clive here is an account of 1996 by iain



Slaves to the System By Iain Mckenna

An incomplete and unreliable account of the ICCC's third summer expedition to the Migovec Plateau, Slovenia.

The perfect antidote to a long caving trip beneath the Migovec Platuae is a game of canasta in a three player tent. The normal 24 hour daily cycle has to be restored somehow, and lingering card games interspersed with fitful bouts of sleep in stuffy, safe surroundings seems to offer the perfect road to recovery. In order to lose your normal daily cycle it is necessary to spend at least two days at the underground camp, Affectionately known as club Mig. Twelve-hour bedding sessions and three hour eating and coping with bodily functions is followed by twelve hour exploration and three hours of eating and coping with bodily functions. Sixty hours later it is possible to re-emeger from the entrance of Torn T Shirt cave to embark on a canasta session in our tent, which is similar to the decompression period experienced by deep sea divers.

In this way the exploration in the first three weeks of the 1996 expedition continued, and the 'hotbedding' technique where two teams alternatively caved or slept, worked well, and the discoveries continued apace.

The real breakthrough had come with the breaching of a tight passage near the camp, beyond which a menacing echo could be heard as a voice dropped through the knobbly tube to 'The Void' beyond. Some prolonged hammering had allowed the smallest caver present to reverse into the tube in the now familiar superman position with a rope tied around the waist. What a feeling to in a beautiful forty metre shaft at around its midpoint with just a rope around your midpoint. The hole in the floor did lead to another shaft with a two second drop, but the way on to the galleries, as yet undiscovered, laid directly across the pitch in the continuation of the knobbly tube which had been christened 'Tradesman's Entrance'.

The galleries heralded the start of the cave maturing into a system of venerable complexity- we called this region level 2. Undescended shafts abound, and the potential of each was confirmed by the free fall time of loose boulders that were thrown down the black holes.

Many would call it impudent to ignore these leads which were obviously of the highest quality. At the time it was a gut feeling and instead of descending, it proved productive to ignore the shafts and initiate traverse across the gaping holes at the end of the galleries.

'Anything you can find we can find better' would sum up the feeling that each team possessed on returning to the camp to stir the other team of damp weary cavers into action. A difficult and exposed traverse at the other end of level two, completed by a caver with absence of any rational thoughts of self presevation, led to a disappointing chamber. But wait! There in the corner, a dark shape could just be described by the head torches, and on we went to investigate. At every turn we were confronted with ever increasing caverns, until eventually it became impossible to judge the scale of the situation. At over 350m long, and descending over 100metres, we were now deeper in the system that at any time before.

Many further leads were noted during the surveying, but for the time being, a rest on the surface was what was needed: especially as one of the team was still suffering from a particularly nastey toilet experience from the previous day….. "But what do you do with the shit" is one of the first questions, for some strange reason, that is always asked when the subject of camping underground is raised. With a combination of our camps being long, and these caves being dry, there was no question about slid waste remaining in the cave. It all has to be taken out with us. Our system employed plastic bags, tie-wraps and a BDH container as noble martyrs in the cause of hygiene. This particularly nasty toilet experience occurred on the first trial of the stiill evolutionary waste disposal system.

Now the rip before this trial took place Tetley and I were dismayed, but by no means surprised to hear the familiar exclamation "Iain, Tetley- I just simply must have a shit", one of the two things Jim takes great satisfaction in telling you, the other being when he has just had one.

The trip to the camp had been a stocking up exercise but the BDH had not yet materialised, and so James ruined another survival bag in the cause of common decency. This hazard was sealed and left close to the camp to be deposited in the BDH when it was brought in on the next trip.

This was done, but not before somebody had dumped a large quantity of carbide waste in the container, as this too is removed from the cave. A pinto bean curry the previous evening had provided the need to use the facility, and in the gloom of NCB passage, closely observed by his fellow hot bedders, the lid was slowly unscrewed from the top of the BDH. Unfortunately, the spent carbide dumped in the BDH the previous day had filled it with acetylene, and the flame on the cavers carbide lamp ignited this causing a significant explosion. The poor unfortunate was rocked backwards , and with his clothes around his ankles, he was launched backwards in the very close vicinity of a 30m pitch (still undescended). We were only in the second week of expedition, so there would be time for his eyebrows to grow back.

So far. Most of the injuries had been confined to accidents on the surface, usually sustained after drinking the Smirnoff Black Label that had been kindly donated by United Distilleries as a morale boosting essential. Only one small accident happened underground, and here again the vodka that was smuggled to Club Mig was put to good medical use. The accident happened during the middle two weeks, when attention was focused on Mig Country, and the series of ledges that again traversed this huge pit. Dropping to the foot of this sixty metre pitch, we were a bit dismayed to find yet another boulder choke- and an unstable one at that. Some digging gave access down through forty metres of boulders to a small pitch series. It was here that the two of the team (Myself and Rob Lea) were rigging the pitches when a pulse of water came through the boulders. Leaving much of the equipment, they made their way for the security of the huge chamber above, but they were confronted with a uniform ceiling of boulders instead of the 'superman tube' that had been cleared on the way down. Fortunately, ten minutes of loosening and collapsing and the ceiling boulders produced the desired effect and the escape route was assured. The following trip to retrieve the equipment, again encountered a blocked way on and during the dig, one member sustained a Soft Tissue Injury (S.T.I) which ensured, once out of the cave 20 hours later, a life of luxury for a whole week while the healing process ran its course.

The team was at full strength again, however, for the anticipated linking of Mig country and another cave, M16, a short time later. Using the computer program Survex, the underground and surface surveys that were plotted had shown that at a specific depth, two areas of the caverns were only 20 metres apart. With watches synchronised, and a pre determined time agreed upon, a team in each cave were able to shout a coded message and hopefully hear a reply. The system worked, after some confusion because of echoes, a visible link was made. Soon after, a fantastic Tyrolean traverse line was installed, and an easier way into the depths of the new system, through M16, was ensured.

It was with some sadness that the now redundant camp was dismantled, meaning also that the exceptionally sporting entrance through Torn T-Shirt Cave was also likely to see much less passage. At least now, any serious injury beyond The Shreddies Series of the entrance would not mean an enforced encampment at Club Mig until a recovery was made.

As icing on the cake goes, the dramatic link from Mig country to M16 that made the Migovec system a 547 metre deep one, was just reward for all the work the expedition members over the past three years. The expedition has been a success because we had the three most important ingredients for cave exploration: perseverance, optimism and luck. It was with a lovely feeling of satisfaction that we could turn our backs on the base camp for the last time (in that year anyway) and walk to safety.

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