eventually we reach the head of the large pitch that was discovered last year. Here we meet the rest of the team, who are on the way out. The pitch head is reached by climbing over a blind pot and I am sitting on the edge of this pot, tied into the natural that forms the backup for the pitch. First out is Bozo. I help him with his tackle sack and my arm is almost wrenched out of its socket by the weight of it: petrol drills are really heavy. Bozo seems a little downcast, apparently the efforts to widen the rift at the pushing front have not been succesful. It must be depressing to have to carry the equipment out if it has not been useful! After Bozo comes Fratnik and Izi. Eventually Jarv and I descend the pitch, pass the last meander and reach the terminal chamber. There is not much of a draft here, but you can definitely hear an echo. We can see the marks from the drill. We settle on “Echo Rift” as a good name for this section of cave and start surveying back up the pitch. Eventually our survey reconnects with the end of Kinder Suprise and we have finished our task. It is now more or less midnight. We have been surveying for nine hours and it is time to get out. We have eaten all our Frutabella bars and are now ravenously hungry.
The exit from the cave was honestly quite miserable. We were both extremely low on energy, and despite taking another Pro Plus, I felt rather sluggish. I tried to conserve my energy as much as possible, knowing that many squeeze-climbs and crawl-traverses were waiting for me on the way out and that each of these would require explosive power. So we caved out, step after step, prussick stroke after prussick stroke. I stopped after most large pitches and most squeezes to gain my breath. I checked and rechecked my bag to see if a chocolate bar had sneaked in somehow. On top of Silos I sat down and closed my eyes. I did not fall into a deep sleep, but into a dream-like state, when I heard the noise of Jarv coming up behind me I was jolted back into the cave. “We are pretty much out”, I kept repeating to myself, and “at least the squeezes get easier as you go further out”. At 4.30 a.m. we where back into the entrance of M2. Luckily the weather was fine, no wind and good vis.
Jarv succesfully (miraculously?) navigated us back to the hut. I simply put one foot in front of the other and fell over quite regularly. Finally at 6.30 a.m. we were in Kal, our mission was over. A nice plate of jota and some tea and to sleep. The hut was even more packed than the day before, people were taking turns for sleeping! It was nice to have some company for dinner and I think our hosts were impressed that we had been on such a long trip.
Next day we got back to town and entered the data into the survey. We had surveyed 245m of cave and added just over 100m to the depth of M2. We had walked for 4 hrs in the snow and caved for 17 ½ hours. We ate approximately 1500 calories and consumed several thousand more. We moved at an average speed of 3 meters per minute. We learnt always to bring extra food. And then some more. The silted rift at the end of Wizard of Oz is about 4 meters horizontally (+/- 30) from a survey leg at the edge of Dark Tranquillity. The passage is heading straight for Captain Kangaroo. The enduring question is: will it go?
View 'up' Dark Tranquillity. From the photograph perspective, M2 is approaching from the Right, towards the undropped side of the shaft. Photograph is taken approximately 4m off nearest approach PSS at the bottom of DT.
Jarv's Technical Notes
(Jarv Nb: On Kinder Surprise we continued along the rift as we surveyed, missing the climb up into the rift that leads to the traverse over the pit to the large pitch. The rift was increasingly tight and I stopped at a corner beyond which I'm certain from wear no one has passed. There is a small trickle of water audible, and I believe there is a small pitch beyond the short, tight, continuation of the rift. There is a PSS in the corner, in a crack in the rock. Though one might have imagined that these two bits of passage connect, the echo from the rift isn't really large enough and there wasn't any vocal contact with the Slovenians who must have been climbing the big pitch at this point. This might, therefore, still be a lead: Photograph taken from last PSS at end of tight rift on corner )
Jarv's 22-11-11 Monologue to Izi on the state of the rigging, and discussion of the dig:
We left all the metal in the cave. You will need a normal rigging spanner. I only derigged pitches that were wet / might get wet. Silos, etc. is still fully rigged.
There were a couple of places where the rope was fairly badly worn:
Digging Gear: We left the shovel at the bottom of the Tim/Fratnik climb. In the gear bag taken down last Autumn (which was left on the traverse above the new big pitch), there is a 1kg lump hammer.
I'd recommend taking some kind of small drag tray, cord and a crow bar or two.
The Dig: I got around the corner that stopped you + Tetley last year, no problem. I found the best was lying on my left side, then sort of corkscrewing up into the little chamber. I probably took my helmet off. From there I dug out the corner squeeze a little bit more. It shouldn't be a massive problem.
The continuation was a flat out section with a mud floor. The mud was over calcite, so I found I could smash it up with the edge of the shovel then lift chunks out. There is stacking space in the little chamber. I suspect we're above an immature stream, that you can look into from the other side of the squeeze and back a bit.
The flat out crawl continues, then nearly reaches the ceiling as the mud floor rises. It kind of turns into a short section of vertical rift as it goes out of sight. I pushed forwards on my back with my helmet off, and looked up into this rift, there is some kind of chamber beyond but it's impossible to say how large. Certainly it was giving out a lot of wind!
I imagine it will take a couple of people just an hour or two to dig out the floor, as it's really easy.
You may then find that you need to widen the rift so that you can get up into the continuing chamber, but it's impossible to be sure either way, as I was still a metre away from it, and couldn't be certain of its size.
JKP Additions: The only thing I would add is that with the lump hammer is a massive rope bag, so I would advise against taking rope.