Volume 35 Number 2 Article 3
Pete Boyes, Jen Boyes, Liz Boyes and Paul Wilkinson
After the highly successful 1996 expedition to Sardinia during which we explored many of the extensive and pristine caves we were itching to get back. Last year Lizzies parents, Pete and Jen, went to Sardinia and like anyone with an eye for a good cave, dive and snorkel, also planned to return. This year however with only the four of us and no overland transport we had to economise with our luggage. To give you a feel for the baggage consider that we had to take full caving kit including 40 metres of rope, bolts and krabs, mask - snorkel - fins, tent, stove, sleeping bags before even considering personal luxuries such as spare clothes and wash kit within our 20kg limit.
This lack of gear compromised our ability to tackle some of the further reaches of the caves and was further complicated by the total absence of carbide anywhere on the island. We had been given the address of the sports shop that sold us carbide two years ago and decided that taking carbide on the flight was probably not a good idea especially when it was available locally. After two days of pleading with every shopkeeper and caving contact we were forced to concede defeat. One shop even sold "Arianne" carbide generators but would not or could not sell us carbide! It soon became clear that carbide was not available when a local caver at a camping refuge had to lend us the remains out of his generator, which was supplemented by a visiting group from Milan whom we had to ply with beer! In all we had enough carbide for three of us to get one fill each.
Our first cave of the holiday was Grotta de S'Orcu located a few minutes walk up a valley through rhododendron and oleander bushes from the popular beach of Cala Fuili, south of Calagannone. The entrance is a large phreatic tube in the south side of the canyon, it can be reached by an easy ten metre climb where a hand line is very worthwhile. As usual in most Mediterranean caves the local goat, sheep, pig and rodent population gathers around the cool entrance which in turn attracts swarms of biting insects looking for tasty mid-morning snack. After the blinding midday sun we were left squinting and stumbling in the feeble glow of our head torches until we grew accustomed to the gloom. After a short walking section we arrived at a short climb down into a chamber with some the worst examples of cave vandalism in Europe.
A couple of dozen stalagmites from two to three inched in diameter and perhaps a metre high lay in amongst a shattered mass of broken crystal. Considering the high level of environmental awareness we had seen amongst local cavers we found it hard to believe that someone had gone to such lengths to systematically destroy every upright formation. They had not even broken them as souvenirs, just bashed them down for the sheer badness of it. Bastards! Fortunately this was limited to near the entrance and this popular cave continued as mixed walking and crawling with some varied formations tucked away in the more obscure passages. Eventually we were halted by a near vertical pitch sloping off into the hillside. We learnt from local cavers that the cave passage continues north and crosses over the top of the well known show cave, Grotta Bue Marino. Back at the beach we stripped off our grubby caving grots and snorkelled off into the cool Mediterranean, one definite advantage to Sardinian caving.
The next cave in our itinerary was a few hours drive to the south near the village of Perdasdefogu. The village is several miles inland on a high plateaux of limestone, the altitude and aspect of the area results in a dramatic and arid, scrubby landscape intersected with steep canyons. That night we camped in a local park cum picnic spot outside the village well equipped with fresh running water, picnic tables and (try not to laugh) crazy golf! We left the pitch-and-putt for the locals the next day and headed for Is Angurtidorgius, the third longest cave in Sardinia and located within an artillery range to the south. Buster had drawn a map that we had copied prior to leaving as a guide to find the entrance which is well hidden amongst the scrub. Unfortunately we had neglected to listen to his advice that certain sections of the map were not to scale. After about four hours of driving around army base perimeters - it is a miracle we were not arrested or even challenged - and into the depths of the range we saw our first definite landmark, an old tank blown apart and painted brilliant white! There then followed a further hour of fighting our way past dense thorny bushes and over tons of spent ordinance, 1000lb. bomb casings and shrapnel until we stumbled upon an obvious cave entrance - yards from where we had left the car.
Angurtidorgius has seven entrances and after consulting the survey and Buster's map afterwards I am now convinced we explored from the alternative entrance, Angurtidorgeddu located further to the south. The entrance is a large railway tunnel style passage at the bottom of a shallow valley which has a large colony of enormous bats in the entrance that feed on the equally enormous horseflies that feed on the enormous goat turds.
