Maraton: ICCC/JSPDT Slovenia Expedition July 2019


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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: 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...



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Pre expo team is on the mountain

Pre - expo started with the three of us meeting in Salzburg, two of us flying to the airport and the other hiking from the dolomites. Many trains later we arrived in the lovely town of Tolmin in time for a brief drink with our local contact, Fratnik, before he rushed off to deal with an emergency gas leak - beer still in hand. We were then joined for pizza with an old member of the expedition known simply as Tetley.
Tetley gave us a much appreciated lift the next morning to the shops (breakfast + a toothbrush) and then to the trailhead at Ravne. We started our hike uphill and just 3.5 hrs later we were met on the plateau by glorious sunshine.

(Image of empty bivi)
This post will be sadly imageless due to lack of signal...

We got one tarpaulin up (mostly) before the thunderstorms set in. Whenever we touched the tarps after that, the rain restarted. Occasionally the rain was replaced by apocalyptic 10mm hail. The rain was so intense that we managed to fill most of our water barrels in just the first two days, (an expedition record!)

(There would be a size comparison photo here)

Today we got up, faffed with the tarps a bit, did some washing up and all that

Can we go caving yet?

So on the walk up Davey had spotted a hole in one of the sinkholes. He stuck his head in and decided it had potential. Today we went to dig it. We had digging tools but little in the way of kit as that remains in London for the time being. The digs is muddy and grim but heading an interesting way and less than ten minutes from the bivi. It was eventful but fantastic fun until we got chased off by an oncoming storm.

So we now have four full barrels of water and a lot of mud.


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And They're Off!

Well the last few days have been a bit of a whirlwind. We?ve all been furiously packing, and fettling, and food shopping (sooo much cheese)!

The rope generously donated by UK Caving arrived in the nick of time last Thursday (with the mini bus due to leave on Friday  :eek:). There was no time for caver post, so SpanSet kindly employed the regular postal service to convey the precious cargo to London. Of course the courier managed to screw this up, so I got a call from a rather disgruntled security guard in the wrong bit of campus sometime on Thursday morning.


A very large box of delicious SpanSet 9mm, with the silhouette of an unimpressed security guard in the background.

Having found the rope, I awkwardly carried the heavy box to stores in the hope of finding some space to stash the rope until Friday. This proved to be no easy task as, by this time, stores was (quite literally) stuffed to the rafters with bags, crates, and general detritus.

Come Friday morning and it was time to pack the bus. First job was to move all of our crap out of stores and into the glorious sunshine of the Biet Quad.


What a lot of stuff!

When we were finished with this, we stopped for a bit to survey the task ahead of us. Why did we have so much stuff to pack? Was it more than in previous years? How on earth was it all going to fit in a single, rather small, minibus?

We didn?t pause for long though, the only way to find out if the expedition was doomed for failure was to move forward. With this in mind, we moved forwards.


Jimmy surveys the miracle of the morning ? an unbelievably well packed minibus.

Of course we needn?t have worried. Within a couple of hours of Tetris like manoeuvring, the bus was packed. I managed to miss quite a lot of this process for one reason or another and, to be honest, I still don?t really understand how the feat was achieved.

After only another hour or two of pointless faff, the minibus finally pulled out of South Kensington, bound for Migovec, Slovenia packed full of bags, tents, caving gear, and 9 (very squished) humans.

Left feeling sorry for ourselves on a glorious Prince consort road were me and Chris. As PhD students, we both felt compelled to spend another week or two getting some actual work done (heaven forbid) before joining the others on the mountain.


I look crestfallen (or possibly just stupid) as the bus pulls away from Imperial.

Throughout the next couple of days we received patchy updates on the bus?s progress. First they were on the Ferry; then driving through France; then I muted the Facebook chat where all this was being posted because I was just feeling too left out :(


Jimmy watches England disappear behind the Ferry

Last time I was able to bring myself to check the chat again, everything seemed to be going to plan with people installed on the Mountain and establishing camp. I?m sure that before too long people will be underground re-rigging the trading routes, establishing stashes of food, and even beginning to setup our new underground camp in Moonraker. Disgusting.

There have of course been plenty of pictures being beamed to those of us still stuck at home, and I?m sure that some of these will be shared in a post here before too long. For a taste of what?s to come, here?s a picture of some happy campers watching the sun set over Italy from the comfort of our camping spot on the Migovec Plateau.


Mark, Tetley, and Davie watch the sunset over Italy

The exploration begins

The arrival in Tolmin

An update on the Maraton 2019 expedition, fresh from the mountain.

There is a lot of material to sift through, so naturally we'll start with the setting up of the surface camp on top of the Migovec Plateau.

As usual, the minibus made it to Tolmin and sputtered to a halt in front of Andrej Fratnik's factory after a good day of driving across Europe. Those who had managed to grab a couple of hours's sleep counted themselves fortunate, the others relied on various caffeinated drinks to unload the minibus. Some would only drag themselves to the nearby pizzeria, but a keen contingent drove up to Tolminske Ravne to start ferrying equipment to the community house that we once again were granted access to. This, at the trail head, is where we would store our crates of food and equipment. The fridge and showers are useful additions too.

When they came back down to Tolmin that evening, nigh on twenty cavers met at the pizzeria for a first expo meal, and shortly after, they retreated to the factory for a good night's sleep.

Sunday morning brought an alpine start for half of the team, and after chugging down a couple of biscuits and cherry tomatoes, the plan was to drive up to Ravne and start the carries up to Migovec. The second team would leave Tolmin in mid-morning and bring up the rear.

By lunchtime, tents were sprouting on the grassy flats between stands of dwarfpine and clouds began to close in. In the early afternoon, the second wave of carries began, caving kits for some, additional foodstuffs and first aid drums for others. A couple of hours later, the heavens broke and a thunderstorm hit the plateau, drenching those still on the ascent.

The thunderstorm filled up the barrels quickly, giving us ample water supply for two weeks

It was a mostly similar story for the next couple of days, foiling one attempt in the afternoon to rig the abseil to Primadona. This important task was delayed to the next morning and after its successful completion, the gateway to the cave was open.

Water was therefore not an issue, the pre-expedition team having done a marvellous job with the tarpaulins, and all four barrels were filled. We turned to the next issue: harnessing solar power. Thankfully, we had a set of instructions with clear diagrams and Rhys soon got the charging stations ready.

It was now time to start caving properly.

Rhys set up the solar panels and charging stations expertly

The setting up of the Caf?, the Manger and the Camp

There was line of more than ten full tacklesacks in the bivi, which had been carried up over the course of the last couple of days.
Now towards the midpoint of the first week on the Plateau, we put together a plan of action to set-up the various stations within the cave. One would be the Caf?, about 300m down, hosting a CaveLink station, stashed with food and rigging equipment; the second would be the Manger, the 2018 underground camp would be repurposed in a food stash similar to Mary's Caf?, stocked with first aid and more rigging equipment and cooking facilities. The final stop would be the Tranquility Base, Hotel and Casino, our 2019 underground camp located below Klic Globin, at -700m, where the third CaveLink station would be installed.

