Klic Globin: ICCC/JSPDT Slovenia Expedition 2018

Jack Hare

New member
"Klic Globin: The Call of the Depths"
Last year we entered this competition, and on the third day of the expedition we were struck by lightning. Correlation does not imply causation, but it sure makes us nervous to apply again! Still, 300 m of high quality rope is something that would be of genuine use to our expedition...


The scenery can be stunning until three idiots stand in your shot.

Imperial College Caving Club (ICCC) has been exploring the caves of Tolminski Migovec in Slovenia since 1994. We joined the exploration undertaken by our friends from the caving section of the Tolmin alpine club (JSPDT) since 1974. Over the years the system has grown as more connections have been made - becoming the longest cave in Slovenia in 2012. Our current focus is on the Primadona entrance (connected to the main system in 2015), accessed by a vertigo-inducing abseil down 150 m of exposed cliff, with the Tolminka valley spreading out 1400 m below. For the last two years we?ve been working our way systematically through the cave, massively expanding our understanding of this complex system.


Looking down the cliff abseil to the entrance of Primadona.

Throughout 2017 we attacked multiple leads, tenaciously pushing them to their conclusion. Sometimes this was quite a bitter end! We found significant and interesting cave passage, and reconnected several times, forming internal loops within the system. As the last week approached, we had two main productive leads: the original deep shaft series (-700 m from the plateau surface) which hadn?t been visited since 2002, and the enticing ?Hallelujah? series heading off into blank mountain to the SE (-450 m from plateau surface). Despite our attempts to kill the Hallelujah lead, it stubbornly persisted, presenting us with two pushing fronts for this summer.


The survey, in elevation view, of Sistem Migovec. The Primadonna branch is on the left of the image, and has not reached the same depth as the other two branches. This is our goal for 2018.

Already in 2017 our pushing trips were reaching the limit of what could be done in a single bounce. Most of the work in the deep (<-400 m) section of the cave was requiring overnight trips of 18-24 hrs underground. These were helped by the setting up of an underground 'cafe' with a stove at 250 m depth. The cave is only a few degrees above freezing, so any time spent resting quickly leads to getting cold. Further deep work will be a lot more productive with the setting up of an underground camp.


Underground camp can be very cosy.

Aware of this, we assessed different underground camp sites. We?ve settled on the Deja Vu junction, some 400 m underground. This junction has a flat stone floor, a seemingly reliable wet aven 50 m away for water collection, and is on the main deep shaft series of Primadona. Around 100 m of the UKCaving rope was used to rebolt the impressive TTT shaft to reach this potential campsite.

We intend to set up a three-person camp with the home comforts necessary for such a cold cave. We will take a freestanding tent, warm sleeping bags, LED fairy lights, candles, a sound system loaded with every episode of Blackadder and vast quantities of couscous. From this base we intend to re-rig and thoroughly explore the next 300 m of depth, to the limit of the Slovene exploration in 2002. These last pitches became wet, and we do not have a coherent picture of what leads are present.

We?ll be rebolting several 40-50 m shafts in this deepest part of the cave to reach this pushing front. This is still a couple of hundred metres above the main sump levels of Sistem Migovec, so we believe there is plenty of depth potential. Judging by the parallel shaft series we've discovered during the last two years, it looks like we?ll be busy pushing along the way to the deep leads still. As the cave follows the edge of the steep Tolminka valley as it gains depth, there is the potential for a valley exit. Certainly, during heavy rain, multiple streams appear on the cliff faces of the valley. Other than having found a major water level within the mountain in the other part of the system, we know very little about the hydrology of the mountain.


We?ll be ready for some serious bolting.

Our main shallow lead, Hallelujah, branches off above the proposed camp, so we intend to set-up our small cafe again with first aid supplies, stoves for hot drinks, an equipment dump and a log book for leaving messages. This lead will be pushed by bounce trips, without staying underground overnight.


Mary?s Cafe is the the finest underground catering facility in the Julian Alps.

This year we have a relatively inexperienced team, since 9 of the thirty or so cavers will be on their first expedition. Being able to pass on this experience to new cavers each year has allowed our club to maintain a relatively high level of skills, while dealing with the inevitable turn-over of being a university club. The rebolting project, and the shallower Hallelujah leads will be a perfect training ground for those newer cavers who wish to cut their teeth in Primadona.


A view up the impressive Galaktika main shaft (100m), with the dark void of Galaktika chamber halfway up. Two cavers for scale.

We are not planning to do all our caving in the Primadona system. The entrance closest to our mountain top camp is also one of the oldest, known as M16, which leads to a wonderful horizontal level at -200 m offering plenty of tourist trips. Last year we also rebolted the route down to the massive Galaktika chamber, first discovered in 1984 and rarely visited since. We used up some of the rope generously provided by UKCaving for this endeavour, but it was well worth it - with the help of modern flashes we took some incredible photos that really capture the immense scale of this void. There?s even a tantalising lead at the bottom of the 100 m deep shaft, which suggests that this part of the cave may yet yield more of its secrets!

Our surface exploration this year will be concentrated on the north and west of the plateau, especially around Kuk, where poring over LIDAR and satellite data has revealed several shafts of interest. In 2017 a cliff entrance (read cluster of dark pixels) was spotted after zooming excessively on a photograph taken during a hike. Abseiling off the cliff confirmed this was a true cave (Gondolin, 150 m long), so we?re always on the lookout for near surface projects that could break into significant new cave development.


Coincidence Cave, a potential lower entrance discovered in 2015.

There are several ongoing digs to entertain those who can?t face a long trip underground. In 2015 we found a tight rift heading into a cliff some 500 m below the plateau, drafting strongly. After a bit of initial digging, the enthusiasm died down as we moved our focus to Primadona, but our Slovenian friends have confirmed that this hole strongly blows out snow, suggesting a deep reservoir of cave-warmed air. Who knows, perhaps with a bit more digging we?ll discover a lower entrance and one of the finest through trips in the Alpine karst?

We really enjoyed updating everyone on UKcaving with details of our expedition. Jarvist was the first back, bringing news of lightning strikes and early forays, followed by updates from Jack, Tanguy and Rhys. We borrowed an audio recorder from the Imperial College Podcast team, and made two short podcasts of our own[Galaktika Chamber and Exploration in Gondolin]. Excerpts were featured on the main Imperial Podcast later in the year. Tanguy also made a great video capturing some of the excitement we had underground, and has written an article for Descent (to be published). We have run an active expedition twitter feed every year since 2009. We produce a drawn survey every year, based on our hand-surveyed centre-lines. We?re currently gearing up to publish volume 3 of ?The Hollow Mountain?, detailing exploration from 2013 to 2017 - you can find the first volume (1984-2006) for free on our website.

With little over a month until the start of the expedition, we will be readying the communal kit, checking our survey gear, coiling ropes,  buying vast amounts of foodstuffs, gathering underground camp paraphernalia and more likely than not, try to calculate the likelihood of lightning striking twice in the same place...



Staff member
Don't be nervous about applying guys.  We have been blamed for many things here at UKC but lightning strikes on remote Slovenian mountains! If I was you I'd treat that as a sign of impending good fortune  :)  You have a great project there of course.  Good luck with the leads.


New member
Hey All, Perry here.

I have been a member of ICCC for 3 years now but this will be my first time attending the expedition. The excitement has become palpable with students stashing kilograms of cheese in their shared fridges, and personally running around buying as much equipment as it takes to calm my mother's nerves.

In fact, Slovenia is so close around the corner that the first set of ICCC feet have set down in Slovenia this afternoon. I have little idea what "pre-expo" entails but I am sure that with Davey Dubz on hand then all will be in place when we arrive on Friday.

Having heard numerous stories from expeditions gone by, I have had a lot of time to think about what I wish to achieve over the next 5 weeks. The stress of exams lately has caused a dramatic amount of weight to be gained, causing my ambitions to be dramatically reduced. I am told that the grueling carries of week one should start to shape me up. I then hope to spend weeks 2 and 3 exploring the entrance series, increasing my fitness for some bigger pushing trips later on in the expedition.

Overall, however, I am mostly excited about spending 5 weeks on a mountain with great friends that I've met throughout my degree, and ending my 4 years on a high. I've never done any serious camping, and have wanted to for a long time. I have no doubt that I will have a great time on the mountain, and the achievements underground will be the cherry on the cake for me.

I have most of my personal equipment already packed into my rucksack, and my caving gear is sitting in stores waiting to be whisked away. Come Friday I will be one of the 3 drivers taking shifts sleeping on a make shift bunk bed in the back of a van whilst completing a 24hr drive to the mountain. How utterly terrifying-ly exciting. I've heard even more terrifying rumours of this being dropped down to a 2 man job on the return trip. Some times I wonder whether I have been tricked by the old lags, telling me for years how great it is. Now they are all flying out for two weeks in the middle and I'm a pack mule, driving for hours and hiking for weeks just so they can have a jolly in an underground camp?