"Mmmm... - smells like Malaysian caves.", confided Pete. However, once beyond the putrid stench of ammonia we were treated to a real surprise. Shallow pools in the floor wriggled with cave salamanders hiding from our lights under slabs and branches. Some of the newt-like creatures were up to five, possibly six inches in length, all a dark brown or black colour. Everywhere the cave was adorned with rotting vegetation from decaying grass to whole trees and every pool was black with the rotting detritus. We thought of the previous night when we had all been awoken by a terrific thunderstorm and torrents of rain lasting over an hour. Our resolve was beginning to crumble but we persevered through deep stagnant pools and down sharp calcite climbs until an unpleasantly deep pool with a low roof and underwater projections. The rotten-egg smell from the decaying debris was enough to make us gag and was noticeably worse after we had stirred it up. The water has foul, metallic taste when we fell off the climbs out of the water - this did not fit the description from Buster! We beat a hasty retreat after only half an hours caving. A description by the Shepton Mallet CC from 1989 describes Is Angurtidorgius as a trip that took, "..about two hours and enabled us the traverse the most accessible part of the system twice." Obviously the passage 5-10 metres wide that could be waded through most of the way that SMCC described was the correct inlet passage which enables a fine trip past vast gours 'Montagne Cinese' (Chinese Mountain) to the Risorgente Fossile at the head of a large valley bisecting the plateaux.
We left Perdasdefogu and returned to Dorgali and the caving refuge to camp amongst the olive groves. Dorgali makes an excellent base from which to explore the central eastern areas of Sardinia and the rugged Supramonte range of mountains. Within this range is the Lanaiutto valley surrounded by towering limestone peaks and has a huge resurgence, Su Gologone, at its base. The resurgence expels enough clean and freezing cold water even in the middle of summer to supply the nearby city of Nuoro. The major cave in this area is Grotta su Bentu, our main objective for the holiday. After rigging an easy 15 metre pitch close to the walking sized entrance a large dry passage leads to a high calcite ramp which was easily bypassed by a rift on the right. A short way on and the second and third pitches, economically rigged with a 10 and 20 metre rope off a few naturals and in-situ bolts and we arrived at the first lake, azure blue and refreshingly cool.
There are several of these lakes, each dammed up by a calcite dam further up the passage which has to be climbed. In effect the passage acts like a series of massive gours holding back inviting but deep water. This was graphically illustrated by a cross chiselled into the calcite at the end of the third lake in memory of an Italian caver, Emil Vidal, who drowned there in the fifties.
On the passage went several metres wide and too high for us to estimate over pools, clean washed gravel and finally to a climb best bypassed by a ramp to the left. On the other side of this climb we lowered ourselves down into a steeply undercut pool where Pete and Liz demonstrated the pirouette method of water entry i.e. fail to find a foothold and fall off. Only yards on and we were stopped by a traverse over a dry gour pool. We had not been able to take enough rope to cover this obstacle and none of us fancied the traverse unroped. Regrettably it was time to reverse even though we had only explored a fraction of the main passage with some of the most spectacular chambers such as Sahara and Grande Frana ahead of us.
Nevertheless, we had had a sporting trip in majestic passages and within bizarrely sculpted rock formations. The pitches had to be climbed using prussik loops by Pete and I as we had left the jammers at home to save on weight. It certainly added to the alpine style feel to the trip. With carbide running low we retraced our steps and swum for the entrance and the warm pine scented air.
Next morning we left camp early and donned wet suits and hoods and swam into the seasonal resurgence cave for Su Bentu, Sa Oche. The deep lakes in the entrance provided a perfect opportunity to test out the mask and snorkel together with two diving lights. The nearest thing I shall ever come to cave diving, cave snorkelling! The diving line we followed just below the surface led to a perched sump but beyond that over water too deep to gauge the depth was yet another steep calcite barrier. The pools continued but we were both shivering violently from our immersion and headed out past a bewildered pair of Dutch tourists to the surface.
Sardinia has much to offer the caver, climber, sub aqua diver and walker. Many of the huge canyons which run to the coast are possible to descend and the caving is excellent even with a shoestring budget of tackle and personal gear. What's more, it has fine beaches for relaxing days off and excellent diving sites off the coast. Worth returning to.