In the electronics tent on the surface, we regularly checked the CaveLink for messages from the depths

Lots of the rope and metal still had to come up the mountain however, and we had as yet no confirmation for a helicopter ride.  To overcome this difficulty, Jana ?arga, leader of the local tolmin caving club went round asking for help from that community and managed to convince Stana to ride up to Planina Kal with a moped, itself laden with tackle sacks of heavy gear.

We decided that the forest zig-zags were not the place to learn how one 'mopeds' and let Stane do the driving instead

In exchange for this help, some Imperialites were asked to lend a hand with the extension of the patio in front of the hut. This proved fruitful, since Stane is an expert when it comes to move large rocks from one place to another, having demonstrated this skill to me in 2018 by clearing out the top of Alkatraz when we rigged a connection between Monatip and Primadona.

The actual set up of the camps would necessarily require several teams ferrying kit inside the cave. Lydia, Ana, Ben and I took a couple of bags each to the Manger on a first bounce trip.  Ben (Honan) had never been beyond Mary's Caf? on the TTT branch, Lydia and Ana were both new to Slovenia, so this trip would provide a good opportunity to learn the landmarks. In the meantime, Lucie, Diss and Rhys set up Mary's Caf? and attempted to send a CaveLink message back to the surface, failing to do so, despite their contagious enthusiasm in improving the grounding of the plates. They left a message for us to find on our way out.

Ben and I moved one of the plates and stuffed it into a mound of dug out clay to reduce the impedance value. We tested the antenna again, and the impedance went from poor to very bad.

The problem was somewhere else, and the next day, Rhys, David, James Wilson and I mounted a CaveLink rescue mission.
To achieve this (and more), we went down to the Manger, picked up the camp set-up bags left there and carried them all the way to Moonraker passage where we surveyed the location for the camp, deployed the tent, checked it fit within the passage (it did), and headed back out through all the passages discovered in 2018. On the way out, we picked up the camp CaveLink which had been deposited at the Manger, and then the Caf? CaveLink.

Rhys and I both chose a Wilson brother to hound on the way out, and in five hours we had reached the top of the abseil, with barely fifteen minutes rest at chosen locations. Clearly, getting out of camp after a couple of days underground would take time.

Setting up two intermediate stations and an underground camp require more than a fair few tacklesacks

It turned out that the clocks of the three CaveLinks were not synchronised before the expedition began, but this was remedied at length by plugging each in turn to the surface aerial and synchronising them to a Swiss Clock. Then they started talking to each other when logged in to the following simple network: surface <-> cafe <-> camp.

The only question that remained was whether they could bridge the distance through the mountain (about 700 m vertically, and nearly 1km horizontally),  even with the relay at the Caf?.

And so it was that Dave Kp, Jennifer, Diss and Ben (Richards) packed the remaining camp items into tacklesacks and formed the first team to spend a night at Moonraker.

A grievous lack of darren drums was discovered after a round of questioning, but to get around this new obstacle, Nido tins were repurposed into containers. All 6L food darren drums were commandeered, emptied and packed away for underground and the team left for a night at camp.

As the camp set-up team passed the Caf?, they simply plugged in the CaveLink to the aerial and sent a message which got through immediately. Several hours later, after they had dug the tent space and laid out karrimats, after the tent was erected and water supply secured, they deployed the camp CaveLink in Moonraker passage and sent the message:

"Moon Camp is go!"
So, the story continues...

The new entrance to Primadona

Ana, Rhys and Fiona went off to the abseil route with a clear objective: a small hole on the cliff-side located five or so metres below an overhang. A small hole on the cliff past which many, many cavers had descended or prussiked on their way in and out of Primadona.

Over the last couple of years, Rhys had developed a certain reputation for taking a hook and completing outrageous swings into windows in many places of the Migovec system. This little pendulum would, of course, amount to little effort on his part.

Better still, the cave opened up right after a body length sized crawl, and gained respectable dimensions. About forty metres below the swing and first pitch of this new entrance, a diffuse light could be seen, that of the Primadona entrance, such that right away the connection to the Migovec System was a certainty.

Belladonna, as the entrance came to be known provides a way into the Primadona entrance chambers, which bypasses the lower hangs of the surface abseil. Those had always been the most dangerous, as rocks dislodged from the scree slopes above always bounced off a series of ledges before whizzing past the Primadona entrance.

Rhys, Ana and Fiona came back to Belladonna a second day to finish off the rigging and survey the connection to the grassy ledge at the entrance of Primadona. When this was done, Fiona turned round and left the other two to their camping trip to Moonraker, which was to be the first pushing trip of the year.

Pushing the leads of Klic Globin

Rhys writes: "Emerged from a 3 day camp with Ana yesterday evening. Proceeded to get absolutely bollocksed... A six and half hour journey saw us arrive at camp perfectly on time. Spice sensation couscous, smash and cheese, followed by Black Adder in bed. Perfect."

They were awoken at 5.40 am by the night train (Lydia, Ben Honan, Perry and James Wilson), as the shouts of 'rope free' reverberated along the sides of well-rebelayed Klic Globin pitch. Despite their best efforts to keep their voices to a whisper, Rhys, being a light sleeper, remained awake till

The first objective was to check out the leads at the far southern end of the Aqueduct, which James W and I had found in 2018.  We had then described it as a roaring streamway, but over the course of the year, it had taken more and more epic proportions, until it had become the master cave.

Rhys and Ana dropped the pitch at the far end of the passage, entering a wide chamber which the water crossed.
"It was clear at this point that we were dealing with a standard Migovec streamway, no Master Cave here", records Rhys in the expedition logbook.
But upstream, the rift passage continued. The dimensions of the streamway at this point --- some 1-2 metres wide, and up to four metres tall -- were respectable, but the going abruptly ended at a deep blue pool.

At this, the pair spent a long time rigging a tension traverse to avoid filling their boots with clear, cold water. In so doing they filled their boots with clear, cold water and resigned themselves to the crossing, reaching a tall drippy aven, whence the bulk of the waters of the Aqueduct issued. On the far side, and at floor level a potential lead still beckoned, but Rhys notes here: "A small crawl on the other side of the aven was pushed until I got the fear as it turned into a nasty squeeze in a stream. It almost certainly doesn't go."

This passage was named 'Ad Aspera Per Aqua', or as originally intended 'Through Hardship to the Water', and in reference to the plaque in tribute to the Apollo 1 mission.
A little pedantry will show that this instead translates (rather fittingly) to 'Through Water, to Hardship'. The purists will note that the declension is a bit confused. We do not apologise.

In any case, Rhys adds: "With five hours until we could kick the night train out of bed, we checked the second lead , under the boulders to the side of Klic Globin. A squeeze beneath the first layer of boulders led us to a small opening, through which a large and ongoing passage could be seen. Excitedly, we began to dig and shift boulders. Occasionally, we questioned the wisdom of removing the floor we were standing on, but chose not to think about it."

What followed was a short drop into a slanting, wide passage which immediately broke into a fair sized chamber. In the floor, the passage continued, and a large amount of water could be heard cascading down in sheets over broad ledges. The brave companions descended alongside the water in the rift of large dimensions, leaving a good lead, the water cascading a fair distance, as far as the shining of their light allowed them to see.