Enough of the pessimism that 4 years of London has adorned me with. I shall strive to be more positive. Slovenia 2018 is gonna be great, and I'm gonna walk away with some memories that I'll hold for life.

Cheers for the 300m of rope, I'm sure one of the Lags will make me re-rig a nice pitch for them with it.

Keeping cool on Migovec

I've been going to Migovec since 2014, back then a University Fresher and speleological neophyte.

My drives: a combination of youth, keenness and a strong desire to fully realise myself what I'd come to see as the perfect 'sport' for my build. They haven't changed so much since, which goes a long way to explain why I spend many summer afternoons, not sampling the fleshpots of sunny Tolmin or some other mediterranean destination, but battling with a coil of rope that desperately wants to burst out of its bag. In a squeeze. Five hours or more from sunlight.

Each expedition was different, and with glorious hindsight, it is possible to summarise them in few words. There was the first one, the one with the rescue, the one where we found hundreds of metres of walking passage etc...

The fifth expedition, Klic Globin 2018, is looming: I'll travel to Slovenia in two and half weeks. But this one is different.

For a start, I'm no longer living in the UK: I study in Innsbruck. Instead of the cosy 24h minibus drive across Europe, which awaits some nine expedition members five days hence, I'll be taking the train across the mountains. Then, we're camping in a new location in the cave: there will be logistics to work out, glitches to iron out and lots of cave to find. Finally, I now have another objective for my summer: the ice caves of the mountain.


The snow cone of M17 - Rhys Tyers 2017

Ice caves

Far from the photogenic glacier 'moulin', which the words ice cave may have conjured, these phenomena are simply perennial accumulations of ice hosted in rock caves. There are many open shafts on the surface of Migovec which receive their share of winter snow. This has built up great bergs of snow, firn and, eventually ice within 50m from the surface.

The most well known - at least within the expedition's shared pool of knowledge - is M10. Its location within 10m of our top camp have always granted it prime status for snow hauling during dry spells. Usually, filling our 200l barrels with snow is enough to conjure a thunderstorm that very evening.

There are many, many others recorded to contain perennial ice. The pair of shakeholes M17 and M19 - the M stands for Migovec as those were the first caves to be tagged and explored in the 1970-80's - is probably the most remarkable landscape feature on what we call the Plateau: both open shafts are 30m deep, 15-20m across and located a stone's throw from one another. Last year, as a day off, Jack, Rhys and Clare went into M17 to look at the ice formations.

A topographical map of the 'Plateau' with main ice caves highlighted - Slovene National Grid EPSG 3794

Looking south, a view of the twin shakeholes of M17-M19, in 2016

But the advertised stalagmites and stalactites were nowhere to be seen: they had decayed by mid-July. The perennial ice though was there: ponded ice at the foot of a snow-firn cone. The 1995 exploration logs, and survey data therein suggest that it is possible to abseil past the edge of the ice block  further 30m, but the way on could not be found. Twenty years of ice movement and seasonal freezing presumably had blocked the way on.

So what?

It will be of great interest to revisit M17 this year: no less because of the unusual snowfall amounts this 2018 winter, compared to that of 2017, which was drier than most, than because the way on could have reopened. The lower parts of M17 are very close to both M19 and the ice free part of the Migovec system known as NCB.


Ice block and ice ponds bottom of M19 -  Mark Evans 1994

Further north, on the other side of the 'Ridge', a NW-SE chain of peaks to the north of the plateau, is another cave of interest: M20, 'White Shiver' or 'Bel trepetati (slo)'. This was explored in 1994, the first year ICCC was out in Slovenia, and recorded to contain nearly 30m of continuous ice block, leading to a 'hoarfrost' covered chamber, with, again seasonal ice speleothems. It was pronounced dead, just short of 100m depth.


Seasonal ice in M20 - Mark Evans 1994

Here again, the objective is not to explore, but to resurvey and map precisely the extent of the perennial ice, to provide a baseline for monitoring further volume changes of the ice block. I recommend reading 'Colucci et al. 2016' on the response of ice caves to extreme weather changes in the region of Canin (at the border between Italy and Slovenia) for more information.

This year, for a change, I'm moving away from paper surveying, and trialling the Disto X2 set-up with an android waterproof (IP-68) phone. Rhys also has a similar set-up. In the weeks leading to the expedition, and as part of other exploratory projects with my Austrian colleagues, I've practised the digital survey techniques. But expedition in Slovenia is where my metal will be put to the test with a the combination of long trips, harsher conditions and greater load of data.

Still, even on the fifth expedition, the mountain holds a special fascination for me, and I hope to convey that fascination in a month's time with new surveys, pictures and written logs, and a special emphasis on the ice within the Hollow Mountain.



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Jack Hare

New member
The expedition is in full swing, so it's time for some updates. First up, a dig on the mountainside.

Coincidence Cave: It Goes!



Looking up at Migovec (1800 m) from Ravne (900 m). The canyon cuts its way down the south face of Migovec, and Coincidence cave is located at around 1300 m.

It was 2015, and I was on my first expedition in Slovenia. Groups were returning from underground, having camped and pushed further and further to the south, bringing back tales of howling drafts and passages ascending as if heading towards the surface. Seized with excitement, I spent some time pouring over Survex, converting coordinate systems and trying to determine where the cave would come out by overly optimistic extrapolations.

GPS coordinates in hand, Rhys and I set off down the sunbaked mountain, zig-zagging backwards and forwards on the trail of paths and chamois tracks, crossing and recrossing the well-scoured canyon that descends the face of Tolminski Migovec. After many hours, we reached a point some 600 m below the mountain top, and we climbed up the canyon, leaving the path by only 40 m before we found a strongly drafting hole, a mere crack in the cliff but just about large enough to squeeze into.

We returned to the path, and immediately met the Three Wise Men: Pete H, Dave W and Dewi L, a crack team of old lags with knackered knees who had been scouring the lower slopes for cave entrances for the last week. They had already spotted this hole, but hadn?t got close enough to feel the draft. This chance meeting seemed a good omen, and we named it Coincidence Cave. I spent the next week digging with Rhys, the Three Wise Men and anyone else we could lure off the mountain, and the digging continued after I left. Still, by the end of 2015, it did not go.

In 2016 we turned our attention to a new branch of the deep alpine cave system reached from the top of Migovec. Leads abounded, and any thoughts of squalid digging were quickly forced from our minds. In 2017 I briefly returned to poke my head in, but the draft seemed to have died, and I left dispirited, but determined to come back at some point and make a proper go of it.

This summer, I had my chance. I?d just come back from a three day underground camp. We?d set up the camp, spent a day rerigging down the old Slovenian route, missed an important lead (leaving it to the night train to find, push and name ?Lost in a Dream?, now the major route into all of the deepest stuff found this year) and then surfaced. I was tired, maybe a little grumpy, and keen to see the sun for a few days. My plan was simply - hike down the mountain from the bivi (1800 m) to Ravne (900 m), where we had all our food and beer, grab some food and beer, and hike back up to Coincidence Cave (1300 m), dig for a bit, drink a beer and get back to the bivi in time for dinner. Oddly, it proved remarkably easy to recruit for this difficult and arduous journey, and soon Ben and Nick were heading down the mountain with me.

Day 1:


Ben and Nick at the entrance to Coincidence Cave on the first day of digging.

Armed with a dig tray (vital), crowbar (quickly buried), a ridiculously large folding shovel (useless) and a 1.5 m long tent pole (Force 10, very sturdy!) we began to attack the dig. The crawl was now four metres long, hands and knees, and formed in a rift, narrowing towards the top and with a floor of compacted mud and scree. The dig face was an ascending mud slope, and we began simply by digging at the base, poking for dangling rocks with the tent pole and packing them into the dig tray for removal. One person dug, one dragged the tray and one sat outside drinking beer. Ideal. Towards the end of the afternoon it was clear that the ascending slope lead to a small chamber, though the amount of loose rock in the ceiling stopped us from going up. The cave was going well, and we retreated back up the mountain to (quietly) spread the word (to a few selected people).

Day 2:

We needn?t have bothered being quiet, enthusiasm for digging was low, with one brash youngster declaring he wanted to do some ?real caving? instead. The cheek. Still, we recruited the other Jack and Rhys to join us, and the five of us, physicists all, headed down the mountain. As we climbed back up to the dig, laden with cheese and beer I hit upon the clever idea of messaging the expedition chat to suggest that if anyone else happened to be passing the dig, they could bring more beer and chill it in the strong draft. Little was I to know how enthusiastically this offer would be taken up.

I went first into the dig, and spent most of my time clearing away the fallen rocks that Nick had poked down earlier. Rhys ably handled the dig tray, but when it came to his turn at the dig front he realised the way on was clear, and he scrambled up into the small chamber. Instantly it was obvious that this was a real cave, and not simply a fracture in the rock. The draft howled out of a small hole at the bottom of a descending slope, this chamber the high point on a humped path straight into the mountain.

