Darko Bakšić


In the period from October 23 to November 18, 2009, Robert Erhard and Darko Bakšić, members of the Velebit Speleological Section, the Speleological Committee of Croatian Mountaineering Association and the Croatian Mountain Rescue Service, took part in an expedition into Voronya, the deepest known cave in the world (-2,191 m).

The expedition was organized by an international speleological CaveX team led by Denis Provalov and Oleg Klimchouk. The goal of the expedition was to enlarge one side passage at a depth of -1,980 m in order to bypass the Kvitochka siphon, which would allow easier transport of diving and other equipment to the Dva Kapitana siphon. Exploration will continue in the course of 2010.

A fifteen-member team from Russia, Ukraine, Hungary and Croatia set up a base camp, lowered several hundreds kilograms of equipment to the depth of -1,980 m and continued with enlarging the mentioned passage. A summer expedition had already worked for 8 days to widen the passage while work at this expedition lasted for 6 days. There are still 2 to 3 days of work left before the whole passage is widened and uninterrupted transport of equipment is made possible. Work is planned to continue at the end of January or August 2010, which depends on weather conditions and financial means.

During the expedition Robert Erhardt and Darko Bakšić made a lot of photographic and film material, passed the 2,000 m mark and descended into the Game Over chamber, situated at -2,080 m.


Members of the expedition


001 Denis Provalov.jpg
002 Oleg Klimcuk - Klim.jpg
003 Jurij Bazilevskij.jpg

004 Dimitrij Fedotov.jpg
005 Dimitrij Vikorcuk.jpg
006 Vasilij Hohrin.jpg
007 Mihail Rafikov.jpg
008 Andrej Rjanskij.jpg





Denis Provalov
(Russia, Moscow)







Oleg Klimčuk
(Ukraine, Kiev)






Jurij Bazilevskij
(Russia, Chelyabinsk)
- joined the expedition
 on October 31, 2009





Dimitrij Fedotov
(Ukraine, Poltava)







Dimitrij Vikorčuk






Vasilij Hohrin
(Russia, Samara)







Mihail Rafikov






Andrej Rjanskij
(Russia, Moscow)
- arrived 31.10.2009.

009 Valerij Akulenko.jpg
010 Vlad Troc.jpg
011 Peter Kunisch - Kajo.jpg
012 Attila Nyerges.jpg
013 Denes Pataki.jpg
014 Robert Erhardt.jpg
015 Darko Baksic - Baksa.jpg
Sudionici zajedno.jpg




Valerij Akulenko
(Russia, Mezdurechensk)







Vlad Troc
(Russia, Moscow)







Peter Kunisch
(Hungary, Budapest)







Attila Nyerges
(Hungary, Budapest)








Denes Pataki
(Hungary, Budapest)






Robert Erhardt
(Croatia, Zagreb)







Darko Bakšić
(Croatia, Zagreb)







Expedition photography


Support of Croatian members:




Thanks to
Croatian Mountain Rescue Service - station Zagreb



The entrance vertical shaft is 57 m deep. Passing through a narrow meander, with three shorter drops, you enter a 115 m deep vertical shaft. The vertical shaft ends with a chamber. Then another squeeze through a narrow meander and you are in a 43 m vertical shaft. Two ropes have been set up in the upper third of the shaft. One leads to the Meander Krym and downwards to the bottom of Voronya, and the other into a part called the Nekujbyshevskaja branch. The Meander Krym leads to a vertical shaft of 110 m. Double ropes have also been set up in the shaft, which join into a traverse after some 40 m. From here, one rope leads to the Mozambique meander. This meander has the characteristic keyhole shape. The meander ends with the most spacious and the largest vertical pit of 152 m. The bottom of the pit ends in a chamber at -500 m, which used to be a camp. From here, you enter the Sinusoida meander. This meander is characterized by distinct meandering both in the vertical and horizontal direction. You generally walk along the bottom of the meander, where there is also water current. The meander also reveals traces of walking at an elevated level, which is done when water is high. There are several shorter pits of 8 m, 19 m and 26 m. At one point, the meander is joined by another meander called Lamprechtsofen. The name reflects the fact that this meander was climbed from -570 m and -359 m. The Sinusoida meander ends with spacious vertical shafts of 22 m and 71 m (the Petit Dru). The bottom of the Petit Dru shaft is at -700 m. This is where the first camp has been established. It can accommodate 3 to 4 persons. Water is immediately behind the camp.



There are much larger quantities of water between -700 m and -1,100 m. Each vertical shaft is a waterfall; therefore, this part of the cave abounds in anchors, traverses and deviators. In August, when expeditions are usually organized, the underground contains much more water, so this part of the cave must look spectacular. The order of the vertical pits from the camp at -700 m to the camp at – 1,215 m has been taken from the plan and is as follows: 24 m, 45 m, 43 m, 40 m, 40 m, 49 m, 40 m, 28 m, 33 m and 71 m, while that of the camp at -1,215 m to the Sandy Beach camp is 22 m, 21 m, 21 m, 10 m, 29 m and 23 m. The camp at -1,215 m is on the edge of a spacious chamber and is no longer used. It continues to the bivouac at -1,410 m. Just before the bivouac there is a vertical shaft that passes very close to the waterfall. To prevent water drops spraying the speleologists, a canvass has been stretched for the purpose of diverting the water flow. The bivouac at -1,410 m is the most spacious. It is made of the construction and folios and can house 10 to 12 speleologists. The water is not immediately next to the camp, so in order to reach it you go through a boulder chock and descend into the meander. The water is filled into an impermeable sack, a part of the transport bag, and carried to the bivouac.