They had run out of time and turned around. This was 'Artemis' named after one of the Greek deities of the moon, and the obvious continuation of the Klic Globin rift.

The Klic Globin branch and the old slovene deep route bifurcate at the bottom of Pivnica. Plan view, depth coloured, which includes the findings by Rhys and Ana in 2019

The Night Train

James Wilson, Lydia, Ben Honan and Perry took the night train fairly seriously, and only started packing their underground camping gear at night time, while the rest of us enjoyed various alcoholic concoctions around the Bivi stone circle.
The Dream Team, as they called themselves after a particularly memorable trip to the Planina Razor hut the day before, eventually extricated themselves from the Bivi late at night, but they still arrived in Moonraker early enough to wake Rhys up before the agreed upon

"It would be my first night train and my third time camping underground, the other two occasions being at camp X-Ray in 2015. Committing to returning underground for three days is daunting. We used Rhys's alternative rigging (Belladonna) to get to the snow slope", Ben writes.

The team went ahead to the Aqueduct and left some rope there. This was just before Rhys's push.
Finally, as got nearer and nearer, the tiredness caught up on the Night Train and they retreated to the Tranquillity Base, Hotel and Casino. Twelve hours of fitful sleep later (some report not sleeping at all, others managing the switch in body clocks), Lydia defected to the day train, while the three others headed off to the end of Moonraker 2, traversing to a non-lead. This was my fault, as I had talked up the possibility that the passage continued on the far side of the aven. Still, I had successfully tricked another team in doing this work.

After this set-back, the Night Train headed off to Chocolate River to appraise the digging conditions.
Ben's description is illuminating: "The way to Chocolate River involved lots of squeezy pitch heads, short pitches and slightly awkward traverses. We had to put in a few more bolts and add a hand-line. This left us with less time available for digging than we had anticipated. We didn't want to take the rope and bolting bag through the last very awkward squeeze. Currently, the way down involves lowering oneself from a boulder with the aid of a sling."

Here, Ben's testimony ends, and we must turn to the spoken word to fill in the gaps.  The team dug for some time at the end of the passage, gaining a body length. Supposedly, James could feel a rise in the ceiling just beyond the current limit of the dig, and the draught was palpable. Lacking proper digging tools, no more progress was made on this trip and despite the clear potential of this area, no further visits were made.

The team headed back for camp, waking Ana, Rhys and Lydia, who then proceeded to start their long journey out of the cave.
It was then mid-morning, on Tuesday the 16th of July.

The leads of Klic Globin, continued

Tuesday was also the day when I came back up the mountain, having gone down to Tolmin the previous day with David Wilson and Janet. We'd spent our doss day the right way: had coffee in three different caf?s, bought petrol for the stoves, brought down metal and rope for the promised helicopter ride, met up with Jacob and Louise at the So?a, had pizza by the lake at Most na So?i, picked up Chris and his 12 kg of metalwork in 5 daren drums, etc.

In the mid-morning, Davie and I recruited Lucie and Zaeem for a camping trip, and waited for the helicopter to arrive before setting off. We'd had to collapse the tents and remove any loose belongings within a certain radius of the landing strip.
By twelve clock we were informed there would in fact be no supplies drop off this day, because the helicopter hit a tree.
The official reason: "technical problem".

The four of us Day Train campers thus resolved to set-off at about and headed down the cave. At the Caf?, we stopped for a quick brew and soon heard the voices of the previous campers.
Rhys, Ana and Lydia appeared, we exchanged news on the leads below Klic Globin and finally we parted.

Downwards for us, past the Manger, then down two large pitch series re-rigged in 2018: Ajdov??ina and Pivnica.
Then through the esoteric 'Freudian Slip', a squeeze at the junction between the Klic Globin branch and the old Slovene deep route. The following section of cave is a succession of small pitches onto pools of water into which barely a trickle flows. Eventually, the crux of the branch, the immature Tiger Tiger streamway (awkward with bags) gives way to a larger pitch, Deeper than Most, which lands onto a balcony. This overlooks Klic Globin (P60), the last pitch before camp.

We arrived there late enough in the evening (it was about 10pm), that the night train team was already up and about, cooking their breakfast before their soon approaching ascent to the surface.
They advised us to try to sleep across the width of the tent, rather than lengthways, as they had done and which they had found irksome. This was not lost on us, and indeed proved quite comfortable. The tent also just about fit within the bounds of the passage and blocked the draught. The upshot was the temperature inside was quite cosy, though the fact there were four of us may have helped.

The Night Train, now down to three (James Wilson, Perry and Ben Honan) departed, while the Day Train went to sleep, with Rhy's small speaker playing mellow tunes...

The Collapse

Ben Honan: "Came back from a 3-day caving trip yesterday. Gosh was it a trip. A true adventure."
Perry: "Getting out took longer than anticipated."

At 8.05am, the second round of David's alarm beeped and woke us up.
Put the pan on. Light the fire. Turn fairy lights on. Check the CaveLink.

We rustled up a morning meal and tucked in salami-infested couscous in turn. Amidst the pile of food brought by now four different teams, we found a stash of cream crackers, mostly gone to dust. These were sprinkled over the pan, and mixed with dried onions provided the crunchy texture that so appeals to the underground gourmet.

The CaveLink beeped and read: "The entrance has collapsed, everyone ok".

Scrolling down, we discover: "Ben and Perry still in the cave, you may have to exit out of Monatip".

A few back and forth messages later, we confirm with the surface team that the way out of Monatip is rigged. This was fortunately completed on a through trip in 2018 (where Stane had moved large boulders), and uses the climb into Alkatraz chamber discovered in 2016, 'The Rock', which connects the Primadona entrance series to the Rock

On the surface, James Wilson had raised the alarm after passing through the now-collapsed crawl and narrowly escaping onto the snow slope. A team consisting of Jennifer and Dave Kp was then dispatched to the entrance of Primadona to carefully pass supplies through the remaining gaps to the stranded pair. Another team, namely Chris and Ben Richards got changed and entered via Monatip, with the aim of finding the pair on the other side of the collapse and leading them out through this other entrance of the system.

Chris takes up the story from there: "Fiona woke us [Chris and Ben Richards] up around, saying that the Prima entrance had collapsed and they needed someone to to show Ben and Perry how to exit via Monatip. It turns out Ben R. had only been to Cloaca Maxima via Alkatraz and no one on the surface had actually been there through Monatip... except me! I had gone along with Tanguy last year when the connection was rigged. So it was decided that Ben and I would head down. Dave Kp and Jennifer went down immediately with food and water while Fiona helped me assemble a caving kit."

Chris had only been on the mountain for one night, and all of his caving kit remained at Ravne. From the Monatip entrance, Chris and Ben followed the ropes to Cloaca Maxima, then down to Alkatraz, and up the ropes to the entrance of Primadona, where they found the stranded cavers.