Work began immediately on enlarging the way on, and by the time it was my turn back at the front it seemed just about large enough to pass. Legs together, I slithered down, closing my eyes to avoid the grit that was sandblasted into my face. I did a quick test to see if I could get out, and then slipped carefully down the final metre and into a large chamber.

The chamber was a rift, about 10 m high and 10 m long, 2 m at most, and getting narrower towards the top and bottom. The rock was clean washed, white and grey, and scalloped. A boulder slope lead down to the lowest point, and Rhys soon realised that by moving only a few boulders we?d be able to get through into the rift below. We lacked the equipment, but the draft continued out of the rift below, and we vowed to return the next day.

Day 3:

Equipped with a drill, rope, rigging tape and lots of bolts we descended again, excited but maybe a little nervous. It was one thing to haul a cooperative caver during rescue training from an SRT tower, but quite another to lift an uncooperative boulder in a tight rift in a real (though short) cave. Still, Tony Seddon had been running rescue training sessions for ICCC for years and Rhys and I had picked up a bit. We placed two bolts as high as we could, rigged a loop of tape with a knot in the middle, and attached a minitraxion. One end of the rope was attached to a bolt in the boulder, and for the other end we selected our largest caver, the other Jack. Tragically he was not very large, but he was equal to the two boulders we hauled and I would highly recommend him for any counterweight jobs you might have.

I had some tape attached to the bolt on the boulder, and as Jack did a counter balance haul, I swung the rock sideways, and we released the traxion, lowering it into place. This first boulder simply revealed another below, which I bolted at arm?s length as it was deeper in the rift. The second one proved trickier than the first, as like an iceberg I couldn?t see most of the mass and it was frequently stuck in the rift, requiring chiselling or a gentle nudge with a crowbar to get it out. Eventually after what seemed like hours it was out, and lowered into position safely out of the way.

The entrance crawl and the rift chamber. Video credit: Rhys Tyers.

At this point our club president, Perry arrived, and a drag tray full of beer, radler (grapefruit juice and beer), pig jam (lard and crispy bacon) and other wonders was brought through into the dig. We ate and drank well, and Perry arrived to inspect out progress.

Rhys claimed the honour of going first into the very tight, sharp rift, and we all watched admiringly as he wriggled and grunted in pain as the rock grabbed and tore at his oversuit. We had a big bag of rope generously donated by UKCaving (maybe 100 m) and we hoped it could stand the beating it was about to take from the razor sharp flakes on the walls. Rhys quickly dropped through the tight constriction at the top, and the rift opened up slightly. Gardening the entire way down, he had to stop to re-garden rocks which he?d already kicked down and had paused to greet him again. He threaded a winding vertical route through holes, away from hanging boulders and always following the draft which rose from below like the breath of Hel.

Eventually we ran out of time and courage, and decided to see whether we could prussik up without the rope slicing open. We surveyed out, having stopped one bolt shy of what looked like a real floor. The other Jack tried the first few rebelays to see what all his effort had lead to, and then we headed out through the sloping crawl that Ben had spent the day widening to an easy going passage. A heavy rainstorm on the surface made the main chamber quite wet, and we were glad to head out.

The rain finds us. Video credit: Rhys Tyers.

Day 4:

Jack and Nick decided to faff, leaving myself, Ben and Rhys to continue on. I went first, placing another bolt to traverse over to an interesting vertical junction. The obvious drop down died instantly, with no way on and no draft. Back up the bolt, I swung round into a parallel rift and descended to find a good amount of water flowing away into a crack in the floor. The walls were well washed, but the crack too narrow - below that it dropped away another five or ten metres to who knows where.

Back again to the junction and there was one lead left - an ascending mud ledge to a mud balcony. I cautiously crept up, careful not to collapse the precarious ledge, and was relieved to make it. One bolt later and a very tense tension traverse protected the climb and the others joined me. The air ripped out of the rift beyond, but the rift was too tight to force our way through. Rhys went back to get food and digging tools whilst Ben and I dug, but it was clearly a very difficult project.

We turned around, curious about where Rhys had got to. As we ascended, we found scattered lumps of food all the way down the rift. Lacking any way to get the food down to us, Rhys had packed a plastic shopping bag, which almost immediately tore, showering the rest of the cave in cheese, tins of fish and crackers. We gathered what we could and joined him at the top for a slightly gloomy lunch, pondering our reduced prospects.

I?d left the rope and drill below, not wanting to carry them both out of the tiny rift, and using this I persuaded Rhys to go check out one last lead, a traverse from a higher rebelay where the draft also seemed strong. After ten metres of tight, thrutchy rift he found the air again blasting out of a too-tight rift and we were forced to concede we could go no further.

As we turned to go, the chamber above us shook as if from a rock fall. Ben called out that he was fine, but there was a storm directly overhead and the thunder was sending rolling booms through the tight entrance which broke loudly in the chamber. Unwilling to exit in a thunderstorm, I kept warm by bolting a high traverse in the big chamber to a possible window at the far end, but this died instantly. By this point it seemed like the thunder had passed, so we crawled out and changed out of our caving kit.

Immediately the storm turned round and headed straight for us. We walked briskly, then ran, then practically sprinted with full backpacks up the mountain towards the Shepherd?s Huts at Kal. Just as we reached the last few zig-zags, the heavens opened and the thunder sounded only three seconds after the flash. We could see someone in the central hut staring out the door - it was Jana, the president of the JSPDT, the Slovenian club who have been exploring the caves under Migovec since 1974. We ran even harder, arriving soaked and exhausted, and were welcomed into the warm hut, sat in front of the fire and fed ?ganje (a potent home made spirit) and frika (fried potatoes, eggs and cheese).

Jana and the others listened to our breathless tales and watched some videos Rhys had made of the dig. She sighed in exasperation: ?Only the English could come all the way to a beautiful country like Slovenia and dig in the mud. No Slovenian would ever do this!? But she agreed it looked very promising, and messaged another member of the club who might be able to use HE to open the rift and see what lay beyond.

That?s in the future though. For now we have a cave, and what a lovely little cave it is. For a dig that lasted only four days, we found some beautiful cave passage, tens of metres long and deep, with an impressive draft and a commanding location perched over some of the deepest and least accessible parts of Sistem Migovec. We?re all excited to see where it goes, and we?ve left it rigged with the rope from UKCaving so our Slovenian friends can continue the exploration.

There goes my fifth expedition on Migovec. I spent little over three weeks on the mountain this year, which given the enormous amount of prep work put in by those coming early in the expedition resulted in exploratory trips at nearly all levels of our cave system. Therefore, rather than a chronological account I'll give a geographical overview of the different 'fronts' I've been involved with this year.


Tolminski Kuk and Tolminski Migovec west face seen from the Tolminka valley.

Let's start near the surface: one of my objectives for the year was checking out several ice bearing shakeholes on Migovec to assess their potential as palaeoclimate archives.


Putting temperature humidity loggers in M17 ice cave
First on my list was M17. This hole I knew to contain lots of ice in various forms (ponds, icicles and other ice speleothems), as it had been well photographed back in the mid 90s during the early expeditions, and more recently by Rhys T., on two occasions (2017 and 2018 expeditions).

Certainly, with the promise of a couple of temperature/humidity sensors from our Slovene contacts, it seemed a trip to M17 was inevitable, at least to place the loggers and take a couple more photos of the ice. Due to our tight derigging schedule though, Jana (the president of the JSPDT) and Andy (15 time expedition member) rigged M17 while I was down in Primadona busy packing up camp, and left the loggers for me to place the next day, on the final caving trip of the expedition.


Data logger near the layered, recrystallised snow in M17 ice cave

I descended the open shaft, kicking down loose cobbles on my wake, often slipping on the unusually green rock ledges where additional stainless steel bolts had been put in the previous year. On the snow plug itself, tent poles replaced through bolts, and at the bottom, the rope ran out a little earlier than might have been expected. Still, gliding down the debris cone, I reached the ponded ice which resembled an ice skating ring, but for the well-watered 5cm deep channels carved by melt-water.

On the far side of the chamber, the tongues of two addional snow cones (presumably from the nearby shakeholes) entered through the roof, feeding the gurgling channels. At their foot, where spring drips usually fall, the remains of ice columns and stalagmites were still visible. It was all very pretty, but it was the far side of the chamber which held more interest for me: where the snow from the shakeholes had been compacted into ice, trapping needles and pinecones from the surrounding dwarf pine.

These were exactly what I was looking for, as these datable horizons provide a framework for the interpretation of past climate signals. I could clearly see that the three visible darker layers were some of the youngest of the pile as the overlying snow had not been compacted yet, so the objective for the next campaign is to abseil on the far side of the ice plug to reach the base of the ice and collect organic remains there to constrain the maximum age of the ice. This will be a make or break criterion for further climate studies in the area.