At the Sandy Beach camp there are hydrocostumes – waterproof dry suits with an opening on the belly through which you enter the suit. The suit is then closed with a piece of rubber (similar like “banana” rubber for carry unused carabide made from a car tire inner tube). After the cavers put on the dry suits at the Sandy Beach camp, they descend towards the first siphon. To reach the siphon, you must pass a short meander and then a series of vertical pits of 17 m and 12 m. The siphon is at -1,440 m. In the winter period, when the water is shallower, you breathe dive the siphon. The siphon is 3 m long and between 1 and 0.5 m deep. In summer time, the length of the siphon is about 6 m, so you dive it by using small tanks. All the gear is transported through the siphon in the following manner: the transport bags are sunk and pulled by rope. The siphon is followed by two more vertical pits: “Second Life” of 35 m and “Everest” of 12 m. This is where the dry suits are taken off. Very shortly you reach a meander featuring the narrowest part of the cave; luckily, however, it is not too long. You pass through the “Shining Meander”. This is a magnificent meander containing abundant flowing water. To descend from the “Everest” pit to the KSS bivouac at -1,640 m you must pass a series of vertical pits of 15 m, 25 m, 15 m, 18 m, 30 m, 5 m and 18 m. The KSS camp can accommodate 6 speleologists. It is situated in a point where the cave diverges: one part leads to the Blue Sump, and the other to the bottom. In the immediate vicinity of the camp there is water, which you reach by climbing through a small passage in the rock and continuing downwards. This passage can easily be overlooked, since it is more logical to continue along the passage towards the Blue Sump.

A small passage at the KSS camp is the point at which crawling starts. This is followed by short jumps. Between -1,640 m and -1,700 m you arrive in a part called “The Way to the Dream”. Lying in very shallow water, you craw sideways for the next 60 or so metres. The dimensions of the passage increase again. The cave descends elbow-like, revealing beautiful potholes and speleothems. The walls are dark, calcareous, sporadically laced with white marl veins. The Peremička bivouac is at -1,970 m. This bivouac, accommodating 4 speleologists, is situated exactly in the middle of the passage in the Rebus part. In order to reach the part of the cave called “Game Over”, you must literally go through the camp. Two more vertical shafts follow, of which the bigger of 40 m is called the Millennium, because it is at this point that you pass the magical depth mark of -2,000 m. From -2,060 m to -2,080 m you pass some 100 m along a low passage whose walls are covered with clay. A shaft of 20 m ends in a chamber called Game Over at a depth of -2,080 m. Traces in the cave indicate that water levels rise from -2,080 m to – 1,960 m. Just before the Peremička camp, a passage diverges towards the Kvitochka sump. Two more siphons, Podnir (-2,010 m) and Unitaz (-2,070 m) and you reach the Dva Kapitana sump at -2,140 m. The sump descends to the point at which the highest depth of the Voronya Cave of -2,191 m has been reached so far.


October 23, 2009, Friday

We arrive at Pleso Airport around 12 a.m. Robi and myself have 40 kg of equipment each. We charm the ladies at the check-in desk and promise that we will pretend that our 18 kilograms of hand luggage is light. We will carry it with a brave smile. We take off at 14.10.
The flight to Moscow was comfortable. We land at about 7 p.m. The flight takes 3 hours, but the time difference is +2 hours.
We leave the luggage in a guarded area of Sheremetyevo Airport and buy train tickets to the "Belarus vagzal" station, where we arrive after a 35-minute ride. We wait for a short time for Denis Provalov and a girl called Julia, at whose place we are to sleep over. Julia is a 22-year-old sociology student. She is cheerful and hospitable.

Moscow. Photo: D.Bakšić

Denis is 40, very nice and slightly rushed. He has the constitution of a runner. He tells us that Moscow has changed dramatically in the last 15 years. There is a lot of construction going on, many green areas have disappeared, and the influx of the population has been enormous. The population of Moscow is currently estimated at over 20 million. We again drive to the other end of the town to Julia's apartment. Her family moved to Moscow from the Baikal area several years ago. She lives with her sister Katja, while her parents live and work outside Moscow. The building is nicely decorated, and so is the apartment. There are an innumerable number of doors to be locked. Both sisters have already been to Voronya: Julia at -700 m and Katja at -1,440 m. Katja is a more ardent speleologist and she goes on speleological expeditions two to three times a year.


