Field | Žumberak Mountains 2021

Hello everyone, and, after a longer break, welcome back to my blog! As the title itself suggests, I was a part of another BIUS field trip, which was again located at the Žumberak Mountains. For the adventures from the previous year, click here and here.

Quick reminder:
BIUS is an association that gathers many Biology students from our department and focuses mainly on field trips, excursions, and expert lectures, all in order to complement and expand our Biology-related knowledge about certain topics. BIUS is also a publisher behind In Vivo Magazine, for which I served as editor-in-chief and I am now an adviser.

Initially, I planned to write this post as soon as I came back, back in May, but I felt rather overwhelmed by everything in my life, especially health wise. I decided to postpone all of my posts, both on this blog and social media, because I just didn’t have enough energy to dedicate myself to creating content in a way I thought I should.

If you read my previous posts about Žumberak, you already know that, despite wanting to spend my life working in a lab, I also like to explore nature. During the last field trip, I was part of the Crustacean group, and this year, I was part of a Butterfly group, although I don’t know that much about either of these topics. However, one of my main reasons to go to excursions is to learn and experience new things, connect with other people, and make great memories. And I must say, I had wonderful four days. I would also like to thank to two other members of our group, Filip and Ivan, for selflessly sharing their knowledge with me and having patience to answer all my questions!

Frist photo: Asplenium scolopendrium (hart’s-tongue fern) sprouts. Forests were full of these and, honestly, I was feeling like I was a character in a fantasy novel, surrounded by magical plants.
Second photo: A bee and a wild orchid. I must admit that I'm very proud of this photo 🙂
Third photo: Caddisflies! Every stream was full of the caddisfly larvae; you might think these are just some silly rocks, but those are actually insects of the order Trichoptera, who make these protective cases in their larval stage.

I arrived at Sunday, just a little bit before noon, and immediately joined my group; they were strolling down the road, mostly checking environment and inspecting passing butterflies. My main task was taking photos, especially if anyone caught a butterfly. The Butterfly group itself was only recently revived, after Filip showed amazing initiative and interest in butterflies, so we were all actually new to the group, trying our best to wave our little nets. Our main tasks were:

  • confirm the already recorded species of day butterflies
  • investigate and record species of night butterflies, which are not very well known in this area

I should immediately note that, despite being successful at both tasks, we noticed an alarmingly small number of butterflies and insects in general, especially for that time of the year. I am honestly not sure what is to blame; we had a weird winter that jumped right into high summer temperatures and our country is, sadly, generally not very preoccupied with the protection of nature, species, and habitats.
There were also fun moments, with Ivan very decidedly running after every butterfly in sight. Also, the Botany group brought us a little caterpillar for determination, which Filip then successfully nurtured to the butterfly stage, in order to determine the species.

Zoom in photo of FIlip's hand expertly holding a butterfly (scarce swallowtail).
Iphiclides podalirius (scarce swallowtail)

A bug (Meloe sp) is seen in the middle of a picture, standing on a fallen leaf, surrounded by green grass and sprouts.

After returning to the camp that same day, I investigated an area around it, with my friend Paula, who used to be a leader of a Beetles group (and is now leading Marine Biology). She was, naturally, much better than me in spotting hidden insects and even caught some water newts after we stumbled upon a puddle. It was such a fun and interesting day, and my only regret was forgetting my straw-hat at home, because the sun was really too strong for my taste.

(Photo: Meloe sp, probably violaceus)


My next day was, however, my favourite experience of the whole trip, because I joined the Biospeleology group and went caving! The last time I visited a cave before this was in 2019, and I must admit, I missed it so much; that specific smell of the cave air, wearing three layers of clothes, fixing my helmet all the time, and walking through impassable terrain. Wait, scratch that last one, I never miss walking on the extremely narrow mud path through the forest, holding onto branches we are passing on the way, barely catching my breath, trying to finally reach the cave entrance. Luckily, everyone in the group was completely understanding and wasn’t imposing any type of time restrictions. Three of us were students, but we also had an expert mentor, who was so kind, patiently answering our questions.