Congelation (refrozen) ice in contact with layered, recrystallised snow (right) containing dwarf pine remains, in M17 ice cave

M19 - lack of ice but intriguing survey
The other cave that had been playing on my mind was M19, another cave found at the bottom of a snow filled shakehole. I convinced Louise and Celia to follow me as we attempted to refind the way down the cave, a task rendered difficult by the fact that there were three potential shakeholes with the GPS coordinates inherited from 1995 (Hollow Mountain).

Enters Ben with a drone, which he flew over and into the shakeholes for an early reconnaissance of the best route down. The large scale aerial view as well as some more adventurous close-ups allowed us to re-bolt the optimal abseil route the first time around. I landed in a small snow filled chamber, immediately spotting the now rusty spits placed a couple of decades earlier.


The snow filled chamber in M19

Recognising that we had indeed broken into M19, I shouted for Celia and Louise to follow me down, as I dived into the small rift that led off from the chamber. A few awkward bends later, I popped out at the top of a small drop, with again, a series of spits beckoning onwards, but to my dismay, a distinct lack of ice.

Given the cross-section of the passage we'd just wormed our way in, I was surprised to find that the draught was not too strong, certainly, in the larger chamber that followed, it could hardly be felt at all, although the temperature was clearly slightly lower than in the ice-free Sistem Migovec.

We dropped the pitch, climbed down a steep rift to another drop, finding, yet again the rusty spits. Or, should I say, the single spit. I put in a bolt not far away and, looking to complete a Y-hang, peered for a suitable place to put the second bolt. To my surprise I found a half-drilled spit hole exactly where I aimed to bolt next, and could not help but imagine the scene twenty years ago, where presumably, the explorer, having put in one spit, looked to put another, started hand drilling, stopped, looked around, and erm... well, one spit was all right, after all!

The cave was slightly bigger at the bottom and split with two ways on: a pit with three visible ledges (spit at the top), and an extreme profusion of cobbles and gravel resting atop them. The other way was about ten metres of tight, red-ochre rift that broke out at the top of a (final though we did not know yet) 15m pitch.

There was still no visible ice, and all the while we seemed to be moving south, further away from the snow plugs, so Louise and Celia started the re-survey of M19 from the pitch head while I derigged our rope.


Resurveying in M19

Back on the surface, it was with astonishment that we discovered that all the original M19 survey data azimuths were 180? off. An easy fix on survex, and we saw that we had resurveyed to what was nearly the pushing front. I read again the all too short paragraph on the Hollow Mountain describing M19 and concluded that next year, we should definitely reach the bottom and perhaps extend this faintly draughting, but nonetheless exciting cave.


PART 2 - The Alkatraz connection

Okay, so that's the surface covered. Underground proper, the first trip I took part in was with Chris, and two Slovenes, Stane and Zdenko, from the JSPDT. They wanted a jolly in Primadona, which I took to mean that we could go pushing, rig a connection we thought existed but hadn't 100% proved yet and exit through a different entrance of the system.

There was no way it could go wrong! We agreed to meet up at Monatip entrance, which is about the same altitude as Primadona entrance, only 100m further north along a traverse over the cliff side. Knowing that some of the permanently rigged surface ropes needed replacing, that some of the climbs in Monatip might need rigging, and that we had a roughly 50m pitch to drop before connecting back into Primadona, we packed a healthy bag of 11mm rope, took a hand bolting kit, buried our survey gear within the bags just in case and looted the cave food barrel for some tasty fish and malt loaves.

We were as ready as we were going to get, so Chris and I abseiled down met up with the two older Slovenes, and started the walk/scramble to Monatip entrance. The moss-green old rope went, replaced with shiny, new, thick 11mm. 

Inside, we paced ourselves along the various down and up pitches, strenuous crawls and traverses that make up the entrance series of this cave. About 200m in, we were still only 6m below the actual cave entrance. There, we squeezed under a boulder and found the way on to Primadona.

There were already two connection routes between Primadona and Monatip. One went down a tight rift, skirted round Alkatraz chamber (only the second biggest in the system), past a further two pitches before connecting neatly at Sejna Soba, the place where we'd set up an underground caf? and the first Cave Link station. The other connection was found from the Primadona side in 2016 by Jack Hare, at the top of a boulder slope on the far side of Alkatraz Chamber. So far, this cavern could only be accessed from the bottom and the bit of cave between Alkatraz proper, and the entrance passages of Monatip was simply terrifying, tight, wet and mostly unrigged.

Instead, back in 2016, I'd gone with Maffi, and later Clare, to explore a 300m crawl to stoop, breezy passage called 'Cloaca Maxima', which popped by happenstance nearly at the top of what we presumed was Alkatraz. No one had dropped the pitch, confirming the connection, until our trip. There was also the obvious incentive of creating a friendlier and more inspiring route between Primadona and Monatip.


The great aven in Cloaca Maxima

On the way to the top of Monatip, we spotted a crawl which we knew was not surveyed. This piqued our interest, since the high levels of Monatip had yielded so much passage in recent years. We decided to split up there, Chris and Zdenko surveying into what we hoped was new passage, while Stane and I crawled our way to the top of Alkatraz.

Cloaca Maxima just went on and on, and I was reminded of the survey which had seemed to last an age in freezing conditions. It hadn't got much better, but at least we were following the dip of the rock strata at nearly 10? to the south west. Eventually, we popped out in the great aven (40+), found the short crawl continuation on the other side and soon stood at the top of our still-to-be-rigged 50m pitch into Alkatraz.

But first, gardening. Stane knew what he was doing here, and I watched with awe as the boulders went down, whooshing loudly until they crash-landed in the vast chamber below. It was pure destruction. Then we started handbolting, Stane putting the first, while I watched and then I started going down, putting an additional three bolts on the slightly drippy, but mostly fine abseil route.

As I was touching the ground of what was most definitely Alkatraz, I heard the voices of Chris and Zdenko who'd caught up with us by that point. They'd found about 90m of new passage, heading north-east into what was a clearly unexplored mountain swath.


Crawling at the top of Alkatraz

As Stane was celebrating the birth of his grand-daughter, he and Zdenko left us to go out of Primadona, while Chris and I stayed behind to put still more bolts on the climb down the boulders into the entrance series of Prima. While Chris bolted, I resurveyed Alkatraz chamber with the DistoX2 and android phone I'd purchased before the expedition, finding it to be nearly 70m long, 30m wide and more than 70m high in places.

On the way out of the cave, we discovered that the thunderstorm that had surprised the Coindicence Cave diggers was feeding the drippy entrance pitches, and although we got fairly wet from the ascent, by the time we surfaced for the last part of the abseil, the weather front was already moving away. Taking advantage of the lull, Chris and I made it back on the Migovec Plateau, none the worse for wear.

I only managed to get back to Cloaca Maxima on one other trip this expedition, far, far later with Ben, and on the understanding that we would first check out some of the remaining leads high above Alkatraz and then photograph the parts of Cloaca Maxima that were especially interesting.

We climbed up the newly rigged Alkatraz pitch and go to the leads in a short time. Checking them out seemed to take even less time. A 'way up' that Maffi had spotted two years earlier degenerated into a series of small pockets with no way on. A crawl I had seen, again two years earlier, also led to an impassable, but white and mud-free rift. The final lead was a climb up, at the top of which I convinced myself I could see horizontal passage leading off.

We bolt climbed up 7m into what was obviously an alcove, with the continuing aven on the far side. This remains a lead, but I was unable to continue the climb at the time. Therefore, we decided to say goodbye to Cloaca Maxima this year, taking a few shots of the great aven and the decorated crawls on the way.


In parts 3 and 4, I'll talk about some of the worst and the best pushing trips deeper in Primadona this year.

And we are back! Now for some deeper pushing in Primadona, which included some pretty squalid crawling and squeezing one day, and a beautiful clean, dry pitch series the other. Yet both trips will probably stay with me a long time!

PART 3 - What if a lead doesn't obviously die?

Ah Dysentry... Last year I'd gone with Dave W. and connected the Electric Dreams series with the top of the Hall of the Mountain King. This brought a satisfying end to the exploration of this particular branch of Primadona.

But, as I was bolting yet another route into the roof of the Hall of the Mountain King, Dave indulged in one of his favourite pastimes: pushing grim crawls to keep warm. And he'd found one he reckoned would only need another cursory glance to declare it 'dead'.

So the plan was again, ambitious but clearly achievable: go down the Karstaway branch, check out the crawl, go out of the Electric Dreams branch, derigging the pitches as we went, and bring the rope back to Mary's Caf?, near Sejna Soba. What could go wrong?

We made it down Karstaway without much trouble, climbed into the connection with Electric dreams and started scouting for the entrance to the crawl Dave wanted to look at. And there it was: elliptical, inviting, full of cobbles on the floor, though nothing we couldn't quickly dig out, and with a reassuringly smooth, white ceiling.