"We were relieved to find them in good spirits", continues Chris. "The bothy bag had been a life saver, and they'd mutually enjoyed each other's company. We made our way back with the pair's somewhat delirious positivity keeping us going. Towards the end, everyone was running out of steam. Ben Honan and Perry were obviously eager to to get out, Ben Richards was beginning to feel ill and the adrenaline that had kept me going until now was succumbing to my out-of-practice-ness. There was a brief respite when we reached the entrance, where Ben Honan, Perry and I sat for twenty minutes enjoying the fresh air, while Ben Richards hurried up to cancel the call out and relieve himself. The alpine traverse to Prima was as challenging as expected and navigating the scree was a bit unpleasant, but we made it up eventually. I tailed slowly behind, less desperate to reach the top and quite happy to take my time up."

Finally, Chris recounts how "fortunate they were that everything went so smoothly. A great credit to Perry and Ben for keeping each other sane and upbeat in spite of finding themselves in a deeply unpleasant scenario, and making the journey out of the cave relatively painless."

Great credit goes to the diligence of the surface teams who provided the needed supplies to both rescuers and rescuees, ensuring in fact, that by the end of the ordeal, on the evening of Wednesday 17th of July, they all sat in the Bivi and enjoyed a night of fire and wine.

But not everyone was out of the cave then. Zaeem, Lucie, David and I were on our way back to the camp, after successfully pushing the stream passage below Artemis.
Gaining depth below Klic Globin

Below Artemis

At 8.05am, the second round of David's alarm woke us up.

The standard routine awaited us: slowly getting out of the very snug sleeping bags, putting the pans on for breakfast, checking the CaveLink. And of course, as we tuck into the breakfast, the messages trickle in, warning us of the Primadona entrance collapse, and of the stranding of Ben Honan and Perry.

Zaeem, Lucie, David and I were at Moonraker, 700 m below the Plateau, and a long way from the stranded pair. We had a day of pushing ahead of us and the objective was very clear.
We left camp and headed down the newly christened Artemis passage, which Rhys and Ana had rigged not two days previously.

In the main drippy chamber, we spotted a muddy crawl leading back north. This became 'Tartarus', as it ended below Klic Globin pitch, in a chaos of spray and boulders. Popcorn decorates the walls and the mud lining the bottom half of the passage is deep.

Zaeem and I stayed behind to survey, while David and Lucie continued down to the lead at the bottom of Artemis, thus splitting our four man team into two working groups. By the time we'd finished mapping the passage, David had rigged the next pitch. We joined Lucie and him at the new pushing front.

The water cascaded down a narrow crack at the north end of the rift and already a couple of boulders lay by the pitch head, which David had gardened. It took the further drilling and hammering off of nodules to make the next squeeze at least passable with SRT kits and on the far side the cave continued, locked onto a steeply east-dipping fault plane, with the cascading water dropping another twenty metres.

Without much trouble, we rigged the next drops out of the water and reached what looked larger passage. Now it was Lucie's turn to lead, climbing up a fairly large boulder athwart the rift, and beyond into a boulder choke area. To our dismay, we seemingly lost the water to a boulder floor.

On the other side of the boulder slope, the rift ascended again, terminating at a high drippy aven that evidently fed the main stream of what we called Poseidon Rift. Time for another team split, this time, I surveyed with Lucie back towards Artemis. In the meantime, David was tasked with finding the way on, which is another way of saying, that he had 'carte blanche' for boulder removal and/or obliteration.

It did not take much time at all before a suspiciously anthropic way through the boulder choke appeared, at the bottom of which David and Zaeem kept working. I think it was about two hours work in total, but by the time I was prepared to give up and resume surveying, David shouted again for what he promised to be the last push. Amazingly, this was successful and the key offending rock somehow shifted enough for us to see the continuation.

We left a narrow pitch head over looking the next cascade for the next team and retreated to the Tranquility Base. David was not finished with the cave however, and as I was about to emerge through the boulder floor of Klic Globin, some more shouts came up from below.

"I've found it! I've found it. Muddy phreatic, the continuation!" cried David, jubilant. "Come and see!"

That was enough to turn us around, but immediately the enthusiasm is tamed: David stands on the far side of the Artemis chamber, having evidently crossed beyond the extremely drippy corner. We traverse across the chamber one by one, hurrying to avoid a drenching under the inlet of water.

On the other side, is a descending tube, floored with mud. Already David was part way down. "It continues, it... oh, there's a sump."

But we had just arrived at climb above a deep and narrow pool. The far side of the small chamber was still open, water gushing forth to meet us. The upstream passage went on for another fifty metres or so of low streamway, with ledges covered by sand and haematite pebbles. The direction: due south, right underneath the Aqueduct.

The ceiling dropped so much, that attempting to crabwalk across a pool of water, I filled my wellies with clear, cold water. Having none of the dogged determination of Rhys or Ana, we turned around. Nearly one hundred metres of 'free' passage were surveyed in Lachrymosa, and this proved to be the missing piece in the puzzle of the Aqueduct water.

This entire series of passages (see the plan survey) is guided by the steeply east-dipping fault. Water flows to the north-northeast, collecting inlets and drips along its length. Where it disappears in impassable cracks, it is possible to follow higher rift levels before dropping back down to the stream.

The next day was entirely dedicated to our escape from Moonraker and out via Monatip, which we knew would be a long way. The ascent took us a good twelve hours in total. Instead of taking the Primadona entrance series, we bifurcated at the Spiral Climb, ascending into Alkatraz chamber via the Rock. Then, it was up the fifty or so metres of ascent to get into Cloaca Maxima, a notoriously long, uninspiring and muddy crawl. After this obstacle came the entrance series of Monatip, a succession of morale-sapping up and down pitches.

David, laughing somewhat hysterically, summarised it thus: 'You know when someone comes after you in the cave and changes some of the rigging. As you come back up and spot it, you think "that's nice", well this really takes the cake. It feels like someone replaced our entire entrance series with THIS.'

But eventually, we crawled out of the cave and spotted the new traverse ropes installed by Rhys and Lydia the very same day. We traversed round the cliff to the base of the abseil and without stopping to look at the collapse, headed for the surface of the Plateau under a slight drizzle.

Our itinerary out of Monatip. Drugi Vhod was as yet unrigged.

Drugi Vhod, the 'other entrance'

The team was obviously shaken by the recent goings on with the entrance of Primadona. Dave Kp and Jennifer went down to appraise the new situation and managed to dig out the crawl again, only for it to collapse again and more completely than before when they gave a desultory poke at one of the pebbles.

We needed another entrance.

Naturally our eyes turned towards the entrance chambers of Primadona. We knew from the survey, that another entrance located ten metres higher provided another access to the top of Bear pitch. In terms of logistics, this meant the rebolting and rigging of three pitches. This, Drugi Vhod, literally the 'other entrance' would be the next objective.

Arun led a team there as Jennifer and Dave Kp poked around the original Primadona entrance, and started cleaning up the rock surfaces, and bolting down a super-highway to Bear Pitch. At the end of the day, he came back up to the surface smiling, and saying simply, 'I think you'll like it'. The next day, visits in the system took up again, with many teams finally heading underground.