First photo: Mia & Martina looking for spiders
Second photo: Grasshopper sp.
Third photo: A flying insect, perhaps a mosquito, starting to get... Calcified? Mineralized? I'm honestly not sure what is the right word to use here.

The cave in question is called Zidane pećine (roughly translated as Masonry caves), and it’s a cave you can access without the ropes (helmets and speleo overalls are a must). The main task of the group was to collect various insects and bugs that might live in the cave, mainly spiders. Now, the focus was on the creatures that might permanently live in the cave, and not on the ones that only sometimes enter the cave in search for a hiding place. I was, unsurprisingly, mostly taking photos: of my colleagues, cave walls, and various animals inside, which include creepy grasshoppers (not their scientific name) and bats. The cave is also apparently an archaeological site, although I can’t find any verifiable information about that, apart from one mention in a blog post which states that archaeological find dates back to the 16th century and Ottoman attacks. What locals did tell us it that the cave used to be a hiding place during the wars.

Dimly lit photo of a part of the cave wall, it's partially hollowed out by the long-term effects of the dripping water.
A part of the wall inside the cave

Tuesday was a bit more challenging for me; our lovely group leader Filip decided we should check out a big meadow at a higher elevation, which doesn’t sound too bad, except the sun was plaguing me badly. However, we were hopeful we might find an interesting butterfly, but barely found any butterflies at all. As it turns out, it was simply too cold for them at that particular place. We spent the rest of the day mostly hanging around the camp, until evening, when it was time for the night hunt. And yes, it was as cool as it sounds. Around 10pm, a huge group of us gathered a bit further from the camp, in order to observe, and in some instances catch, bugs that are active during the night. To accomplish this, Mladen, mentor of the Beetles group, put up two pyramids, which are made of a metal construction with a simple fabric thrown over it, and a UV light in the middle of it. (Mladen also politely measured a safe distances for me, in order not to be harmed by the UV light, although I have to admit, I purposely got quite close couple of times, in order to take pictures). One of the pyramids was erected next to the road, and another couple of hundreds meters away, near the bank of a stream. It was really fun going back and forth, and taking pictures of all the insects and spiders we found on the road. This experience was also very educational for me, not only because this was my first night hunt, but also because I was surrounded by experts who gladly shared their vast knowledge about beetles, spiders, moths, caddisflies, and mosquitoes.

A night butterfly (moth) on a fabric of the pyramid; the front side is seen, showing moth's head, antennas, front legs, and a part of the body.
A beautiful night butterfly

My last day was Wednesday, and as a group, we honestly didn’t have much to do, due to changeable weather and very strong winds. We visited a bio-park nearby, where we saw llamas and walked next to donkeys and donkey-hybrids. It was overall a fun ordeal and we didn’t understand why are we the only visitors there. After a quick search on our phones, we realized that the park was a part of a small ecological scandal last year, so we left. The second part of the day was spent with the Crustacean group; together, we visited a beautiful creek, which was much bigger than I expected. Members of the Crustacean group were setting up traps, similar to the ones I was writing about last year, while the rest of us just walked around, amazed by the nature around us.

This is me (wearing an army jacket) kneeling, almost sitting on the riverbank and taking photos of newts and tadpoles in a muddy stream.
Here, I was trying to take photos of newts and tadpoles

As I was driving home that evening, I couldn’t help but smile reminiscing about the packed experience I just had, which included not only visits to the breathtaking places, but also learning more about the tiny world around me, taking numerous photos and videos, and meeting new people.


Here you can find social media of some of the members of the Butterfly group, as well as the link to official Instagram profile of the group. I am also sharing a social media link to Paula’s Instagram, who already shared impressive photos and videos on her profile.


Three people in embrace (two men, one woman) posing, on the road in front of the trees and thicket.
The Butterfly group

RTŠB 2019 – biospeleology field trip – PART 2

I hope you liked part 1 of my biospeleology field trip in Slovenia, because here is part 2! Here I write about other days & share the rest of my experiences.

