A crazy weekend to Kanin

Kalin_topIt was written on the side of the fridge – Part 2

Ever since I first met the Czech caver “Spider” in Croatia 2 years ago I have been receiving emails detailing expeditions, caving trips and the like followed by the words “you are welcome”. These usually arrive when I am just back from somewhere else with no more leave.  But this time the invitation seemed to require not much more than a long weekend and in the end I thought “sod it”, booked some last minute flights, hired a car and headed for the Kanin range in the Julian Alps. I had very little idea what the trip would involve, wasn’t even sure what cave we would visit or with whom, but the plan seemed to involve being 900m underground and that would suit me fine.

I met the team in a cafe in Bovec in Slovenia at 8am on Friday morning. Spider, with 3 young Czech cavers, Ales, Robi and Vládínek, had driven all night and were surprisingly awake. This was possibly something to do with the beer and Slivovitz being passed around. Finally the plan was unveiled; we would drive into Italy to the closet point horizontally to the cave – Ceska Jama – walk up to an unmanned mountain bivvy hut and then the following day head underground for 3 days. Ceska Jama connects to Brezno pod Velbom via a meander at around -550m and this latter cave has drafting unexplored windows on a shaft 900m down.  Brilliant.

And so we set off. The horizontal distance may have been small but the vertical distance was much greater. A two hour slog with caving gear, underground camping gear and food for 3 days saw us reach the bivvy hut in early afternoon. Spider, who had done all the driving the previous night, was straight to sleep, while the rest of us settled down for an afternoon Slivovitz session. The next morning we were away early, heaving our bags up a ridiculously steep gully to take us onto the spectacular main Kanin plateau. At times we had to traverse slabs and scrabble up little bluffs; where it was really steep the lads assisted by shoving my rucksack up as I stepped up. I wasn’t looking forward to doing this on the way down. After another two hours of uneven karst terrain and we reached the entrance. The cave started as many pitches in a steeply descending rift.

Nice and enclosed and not too intimidating. Apart from the fact that I had been told that no one had been in the cave for 7 years (due to an ice blockage) and was left to speculate how long the rope and rigging gear had been in there. Some of the metal work was certainly not in the best of health. In addition, Y-hangs were clearly something of a luxury reserved for only very special occasions; in one place one arm of the Y was made from a rusty climbing wire.

After about 250m we came to a lovely 85m shaft, the start of something big.  Here the importance of communication was underlined. Vládínek had said to me that “only the red rope was free”. So I continued down the red rope to the point where a white rope was tied on 3 re-belays down. After shouting down, this appeared to be free so I threaded my stop onto it.  It was at this point that I realised that the red rope also continued; how did I know which to use?  More shouting. It seemed the red rope. I changed back over to this one and set off.  Good decision. The white rope finished in space, half way down the shaft with a single overhand knot tied in the end.

After the 85m shaft, there was one more humongous shaft, it must have been 150m or 200m to take us down to about -500m. Here was the old camp spot and the ways divided. Spider, Vládínek and I ended up waiting here for 3 hours for the Robi and Ales. It was at this point that I really noticed how cold the cave was. Much more so than the UK or the Picos.  We got out a foil sheet and huddled together under this while sat round a camping stove. I was learning that in these sorts of alpine cave the stoves were for preventing hypothermia as much as for cooking.


We were meant to be going onto another camping spot at -600m, but this was aborted and we set up shop where we were. However, the site was far from ideal, much too small, quite drippy and the five of us had a very cosy (read warm, but cramped) night with little sleep.  What the Czechs did do well though, was a fine supply of cheeses and meats. And fresh lemons to be sliced for your tea. The next morning we set off again, but soon found that the connecting meander at -550m was somewhat smaller than had been anticipated. Spider was clearly concerned that while he (thin as bean pole) and me (a bit wider) would probably fit, the larger guys were going to struggle.  Out came the drill, but the means of persuasion were found to be wet and useless. Maybe because of the time it had taken the guys the day before he decided that it was best to withdraw on this occasion and just head out.  While this was a disappointment it was clearly the right thing to do. Spider and I were out in about four hours but the three young lads ended up taking more than twice this long.

On the surface the mist turned to rain. At this point estimating it would take the others 3 hours or more to come out Spider decided that we should head back to the hut. I was worried about abandoning the others to navigate back on their own in the mist (only Spider had been to the cave before), but communicating this was tricky, and I was also keen not to get hypothermia myself while we waited.  In the end I just had to go along we Spider’s judgement and we set off back. This now became the hardest part of the trip for me: a 25+kg rucksack, climbing and traversing limestone slabs in the rain over drops. I’ll take the caving any day, but really struggled with the balancey moves and a big sac. It was a relief to be back in the hut just before dark, drinking soup and eating a feast of pasta and cured meat.  I was worried about the others though. Time ticked on and neither of us could stay awake. Eventually they arrived at 3am, some 8 hours after we had got back.  As so often for me on this trip much was lost in the translation but Robi did say “It was a nightmare Fleur”. When I queried whether this was the cave or the walk, he replied “both”.


The next morning the clouds from the night before had cleared to reveal a stunning vista of the Italian Alps. Bags were packed with wet clothes and caving gear and somehow I managed to pick up the carry of the digging tools and capping stuff as well.  One final descent with aching knees back to the cars and then it was off for pizza and beer in the nearest town. By 3am that night I was home in Hampshire with only stiff legs and an inch long blister to show for my whirlwind trip.  That and a very large smile, some new friends and a desire to return for more.

Fleur Loveridge