The start of the Dysentry crawl beckons the unsuspecting caver onwards

I dived in, rounding two corners before reaching what I assumed had made Dave turn back the previous year.

'It looks like a squeeze'. There was a rock column dividing the passage into two squeezes. One was clearly impassable at present, the other perhaps manageable. I crawled forwards, onto a pristine pool of mud. I tried going through and got spooked, hammered a bit at the rock, without any effect and gathered my thoughts.

I had nearly got through on the first attempt, but my knees had been locked in extension, preventing me from rounding the mini-dogleg that was the squeeze. The second time, I folded one knee under the other, felt the cave guide me into a full body rotation and I keeled over on the other side, panting.

It was not a particularly tight squeeze, just a technical one, and if Dave could manage it (we had discarded our srt gear at that point), then almost anyone could. He did manage it, and I heard a clearly relieved 'I'm through' behind me.

The cave then got better, only slightly, but enough to convince me to take survey gear with us as we started the exploration. The crawl became a small tube, with lots of places where it was possible to turn around, and popped out at the top of a small 7m pitch, but even further on, there were two small downclimbs into a draughting rift, choked with boulders on both sides.

This was surely the end, I thought, but by then Dave had caught up, and he dived straight through the bottom of the rift, removing boulders as he went, speaking of glorious continuations etc... We reached the crux soon enough, a larger rock around which it was necessary to squeeze to access the fabled land beyond. Dave being unsuccessful at the time, I tried my luck again and popped out on the other side.

I was let down almost instantly: the rift narrowed back down to a horrid looking thrutch for the foreseeable 10 next metres. I voiced my concern to Dave, but even as I was turning around to look at the way I'd come from, I spotted what was the obvious, crawling continuation. That did not look too awful at least.

With combined tactics we managed to free the offending boulder and let Dave through to the new chamber, whereupon he immediately started crawling along the ongoing passage. Soon we reached a junction and what is more, the obvious draught blowing across it was guiding us onto... well we did not know yet, but surely something bigger.

I checked out the left branch, which ended at a sediment filled chamber, while Dave went ahead, reporting further going passage, and interesting abandoned phreatic tubes. Now positively hooked on exploration, we went onwards, through the now stooping sized tube, until it broke out into a highly complex chamber.

There were still at least several different ways on, so we grinned at each other, split up and carried on. This time, I was the lucky one, finding nearly 40m of nearly walking size, breezy passage, heading due west. Davie found a boulder choking his way on. But then we climbed up to a higher level of the chamber, finding a route to a 15m tall aven. But we were running out of steam: most routes ended in bouldery dead-ends, time was against us, I was hungry and tired and anxious to get back to the relative safety of the Electric Dreams branch, so we turned around there, plastering the new passages in layers of disgusting brown mud.


Dave after the survey of Dysentry, completely covered in glorious mud

Back where we'd left our SRT gear, we exchanged few words, ravenously gorging on raisins, peanuts, fish and gingercake instead before starting the ascent. At the underground caf? I started looking at our new survey data, trying to make sense of it all, but Dave sensibly suggested we get out before becoming hypothermic. And this was it for Dysentry, I'm sure all the horrid leads could be persuaded to go in the future, and I will probably go back when I look back at it with rose tinted glasses.


PART 4 - Adventures in Alabaster continue

Compared to Dysentry, this was seriously good. Last year, I'd left Alabaster at an undescended ledge 6m of the floor of what was clearly a storming lead. We'd been out of rope and it was the last pushing trip of the expedition: Alabaster would have to wait.

This time round, I was not going to pass up the opportunity to push this branch early on. I recruited Chris and Jennifer for a long bounce trip to the pushing front. We had a drill, plenty of bolts and maillons and a good length of rope to push with.

I struggled at first with my now caked-in-Dysentry-mud gear, especially the undersuit zip, but thanks to helpful tips from Jack, this was sorted in no time. 'Get in the cave already!' he kept saying as he was circling around the tents.

That we did. We descended to the caf?, then down into the Alabaster branch, rerigging some of this year's newly found alternative routes on the way to Purgatory, the new pushing front. Dave Kp, Jennifer and Diss had dropped to the bottom of the Alabaster pitch, leaving two leads: an ongoing rift, and a friendly 5m drop to the right hand side of the passage.

While Chris bolted the drop, Jennifer and I resurveyed Purgatory with the distoX, and when all was done, we went down the pitch to have a look.  Chris and Jennifer took up surveying duties from then on, while I carried the drill, rope and metalwork onwards. We quickly found a small pitch onto a sandy floor. Bolted, rigged. At the bottom, the passage continued much in the vein of Alabaster: white clean walls, grey sand, stagnant pools of water. All of it dry, all of it silent.

Then we found another pitch. This time, landing in what appeared to be a deep pool of water. Rigging first a pitch, then changing it to a traverse over the pool, we carried on (Rhys changed it back to a pitch, which was easier, because the water was apparently not even welly deep).

A short keyhole shaped passage led on to a larger pitch. I chucked a rock down, heard a rattle and an ominous 'bloop', as the projectile was swallowed by the larger, deeper pools which awaited us. At this point, I was in full rigging hound mode, drilling and hammering in quick succession the next drops. One, two, three, four.


Impacted mud formations on ledge by one of the larger pools

What's that at the bottom? The beginnings of horizontal passage? I descended fast, skirted between a deep blue-green pool and a ledge of pristine, wave-rippled sand and had a quick look. Beyond a well-scalloped overhang was going passage, a 180? turn and the next pitch head.


Wave rippled sand by the pool at the bottom of the pitches we pushed

I looked at what was left: three bolts, about 20m of rope and a token length of tape. Time to turn around. Also, surveying was already done. Jennifer, Chris and I regrouped by the rippled sandy beach and ate some chocolate. It was about 10pm and we knew we had a long way out ahead of us.

In about four hours we made it back to the caf?, struggling with the weight of the tacklesacks in the more awkward bits of the Fenestrator branch, had lots of warm drinks and finally set off for the final leg of our journey.

At about 5.30am, we surfaced, just in time to see the Krn massif don a red cloak at sunrise. This trip ranks in my top 5 exploration trips, and I take confort in the fact that yet another 500m of passage were added to the branch by further teams this year. It really seems to go on forever! 


Next time, I'll write about our underground camping trips in the deep places of Primadona.
And we are back! We'll delve into some deep exploration in Primadona, done over the course of a camping trip immediately followed by a deep bounce to the now deepest parts of Primadona.

PART 5 - Pushing the deep end of Primadona

James Wilson and Jack Halliday were booked in our camp roster for a single slot, right in the middle of the day. This meant they would be going down in the morning, pushing through the night and ascend back to our camping spot (about -420m) for about ten hours sleep. Jack approached me and asked whether I would join them. I agreed to my first camping trip of the year since I had not caved with them yet.

The prospects were good. For a start, it was both their third camping trips, so they knew the ins and outs of the new camp. Then, as the expedition was in full swing, it would be logistically a lot easier to reach the front. But it was the auspicious reports, more than anything else of what the lead actually was that spurred us down the cave.

You see, the expedition aim this year had always been to reach the deepest point of Primadona, last explored in the early 2000's, and left at a going lead beyond the reach of simple bounce trips. Jack, Rhys, Dave, James, Arun, Jack, Nick , Jennifer, Diss etc... had all played a part in setting up the camp, shuttling the bags between the surface and the Caf?, between the Caf? and the Camp, terracing a sleeping spot with boulders, cobbles, gravel and mud, bringing food, fairy lights, church candles and sound system, so that, by the time the three of us arrived at the Manger, it looked comfortable and easy to use, and had a real feel of home.


Cooking at camp, to the warm glow of candles and fairy lights

To further ease our journey down, the two pitches below camp had been rerigged in the early trips. At the bottom of the second, Pivnica (the beer cellar), a small stream passage split off the main deep route. And so, this year again, we were side tracked.

The series of small fluted shafts kept going, landing in deeper pools every time, and over the course of several trips, Lost in a Dream gave way to the Penny Falls, at the foot of which, the small stream stopped cascading and carved a tight, stooping stream passage called Tiger Tiger. This went on for about 60m, carrying a faint draught, threatening to close down at any moment, until against their expectations, the original explorers found themselves at the top of a large pitch.

Excited talks of four second drops ensued, and Jack, Ben and Alex started bolting the way down. At 15m down, they reached a ledge, 'Deeper than Most', overlooking what was now the main shaft. Throwing stones down, again four second drops followed, with the bottom barely in sight. At 40m down, off a Y-hang that he put below the ledge, Jack started dangling several metres away from the walls, which were overhanging. It was clear that the shaft was mainly a very long 50-60m rift, the opposite wall being about 20m away. Truly a big space!

So there was our lead. James, Jack and I descended to camp, ate a hot meal of couscous at around 7pm, and about two hours later, after struggling through the Tiger Tiger streamway, we stood at the Deeper than Most ledge overlooking the pitch. I swung onto Jack's Y-hang and started the descent, James was above, in hot pursuit as I started putting another Y-hang some 15m down. The bolts went in quick succession, one, two, three, four rebelays (the joys of a working drill!), along a dry route, until finally we stood at the bottom.