October 24, 2009, Saturday

Julia leaves for the faculty, while we have breakfast and wait for Denis. Julia's mother arrives at about 11 a.m. and is surprised to find the two of us in the apartment. It was a close shave; if it had been Julia's father, a general, we would probably have had to jump down from the 15th floor. Denis and his wife Zenja (Eugenia) pick us up and we all go to the airport. Denis flies with us. We take off from Moscow for Sochi at 14.10. The temperature of 23 °C in Sochi is a very pleasant surprise. We were picked up by Vasya, a customs officer who lives in Sochi, in a part called Adler. Denis tells us that Vasya has a beautiful daughter Olya of 20 years of age, who is a heart-throb of numerous speleologists that come to Arabika. After dinner, Vasya takes us to the border, which we pass very quickly. Then we cross the Psou River on foot by the bridge. We carry all our stuff. At the border with Abkhazia Denis help us with permits and visas. We finally cross over into Abkhazia and rent a taxi to the first inn, where the first part of the team is waiting for us. After getting to know each other and eating dinner we leave for the house which has for years been the main base for speleological expeditions on Arabica. We sit around with our new friends from Russia, some of whom have arrived from as far as the Urals and Siberia.

Adler - Provalov shows in the direction of Arabika. We were picked up by Vasja Maskov. Photo: R.Erhardt

Gentiady. Packing the food for the cave. Photo: R.Erhardt


October 25, 2009, Sunday

At abut 2 a.m. I was woken by our roommate Vlad, who was snoring like a Siberian bear. I pull out my sleeping bag and blanket from the rucksack and go to sleep in the yard. Despite the snoring, Robi sleeps the sleep of the righteous. I don't understand how he manages it, until I see him in the morning pulling the earplugs out of his ears. My sleeping bag is too warm, so I can hardly wait for the morning.
In the morning Denis goes to pick up Klim (Oleg Klimchouk) and the rest of the Ukraine team. One part of the team goes to Sochi to get some food, Robi and I go to the beach. We were not particularly impressed by the beach. Just a long sandy – pebbly stretch. The place we are in is called Gentiady (another name is Candripsh). It is rather untidy and neglected. Upon arrival, Provalov and Klim make an exploration plan for Voronya, while we pack carbide into rubber hoses. We later join them at the beach and swim in the Black Sea.

Black Sea. Photo: D.Bakšić

When we are all gathered, we start packing the food for the cave. Everything is planned meticulously and in detail. All the food has been divided by meals and by bivouacs, taking into account the number of the people staying in them. We give 500 Euros each to cover the expedition costs.

 Packing the food and other equipment for the cave Photo: D.Bakšić

Late lunch consists of borsch. Just as we in Velebit club do, we all wait while the food is being prepared, gather around and eat together. I was pleasantly surprised by the fact that alcohol is consumed in minimal quantities, just one beer or a glass of wine. By 10 p.m. everybody is in bed.


October 26, 2009, Monday

Valery gets up very early, at about 5 a.m. I hear him making a racket around the dining room above the terrace I am sleeping on. I feel the wind on my face and think the weather will be changing. I get up at 7 with the first sun rays. A cheerful Valery offers coffee in the dining room and tells me that in Siberia, his homeland, it is already noon, and this is why he wakes up so early. The rest get up an hour later. Klim and Provalov go for a run and Vlad drinks tea. That night Robi, too, was kept awake by his snoring. Not even the earplugs could help.
Vlad loves telecommunications devices. In his belt bag he has radio stations, mobile phones and a satellite phone stacked together.
Provalov is a PE teacher. He is currently taking part in a project which tests the health condition and preparedness of people under extreme conditions, so he explains that he will make the measurements before, during and after the expedition.

First measurement. Arrival on Arabika. Photo: R.Erhardt

We rent an UAZ all-terrain vehicle, and together with Klim and Vlad leave for the cave one day before. The two-and-a-half hour ride is more like gymnastics because we have to move the bodies to compensate for the dangerous keeling of the vehicle. The beech-fir forest belt on so-called Arabika Gate is followed by the alpine zone.
There is an hour's walk from the end of what is left of the road to the camp. The camp is situated about 2,200 m asl and it is rather cold. We set up the kitchen and the tents and go to fetch two more rounds of the gear.


October 27, 2009, Tuesday

One more morning round of fetching the things, and a part of the stuff we need is in the camp. Robi and I have a peek into the nearby “Ž 13 cave” and find there a mount of the stuff left over from previous expeditions. The cave serves as a storage place and a shelter.

We pull up a large base canvas. Photo: D.Bakšić

We pull up a large base canvas across the existing wooden construction set up by the summer expedition.
The rest of the team arrives on a truck at about 15.30. We help them unload and transport the equipment.

Arrival of the rest of speleologists. Photo: R.Erhardt
Helicopter remains. Photo: D.Bakšić

We are finally all gathered together. The Hungarian speleologists, who had missed the train and thus arrived a day later, are also here.
Two more rounds of bringing the equipment to the camp. After that we sit around in the base camp drinking tea and eating, and go to bed early, at 9 p.m.

Bringing the equipment to the camp. Photo: D.Bakšić. Base camp. Photo: R.Erhardt


The first entrance to Voronya. Photo: R.Erhardt.                              The first night in base camp. Photo: D.Bakšić


October 28, 2009, Wednesday

Morning workout consists of fetching the things. For me, this is the sixth round.
The entrance to Voronya Cave is about 150 meters from the camp, at an altitude of 2,256 m.


