Visiting caves seems like most fun in speleology, but it can be very dangerous as well. In Croatia, we have Croatian Mountaineering Rescue Service (Hrvatska Gorska Služba Spašavanja, HGSS), a voluntary service which helps with cases of accidents on mountains and in the caves. They also organize courses for speleologists, and I attended two of those, one in May, another in December of last year. Both of those were organized over the weekend, at the practice ground made in old cable-car halls, at Sljeme (Medvednica), in Zagreb. Commonly, we call that place “Žica” (The Wire), which is abbreviation of Croatian word for cable-car (“Žičara”). The courses were open to all speleology clubs and associations in Croatia, and many people indeed came, with different levels of expertise (from complete beginners to highly skilled cavers). Since they are happening in closed space, those courses are not as eventful as excursions I’ve previously described. However, to me, both of those courses were extremely strenuous, both mentally and physically. There are many new people, a lot of new techniques to try and master, bunch of new information to comprehend, all while being in a top-notch physical form. But one of the most important rules, is to know yourself and not to over-estimate yourself, and I felt comfortable enough to take a pause or even not to do an exercise, if I felt it could put my climbing partner or me at risk of injury, or even falling.
Panoramic photo of Žica (December, 2018)
In May, the main subject of the course was (self)rescue. In short, we were learning how to approach and rescue a person who might have fainted at the rope. There are many different approached (from below and above) and means to do so, and to novice speleologist it might seem a bit scary at first, but you learn the ropes rather quickly (pun wholeheartedly intended). During this course, my climbing partner was a dear colleague of mine (who actually recommended my Mountaineering Association Velebit). I liked practicing with him because of two main reasons, along with already having actual trust in him: he is experienced and meticulous caver, capable of focusing on task at hand without any emotional constraint, and, when preforming something new, he likes to try it out really slowly and repeat everything out loud. Of course, we were monitored by one of the instructors at all times, but it’s reassuring to have someone reliable by your climbing rope.
My colleague practicing on the rope; on the left photo you can see stop-descender with special carabiner (May, 2018)
I remember both days to be comfortably sunny, without too much temperature fluctuations. I was also very excited to see how this kind of seminar looks like, and what will I learn. I managed to complete all the exercises from the first day, despite feeling that everything is a bit too much crammed together (not enough time for all demonstrations), but on the second day, I decided not to attempt the last drill. Also, I think that it would be nice to repeat at least some of the techniques we practiced the previous day.
Me, starting my climb on the exercise rope (May, 2018)
In December, the course was similarly formatted, but with different course material. We were divided into three groups (beginners, intermediate, expert), and accordingly did different things. I was in the beginners’ group where we learned how to use drilling machines to drill holes in rocks, how to check if the rock can handle the anchorages, how to build anchorages (different knots), and also how to use traditional drilling techniques that don’t require actual machine (usage of so-called spits). I learned a lot, despite freezing the whole time! Again, I didn’t do some of the exercises that required physical strength, because I wasn’t hanging out on the rope for some time. At first, I felt discouraged, but decided to spend that time to the best of my abilities – I took some pictures, roamed around to see what grows at this time in the forest (found some neat ferns!), went to see what kind of exercises expert group were doing (building really intricate traverses).
Two winter selfies, and I obviously like to hang low on the rope (it’s like a swing! :)) (December, 2018)
What do you think, dear readers? Does this makes speleology less or more scary? I also made some videos, but with my current plan I can’t upload them – I don’t think they are YouTube worthy, but I will upload them on my Instagram page.
Big thank you to HGSS for organizing these kinds of events!
Panoramic photo outside of Žica (December, 2018)