Jack, who had stayed at the ledge the whole time started coming down, his light illuminating the shaft from above, revealing it's awesome dimensions to James and I peering up from the bottom.

The bottom was immediately disappointing. Under an archway, we followed a boulder breakdown to the foot of an aven with large rocks perched precariously above us. We retreated to the base of the shaft and continued our search for a way on. On the northern side of the shaft, where the drips fell down thick and fast, we followed a way through and underneath stacked boulders to the sight of more space beneath boulders. It was not the inspiring lead we were hoping for, so we turned our attention to the southern side of the shaft, with the clear wide rift continuation visible above a large pile of rocks.

It took several attempts to weave our way through the breakdown to reach the top, where there were also some heavy drips, but eventually we all stood looking down at the base of the shaft some 15m below. On the other side, we became quite excited, as a muddy, seemingly horizontal passage intercepted our rift, and combined tactics quickly saw us climb into it. James even went further into the rift, reporting a fairly wet climb over boulders led to another, well-watered pitch.


A plan survey of the Klic Globin extensions before the final push

But it was the dry horizontal way on that captured our imagination and it was all we had hoped for: about 100m of new pristine passage, decorated with pearly white beads of calcite on the walls. The passage opened up and seemingly gave way to a pitch into a medium sized chamber. There were also other leads to be investigated in the complex maze of muddy passages and it was unclear which would simply reconnect immediately and which would go on to become major horizontal levels. We called our passage Moonraker, due both the fact we were treading new soil and we were missing the lunar eclipse. The pitch we chose to name 'Klic Globin', after our expedition, since it was the 'Call of the Depths' that had driven us there in the first place.

What a way to start off camping!

I had no way of predicting that the very next day I would join Clare and Izi's bounce trip to that same area to see what new ground we could cover. Yet it happened, and less than 36 hours after leaving the end of Moonraker, we were back with more gear to start going down the pitches. Izi and Clare found a way to new horizontal passage, a clear 'tube' leading off, but by that point I already had started the bolting duties, so we left it for later.


More than a few bolts were placed in the deep places of Primadona

We bolted down into the medium sized chamber and found it full of boulders, yet at least there was a visible way through. I slid down between the wall and a long slab of rock and popped down at the bottom of a grotty looking abandoned stream passage. Crawling between ledges, we soon found ourselves at the top of a small pitch.

Further down, we entered a rift passage with many loose rocks and flakes of iron oxides veining the white rock. We also found the dead, decaying corpse of a rodent, which helped in finding a name for the lead. 'The Mouseleum'.  We left the next pitch undescended as we were under the impression that there was still a storming lead awaiting higher up.

We surveyed back the nearly 100m of new ground, which had dropped another 40m of depth. Unbeknownst to us, we had increased the depth of Primadona by 13m. I followed Izi and Clare to their lead, squeezed through boulders and emerged into walking, muddy passage extremely reminiscent of Moonraker above. There was a very good reason for this: we had broken back into Moonraker! Not far ahead I pointed out one of our permanent survey stations, gently flapping in the breeze.

Still, there was at least another lead I was aware of in this area, so we pushed it excitedly for about 50m until we hit a 10-15m pitch, which took the fair draught of the entire Moonraker passage. We surveyed back, getting a little chilly in the process and considered our options. The intensity of the last few days caught up with me and I realised there was a nearly 700m ascent before bed. Conscious of this fact, we turned around, glad to have left two reasonable leads for the next teams.

But on the surface, we plotted our survex data and realised two things. The first, the new route down and pushing front of Mouseleum was now the deepest point reached in Primadona. The second, our breezy pitch coincided with the precarious aven off the bottom of Klic Globin pitch: this meant we had really one lead in the Mouseleum, and the wet pitch James warned us would be tough to push.


EW projection of the Klic Globin extensions, visualised on Aven

Things did not improve when several days and another Mouseleum pushing trip later, a CaveLink message from James and David (the Wilson twins) ran thus 'We are running out of AA batteries, waste bags and decent leads'. Going deeper still, they had passed some tough squeezes to gain a tube with a peculiar dark chocolate coloured mud exhibiting desiccation cracks. Seemingly frozen in time, the mud almost, almost reached the roof of the tube at the exploration limit. Thus, the Chocolate River ended at a remote draughting dig heading back towards the NE, that it within the bounds of the mountain. Depth was now -770m.


The final installment of this report will recount the last undeground camping trip of the expedition, where again we try our luck below Klic Globin.
PART 6 - The cave goes on: a final successful push down Klic Globin

'Are we going to camp next year, and if so where?'

This was a recurrent question, debated to no end at the sunset spot, in the bivi, on the walk to the caves. We had all been waiting to hear what the Wilson twins had found below the Mouseleum. There clearly was no question of moving the camp further down the cave without both a suitable place and a suitable lead to push, and there was also the lingering issue of getting to see the other deep route pushed by the Slovenes 18 years earlier, as the branching off between the two fronts occured not too far below our current location at the Manger. When the twins came back to the surface and explained in detail how they had got to the Chocolate River and what digging there would entail, optimism on the surface was in short supply. The Mouseleum lead had for all intents and purposes run out.

Still, I remembered several draughty climbs off the Moonraker passage we had not pushed yet, and browsing through the reports of past discoveries in our surface logbook identified a list of potential 'windows' and 'ways on' we could check out on the way to the deep front, below camp. They were hardly any going leads, but they were all we had at the moment. That is, in this particular part of the cave. The Alabaster branch still went splendidly: Rhys and Clare had effortlessly added another 200m of beautiful passage, so while James Alex and I were preparing our trip, Clare was plotting another assault there with Andy.

Alex and James joined me on the last camping trip of the expedition, which had a threefold objective: first to see for ourselves the old deep route as far as we could go, second to push the remaining leads below Klic Globin, and finally to start packing up camp on the last day and meet up with the entire derigging team headed our way. Maffi, a local experienced caver would join us on the bounce down below the Manger and then head back out on his own after the first day. Since he was based in the Kal refuge, he would walk along the 1500m contour path, underneath the entrance to Primadona, and then scramble his way up to the cave entrance, where we would meet him in the morning.


The Kal refuge from where Maffi was based, on the shoulder of Tolminski Migovec

With our masterplan in mind, we made off for the edge of the Plateau once more, picked up Maffi at the bottom of the abseil and made quick work of the way down to the Manger. Hardly stopping for a hot drink, we carried on down towards Pivnica, where the new and old routes diverged. The new rigging of the next pitch was not a surprise, and in fact had become somewhat of a staple of the expedition. A large, tight traverse to avoid the worst of the drips got us round to a dry hang. And then, we were below Pivnica. The cave narrowed to a tall hading rift, with an awkward pitch head and a series of small hangs bouncing off the opposite wall.

At the bottom of one such hang, and in the midst of dry cave passage we were surpised to find a spout of water sending drips in all directions after splashing on the various ledges of rock and disappearing almost as suddenly. The original ropes that traversed around the water had gone, cut by some previous explorer. There was some calling and shouting between the pitches as we realised we'd left our rope at the bottom of Pivnica, but we passed it down to Maffi who rerigged the rope to allow further progress down the route. Alex and James carried on to the bottom of the pitch, called Spodjni, where they found the next series of ropes leading down to the start of Donji Milanovac, a pitch which always held a special place in the expedition collective consciousness as being the last before the 'deep lead'.

However, it was clear that most anchors needed replacing and backing up from then on, not to mention ropes, most of which now lay deep below Klic Globin in our rush to explore the new deep passages. Therefore we turned around at the bottom of Spodnji, having satisfied ourselves that the cave was not the wet hell we'd been advertised, that it carried a fair drauhght and could be rerigged without draining too many resources. That said, we did not spot any side passages like the ledges of Lost in a Dream or Snakebite, which had led to the most important discoveries this year.

On the way back out, and after a short surveying session, we investigated the remaining windows of Pivnica pitch, which is rather more like a collection of small pitches in a large rift and than a proper shaft. The very top had always been intriguing, not least because of the non-trivial approach through boulders which led to the pitch head. Yet there was also a clear continuation at the same horizontal level which promptly overlooked a muddy, dry pitch. With care, we climbed to a ledge just below the pitch head which already bore distinct footprint. Below us was a muddy chamber, another way on perhaps?

These hopes were dashed when, swinging below the first rebelay of Pivnica, we accessed the bottom of that chamber. I was stood at the pitch head, and James' light  appeared 15m below. On the far side of the chamber, a little tube beckoned, heading along the strike of the limestone beds: at the far end of this intriguing passage was a carbide dot, and further a squeeze heading toward the sound of dripping water and what we assumed was the Pivnica big hand (later confirmed on survey).