The first entrance to Voronya.     Meander Krym. Photo: R.Erhardt


We begin entering Voronya at about 13.30. The first to go in are Misha and Vasya, who check the ropes and the anchors and repair things that need repairing. All the others carry a heavy transport bag each to the Meander Krym at -240 m, while we also take photos. On the way back Robi and myself remain the last in order to take photographs, but we soon give it up, because the evaporation from our PVC caving suit makes everything misty. When we get out at about 19.00, we are hit by rain and wind.
We have dinner, charge the batteries, transfere the photographs on laptop and make plans for tomorrow.

. Photo: D.Bakšić


October 29, 2009, Thursday

It was pouring with rain the whole night, there was lightning and thunder, and before morning the rain turned into show.
Provalov, Klim, Misha, Kajo, Attila and Denis enter Voronya about 10 o'clock. They descent to -700 m and establish a bivouac.
The rest of us clear the snow from the tent and go to fetch some more equipment to the camp.
The cave team comes out at about 8 p.m. They have done everything, except that the phone does not function. We prepare iron rods for grounding since the telephone uses only one wire.
The sky clears up, and the moonlit night is very beautiful.

October 30, 2009, Friday
Waking up, making plans and finally, about 1 p.m., Provalov, Misha, then Dima, Dima and Vasily go into Voronya. Each of them carries a transport bag from the entrance to the Meander Krym. They each take three more bags at the Krym Meander, which they leave in front of the Meander Sinusoida at a depth of -500 m.

Robi and Bakša at the entrance. Photo: Provalov
The second entrance in Voronya - descending to -700 m - first snow. Photo: R.Erhardt


Robi and I enter after them. From the entrance we carry two bags each, plus a camera, lamps and some additional clothing. This hinders us considerably in the meanders. We take pictures on the way.
After descending to the bivouac at -700 m, Provalov goes out. Misha, Dima, Dima and Vasya continue towards the Sandy Beach bivouac at -1,410 m, while Robi and I go back to get three more transport bags left in front of the Meander Sinusoida at -500 m. About 22.30 we again come to the bivouac at -700 m. We cook and at the same time dry ourselves on petroleum stoves after trying to put them into operation, which almost ended up by burning the bivouac to the ground.


After descending to the bivouac at -700 m, caver is coming out of a cave. Photo: D.Bakšić


October 31, 2009, Saturday

We cooked pasta and "granny's porridge", drank a lot of tea and received instructions from the base camp on the surface.
We must get back from the bivouac at -700 m to the Meander Krym at -240 in order to fetch two transport bags and lower them to the Sandy Beach bivouac at -1,410 m. The Hungarians lower the transport bags from the surface to -1,410 m, while the rest of the team, which is already at -1,410 m, climbs up to get the transport bags left at -700 m. "General migration" across the cave.

Below the Krym Meander at about -300 m. At -800 m. Photo: R.Erhardt


We meet the Hungarians a little below the Krym Meander at about -300 m. All together, we carry the transport bags to -700 m, where we find the team which has just arrived from -1,410 m. We rest for a short while, make tea and then we all set off towards the Sandy Beach bivouac.
The Hungarians and we make pictures along the way. The frequent pulling out of the camera, accompanied by constant shifting and carrying of the two heavy transport bags is a complicated maneuver that tires me considerably. Not only me, but also the rest of the team, because I keep stopping them. Luckily, they show understanding and patience.


Making a movie. Photo: R.Erhardt


I can take a lot of pictures with personal light because they all have Scurions. I'm not very happy, but taking pictures in such a situation is not the priority, so we must satisfy ourselves with only fleeting photography. We reach the Sandy Beach bivouac after midnight. It's Vasya's birthday, so we celebrate with a gulp of cognac and Hungarian vin pelin Unicum. We go to sleep very late, at about 4 a.m.


Sandy Beach bivouac at -1410 m. Photo: R.Erhardt


November 1, 2009, Sunday

We get up at about 8. We did not really have much sleep. Robi and I join Misha, Dima, Dima and Vasya. The plan is for us to go through the first siphon at -1,440 m, while the Hungarians go back to -700 m.
We slowly get ready. I had to replace the sheave on the new stop descender since it got completely worn out during the descent of only 2,000 m. The combination of stiff 9 mm Ukrainian ropes and mud on them visibly wears the devices out. Luckily, the Hungarians had several spare sheaves and devices.

Water-proof dry suits (hydrocostumes). Photo: R.Erhardt
Robi in hydrocostume. Photo: D.Bakšić

Breakfast, tea and long preparations for putting on the water-proof dry suits (hydrocostumes) - under the PVC or cordura caving suits, so it is already 14.00 when we finally leave for the siphon. We carry two transport bags each. A short meander and then a descent to the siphon at -1,440 m. At this time of the year it is only three meters long and about 1 meter deep. We breathe dive the siphon by pulling ourselves along the rope. You scrape the rock with your back. The diver's mask is not used because you don't see anything anyway. The two Dimas, who already feel at home here, take care that we all get through the siphon safely. In the end we pull the 12 transport bags through the siphon and descend by one vertical shaft, where we take off our water-proof hydrocostumes. As we are taking them off, we notice that three of us have switched boots. We all wear the same size, and the boots look the same, so no wonder this has happened. There is a squeeze shortly afterwards, where we must take off the gear in order to pull through. Robi passes this place "at a breath".