The first down was Rhys's team, once again accompanied by Ana and Fiona. The lower surface abseil ropes vanished underground, leaving Belladonna as the only way down to the entrance chambers. This was the logical choice; for one, the Belladonna route popped out in the Drugi Vhod chamber. Seeing a caver descend past the shafts of sunlight and into the pool of misty air that accumulates in this chamber is worth the stop!

Drugi Vhod starts with a more reassuring crawl over pebbles, whose three remaining sides are actual bedrock, rather than boulders cemented by (rapidly disappearing) ice. This is followed by a good 30 metre pitch over clean rock, a couple of downclimbs and a tighter pitch were loose items of gear are prone to catch. Below, another pitch provides the connection to the top of Bear Pitch.
Whoops, 20 000 characters exceeded! Here goes my last post of the expedition... It's been a blast.

Revisiting a sump - planning for the future

Ana, Fiona and Rhys completed the rigging of this new series. They were about to embark on a metal rescue mission on the original entrance pitches when Rita and I met up with them. We were the second team down the cave, headed for the Jack of Hearts streamway, found in 2017, which ended a clear turquoise siphon. We carried rope, hangers and maillons, with the expectation that we would turn up and rerig the series of small pitches below Smer0.

The third team down Primadona that day was comprised of David and Chris. Their objective: a traverse over Electric Dreams main pitch series. They also were laden with rope, powerdrill and metal, and so it seemed, no measly traverse would stop them.

Rita and I took our time down to the Caf?, but spent only a few minutes there. We continued to Smer0, picked up some additional rope for the pitch off the main gallery, which Jarv had de-rigged and left in 2017. The little streamway was charming as ever, and without too much fuss, arrived at the sump. I kept an eye out for a possible bypass, but saw none.

At the pool, Rita took her wellies off and churned the waters to observe the degradation of visibility and speed of settling of the suspended particles. It seemed good enough to warrant some enthusiastic talk thereafter! On the way back, we stopped at the bottom of Knot Very Good to check out a 'lead', in which Jennifer had accidentally wandered in 2018 when coming out of the Hallelujah branch.

She had apparently reached a large chamber when passing from The Stile to Smer0, and from this description, as well as the knowledge of a confusing junction, I became confident that I knew where this lead was, and so led Rita there to do a bit of survey. The marks of previous exploration were plain to see. Footprints in soft mud, disturbed cones of debris, clay smeared on the otherwise white walls of the tubular passage.

We heard the sound of falling water in a large space, and emerged facing some large wedged boulder under spray. This was indeed a large space. It was also Knot Very Good. Many a confused caver may have in fact followed this more esoteric way to Knot Very Good, and not realising their current location, doubled back to reach the very same chamber again via Smer0. I quietly chuckled in amusement at this thought as I passed the disto to Rita. The 30 m of newly surveyed passage became 'Forget Me Not'.

Where a callout is pushed.

The way out was quite slow, despite the giant couscous we'd ingurgitated at the Caf? after the survey of Forget Me Not. As we slowly emerged out of Belladonna, I started yawning and closing heavy eyelids at each rebelay. It was near and lights were all lit up over the Italian plain. Some new voices came up from below, which I assumed were those of David and Chris, who could have by now caught up with us.

I continued up the roped scree slope above the more vertical sections of the abseil, and waited at another rebelay, until lights and voices came from above.

'Hey ho' cried Dave Kp. 'Who are you?'.

Naturally, I answered 'Tanguy and Rita', but this was followed by a disappointed sigh. I mistakenly added that I thought David and Chris were behind us.

Then I got part of the story. James Wilson and Lucie had gone in M2 and expected to get out of Monatip that night, having left an 11pm callout for the surface. They had not yet surfaced.

I shouted at Rita to shout down and identify the cavers below us. They were James and Lucie. Dave whipped around and headed back up in a hurry to alert a second team, which had been dispatched down M2 entrance (Jennifer and Lydia). He did not make it in time, but the pair emerged very soon out of M2 again, having sensibly turned around early. The next day, tempers were slightly frayed, no one went caving, and we had a discussion about reasonable callout times, and relative numbers of cavers underground and on the surface. The frenzy of the previous day had meant in short, that the team who'd planned to go camping had to stay on the surface to answer callouts.

Since no one caved this day, a good deal of us went down the Razor folk festival, held on the morning of Sunday 21st July. From there, I went down Ravne for a quiet evening while the rest ascended back to the Plateau. Rita joined me, and on the morrow we drove down to Tolmin to drop her gear at the factory, before retreating to the Zadla??ica river for a swim.

In the evening, I climbed back up the mountain, with fresh green and red peppers, which Diss cooked alongside gravy and chips. This, alongside copious amounts of wine finally brought up by the helicopter on the very same morning, made for a great evening, though it did mean I had no inclination to go caving the next day, opting instead for a wander with Janet, Jack Halliday and Arun towards Tolminski Kuk.

On the way, we would have a look at Rowan Cave, a new promising entrance Janet had found whilst walking around the mountains.

Surface exploration

Rowan Cave, on the eastern side of a wide grassy col between the Plateau and Tolminski Kuk almost immediately appealed to us. Below a bridge of boulders, a short climbable pitch beckoned. We had no caving gear with us, and only two had headtorches, but this was the only to go about surface bashing, otherwise the entrances would shy away at the sound of a bulging rope and drill bag.

The entrance to Rowan cave

At the bottom of the climb, it looked like every way on was blocked. On the eastern side of the entrance pitch, what looked like a small alcove full of rocks provided a 1 m recess from the cave walls. Here, I casually threw a pebble across and to my great surprise, it fell down on the other side, rattling against what was evidently a sloping wall for a couple of seconds.

This was enough to warrant further effort, and we returned the next day, this time, Louise and Ben Richards accompanied me. To reach the cave in less of a roundabout way than we had the day before (we'd gone down inside the Vrtnarija valley, and followed its trace uphill towards Kuk, losing much more elevation than was strictly necessary), we headed out of the Bivi and struck a northern bearing, trying to contour as much as possible.

This brought us directly onto the grassy col north of the Plateau and past an inviting shakehole, at the bottom of which a small black hole opened onto a rift. Distracted by this vision, we clambered down inside, twisting down the narrow but surprisingly draughty rift into a small chamber.

This was rabbit-warren of small chambers and included a fairly innocuous looking drop down into a further chamber. This had evidently been hammered before to allow caver access, and this took the main draught of the cave. We agreed there would be some good digging possibilities in this cave, located near the 1900 m contour and surveyed it.

Upon exiting the cave after mapping its 90 m or so of passage, Janet called out from the rim of the entrance shakehole. "I see you've found my little cave then", she said. "I saw the tacklesack you left by the entrance with my binoculars. I was thinking, why are they not yet at Rowan Cave?".

"Distacted", I replied.

At Rowan Cave, Ben rigged the entrance pitch while Louise and Janet retraced the steps to the 'Little Cave', in search for a pair of gloves Louise had evidently just lost. At the bottom of the entrance pitch, we attacked the alcove pitch head.