A little let down, but nonetheless happy to have gained a better understanding of the entire passage, we resumed our 'ticking off' the leads of Pivnica, this time looking at a confluence of little streams. That these were our back-up leads comes as no surprise, as under Migovec, most drips and even sizeable streams usually disappear or issue from extremely unpleasant and mostly impassable fissures. Those two leads obeyed the rule, allowing us to climb back towards camp for a jolly evening of spicy couscous and episodes of the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, interrupted only by the arrival of Clare, the drill and some excellent news from the Alabaster branch that the cave went on.

For us, the conclusion of a first day underground was clear: the old deep leads could and should be made to go next time we explore Primadona.

I got up first to start cooking breakfast at the reasonable hour of 08.00am the next day. Being on the day train we were feeling quite refreshed for the day's pushing, and some more spicy couscous got us underway. This time at the bottom of Pivnica, we took the new route down the small friendly pitches of Lost in a Dream and Penny Falls, struggled again in Tiger Tiger, abseiled into the vastness of Klic Globin and considered our options. We chose to look at the dry climbs in Moonraker first, hoping to find the elusive continuation of that horizontal passage. I had two climbs in mind, and after completing the first one, gained access to a short bit of passage which, to my dismay, connected with the second. Yet again, we killed two birds with one stone.

The upshot of this was that we now had plenty of time to contemplate the nastier of our options: James' wet aven and pitch on the southern end of the Klic Globin rift or the deeply unappealing Chocolate River dig. Without digging equipment however, we chanced a look at the wet aven. Beyond the climb into Moonraker, James had woven his way through drippy boulders to emerge at the top of the pile and look down on a pitch about 2m across which took a lot of drips.


James bolting the top pitch in the Aqueduct, our new find

As Alex and I looked at the way on, we found two things: first, that a chimney on the left hand side of the rift avoided all of the drips to the pitchhead. This was immediately rigged. Second: that the pitch head itself had an alternative that was very much dry. The misleading advertisement of the pitch was put down to the short time James had spent there earlier; staying long enough to recognise the wet pitch, but presumably too keen to get back to us to spot the dry continuation. Whatever the cause, this was promptly forgotten as James busied himself with the drill and rope to drop the dry pitch, which we could see would be about 15-20m deep, and take us all the way back down to the level of the Klic Globin boulder floor. But would there be a way through here?

Alex and I took out the brew kit from our tacklesack, intent on cooking an intriguing meat ball and pasta soup called Alpska Juha while James rigged the new pitch. Our first task was to collect water from the drips. We set our small pan by the edge of the wet pitch and the sound of heavy drips on metal mingled with the drilling of limestone. James then zoomed down the pitch as the soup was beginning to simmer and called back that we ought to have a look too.


NS projection of the The Aqueduct, new passage heading south west of Primadona

Abandoning the soup for now, Alex and I followed James' light. We landed on the usual boulder floor, but instead of downwards, James was already disappearing on the far side of the rift at our level. I followed eagerly and immediately smiled as we struggled through a tighter section: the draught was very strong, heaving southwards. We carried on, climbing over muddy footholds and crawling over cobbles. We carried on over a short pit and down a slippery tube. It felt like we were dead-reckoning our way out of the mountain and that we'd been given the one direction to follow. We carried on and climbed down and over another, larger pit to reach a draughty, sandy tube. I raced ahead on the friendly passage floor until I got to a junction. I pricked my ears though I hardly needed to. The sound of rushing water was strong, unmistakeable, tantalisingly close.

Alex and James caught up and carried on crawling over the pit where the melodious river obviously lay, continuing for several tens of metres before they arrived at a chamber. Conscious of the fact that we would need more rope and tape to secure the climbs we'd done, let alone push any further (we had very few bolts left), we decided to split up. James gallantly took up my offer to grab rope from the Mouseleum, while Alex and I surveyed the well ventilated passage. We agreed to regroup where the soup was to share a warm drink before heading out. Just before we parted, we had a look at the tube leading downwards from which the sound of water issued. Just to double check. We climbed to the start of a pitch, and we were not disappointed: below us, perhaps 5m away was a ledge with drips of water falling, and further down the roar of a stream.

This was important as we were now satisfied that the sound was clearly not the amplified echo of an undignified drip. The draught was telling too. And finally, at the far chamber which was only 40m away, the same sound of rushing, not dripping, water could be heard. This was a good lead, further south than anything else in Primadona and - this surprises me to no end - just as deep as the bottom of Klic Globin pitch. All our boulder climbs and pitches and other shenanigans had gained us several hundreds of metres of passage, but no more depth. Yet.

It was another instance where I was glad to have the disto X, and I'm sure the ratio of splays to survey station dropped in the heavily ventilated passages, but as most of it was fault controlled linear passage (we saw some clean slicken-side bearing fault planes near the end of the tube) I am not too worried. I know for sure that the narrow sections were not place to hang around, and that the reheated Alpska Juha was very welcome. With the passage surveyed and the climbs rerigged by James, we shook hands on our discovery, named the Aqueduct, for the simple fact that the passage carried on with unseen water.


A plan view of the new passage below Klic Globin

We headed back to camp for the last time, leaving the Klic Globin extensions for a year. They had been a tremendous find, aided by the fantastic camp set-up, rerigging of Pivnica, and simple perseverence of all the exploratory teams involved. The next morning, we found ourselves packing the sleeping bags, stoves, food, speakers, metalwork and other camp paraphernalia into a pile of tacklesacks to be sherpa-ed out of Primadona. We sent the last messages on Cave Link requesting assistance and soon heard the usual bangs and clangs of approaching cavers.

The way out was very sociable as we met Clare, Dave Kp, Chris near TTT, and then Ben, Louise and Jennifer who were packing up Mary's Caf?, and finally David Wilson and Arun who were overseeing the derig at the foot of the entrance series. Sunshine greeted us at the entrance and we paused for a bit to contemplate the Tolminka valley unfolding before us. We had gone into Primadona with many questions and come out with more. But for me, the main one had been answered:.

'Should we camp again in Primadona? Yes.'


Jack Hare

New member
We were fortunate enough this year to have Ben Richards, a first year Physics undergraduate and expert drone pilot along for the expedition. As well as taking copious film on more gravity-bound cameras (documentary forthcoming), he also took his drone for a spin across the plateau. The resulting footage is dramatic and breathtaking - look out for our cavers descending the steep cliff to access Primadona.

A final update, after the 'October Super Action' organised annually by the JSPDT. This year, I was fortunate to be able to join the crew for a couple of days of caving on Migovec. The aim was simple: revisit M17 and find the hidden 'ice shaft', and go back to the deep 2018 extensions (Klic Globin pitch, etc...) to take preliminary photographs of the area. All in all, a very successful trip, with the delicate shades of autumn touching most everything on the mountain. Enough said, let's go back to Migovec...

The Migovec massif, as seen from the Slovene-Italina border post on Kolovrat

Thursday 18th October

With autumn in full swing and some clear days ahead, the super action trip I'd committed to was looking auspicious. The promise of richly coloured landscape and crisp, cold mountain air was enough to whet my appetite for the caving to come; nothing, especially not the nine hour train journey through the night and through the sleepy austrian mountains would deter me from visiting to Tolmin for one final caving trip before the winter set in.

Jumping on the nightjet in Innsbruck, I arrived in Jesenice in the early morning to catch the next train to Most Na Soci; by midday, Jana let me know that she and Izi would pick me up and drive to Kal a few hours hence, so I whiled away the time in the Mercator and Farmer's market before reverting to the Paradiso for coffee and ice cream (free at this time of year).

A gentle tap on my shoulder alerted me that Jana was here, I paid the bill and jumped into the car for the ride to Ravne. Already, the light was slanting through the forest, and by the time we unloaded outside the community house at the trail head, it was clear we had at most a couple of hours of sunlight left. Undeterred, Jana and I repacked our bags to fit the additional supplies for the caving hut and after bidding goodbye to Izi and the kids, we started the ascent, chatting natural beauty, science and quality of life. With just enough time on our hands, we darted off to the entrance of Coincidence Cave (Jana had seen it in winter only), to find its stream of cold air as strong as during the summer expedition. We crawled out, dusted ourselves off and carried the ascent to Planina Kal, looming 200m above.

With half the leaves already on the floor, the last portion of forest path felt less oppressive than usual but the light was now fading quickly so we hurried up into the final zigzags before the huts. There were two hunters in the left hand hut whom we greeted upon arrival, before entering the middle hut and starting the stove. The chill in the room dissipated quickly as we improvised a sangria with hot red wine and orange vitaminski.

Friday 19th October

The sun was barely up at 7am when we started breakfast and before we even had started getting some solid food in, the neighbours invited us for coffee. In the crammed hut, a cup of coffee was pressed in my hand together a warm `dobro jutro', two shots of schnapps and glass of white muscadet. Some time after, we walked back to the middle hut and ate properly in preparation for the final ascent to the plateau.