Dima close to S1 at -1440 m. Team after S1 Dima-Vasja-Misa-Dima-Bakša-Robi. Photo: R.Erhardt

We all descend to the bivouac KSS at -1,640 m. It provides room for six people. The atmosphere is super.
The guys ask Robi and me. "What's the population of Croatia?"
"About four and a half million", we reply.
They look up in wonder and ask again, "No, not the capital Zagreb, but Croatia"
"Yes, yes, Croatia", we laugh.
"Then you must all know each other", say the guys and we all burst into laughter.
We have dinner. As is a custom at such depths, we end our meal with caviar.

Bivouac KSS -1640 m. Photo: R.Erhardt

Provalov, Klim and Bazilej enter the cave and descend to the bivouac Sandy Beach at -1,410 m.


November 2, 2009, Monday

Again, not enough sleep. Misha and Vasya go back to -1,480 m to fetch the remaining bags.
Dima, Dima, Robi and I get ready for the bivouac Peremička at -1,960 m. The two Dimas go first, while Robi and I remain in the bivouac because my camera is not working. It refuses to operate and informs me that there is condensed humidity. I dry the camera in the hope that it would start working. An hour later the camera is OK so we two set off.
We soon reach The Way to the Dream passage. It really is like a dream, in fact, more like a nightmare. Between -1,640 m and -1,700 m you enter a narrow and low passage about 60 m long. You can pass the canal with only one transport bag. You negotiate the passage by dragging yourself sideways and lying in the water which soaks the inner clothing through the sleeves and the legs of the caving suit. A unique experience! You drag the transport bag behind you. It often gets stuck, so you must constantly kick it into the best position, and then pull it by the rope.
Then several short vertical drops follow. The cave descends elbow-like. Passages with potholes, speleothems and waterfalls follow one another.


At -1700 m. Photo: R.Erhardt

We take photos. Robi is in front of me, then a second later behind me, so we alternate in breaking the Croatian depth record: - 1,700 m, - 1,800 m, etc.
We finally reach the “Peremichka camp” (-1,960 m), where we are supposed to spend the night. The Dimas inform us that they did not find the sleeping bags but only the bivouac. We level the bottom of the passage, set up the bivouac and put our heads together to solve the problem of sleeping arrangements. It's no big deal, because we have enough gasoline, so we can warm ourselves the whole night if necessary.

Bivouac Peremichka -1960 m. Photo: R.Erhardt

We call the team in the KSS bivouac with Misha, Vasya, Provalov, Klim and Baziley. They think a little about our situation and make a decision. Provalov will bring two sleeping bags to the Peremichka bivouac and will sleep there with the Dimas, but Robi and I must go back to the KSS bivouac. Robi and I look at each other. No problem, but first we will go down to the bottom, to the Game Over chamber, because who knows whether we will ever get another chance for descent.

Kvitocha sump -1980 m. Photo: R.Erhardt

 It will soon get very crowded in the Peremichka bivouac. It holds only 4 people. They need to dive and widen the passage. We consult with the Dimas. They help us wholeheartedly. Dima Vikorchuck takes us to the Kvitocha sump, while Dima Fedotov sets up the rope to the Game Over chamber. We hurry, take pictures of the Kvitocha sump, climb back to the bivouac, pass the bivouac and continue into the passage that leads to the Game Over chamber.

Bivouac Peremichka. Descending down to Game Over. Photo: R.Erhardt

 We take pictures on the way, and finally, at 22.40 we reach Game Over, a sandy chamber at -2,080 m. We leave the traces on the floor which the water will soon erase, just as it has erased the traces of all those speleologists who had descended here before us. We take photographs with Dima. THE CROATIAN DEPTH RECORD!


Game Over -2080 m Bakša-Dima-Robi (left). Photo: R.Erhardt.
Game Over -2080 Bakša and Robi. Photo: Dimitrij Fedotov

PURE JOY … a speleological dream come true.
We climb up and unwind the ropes to the bivouac Peremichka, where Provalov is already waiting. He tells us off a little for not listening to him and not heading straight for the KSS bivouac. We look at him and laugh. He understands, he sees that we still have enough energy left, and he laughs with us.

Provalov and Dima in bivouac Peremichka. Photo: R.Erhardt

It doesn't matter to us when we will reach the KSS bivouac. We feel so great that nothing can spoil our happiness. We don't mind having to climb the next three hours and squeezing through water. It doesn't matter that we have not slept properly for several days. It's no big deal that there are not enough sleeping bags at the KSS bivouac. Maybe it is a good thing that we will arrive just before morning, since the bags might be empty by then. We say hello to the team and, happy and cheerful, get on our way. 

