Weekend trip to southern Poland, November 14-19, 2007

Johannes Lundberg

Photo: Hans Øivind Aarstad

It is a strange feeling to feel home in place you only have visited once, but this time I did feel like returning to some kind of familiarity, you might call it "home", when I returned for the second time to Kraków, the Tatras and Speleokonfrontacje. Also this time I flew down with Norwegian on a Wednesday and returned the Monday after; only a short visit thus, but rewarding and intense -- and with a lot of fun!


Salt crystals.

I arrived in time, shortly after midday, and I was met by Karolina and Hans Øivind at the Central Station. Karolina had to return to the University, but before leaving us she placed us on the train to Wieliczka, where Hans Øivind and I were to visit the salt mines. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, this more than 800 years old and about 300km long rock salt mine is one of the main tourist attractions in the vicinity of Kraków. And not without reason. There are two "normal" guided trips in the mine; the most popular takes you on a 3.5km walk through galleries, cathedrals and an underground church, filled with more or less tasteful statues and art modelled in salt, down to the -135m level. The second trip is to the "museum" part of the mine, showing both the geology of the area and its Miocene salt deposit, and some of the industrial history associated with the mine work. Of course Hans Øivind and I joined both trips (the last, the "museum trip", was by far the most interesting), and we spent some three or four hours in the mine, resulting in a long waiting for the train back to Kraków (we must just have missed one departure) and the beer and food in company with Anna, Karolina and Mateusz at Chata next to Art Mont, our very nice and quite cheap hotel.

The church in the Wieliczka Salt Mine.


Anna in the snow.

We are not here for sleep. Up at half past five, and off to the Bus Station where we met Anna shortly after six in the morning to take the 6.20 bus to Zakopane. It took about two hours to get there, so we have some more sleep. And wake up to the snow! Full winter, about two or three decimetre of snow in Zakopane, and snowing. Short breakfast and repacking; leaving all the stuff we did not needed for the caving trip in a locker at the bus station, and then off in one of the local "taxi buses" to the start of the trip. Today's plan was to visit Jaskinia Kasprowa Niżna (technical map). This cave I had visit once before, last year. Or rather, only the first 30 meters. Last year we were welcomed by a small lake that filled up the passage to the roof not far from the entrance, and also this year it was quite much water. But now we where there, and had walked through quite a lot snow to get there, we decided to make a try and waded into the cave through ice cold, thigh-deep water. The cave is rather horizontal, only a few places needed the use of rope, and with clean washed floor and walls. Our tour into the cave was the first for the season, so when we came to Gniazdo Złotej Kaczki, the tightest part on the trip, we had to dig us through one-and-a-half meter of sand. We also had to wade through three more water filled passages, the deepest nearly chest-deep. All these spots dry out later in the winter, and it is possible to make this trip without being as wet as we were. Anna in the freezing cold water.Fortunately, there were also a few tubes that had to be climbed upwards, giving a good opportunity to gain some warmth again. The last tube we had to climb was about twenty meters high and completely vertical, but with a diameter of about one meter it was a fairly easy grade III climb. At this point Hans Øivind was too tired to continue, despite having a rope to climb on, so he decided to stay below the tube and only Anna and I continued through the maze like passages to Syfon Danka. It did not take long time to reach the sifon, and soon we were back to Hans Øivind, and could continue out. We reached the entrance again, with wet and cold feet, after some six hours in the cave (nearly twice the estimated time), and we could start our way through the darkness and snow back to civilisation.

Anna knew a small and very comfortable restaurant where we had warm sweet beer that tasted wonderful, and rich portions of traditional Polish food that we really had deserved. A caving friend to Anna, living with his family in Zakopane, came and picked us up and drove us to our rented rooms in Rysulówka. And it was still snowing.


We had hoped that Mirek and Agata would be able to join us already the evening before, but work and too much snow had made it difficult for them to reach Rysulówka in any reasonable time, so they drove from Kraków in the morning instead. It had been snowing the whole night and now even in Kraków, so it took them much longer time than normal to the Tatras, and they did not arrived until around ten o'clock. While waiting for them, Anna's boss had called her and asked her to come to the office in the afternoon, so unfortunately the first we had to do was driving her to the bus back to Kraków.

Agata, Johannes and Marek resting at the top of a pitch in Jaskinia Zimna.