The mountain huts lie near the top of Migovec

Once on top, I was startled to see the brown shades of grass contrasting with the evergreen dwarf pine; the planika flowers (edelweiss) looked the worse for wear. Treading the familiar paths we reached the bivi shakehole, intent upon finding the 'research rope' I had brought up during the summer and looking for the annotated version of the Hollow Mountain 3. The first errand was successful, but the hollow moutain eluded us. Still, Jana picked up one of the tent poles to use a belay on the snow cone within M17.

For my part I had brought up several ice screws from Innsbruck with the specific aim of reaching a part of the cave shown on the 1995 survey, but - to the best of my knowledge - not reached since. In the summers of 2017 and 2018 Rhys and others had abseiled to the flat-ice chamber at the bottom of the entrance shaft to photograph the seasonal ice fillings (stalactites, stalagmites), and I had placed a couple of temperature loggers there, identifying what I considered the 'way on'.

The sloping ice surface, and lack of rope had prevented any further progress until now; with the ice screws and the additional length of rope, I was sure we would finally access the ice shaft, and told Jana so. At the cave entrance, Jana rigged the first shaft with a 50m length rope, reaching the snow cone and finding it greatly reduced in volume. Indeed, on both sides we could now slide down a steep scree slope, while in the centre of the cone, a deep pothole had appeared.

In the main flat ice chamber, we looked in astonishment at the stream of sunlight. Two moths previously, the far end of the hall had been blocked by two additional cones of snow which fed the ice plug. Now, one of them had retreated far back, and a scalloped tunnel had opened to the surface. Jana walked up, I followed under the drips and the occasional sound of a rock falling from under the snow plug. M17 now had another entrance, which drove a significant draught.

Back in the ice chamber, we set to work with the ice screws, rigging the down the ice slope and across the third snow plug. This was the way on, and after a couple rebelays, I stood with the end knot of our second 50m length in my hand. We were on a ledge some 15m above the very bottom of the cave, but this was not what gripped my imagination.

The small igloo (partway down the iceshaft) where Jana stood, looking at the inclined, organic rich strata within the ice

I had hoped first of all to be able to reach the ice shaft. That done, there was every reason to believe that it would not contain much datable organic material or that much of the ice would be formed from regelation of meltwater. No instead, it was everything I had hoped for: clearly firn derived (ie: compacted snow), layers, rich in twigs, needles, pine cones and even delicate leaves. All that was left to do was sample the different layers, taking a twig here and there for radiocarbon dating and take a couple of photos of this part of M17.

The delicate, organic rich layers in question

It's worth visiting: halfway down, there is a little igloo with steeply inclined black strata, the ice looks like transparent marble. On the way out, we downloaded the temperature data from the loggers and derigged. Jana then shot down the mountain to meet Izi at Ravne, while I made a slower way down to Kal, waiting for the bulk of the JSPDT crew to come up.

They trickled in, first Mavr and his dog Bea, then Izi and Alex, Blaz and Fratnik and finally Maffi. Each produced a pack of Lasko from their bags, a carton of wine was retrieved from a hidden stash, and a night of merriment was had.

Saturday 20th October

This was the day of the super action proper; Izi and Maffi were clearly intent on reaching the very bottom of Donji Milanovac (it has almost become a running joke that each year we say will go there, but end up sidetracked higher up in the cave). Meanwhile, I wanted to take preliminary photographs of the Klic Globin branch, not the least because my memory hinted that some of the crystal formations in Moonraker might have been cryogenic cave calcites (CCCs), a trendy type of calcite some researchers in my group actively look out for.

Super action proper demands the constant repacking of bags before the ascent to the cave entrance

CCCs they were not, but the trip was worth every bit of it. First we had to reach the cave entrance of Primadona, either a 120m off the top of the plateau (the summer route), or a 200m ascend from the Kal-Krn 1500m contour path. Fratnik led the way up the so-called chamois route, up on the third gully from Kal which is one short of where Prima is located. A faint path wound its way avoiding the worst of the scree slope, reaching a prominent limestone ledge. Contouring on this ledge we walked across to the fourth gully, popping under Primadona itself. Then there was no avoiding the final steep scree ascent to reach the traverse ropes kept permanently rigged.

By the time we had got changed on the familiar ledge outside the entrance, Izi, Maffi and Blaz were also coming up. The entrance series was still very dry, and our progress was speeded up by Fratnik and Izi's rerigging to camp the week before. We arrived at the deserted 'Manger', our underground camp set-up during the 2018 summer expedition, ate some white chocolate and soreen (sorry Alex S.) and continued through the Adjovcina/Pivnica series.

At the bottom was the parting of the ways between the old deep route (explored 2000-2001) to Donji Milanovac, and the newer 2018 extensions starting with Lost in a Dream. I was now leading the way through the awkward Freudian Slip, a vertical squeeze and the dozen of small drops which make up the Lost in a Dream/Penny Falls series. Then came the Tiger Tiger streamway, 60m of arduous, stooping stream passage, peppered with pools, polished pebbles and nasty doglegs which form the last obstacle before the big pitch. A 15m drop (Deeper than Most) to a gorgeous balcony overlooking a wide rift (Klic Globin). Trying not to make eye contact with the big friendly giant perched atop the balcony, we proceeded down the numerous rebelays of the 60m pitch, reconvening under the obvious archway at the bottom.

We stopped a bit and looked around under the boulders as I was explaining what we had originally explored, what leads remained, etc... The bottom of the Klic Globin has many continuations. The archway, on the west side leads to about 20m of passage to an aven (the top of which can be reached from Moonraker 2). The boulder slope, on the south side heads in a straight line to the Aqueduct, about 200m away, by far the most open of the leads. The east side is simply a solid wall, but the northward (visible and unpushed) continuation of the rift lies tantalisingly close to the boulder floor. A 5m climb would reach it. The `final' way on lies under the boulder floor. James, Jack and I had in fact rigged a 10m way down between boulders during the summer, but retreated under the drips at a narrow squeeze between wall and boulder. Standing under the archway, Fratnik pointed at another opening, which I had not seen before. We plunged between the wall and some large boulders, reaching an obvious drop whose sides were obviously solid rock. The bottom lay perhaps 15m lower down, remarkably free of the chaotic piles of boulders we had seen elsewhere; a very fine lead.

We then made our way to Moonraker, climbing in the mud plastered, crystal rich passage, following the draught away from the Klic Globin rift to photograph the locality where I had seen some crystals lying on the boulder floor (one of the defining characteristic of CCCs), but the more we looked the more we came to the realisation that the piles of white aggregates were derived from the walls crystals themselves, and therefore couldn't be CCCs.

On the way back we stopped for onion soup under the archway before ascending Klic Globin and beginning the long journey out of the cave. Fratnik took the slave flashgun and ascended to the second rebelay, trying to illuminate the big space above. This needs place deserves a better set-up than mine, but the pictures should give a preliminary sense of scale.

The muddy and very draughty passages of Moonraker

Klic Globin pitch itself, with Fratnik holding the flash at the second rebelay

Cooking some onion soup on top of a big flat boulder

The rest of the ascent went smoothly and at a very reasonable 10.30pm, we were already back at the entrance ledge. Again, Fratnik led the way down the `chamois' route; in no time the vague outline of the three shepherds' huts appeared in front of us. Fratnik restarted the stove and soon after Rile and another caver (couldn't catch the name), who had had a look at Coincidence Cave (really enthused, will bring chemical persuasion to bypass the offending rift) joined us.

Feeling that toll of the day's trip wearing on me, I opted for an early night, waking up only to see Izi and co, returned from Primadona, collapsing in their respective bags. It was 6.am.

Sunday 21st October

Another day dawned on us, Fratnik and I first up for breakfast, and as more cavers streamed downstairs, so did the cleaning up begin. Around 10am we were all sat outside, watching clouds roll over the ridge towards us and contemplating a quick escape when a sunglassed figure strolled in, whipping out laskos from his bag.

You almost made it to Super Action, Tetley! Still, everyone had time enough for a final lasko, and after most everyone had gone down, Tetley, Izi and I remained for some tea and a chat, watching sleet come down from the north onto the meadow outside Planina Kal. We caught up, and eventually left amidst swirling brown leaves and cold rain. But it is always sunny in Tolmin. As we drove down, we caught the sun again, leaving Izi at his parent's place, Tetley offered to drive up to Kolovrat, on the Italian/Slovenian border to watch the panorama of the Soca valley.

Later, we teamed up with Mark to walk the river trail near Most na Soci, stop for a quick coffee and ice cream by the lake and ... blast! it's already time to take the train back to Innsbruck.

Tanguy Racine

The Julian Alps in Autumn

Jack Hare

New member
The exceptionally talented Ben Richards has produced another excellent documentary of our underground exploits. Featuring our underground camp, hot takes on deep pitches and some absolutely knackered cavers, this is an indepth (ho ho) insight into what we get up to every summer!