November 3, 2009, Tuesday
We reached the KSS bivouac in three hours. We try to get ourselves dry by the stoves and wake up the roommates in the process. They just comment: "Ah, our Croatian brothers". We squeeze ourselves into their bags. Robi into Bazil and Vasya's, and I into Klim and Misha's. Again, we sleep badly. We manage to put in only 3 hours of sleep.

Return to bivouac KSS -1640 m. Photo: R.Erhardt

At 8 o'clock we have a telephone conversation with the surface crew. They inform us in panic that 2 m of snow has fallen in two days and that there was great danger of avalanches. One avalanche has already pulled down a part of the base tent containing all the food. The small tents are covered with the snow, and so is the entrance to the cave. A quick change of plan: the Croatian brothers must get out urgently, together with Provalov, in order to organize camp evacuation to a safer place and find a way for descending the mountain. The rest of the team goes to the Peremichka bivouac, where they follow the plan and continue expanding the passage which would bypass the Kvitocha sump. A race against time begins. Castling in the cave – like a chess game in which we are the pawns in the hands of Mother Nature. But unity works miracles and we all function like a well-oiled mechanism. The two Dimas begin with diving into the Kvitocha siphon. Klim and Bazil join them so that the passage can be widened from two sides. Vasya and Misha transport the gear to -1,960 m and go back to the KSS bivouac. The Hungarians descend from the Sandy Beach bivouac at -1,410 m to the KSS bivouac at -1,640 m, while our job is to help them pass the siphon. At the end of the day we are all in our allotted places, all the wheels are turning. Passing the siphon at -1,440 m on the way back is even more unpleasant. Robi even had to go back through the siphon once again because I did not realize that the rope for pulling the transport bags had not been latched to anything. We finally reached the Sandy Beach bivouac, went to get water, tidied up the bivouac, took out the food and started cooking. Soon afterwards, Provalov joined us in the bivouac.
We are told that it is very cold outside and that the surface crew cannot dig out the tents from under the snow alone. What is extremely important is that when the people come out of the cave there must be a good shelter waiting for them; otherwise, exhausted and wet, they don't stand a chance of surviving in the snow and the cold. What is waiting for us up there? First, dig the way out of the cave, push through the snow to the camp, dig out the tent, and relocate the tent to a place that is safe from avalanches.
If we want to do all this, we must get a good rest and sleep.


November 4, 2009, Wednesday

We wake up. There is the sweet scent of success, but it's not over yet. It may be hard and dangerous outside, or even more dangerous because of the avalanches. We cook the tea and the various foods. Provalov, carrying a light transporter bag, sets off first to assess the situation on the surface as quickly as possible. The two of us go to the bivouac at -700 m with one transport bag each. Here, we dry ourselves, fix the gear, eat and sleep.


November 5, 2009, Thursday

We get up at 6 a.m. in order to start as soon as possible. After breakfast we tidy up the bivouac and make it ready for the team that follows, and set off at about 10 a.m. In the Sinusoida Meander I overtake Robi, but the last 100 m my main light stops working, so I continue with Tika. I get out at 2 p.m. I fight my way through the snow-covered entrance and hear Provalov: Hey, Darka! (this is what they call me). He had climbed up from the depth of -1,400 m in 5 hours and 45 minutes yesterday. He tried to dig through the entrance with his hands, but could not make it. He had gone back to the depth of -60 m, taken a metal rod, and started boring a hole in the snow. It took him two and a half hours before he finally got out of the cave.


Voronya entrance after 7 days in a pit. Photo: R.Erhardt
Robi after 7 days in a pit. Photo: D.Bakšić

However, the snow was so soft that he could not walk, so he had to crawl on his belly all the way to the camp. Today, he came to the entrance to hoist a rope that would lead to the camp. The snow had hardened a little in the meantime, so it was easier to get to the tent, but I got hypothermic very quickly. Our tent is out of the snow, welcoming me. I enter the tent and change, and Valery brings me hot tea. I thank him and give him a beautiful stone from the cave. We are both overjoyed. Robi arrives two hours later.
The camp is in chaos. The main tent had been pulled down by an avalanche and it takes us hours to dig it out from under the snow. We hear the roar of the avalanches, we see them on the neighboring mountain slopes. It snows again in the night, so in the dark we move the tent to a safer place.
In the cave, everything goes according to the plan. At about -2,000 m the teams take turns to expand the passage. In the beginning, they work from both sides, but must give up because the air between the Kvitocha and the Podnir sumps is bad.

The camp is in chaos. The main tent had been pulled down by an avalanche. Photo: D.Bakšić

November 6, 2009, Friday

It cleared up during the night and the camp is lit by the full moon. It grew very cold. A beautiful, sunny day dawned. After breakfast we continue with digging out the base camp and the small Hungarian tent, which had broken down under the snow. We make a smaller kitchen from a part of the base camp construction and transfer into it the food dug out from under the snow. Robi manages to put the power unit into operation, so we are able to charge the batteries of our various electronic devices. Provalov goes to the place where we had been unloaded from the truck. It took him over three hours to do that! We communicate with the team in the cave twice a day. The Hungarians are climbing up from -1,410 to -700, carrying two transport bags each, while the team on the bottom works in shifts 24 hours non-stop.


