Maraton: ICCC/JSPDT Slovenia Expedition July 2019
Maraton = Marathon. As we intend that, by the end of this summer?s expedition, anyone who wishes could complete a 42.195km endurance caving trip through the known system...
Following the success of last year?s expedition where we collectively found and surveyed 2.6km of new cave passage, passed the 40km+ mark for total cave length and introduced 9 students to expeditionary alpine caving, ICCC returns for its annual pilgrimage to Sistem Migovec in the Julian alps of western Slovenia for 5 weeks of living on and under Tolminski Migovec. 25 years have passed since members of our club first plumbed the depths of this hollow mountain alongside our Slovene counterparts. Sistem Migovec stands as the longest cave system in ex-Yugoslavia since a connection made in 2012 by the JSPDT, the caving section of the Tolmin alpine club.
Last summer?s expedition was bountiful, owing in part to the sponsorship we received from UKcaving, and wholly devoid of bivi-targeted lightning strikes so it seems the Caving Gods must be appeased by Imperial?s subterranean efforts. Long may we remain in their favour.
This May 12 of us, 11 of whom are expedition-bound, undertook an Outdoor First Aid course to prepare ourselves lest any member of our party injure themselves above or below ground.This was beneficial, particularly as, due to being a university club, we maintain a young base of members. Fear was heightened but we now feel much better prepared to deal with situations we may face when >700m below the earth, thanks to Sean Whittle of Dales Training.
Our IC union branded minibus will be leaving from outside of the Royal Albert Hall on the 5th of July, bound for the town of Tolmin, Slovenia. We have our fingers crossed that the bus won?t be in a garage undergoing an MOT it may not pass, on the morning we intend to depart across continental Europe as occurred last year. We are armed with drills, maillons, bolts, metalwork and rope (an item of which more is always comforting, we always run out...) but arguably the most important to the expedition has yet to be brought - food (Read: tens of kilos of Cheese, hundreds of tea bags and 110 sachets of couscous )!
Our tents need water/UVproofing, our crates packing and we all need to buy plenty of baby wipes, so the next 2 weeks will surely be hectic but the excitement is palpable. The drive across Europe takes 24 hours with our drivers taking it in turn to sleep whilst the aged, speed-limited minibus rolls unfalteringly through France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, Austria and finally Slovenia. We eventually arrive into Tolmin, the town that lies beneath Tolminski Migovec and is home to our friends in the JSPDT.
Upon arrival we head down to the river Soca with beers for a swim/wash, fill our stomachs with pizza and sleep in a Slovenian caver and cave rescuer?s ex-army barracks now factory. With an alpine start the next morning we hike, laden with camping and caving equipment, 1km of ascent up the zig-zags to reach the Migovec Plateau and pitch our tents. We have now returned to the Bivi, our much beloved shakehole and the home base for 25 of the grubbiest cavers the world has to offer for the next 5 weeks.
Some members have recently been up there as part of a continuing research project studying cave ice, and have confirmed that the bivi is not going to be completely buried under snow, as has been the case in some previous years.
Last year?s bivi improvements included a chimney
This year we will return again to the Primadona entrance, located 150m down the side of the cliff, accessed by a stunning abseil that has us hanging 1400m above the Tolminka Valley.
Primary objective - Deep exploration from Moonraker camp (Tranquility Base Hotel and Casino)
Last year we set up a camp at Deja Vu junction, some 400m underground. From this, deep leads were found leading to a new camp and our main objective this year.
Last year's camp - The Manger
During the course of last year?s expedition, we found a short stretch of horizontal passage off the main Klic Globin pitch. We identified over five different leads, which consist of a mixture of open going passages, pitches, and a large stream passage at altitude 1150 m (the Aqueduct). A camping spot was identified in Moonraker passage here, and we will use this as our base for deep exploration.
This close proximity to the leads and a steady water supply should ensure our success, and hopefully we will have lots of exciting finds to tell you about. The camp will be located at -690 m below the surface of the Plateau and provide the ideal jumping board for deep exploration (>700m depth).
We will set up a first aid, gear and food cache as well as an intermediate Cave-Link relay station at Mary?s Cafe, in Senja Soba. This is a major junction between the ?trade route? to camp and the Testify! branch. Last year?s camp will be repurposed into a brew station/food cache/first aid dump, to provide a rest stop for cavers returning from the deep camp. These stations will facilitate the set up of the camp in Moonraker, and trips to these points with kit will be used to train novices.
Secondary objective - Hallelujah branch
This branch carried on going last year and promising leads remain. However in an effort to keep the expedition accessible for all our cavers pushing the deep leads here will be on pause for this year. We instead will assess higher up side passages here, to find a suitable place for a new camp next year.
Tertiary objective - Surface exploration
Last year Coincidence Cave was dug and broken through. The cave is now 169 m long, with several climbing leads and digging options still available and developed post expedition with a little chemical persuasion (bang!) courtesy of the Slovenes. The considerable draft, and now reduced distance to the southern end of Sistem Migovec, down to 213 from 250 m, makes this cave passage a strong candidate as a lower entrance to the system, at an altitude of 1300 m, compared to the other eight entrances which lie between 1720 and 1860 m asl. Perhaps a little more digging could yield a connection making a fine, feasible through trip.
We also hope to find new surface leads with the aid of drone equipment and expertise from Ben Richards as Top Gun, to identify and abseil to potential cave entrances on the Plateau, which may lead to more ?Primadona-like? cave systems.
Video of last years exploration
This year we got into print ?The Hollow Mountain 3?, the second published volume of the subterranean efforts in exploring Tolminski Migovec. Available online, with the hollow mountain 1, on our website: https://union.ic.ac.uk/rcc/caving/slovenia. Let us know if you fancy a physical copy!
We have run an active expedition twitter feed every year since 2009, follow if you?d like to receive live updates whilst we?re watching the sunset on Mig. Not long now...