All the snow in the Tatras had already early on made the planned visit to Jaskinia Wielka Śnieżna (23.6 km long, and with a depth of 824 m the deepest cave in Poland) with its entrance at an altitude of 1700 m impossible, and also the second choice (a cave three hours walk away) had to be cancelled partly due to an avalanche danger level of IV. But there are many caves in Tatras, and we opted for a tour to Jaskinia Zimna (technical map) instead. A lot of snow, and the last few hundred meters went through knee deep, towards the end chest deep powder snow. Needless to say, it was really great fun! Jaskinia Zimna is also a basically horizontal cave, but have some parts that need some climbing upward (it is possible for the first person to free climb but belayed; there are many batinox bolts installed so lead climbing is fairly easy), and I was happy enough to be allowed to lead. The first climb in the cave (grade V) had already a rope installed that we after some thinking decided to trust. Johannes climbing in Jaskinia Zimna.The second climb, Próg Wantowy, was a 22m fairly easy grade IV (where I of course managed to take a fall; I'm pretty glad I was persuaded to climb belayed), while the third climb was at my limits as climber. Czarny Komin is in total 55 meter high, divided into two parts where the first--and highest--part is the most difficult (a slippery grade V+ and perhaps 35m high climb). Here I fell several times, but finally and with more raw power and stubbornness than technique, I managed to reach the balcony where I could rig the rope and wait for the others to come up before continuing with the second, easier part (grade IV). Time was late, we had arrived to the cave in early afternoon, and we had not progressed very fast, so we decided to turn here, but before returning out Mirek and I took a short and quick trip over an easy grade III traverse a few meters above a deep (and probably very cold!) pond and on to the start of a grade III+ climb (Baiły Komin). Since we did not have any more rope for belaying with us, and since the other were waiting for us at the top of Czarny Komin, we returned and could continue out of the cave. We excited the cave after an 6.5 hour trip, but today with dry socks. A short dinner in Zakopane, and then heading back to a snowy Kraków where we arrived shortly after midnight.

Saturday and Sunday, Speleokonfrontacje 2007

Hans Øivind and I get a lift to Podlesice and Speleokonfrontacje 2007 with Puma and Furek, her son. I briefly met Puma the first time at last years Speleokonfrontacje, and Hans Øivind knew her since her visit in Norway in 2003. Of all the interesting and inspiring people we met in Poland, Puma with all her positive energy and intensity is in a class for herself. Also her husband, Andrzej, is one of the best and most experienced cavers of Poland, and now together with their son they are making, in Puma's words, a "small but good caving team".

We left Kraków late, get a little lost, and arrived to Speleokonfrontacje far into the more than 30 presentations. Unfortunately the presentation of this years Norway explorations was in Bartek's car when he had a small accident earlier this day, so neither the presentation, nor Crazy Doctor Bartek could come to Speleokonfrontacje. But it was a nice surprise to find Marian there. He had been skiing most of the day, but complained that it was a little too little snow. Also Karolina was there, as were Agata and Mirek. This year there were about 300 participants at Speleokonfrontacje, many more than last year, and in addition to us two Scandinavians, there were also people from Czechia and Hungary. The Hungarian couple knew very well some the cavers I had met merely a month earlier when I visited Budapest, but it was not until the last day at departure time that I got to talk to them. One of the Czechians was Zdeněk Motyčka selling his coffee-table book Heaven below Earth (a limited number of which will be sold by the Swedish Speleological Society's Nedåt; it can be recommended!). Kasia Biernacka and Marcin Gala, the Warszaw couple behind speleo.pl, were there together with their small daughter selling their beautifully illustrated "weekly engagement calender" (can also be most recommended!). Their presentation from their visit to the lava caves of Hawaii, a trip were also Puma had participated, came second in the competition, but we came to late to see it but had it shown to us on Sunday while we waited for departure.

The last evening at Chata.

And departure came all too early also this year. Going back to Kraków with Puma and Andrzej meant that we were among the last leaving Speleokonfrontacje, but this was all right; we had no other plans for the evening than having a beer (or two or three) with some of the Kraków cavers, and just before leaving we briefly chatted with one of the "old-boys" of Polish caving, Jerzy Zygmunt "Dno" who last year published the book DNO where he tells about his explorations of caves in Poland, French, Austria and Spain, but unfortunately it is only available in Polish. Maybe I have to buy it anyway next year...

The evening we did spend having a beer (or two or three), but only after being invited for dinner in a small but very nice and good restaurant by Puma, Andrzej and Furek. Here Qb met up, and together with Puma he made us company to Chata where later more and more people showed up. We had a great last evening in Kraków, already planning for the next trips, to some remote and seldom visited places in the world. It will not take long time before I am back among my Polish caving family!

Stockholm, november 2007