Weekend trip to southern Poland, November 15-20, 2006

Johannes Lundberg

It is now about four weeks since my visit to Kraków and the Polish Tatras. I was there not only for visiting some of the Polish cavers I met this summer in Norway, but also for the cavers meeting Speleokonfrontacje 2006, and of course go caving, see Kraków (it was my first visit to Poland), and the Tatra mountains.

I arrived at Wednesday evening. With Norwegian from Arlanda (Stockholm) the flight was less than two hours, and I can't complain about the price either. On the way to Karolina, who was my superb host during my stay in Poland, we visited her club; Sekcja Taternictwa Jaskiniowego KW Kraków STJ is one of the three and oldest caving club in Kraków, and is really only a section of a mountaineering/alpinist club, but they have several very active and excellent cavers.

Village in the Tatras

The Tatra mountains

Thursday and Friday was Tatra days. We left Kraków quite late they said, around eight in the morning. We were five persons; in addition to Karolina and me, also Ania (who I knew since Norway, and who had joined Karolina to the airport to pick me up the evening before), Tadek, a very experienced caver, and Kuba, who had less caving experience but much more mountaineering and climbing (just arrived from Pakistan). Ania, Tadek and Kuba are all mountain guides and very knowledgeable about the area we were to visit. A brief stop at Kuba's parents home were we had some coffee (without milk, the cow was soon to calve...) and a wonderful view over the Tatra mountains with the Slovakian border just a few kilometres away. From there through the overexploited Zakopane, and soon we were in Kiry where we stayed the night.

The hut where we stayed

Repacking, trying to eat, and bringing what turned out to be way too little water. And off we were. Walking from the small guest house we rented, and into the National Park. Polish cavers must have a "caving certificate" or be accompanied by a caving instructor if they want to visit caves in the National Parks; the situation was more unclear for me as a foreigner, so I kept a low profile. It worked, and we could continue to the cave of the day, the "black cave", Jaskinia Czarna (see http://www.kktj.pl/szkice/czarna.html and http://sktj.pl/epimenides/tatry/czarna_p.html). This 6.5 km cave offers a variable and fun through trip. Not very deep, it still offer a lot of (short) climbing, not only down but perhaps even more up walls. Since we were to do the through trip we brought everything with us through the cave, including pulling down the rope after us. Karolina's balcony and my stuffNo permanent ropes in the cave, but it was bolted with P-bolts, and all of the climbings and traverses were quite easy--at least for me who didn't had to rig the up wall climbs... Or, perhaps I should say, all except the last climb out of the cave. But before that final climb we had the slightly unpleasant surprise finding one of the lower and tighter parts of the cave half flooded. No problems getting through, we were only a little wetter after this. We also had some nice "rock climbings" and a traverse over the Emerald Lake (Szmaragdowe Jeziorko). And as I said, a lot of climbs! Fun! Except the last 48 meter everything-but-free-hanging up-wall and very dehydrated climb with two heavy rope bags. Cramping legs, stuck bags, but centimetre by centimetre I managed getting up through this terrible climb, and so, after nearly ten hours in the cave, we finally exited out in the pitch dark and starry Tatra night. Now it was only the last few kilometres downhill, in the snow, again with cramping legs and no water left. Next time I will bring much more water for sure! We were back to our guest-house sometime around two in the night, time for some glögg and pepparkakor!

The next day, Friday, the plan was to visit Jaskinia Kasprowa niżna, a cave that seemed quite nice, without too much climbing, but gravel and sand floors and clean passages. This was supposed to be the first cave trip for Karolina since her unfortunate, hmm, incident in Tjorve this summer. So much worse when we found the cave flooded. Totally. OK, it had been raining the weeks before, but it was still quite impressive to meet the water table just some fifty meters into the cave. Not much we could do, crawling through a half-flooded passage is one thing, this something entirely else, so we had to abandon the trip even before it started, and go back. Not that it mattered that much, the day was beautiful, and the mountains likewise. Instead we drove to our first cooked meal in 36 hours. Not very long time, but it felt like ages, and the cabbage tasted terrific. Not quite so the warm beer, though. Will take me many more before I get used to them; hopefully it will not take long time before I have my next!

