Volume 45 Number 3 Article 5
Dinny Davies, Beardy, Helen Blyth, Nichola Thistlethwaite, Johnny Baker
18th-25th May 2008
For nearly a decade I have been hoping to visit the Grotta di Su Bentu, a very special cave in the Lanaittu Valley, near Oliena, Sardinia. For one reason or another the trip never got organised, and the cave slowly gained legendary status in my imagination, until finally I had to arrange a trip.
After a damp start to our holiday, we spent a day investigating Mount Tiscali and its impressive doline, a collapsed cave, which contains two nuraghic villages. Then, eager to start caving the team warmed up by visiting Grotta di Sa Oche, a flood resurgence for Su Bentu with a very impressive entrance followed by a lot of pleasant swimming. With tea to be cooked most of the team headed home leaving Dinny and I to have a short foray into Su Bentu to tackle the cave for the following day. A five minute stroll up the hill behind the refugio led to a more modest entrance, but as soon as we were inside it was obvious that we were in a very significant piece of cave. After a short climb we had to deal with a bolted but unlocked gate that was a bit stiff to undo. Beyond a short crawl led to a pitch of about 15m, the rigging was quite gymnastic, but once tackled it was straightforward. At the base of the pitch I noted the rust remnants of the old scaffold ladder (a former method of descending the pitch) had been discretely hidden in a small rift. Some nice caving in large dry galleries followed until we got to the pitches at The Chaos, which led down into the Lakes Gallery. The rigging was adequate, but interesting and used all of our 50m rope. Now the fun began, we’d landed in a large gallery with a small stream and upstream lay a series of fine lakes separated by gour barriers, which involved acrobatic climbing to scale. One of these had a small cross carved in it in memory of Emil Vidal, who died here in 1959. After nearly an hour we decided to turn back having got quite a good feel for the cave. The return down Lakes Gallery was awesome as each of the gour climbs was jumped down!
A late tea ensured that we had a leisurely start the following day, for our long awaited trip to the far reaches of Su Bentu. All five of us enjoyed the bumpy drive up the Lanaittu Valley, got changed and headed up to the entrance porch, where we provided entertainment to a bunch of German tourists. Before long we were racing through the large fossil gallery and sliding down our 9mm rope to the lakes. In a matter of minutes we’d reached last nights limit, which was a few feet short of the Duck, which at this time of the year was sumped. This meant that we had to climb up and over a large blockage, an entertaining manoeuvre. After a few more swims we arrived at ‘56’ Corner, where we could get out of the water and have a little breather. Another long section of canals followed before the caving became more varied with a section of ramps and climbs, passing out of depth plunge pools in large milled potholes. The passage was huge and the rock sculpted into magnificent shapes. Later we passed huge (20m) beehive calcite flows as we tramped along a huge gallery.
At an obvious junction we realised that we were close to camp chamber, and here we left the water and the huge rift passage that we had been following and took a turn to the right. The floor became bouldery and after another right hand turn we entered Sahara, a large passage with a sandy floor that rose and fell like the large dunes of it’s namesake. Passing a small oasis where a small inlet ran over some gours, we descended the shifting sands at the end of Sahara and arrived at the Black Hole. Here I was very happy of our “travelling” line as the way on was up an overhanging wall of boulders above a thirty-foot drop. The passage was rigged with a rotting electron ladder, which fortunately held. Having lined the rest of the party up, we soon emerged into Conical Chamber and found the route through a loose section into the Grande Frana, our objective for the day. The Grande Frana was stunning, we started heading up in yet another large gallery but after a few meters this opened up on to a huge scree slope, where the walls and ceiling vanished into the blackness. Dinny & I spent a sweaty few minutes climbing to the top of the scree cone watching the three lights at the bottom recede into the distance. The view from the top was well worth the long climb, the roof was not visible; one wall was covered with a veneer of calcite and was obviously formed by a large fault. The vast chamber continued onwards but we turned back and headed towards the distant lights of our three friends, whose shouts echoed around the Frana in a spectacular fashion. The chamber was somewhat reminiscent of the Great Rubble Heap in the Gouffre Berger though somewhat less well travelled.
Once the rotting ladder was passed, the return journey was very enjoyable, the steep dunes of Sahara got us warmed up, and with Camp Chamber behind us we soon reached the Lakes where the swimming and jumping made for a fun time. All too soon we arrived back at our rope and made a smooth exit into the starry night. Su Bentu was a special cave and had been well worth the wait.
We spent the rest of our very enjoyable week investigating the area. One of the highlights was a traverse of the le Gole di Flumineddu-Gorropu, 7km long and 400m deep, allegedly the most impressive canyon on Sardinia, with plenty of abseils and jumps, it probably merits a story of it’s own. Our other highlight was a dive on the wreck of the Nasello, resting on the sandy sea-bottom, at a depth of between 30 and 34 metres. It was an Italian steam merchant ship torpedoed by the English submarine "Safari" and sunk in front of Cala Luna in 1943.
We left after a very enjoyable week knowing that we had only scratched the surface of the adventures that this exciting island has to offer. I for one look forward to returning.
Bartolo, G. & Fadda, A.F., Sardegna il Mondo Sotterraneo, 1998 p200-202.
Shepton Mallet Caving Club Journal Vol. 9, No. 1, Autumn 1991.
Simms, M., Sardina Island of Caves, Descent 94, June/July 1990, p20-23.
Wright, K&B, It’s Better than sex, Caves & Caving 74, Winter 1996, p29-34.
Pankiewicz, G. & Wray, S. Sardinia 1991, Peleobates Issue 56.
Allanach, D. & expedition members, 1980 British Speleological Expedition to Sardinia, in The Journal of the Craven Pothole Club Vol. 6 No. 2, p79-106.