Hungarian tent, which had broken down under the snow. Photo: D.Bakšić

 Base camp before and after snowstorm. Photo: D.Bakšić


Base tent. Photo: D.Bakšić


Removing the snow. Photo: R.Erhardt

In new base tent. Photo: D.Bakšić


Food and drying. Photo: D.Bakšić


Small avalanche. Place of Ortobalagon. Photo: D.Bakšić


Snow washing. Photo: R.Erhardt

 November 7, 2009, Saturday

Another beautiful day. The sun clears away all the strife, worries and problems. Only good moments are incised in memory. Sunrises and sunsets on Arabica are magnificent. Surrounded by the snow, we look down at the sea.
Breakfast as usual. Five pieces of sausages each, two pieces of cheese and a piece of bread. Steaming coffee or tea is a must. A smile and care for one another. This team is really good, we feel as if we have known each other for 100 years.
We start for the pass early to check if the truck can reach this spot. We do not fall through the snow because it is still hard. The surrounding slopes glitter shining white, and we are imbibed with the beauty around us. At the loading place we rest a little and scrub ourselves with the snow. We pass by the summer place of Ortobalagon, an idyllic village on the edge of a canyon, where people bring their cattle over the summer. We walk for a long time and miss the road, since the edges are invisible under the snow. When we reach the pass, we see that snow drifts have covered the road and that it will be impossible for the truck to pick us up from there. Provalov immediately calls the pilot and arranges a pick-up by a helicopter on November 12. This is the last stable day before the weather gets worse. We must transport all the surplus equipment stored in the barrels from the unloading place to the camp, and then transport everything down the mountain. Each of us carries over 20 kilograms of the equipment we don't need up to the camp. Our feet are frozen, and we can hardly wait to get to the warm base camp. The Hungarians welcome us in the camp. They had also been to the Game Over and are overjoyed.


Photo: D.Bakšić

November 8, 2009, Sunday

There is no end to carrying the equipment! Now we are moving all the gear to the place where the helicopter can land. A small ridge about twenty minutes' walk away, steeply above the camp, is suitable and sufficiently hard to serve as an impromptu helidrome. We leave some of the things in the nearby Ž 13 cave; it might come handy for the next expedition. The whole canvas of the base camp has finally been completely dug out from under the avalanche, so we fold it and carry it to the helidrome on the ridge.

Photo: D.Bakšić.  We leave some of the things in the nearby Ž 13 cave. Photo: R.Erhardt

The team on the bottom of the cave has used up all the batteries, but has not managed to break through. We are all a little disappointed because we had hoped they would succeed. I can only imagine how the guys down there must feel. But this is speleology. A lot of toil, perseverance and team work. The next expedition picks up where the previous one has left off.
The ascent to the surface begins. Misha and Vasya go towards the Sandy Beach bivouac, and the Dimas, Klim and Bazil sleep their last night in the Peremichka bivouac.


November 9, 2009, Monday

I was supposed to go to the cave with Provalov today, take the carbide and the petroleum down to -1,410 m and help bring up the equipment. Unfortunately, he had been vomiting the whole night and cannot leave the tent. Three team members have already had short-lasting (one day) problems with metabolism.
In the cave, Vasya and Misha climb from -1,401 m upwards, while the team from the Peremichka bivouac ascends to -1,410 m.
We postpone entering the cave for tomorrow and hope that Provalov will be better. A part of the day we carry the gear to the improvised helidrome on the ridge, and in the afternoon we finally have a little rest free of duties.
We listen to the weather forecast, which announces that the weather would turn foul one day earlier than expected. Consequently, November 11 is the last day for departure and everybody must be out. Misha and Vasya come out of the cave at about 9 p.m. Provalov telephones to say that everybody must be out of the cave by tomorrow. If we are caught in bad weather, we could be stuck here for days and weeks. We are all aware of this possibility. Another race against time begins because everything has to be ready for a helicopter flight.

Voronya - descending to the camp at -700 m. Photo: R.Erhardt

November 10, 2009, Tuesday

Provalov wakes me up with the news from the cave. They have fixed the bivouac at -1,410 m, dried, powdered and stored the water-proof suits hydrocostumes. They don't have any surplus transport bags, so the two of us only descend to the camp at -700 m to collect garbage and the sleeping bags.
Provalov and I enter the cave at about 11 o'clock. It takes us one hour to tidy up the bivouac and then we climb out. All together, it took us 5 hours and 50 minutes, including the tidying up the bivouac.

Bakša and Provalov after returning from -700 m. Cave Z 13. Photo: R.Erhardt

Last night in the base camp. Photo: D.Bakšić

November 11, 2009, Wednesday

During the restless night I got up several times and finally went into the kitchen. First I waited with Misha and Vasya for the two Dimas. We heated the borsch and the porridge for them. They told us all about failing to complete the work of widening the passage. There are only 2-3 meters left. This means that one more action like this and the Kvitocha sump will be bypassed. About 3 a.m. I am woken up by the voices of Klim and Bazil, who have reached the camp. Now, everybody is out. We chat a little and go to sleep at 4 o'clock. After one hour we wake up and carry our things to the helidrome, since the helicopter is scheduled to pick us up at 7.30.