Paleokarst

Back to Kraków we spent the evening on a small pub close to the caving club, celebrating Peter's master degree in geology (he had been working in a remote cave in the Tatras). Peter I also knew since this summer's Tjorve trip, and of course also Iza was there. Not too early the next morning we, that is Karolina, Aneta and me, together with Agata and Mirek, drove out of Kraków and along the "Castle Road" in the Jura district. The Castle Road is called this because of all the castles that lines it, many of which have been quite nicely demolished by the Swedish troops in the 17th Century. On the way to Podlesice we visited a castle that we had not destroyed (too young? not strategically interesting?), but with a very nice and spectacular limestone formation, somewhat similar to a rauk, and hypothesized to be remnants from warmer (subtropical?) climates. The Jura district had several of them, many of which were used as climbing walls. This particular one had a small cave that Karolina had visited a few years before! After arriving to Podlesice and the Speleokonfrontacje (some images) most of the early evening was spent viewing numerous presentations, some more professional and exciting than other, but all the product of a lot of hard work sometimes in very remote and difficult karst areas and caves. Now three weeks late I can not remember even half of it, but Austria, Montenegro, Slovenia, Arabika, and China seems to offer some of the most challenging and promising explorations today. The China expedition was presented by Marcel, who was very much involved in pushing the deepest cave in China to almost 1000 meters (the 983 meters deep Tiangxing system). He is also well known to Norwegian cavers after his trips to Norway (involving both Tjorve explorations and an accident in Burfjellet). I had not met Marcel before, only heard about him, and it was great to finally meet him. The same can be said about Puma (the second--or first?--Burfjellet accident, but also an incredibly inspiring and fascinating woman) and Qb. I hope to see them soon again, if not in Norway so somewhere else! As expected, the evening ended in what might be called a disco, but (almost) without any music that I had heard before. No, not quite true. Some of what we danced to I had heard in movies by Kusturica and his likes!

On the way to Speleokonfrontacje Castle Climbing

The day after we travelled slowly back to Kraków. We visited Mirek's parents home, and we were treated to a delicious traditional (that is, exotic!) Polish dish. Very tasty! Thanks a lot, Mirek! We also stopped at the castle Zamek, certainly not neglected by the brutal Swedes--nice to see that my forefathers have contributed so conspicuously to the Polish countryside and tourist business. We also visited the "Sahara of Europe". Sometimes claimed to be "the largest desert in Europe," Pustynia Błędowska is really not a desert (way too humid!) but rather two large and interconnected sand fields that had been used by Rommel's troops as training ground before they were shipped to the true Sahara.

Pustynia Bledowska

Pustynia Błędowska

After we had returned Karolina together with Qb, Pablo, Mirek and Agata showed me Kraków by night, ending up in a popular pub close to the old Jewish districts. That is, before we all ended up in Karolina's apartment. Don't know what the time was when we all passed away (very civilised, don't think otherwise!), and the Monday started way too early! But I had a lot of sightseeing that I had to do before leaving Kraków. I like cities where everything is in walking distance, and in Kraków it seems to be so. The Jewish districts again (famous from Schindler's list), but now in daylight, the castle with its dragon, the large central square in the old town, the outer parts with the technical university. I did miss the Communism Tours to Nowa Huta, the "Communist Districts of Kraków", but next time...! At this time we were both very tired, I had cached the cold from China, imported by Pablo, and departure time was approaching all too rapidly. A few hours later I was back in Uppsala. Strange feeling!

Cathedral in Krakow

Many thanks to Karolina, Ania, Aneta, Tadek, Mirek, Agata, and everyone else who made my visit to Kraków and the Tatras so pleasurable!

Uppsala, December 2006

Previously published at grottegruppa.no, December 14, 2006, as topic 1268.
Also published at the web site of Norsk Grotteforbund NGF.