Ben bolts and rigs down the entrance of Rowan Cave

We'd brought lump hammer, crowbar and lots slings as we knew some boulder removal and obliteration would be necessary. What we did not know then, was that we would keep pulling boulders out until the crawl to a pitch head became walking passage. Even then, the approach to the pitch remained fairly unconvincing, but it was certainly wide enough to allow careful progress. On the way down, there were parts of the wall one would touch, feel vibrate and dislodge with barely any crowbar effort.

Ben disappears down the second pitch of Rowan Cave

One rebelay, and down the second pitch, where the cave closed down. A faint draught could be felt at the far end, but again, more digging would be required. The cave, as it stood when we decided to derig it, was 18 m long.

Rowan cave survey

Back at the sunset spot, we saw that another camping team, Rhys, Ana and Lydia had just come back from the depths. We were eager to hear their news, especially since, a CaveLink message had come through the previous evening.

"Send champagne"

  Street-wise Hercules

It soon surfaced that the team had spent some time traversing at the bottom of Klic Globin pitch to reach the 'Crack', a non-lead. I had successfully tricked another team then...

After this setback, they had headed down to the bottom of Poseidon Rift, finding the pitch head amidst boulders that David, the excavator supreme had contrived to find on our previous trip. Descending it, the water almost immediately cascaded down into an impassable crack at floor level. Undeterred, they had performed a body-sized crawl-traverse along the rift, still heading north, before popping out over a passage that got wider and wider.

They descended some more, weaving their way down the rift, until the water fell into a 'bottomless void'. Here, I assume Rhys dangled on the rope at the last survey station, and waved the disto around until he could get a reading. 38 m at the least, and maybe more.

This exciting passage was named 'Street-wise Hercules', the deepest point yet reached in Primadona, breaching the -800 m mark from the surface, with a promise for more.

Updated plan survey of the Klic Globin branch

  The end of the Hallelujah branch

It was now Wednesday 24th July, and the end of my expedition was fast approaching, so that evening, I formed a plan with Rhys and James to check out the Hallelujah branch for possible camping locations, and push the end of Testify!, now a long way from the relative safety of Mary's Caf?.

The next day, we packed 100 m of the UK caving rope to continue the exploration of this exciting branch of cave. On the way down, we performed some more boulder demolition, including one very large 'stepping stone' in the Drugi Vhod entrance. It took twenty minutes of combined effort by the three of us before the rock, seemingly in slow motion, slid down the slope and met its comrades at Bear Pitch.

Below the Caf?, we introduced James Wilson to the pleasures of the Fenestrator/Plumber's Paradise series. Soon however, it was plain sailing down wide, silent pitches. Holy Moley, Alabaster, Purgatory etc. I'd not gone yet in Canticle for Migovec, found by Rhys and Clare in 2018.

Immediately, the passage closed down and we arrived at a very nasty pitch head, a squeeze followed by a narrow ledge where the rope is in the way of one's progress. On the other side, the passage resumed with its large dimensions, and drops into a chamber with beautiful banks of droplet impacted sands and silts. This is the beginning of a meander with white scalloped walls, some deep pools easily bridged. A pleasure!

Testify!, not so. The passage beyond the 30 m pitch narrows down, cowstails and gear loops kept snagging on protruding flakes and soon the ceiling dropped, so much so that we had to crawl flat-out over sand. James dug the crux of the crawl for a little bit before heading through. The un-named original explorers had somehow skillfully 'omitted to describe' this.

On the other side of the crawl, more annoying little climbs followed before the passage enlarged and dropped again: the lead was just beyond, a 15 m undescended pitch. Rhys, James and I took it in turns to rig the continuing passage, finding another 15 m pitch not far beyond, at the bottom of which two passages led off.

James disappearing towards the last pitchhead

Scampering about at the bottom of Angel Delight

The first was a quickly rigged 3 m drop to a short bit of straight passage that ended almost immediately at a sump. No bypass. The second was draughting crawl which James had quickly inspected, reporting that about ten metres in, one could stand up again. The other lead having failed us, Rhys and I crawled away, found the enlargement and looked ahead.

You could barely crouch, and the ceiling dropped again, forcing us to crawl on hands and knees at first. Then it became nearly flat-out over a mixture of clay and water. The further we got into it, the worse it looked. A true wallow in completely wet mud, with barely enough space to wriggle through, let alone with SRT or bags.

We decided to call it a day and surveyed out the 100 m of passage we'd thus found, taking the ropes back with us. Immense effort took us back to the Caf?: this was a black book trip. But not all was lost, as we'd reappraised the Hallelujah streamway and found a bypass to a the narrow crack that had stopped Rhys in 2017. This opened up the possibility of following the active passage downstream.

It was about 4 am, when Rhys and I reached the top of the abseil, and looking up, saw the old quarter moon appearing above the western horizon. Not far behind, the lightening grey of dawn etched the shapes of Kuk and Zeleni Vrh. What a last trip!


New member
Trip to Area N: The Tragic Death of N9 (Thursday 25th Jul - Sat 27th)

Area N, named for being north of Tolminski Kuk, is notable for the density of shakeholes in the area. In 2012 ICCC caver Sam Page and JSPDT caver Niko discovered a promising cave entrance - N9. The team left two draughting leads unpushed, presumably due to lack of time and/or resources. Since then, tall tales have been told and cave shanties sung about the long sought after entrance to the Area N master system (the frequency of shakeholes makes the existence of the Area N system seem like a virtual inevitability). Surprisingly it has taken us 7 years to return to N9 - largely due to the logistical difficulties involved with cave exploration relatively far away from the Migovec plateau.

Ana, Ben R and Myself (Ben H) set off at around 6pm - leaving late to avoid the 'scorchio' alpine sun - laden with heavy backpacks containing a drill, batteries, 100m of UK caving Spanset 9mm rope, metalwork, caving and camping equipment. Our plan was to put the myth, the legend of N9 to rest - with all guns blazing.

We arrived at the minefield of shakeholes marking area N just before sunset. We picked a pleasant, grassy and flat area to bivy and gave ourselves a little bit of time to scout out the location of N9 with a GPS and to do some excited impromptu surface bashing. We decided to call our surface leads 'ABBA 1,2, etc.' ABBA standing for "Ana Ben Ben Assemble". On our half-hour surface bashing adventure we found ABBA 1 - an insecty 2m hole near a shakehole.

After a meal of marshmallows, smash, couscous, cheese, and oatcakes we tucked ourselves into our bivy bags and enjoyed a peaceful and comfortable night under the alpine stars.

Ben R and Ana at our Bivvy site overlooked by Kuk.

Just before heading to ABBA 1 and N9, Ben H found ABBA 2 after moving some boulders covering a shakehole. We spent the next hour or so moving boulders and trying fit the most nimble of our team - Ana - into the progressively larger entrance. ABBA 2 died immediately. We checked out ABBA 1 soon after, but it also died immediately in a similar way - every gap being filled up with scree and boulders.

Moving rocks blocking the entrance to ABBA 2.