The base camp. Departure. Photo: D.Bakšić


Robi and Bakša

Waiting a helicopter. Photo: R.Erhardt

The pilot landed on the small area masterfully. We put in all the equipment, climbed in and took off.
In some twenty minutes we landed on the beach in front of our house. We got off the helicopter looking like aliens in space suits – wrapped up in pullovers and Goretex jackets. A lot of people gather gaping at us in wonder.
The heat makes us peel off layers and layers of clothing rapidly. We take the gear into the house, have lunch, sunbathe on the beach and swim in the Black Sea.
Sheer happiness after a job well done! Two weeks of incessant hard work for the moment of rest in a circle of people tightly bound with friendship two kilometers deep. When tomorrow comes, everybody will go their separate ways.
We wash and dry the equipment, watch films and sip beer and wine.

We landed on the beach. Photo: R.Erhardt

Photo: D.Bakšić. Photo: R.Erhardt

Photo: D.Bakšić

November 12, 2009, Thursday

We sort out the things, pile them into a minibus and head for the border. Mixed with the Russians and the Ukrainians we walk out of Abkhazia on foot. Many people cross the border by a bridge pushing overflowing carts.

Abhazija-Russia border. Photo: R.Erhardt

We rent a van and go to the railway station, where we say goodbye to Vasya and Dima, who go home to Samara and the Urals. The train ride takes only three nights and two days. We say goodbye to Klim and the Hungarians, who are taking the train for Kiev tomorrow, and go to the airport. Our flight to Moscow is at 8 p.m. We sleep over at Andrei's.

November 13, 2009, Friday

A sightseeing tour of the Red Square. It is enormous and beautiful. There is The Gum nearby – a large shopping mall. Robi remembers how only 20 years ago you could not buy anything here, while now prestigious fashion boutiques follow one another.
We also visited the museum of history and an exhibition of Russian gold.
In the evening we take the underground to the speleological club. In the immediate vicinity is a small hall where speleological techniques are practiced. We watch Provalov's photographs from this expedition and our film abouth Velebita cave. On the way to Andrei's apartment we stop at Bellevue and admire the magnificent views of the city. We say goodbye to Provalov and Zenya, have dinner with Andrei and chat late into the night.

November 14, 2009, Saturday

At the recommendation of the hosts, we decide to take a train to St Petersburg. We go to the railway station "Kiev vakzal" and buy tickets for the night train. We walk around Moscow the whole afternoon, have dinner, pick up our stuff and wait for the train.

November 15, 2009, Sunday

We set off from Moscow at 3.40 a.m. and arrive in St Petersburg around noon. The cavers Dima and Vanya wait for us at the station. They show us around the city, and in the evening they take us to the hall where speleological techniques of rope climbing are practiced and competitions in fast rope climbing are held.

 In speleological club in Moscow. Photo: R.Erhardt.

Practicing speleological techniques in hall. Photo: D.Bakšić

Practicing speleological techniques in halls and sports competitions are common in Russia, since the closest speleological sites are as far as 2,000 km. The level of training and motivation must therefore be maintained. Two to three times a year they go to speleological expeditions. In the evening Dima and Vanya leave us in Masha's, Natasha's and Roman's hands. We sleep over at their place.

In the evening Dima and Vanya leave us in Masha's, Natasha's and Roman's hands. Photo: D.Bakšić

November 16, 2009, Monday

The friendly cavers Natasha and Masha take us around St Petersburg today. Masha's real name is Marija Tikka. She points out proudly that she is an Ingermanlander, a member of a rare East Baltic people.


The friendly cavers Natasha and Masha take us around St Petersburg. Photo: D.Bakšić

We look at the Winter Palace of Hermitage, unfortunately only from the outside since the museum is not open on Mondays. We visit the church built in honor of Czar Alexander II, and then the Russian Museum with an exhibition of paintings from various periods.


Photo: D.Bakšić


We are absolutely delighted with the cavers and the city, and conclude that this is where we must definitely return.
We spend the evening in the company of Natasha, Masha and Roman talking about speleology and diving, and then set off for the train to Moscow.

November 11, 2009, Tuesday

We spend the whole day at Aeroflot attempting to confirm the ticket for tomorrow's flight to Zagreb. Since today we did not fly from Sochi as planned, they claim that our ticket for Zagreb is invalid. To make matters even more absurd, we are forced to buy a new return ticket as it is cheaper than s single ticket. The unplanned 330 Euros per person and the feeling of being cheated spoils the wonderful impressions from the expedition and traveling around Russia.
We dine at Provalov's in the circle of his family. In the evening we get together with Andrei and Provalov and have another dinner.

November 11, 2009, Wednesday

Provalov takes us to the airport. We already have some mutual plans for the near future. We say goodbye and get on the plane. A few hours' flight and there is our town beneath us and the dear people we missed during the past weeks.


Photo: R.Erhardt. Photo: D.Bakšić

Photo: R.Erhardt




SO Velebit


Komisija za speleologiju