Volume 38 Number 4 Article 1
Abisso Fighera to Buca del Serpente
Team: Beardy (RRCPC/ULSA), Pete Hall (RRCPC), Mark Madden (ULSA), John Cooper (ULSA).
Following our success in the Buca DEolo, the original classic 660m deep trip of the system, our next target was the dauntingly complicated traverse from the Abisso Fighera to the Buca del Serpente. This involves entering the system at an altitude of 1640m very close to the summit of Monte Corchia and exiting at the lowest entrance of the system, the Serpente at 930m. The trip was not to be straight forward, it was 710m deep and winds itself through a veritable vertical and horizontal maze. The logistics of the trip were to be further complicated by several factors:
Having only one car.
Having descriptions of both caves but not of the connection(s).
All descriptions were written in unintelligible Italian.
Having a rough survey of the initial connection from the Atlas of World Caves.
Having the above survey that had been extrapolated for clarity but bore no relation to the real cave.
In desperation, we rang home for more advice. A short mobile telephone call to Keith Sanderson in Newby, who had been here fifteen years ago. He gave us a short description of the newer but more classic connection between the two caves, but we had no survey of this connection. The four-sentence description was as follows:
Enter cave, get to the Pozzo Mienz, descend the pitch into a large chamber. At the bottom of the chamber a pitch up leads to a traverse around the side of Pozzo Titanic into a passage on the far side which in turn leads to the head of a 35m Pitch Pozzo Nostradamus. From here follow markers to Camp 2 where there is a tent. Beyond there are a few pitches, then a couple of up pitches which emerge in Salone Manerezi in the Buca DEloa. - sounds a cinch!
The big day arrived. After a very sweaty walk up Monte Corchia we changed, stashed our rucksacks and set off as fast as we could. Wed brought enough tackle to rig the entire trip; this amounted to six tackle bags of rope and a bag of rigging gear between the four of us. It would have been a pleasure to get into the cool of the cave if two tackle bags and a bag of rigging gear hadnt accompanied me. All things considered, progress was quite quick. The top entrance was full of boulder chokes, short climbs and wriggles. We soon descended a couple of pitches on in situ rope and realised that these pitches werent even mentioned in our Italian guidebook, a taster of things to come.
Then we arrived at the first 20m pitch as described in our guidebook, finding it rigged we quickly slid down. We had to rig the second and third pitches, which took us to our first junction. Below was an obvious P42m but it wasnt rigged so we opted for the alternative Meandre Ludrie. Starting from an obscure crawl the Ludrie soon developed into a steeply dipping gallery full of short pitches and exciting climbs. Most of the pitches were equipped with nice rope. Towards the bottom of the Ludrie the in situ rigging led off on a traverse into a large passage. From here several different ways shot off. Nothing looked anything like the survey we had. We investigated several routes over the next two or three hours. We slowly realised that our survey had been distorted apparently to show the passages more clearly but in reality it only confused the situation. Eventually we gave up trying to find the connection shown on our rough survey; we adopted Plan B, (our four-sentence description with no survey).
We set off again, still with our six bags of rope. Following what looked like a trade route, taking a short break for a snack at camp one. In no time at all we were again running along huge galleries heading towards a pitch called Meinz. Here we had to rig one of our ropes as the in situ one was trashed. The base of the pitch was in a huge chamber composed of marble. Our route lay up a 20-meter pitch, gently prussiking up the in situ rope must have been quite nerve racking for Pete, but he made the top and checked the gear for the rest of us. Here began our four-sentence description at the end of our survey and wed already been seven hours underground.
We had to follow a traverse around the head of Pozzo Titanic, a fifty meter deep pitch, which was fine, until we arrived at the bit where the rope dropped off down into the abyss for 7m into a huge U and then soared up into the blackness on the other side not knowing what on earth it was tied to. Pete took a break from leading and we quickly volunteered Mark as the front man. Fortunately the rope was in good condition and well rigged. We all quickly followed. Our description then said we followed our noses to the head of a 35m pitch called Nostradamus, which we found rigged and was a spectacular pitch into a huge tunnel that led off into the distance. We lugged our heavy tackle bags along this passage following small cairns. The route appeared to be quite complex, dropping through several chokes and many complex junctions. We followed the most worn route and after a series of roped traverses we eventually arrived at camp 2, where a large red tent stood erected in the silent gallery. By now we were very hungry and quite weary, so we stopped for a small snack before continuing. We were now into the last sentence of our description.
Unfortunately most of the pitches had been equipped with in situ rope, which in turn meant we hadnt left ours, which meant we still had six cumbersome bags with us. We felt a long way from home having been underground for some thirteen hours. The team decided to continue with the tackle and try and take it out of the bottom, thereby making the detackling trip much easier.
We set off from camp 2 happy in the knowledge that we were on route and as wed been underground for about thirteen hours, hoping that wed soon reach the Salone Manaresi. How naive we were! The caving continued to be extremely varied and exciting, the six bags remained heavy and cumbersome. Onwards we went, as fast as we could. The galleries changed drastically in size, sometimes huge and sometimes quite small, and the strong draught encouraged us forwards. We dropped another 12 - 15 pitches that were all equipped with ropes of venerable vintage but hadnt been mentioned in our description. There appeared to be arrows carbided on the wall leading everywhere. At one point we plumped for one that stated =1100 this being the altitude of the Buca DEola entrance.
More pitches followed and slowly the passage got much smaller, the draught seemed to be less strong. Morale was at rock bottom - wed come to a complicated junction and the most worn route looked like a flat out crawl on the far side of a deep pit. We had descended a considerable number of pitches and felt like we were very deep in the cave, which was not good as our target, the Salone Manaresi, was quite high up in the system. We had now been underground for 17 hours, the last ten of which we had no survey and a four-sentence description. It looked like wed bitten off a little more than we could chew. John and I sat down and were soon fast asleep whilst Mark & Pete went on to scout the way ahead before making the hard decision about turning around. (It was an awfully long way back.)
I woke up shivering. To keep warm I decided to haul all the bags over to the start of the crawl then carry on to see what was happening up front. I met Mark who was sat at the head of a deep (50m+) pitch. This didnt look good. Pete had gone down an in situ rope, which had swung into a side rift some 20m down. Shortly we heard Pete coming back. Hed done it, the way to the Salone Manaresi was just around the corner. Soon all the tackle and team were down the pitch and along an awkward traverse. Three short upward pitches led to balcony and a 10m pitch down into the huge Salone Manaresi. Now we were on home ground and extremely happy. A short rest, feed and carbide fettle followed before an enjoyable pull through down five lovely pitches. We staggered passed the workmen in the Serpente, who were constructing the walkways and lighting of one of the worlds longest show caves. Eventually four very tired cavers surfaced at 10am, some 20 hours after entering the cave. Petes feet had been rubbed raw by the sand in his wetsocks so we left him to recuperate. The sun was beating down, we had one last stint to go. We stripped off caving gear and walked the two miles back to camp in wellies and trunks. A strange sight met the housewives of Levigliani, sat on their porch steps peeling potatoes, but we were too tired to care.
Carta Dei Sentieri E Rifugi 1:25000 (101:102) Parco Delle Alpi Apuane
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Crossland, D. (1972), Italy Expedition, Antro del Corchia 1972, White Rose Pothole Club, 40 Years Journal (1994) P29-31.
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Badino, G., (1983), Fighiera E Corchia, Speleologia 9, P 9-12.
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Middleton, J. & Waltham, T. (1986), Complesso Fighiera Farolfi Corchia, The Underground Atlas, P119.