In my dreams and imagination, N9 was a rather unpleasant vertical shaft with tight, rifty pitchheads. In reality, the entrance to N9 is briefly horizontal and only a bit tight and rifty. It also has an incredible backdrop of Triglav and surrounding peaks of Triglav National Park. Once past the entrance traverse and short 15m pitch, one is left with the impression of a proper cave. A large 10x10x15m chamber with two draughting leads (see grade 0.5 survey [to be added soon]). We added a few more bolts and used the spits to get to the lead in line with the entrance traverse. We found a PSS labeled 'gingerbread express' at this pushing front. The way on was a very awkward traverse over a meandering, sharp and tight rift over a 20m pitch. I gave Ana the drill and rope to bolt this pitch before heading back up to fetch Ben R from the surface to give him my caving kit (we only had space for 2 complete caving kits).

Ana and Ben H at the picturesque entrance to N9 overlooked by Triglav.

Left to right: Ana in the N9 entrance rift; Looking down the entrance pitch; Ana drops the entrance pitch; "everything is fine" at gingerbread express

Ana bolted an impressive traverse leading to a Y-hang dropping into the large boulder-filled chamber at the bottom. Unfortunately, this lead was dead.

Left to right: The gingerbread express pitch; The boulderchoked chamber at the bottom of gingerbread express (objects for scale) [credit: Ben R].

There was still the tight, but draughting hole to the right of the entrance traverse in the main chamber. While Ana and Ben R swapped kit, I bolted this awkward pitch head. The extreme awkwardness of this pitchhead meant it took us over an hour to drop this pitch.

Ben H attempting to squeeze through the awkward pitchead (excuse the eccentric bolting/rigging)

Having gotten a case of 'the fear' after struggling to fit myself through the pitchhead squeeze, I let Ben R drop the pitch. Ben R soon came back up with very exciting news. We found a beautiful straight 20-30m vertical shaft leading to an easy boulder choke and a large 1m wide rift with another 20m pitch.

I went down second, putting in a rebelay and waited for Ana to join me. I bolted a traverse leading to a Y-hang and dropped into the 20m rift.  We swiftly checked both ways on from the scree filled bottom. Both ways ended in a rift that got progressively tighter. We had killed N9. No longer would shanties be sung about the mysterious entrance to the great system north of Kuk. We had completed what we set out to do, however. The legend of N9 was no more.

Left to right: The 20-30m pitch at the end of the awkward pitchhead; The rift at the end of that pitch; The way on to the left; The way on to the right (Ana for scale).

While Ana and I were pushing, Ben R filled up some vessels with snow from N8. Ben R had also scouted out 4 or so leads on the far side of the cliff to the west of our Bivvy site. We think the peak is called Vrh Planje and now has a few surface leads worth bringing caving kit to!

Getting 100m of rope and retrieving the last hangar past the awkward pitchhead was very challenging. By the time we got out, a storm had started to brew outside and it was 8pm, too late to return via the somewhat precarious and unobvious route via Kuk. The caving gods were displeased. Area N has often been associated with 'bad juju'. It looked like the juju had caught up with us.

As we didn't really plan for another night of bivvying, we were quite low on food. We ate a small meal of smash, noodles and the remaining cheese. We saved up 4 chocolate bars and some oatcake crumbs for breakfast. We returned to our bivi spot at around 9:30pm. It was raining quite a lot. It would be a grim night of bivviing in the rain. At around midnight Ben R and I both got up, looked at each other and grimaced at the unpleasantness of bivvying in a wet bag. Thankfully the rain didn't last through the night.

We awoke to dense fog and breadcrumbed back to the path from Kuk with the GPS. At the summit of Kuk, we ate our breakfast of a chocolate bar and a bit each. An hour later we arrived in the bivvy in time for tea and medals. No shanties were sung that night.​


New member

I arrive in Tolmin late on a Tuesday evening and hike up to Ravne in the dusk and gloaming, thumbed a lift from a kind Slovene part of the way until the road ended. She tuned out to be a close friend of Jana, the JSPDT chief, so had heard of our expedition but had never met one of the 'mad English cavers' in the wild before - she also had zero confidence that I knew where I was going. It was about 10pm and I had no torch with me but I reassured her that I had done this walk once before, 3 years ago in the full daylight... Ravne is a comforting sight finally, no doubt! I fetch the key for the community house, pop a  bedtime brew on and drink it outside whilst eyeing up Mig and the partial lunar eclipse. Just before I turn in I catch a meteor falling for several seconds, burning long and bright right above Migovec. I fall asleep musing over what this omen means for our expo this year.

I arrive on the plateau in the mid-morning.
'AYOOO! Have you heard?!'
'Hello I have just arrived'

Everything in motion, nothing I can help with. So I descend and carry my caving kit up before the evening. Welcome back..!

The following week is mostly hot and dry, a few scattered showers and warm up trips for me. Bolting & digging Drugi Vhod.  Ben Richards and I poke our heads into Coincidence Cave, the chemical persuasion of the slovs has extended the cave significantly from the end of the English efforts last summer. We hadn't the time to make a full explore of the non-obvious ways on though there is definitely potential still and it remains a target of the JSPDT's efforts.

The dry weather persists.

'Shall we dig snow from M10?'
'Wait a bit, forecast rain later'


'Someone should rig M10 for snow hauling'
'Yeah someone should definitely do that'

Alright. Fine.
Setting up the hauling rig is quite fun really, getting inventive and using our rope-rescue knowledge. Good practice!
We haul about 100l of snow, and are rewarded with 20 minutes light rain for our efforts.


It remains dry. A few days later we dig and haul again, yielding just shy of 2 barrels of snow. I poke around at the base of M10 but find nothing besides snow/ice blocked crawls and crevices impassable.

Our rain dance was fruitful. 2 days later the rain begins..

A message on the cavelink: 'too wet to push'. Tetley and Chris are camping at Tranquility Base Hotel and Casino with the intent of pushing Streetwise Hercules, a bottomless shaft at -800. They emerge the next morning, sodden and bedraggled, and tell a story of scary fast rising water levels whilst bolting. Dropping the rope on a ledge they ascended quick to camp but were soaked through.

This weighs on our minds as we scheme camping trips. With the ground saturated from near-continuous rain the water levels underground react very fast with to any storms.

After a few days of festering in the bivi hiding under tarps Ana, Jack Halliday and I have a plan. It didn't rain much over night so we head off for a two night stay at Tranquility Base Hotel and Casino, ready to peer down into the promised endless void that is Streetwise Hercules. Dodging a couple of very brief showers on the surface we make a break and descend down. It's noticeably drippier as we drop through Prima, stopping briefly for a quick cavelink check and message to the surface at the cafe. Smoothly down past The Manger (last years camp)

At the top of Pivnica the three of us stop - we can hear the roar of water below us. Descending cautiously and keeping out of the spray, I get to the last pitch of Pivnica, where there is a small ledge. The three of us have to shout at each other, despite being face to face. I'm going down to have a reccy.
The bottom of this pitch is apocalyptic, rarely have I been in a bit of cave so hostile. The way on is under huge amounts of water, we'll all get soaked if we continue... I am almost wet through for being there a minute or two. Here the cave diverges towards Klic Globin and camp and down Spodnji - 'the old slov route'. Two cavers, James Wilson and Ben Honan had aimed to push down the latter, it's notoriously wet. They set off before us, I knew they had passed the cafe (cavelinks!) and so they had to be below me. A torrent of near-freezing water is crashing down towards them. Not even in Yorkshire!
'They're getting fucked' I thought, then spent a few minutes whistling down the pitch but the noise was only lost in the cacophony around me, and I was only getting wetter. I prussicked as fast as I ever have up to talk to Jack and Ana. Wide-eyed at my sodden kit they had no qualms with calling the trip and heading out. On of those first pitches up the noise of the water crashing around us was so great that not even our whistles could be heard down a 20m pitch, my hearing felt muffled for several hours! My oversuit is still mostly waterproof so my torso was dry but if we stayed still for a few minutes a chill set in. We made good pace out, well matched so not much waiting around. Most of the pitched past The Manger were wet now, TTT had enough water falling down to soak the other two through to the thermals. At the Cafe we checked on the cavelink, a message warning of severe storms that would have hit as we descended past The Manger...
Exited to the clear skies of pre-dawn. Still concerned about Ben and James we headed to bed.
In the morning they updated their callout via the cavelink and got to the surface tired but intact. They'd been caught behind the flood pulse and had waited it out huddled in a bothy bag for warmth for 5 hours!

Souls and spirits dampened by this pair of thwarted trips, we all sat around the bivi and discussed the viability of the camp in current conditions - do we just send a team down during the first break in the weather to pull out the valuables?

The Rain continued intermittently for the next couple of days, lightning too close to the bivi for comfort (light and sound together - a few felt the shock in their legs and back).

'Put the snow back in M10!'


The only trustworthy forecast.​

A pattern of heavy rain overnight meaning the water levels would be too high in the morning, and afternoon storms meaning we'd get soaked before we're off the abseil caused a lot of trips and plans to be abandoned for the next couple of days.

Ana, Jack and I schemed again, desperate to hit camp and those deep, deep leads... We'll head off in the mid-afternoon on the day-train, the Dubz would follow much later as the night train and hotbed then tent. The plan: a 2-sleep stay at Tranquility Base Hotel and Casino. Down, sleep, push, sleep, de-rig. Easy!

Once again, smooth sailing down past The Manger. Prima seemed reassuringly dry compared to our exit a few days ago. But once we got to Pivnica we can tell the water levels are still high. I pop down again to check out Lost In A Dream, still wet enough to soak a caver through. Right then.. I take 30 minutes to rig a by-pass, promised to be 'twatty, but dry'. Ha...
Snakebite, Ave Maria - drops back into Penny Falls. Twatty it is! But better than getting wet. I stop to read a note left be Tetley last year: 'enjoy! 16m squeeze and then a drippy climb down'. AH! As soon as I had read 'drippy' I knew it would be a torrent under these conditions. And it was... by the time we joined the main route at the end of Lost In A Dream all three of us were wet through.
We made an assessment there, dropped the drill and rope and initiated Operation Savelink. We weren't going to push - Streetwise Hercules would certainly be extremely wet. So we pressed downwards, evaluating every pitch-in-a-waterfall before taking it on. Pretty dire.
But then we arrive at Klic Globin, a pitch I hadn't yet seen - and what conditions to see it for the first time! Standing in the welly-deep pool of water that is The Balcony Of The Gods (Infinity pool of the Gods now), peering down into what could be an endless abyss I shouted to the others - I'm going to head quickly to camp and send a cavelink message to the surface. The rebelay where Klic Globin begins proper was taking a lot of water, so moving quickly past this I paused. I cannot see the roof nor the floor nor any of the walls except the one I am dancing down. All my headlamp illuminates is spray, there is water crashing around somewhere (everywhere? I can't tell) and it is COLD. I descend, following the rope through rebelay after rebelay. The floor! Touchdown. I swiftly head to camp, it's almost midnight and there is a message waiting warning of severe weather on the surface again (Hailstorms!). I reply saying simply that we are wet, that the night train should not follow (as if anyone is kicking us out of bed) and that we'll exit tomorrow, de-rigging.
Jack and Ana have caught up. We get a brew on, cook up some cheesy smashy soupy couscous and listen to a bit of The Hitch Hiker's Guide To The Galaxy.
A reply, glad to hear we're safe. Get some sleep now, we'll make a plan.
How comforting the cavelinks are. 700m below the earth and we can send texts.
Right. Bedtime, anything else is tomorrow's concern.
Wrapped up in dry camp thermals we drift off into oblivion in the absolute dark, with the sound of water crashing down Klic Globin to remind us of where we are.

In the morning we inventory camp, exchange messages with the surface, pack up everything valuable and begin our long climb out of camp, heading off swiftly as we're told to expect more rain today. We're wearing camp thermals under our furries for warmth. Putting on that wet kit is miserable. We check out of Tranquility Base Hotel and Casino and close it for business, not knowing if anyone else will be back this year.
The exit out is smooth and steady, water levels not as high as on the descent. The Snakebite 16 squeeze with 5 tacklesacs involves a hefty amount of swearing to navigate through. We dump some kit at The Manger, stop for smashy soup at the Cafe and get off the abseil for 11pm. Jack produces a beer he stashed before the left yesterday and we drink it under a clear, bright star-strewn sky.
What a trip!
Back among the tents we find everyone in bed already, tomorrow is the main de-rig day as it should be a window of dry weather. Another team had gotten caught in a terrifying flood pulse when dropping new pitches in Hallelujah the day before. Us three head to the bivi to rekindle the fire, heat some food and enjoy dry clothes in the open.

The following day sees 3 people bounce camp to recover the thermals, sleeping bags, pans, 1st aid kit and some unused metal work. 2 cavers bounce the manger, picking up all the kit there and greasing every maillon on their way out. Other cavers see to seperate parts of the system. The day after has 6 of us hit Mary's Cafe to pick up bags dumped by the camp-bounce team yesterday and carry out as much else from there as we can. On the way down Ben Richards, Zaeem and I see to chiseling a particularly annoying rock in the Drugi Vhod entrance crawl. Very satisfying. Zaeem and I are left, the last two cavers, to de-rig the abseil rope and put Primadonna to rest. With too few tacklesacs we fall into the bivi, draped in glazed 11mm just as the rain moves in again.


Enjoying the sunset after all the derigging​

The last two days are spent down-carrying and decamping the Plateau. We sleep a night under the stars at Ravne, ride inflatable dragons on the Soca and enjoy Slovene hospitality the next day and then begin our long drive back across the continent.


The final down carry​

We're left wondering 'What is it down in deep Primadonna that the Gods are trying so hard to keep us from seeing?'

Well, 'til next year Migovec.



Our illustrious president gave a talk about the trials and triumphs of this year's expo at Hidden Earth last weekend. She did great! Hopefully some of you were there to enjoy it.

Here's a photo of the UK Caving 9mm rope early in the expo, soaking up a view of Mig before being taken up, and then down again to places including Testify! and N9 as described above.

Okay, yes, Pegasus may have told me to upload this after I showed it to her at the weekend...  :LOL:

But in all seriousness, many thanks to UK Caving and Spanset for their ongoing support of our expedition.  We really appreciate it and definitely put the rope to good use. Thank you!  :clap:


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