Day 5

The day started with making some spreadsheets and entering coordinates for various water springs. After that, we visited the Rivčja jama again, but unfortunately we found no Proteus (or anything else for that matter) in our traps. However, we found a very narrow entrance to the other part of the cave, aaaaand I got stuck. Like properly can’t-move-in-any-direction stuck. Most of you who never visited a cave probably wonder what kind of feeling that was. I don’t have a straight answer for that, since it’s more a range of emotions being experienced all at once; I wouldn’t describe it neither as panic nor fear, although parts of that were present. It was more a desperation that I’m not strong enough to wiggle out, mixed with frustration and adrenaline rush. I didn’t feel claustrophobia, but that feeling might sometimes be present as well. In the end, I managed to drag myself up that hole, and enter another part of the cave. Tjaša went even further, to my amazement, but I stayed back with Ester & Eva and collected as many pieces of another fox skeleton I could. This was was almost hole, but I only took few limb bones, skull, jaw bones, and vertebrate. *expect a video about it soon
After this ordeal, we went back to swimming in beautiful Krka and went back to school for quasi picnic (a barbecue on the school meadow).

cave
Inside of the cave


Day 6

Day six was day off; Bruno, Paula, and me went to Ljubljana and visited huge mall complex. Why? Because they have Whoop!, a trampoline park. In our defense, we were not the only adults there. After an hour, we went on our merry way to Burger King, and then a bit of shopping around. The most important thing I bought were hiking shoes. Paula helped me choose a pair (she specializes in orientation running, so knows a great deal about it), and they are pretty neat. But why Emina, why didn’t you already have ones? Well… That’s a long story, but I never had to walk this much before, and didn’t have to constantly change from my boots to rubber ones. So yes, before buying this pair, made for walking around in the forest, I wore my black combat shoes, with metal caps. One boot weighs almost 1 kg, so you can imagine how easy I suddenly walked everywhere. Just a note, specialized shoes exist for a reason.

wasp-spider
Wasp spider, Argiope bruennichi, in the grass


Day 7

On this particular day, I was on duty. I already wrote what that means, and it was exactly like that – preparing breakfast and making lunch&dinner. Nothing interesting happened, after my group returned we talked a little bit where they went, some determination of specimens happened, and we also had another lecture, about climate strike.


Day 8

This day was special because we were joined by Teo. I think he was Ester’s mentor for her Master’s thesis, but I’m not sure. In any case, Teo is an achieved biospeleologist and obviously knows a lot. First cave we visited, Jama pod Gradom, was nice, but I honestly don’t remember much, apart from the fact that we were walking around for kilometer or two, before realizing we parked in front of it. The second one, Blatna jama v Šici, was, to me, quite a difficult one. We spent more than 2 hours inside, climbed up, and down, and up and down, we crawled, and had to use the before-installed rope in order to pass some sections (not with equipment, just good old hold-the-rope and walk really closely to the rock). Well, the fact these were old lead to the unfortunate fact that Bruno fell in the water, after part of the rope tore. I wish I caught it on the video, but, by then, my camera was already completely out. We did caught quite a lot of Proteus, and I honestly didn’t realize how big they can sometimes be. *I have to check, but if the footage is salvageable, you can expect some kind of video
In the evening, I did some more determination with Anja & Tjaša.

spuder
Did you know spiders can also live in the caves?


Day 9

First cave (Vodna jama pod Zijalom) was flooded, so we were hanging out in the front, trying to catch some more Niphargus (them) or taking videos (me). Then, we went back to Velika jama pod Trebnjem, the first one we visited and where we laid traps for infamous Leptodirus. Unfortunately, we found nothing, every trap was empty. Of course, we went back, and then some of us went looking for bats with bat group. This catch-mark-release activity has taken place a bit further from the school, near the small pond. The pond which also connected to a cave system, but had no entrance big enough for us to go in. So, two wild-life cameras were put up, as the word from the village was that at night, Proteus came out to play, um feed? Swim? Enjoy the moonlight? I’m still not sure, but next day I was told that they were captured on video. All-together, 23 bats were caught, with 10 different species being noted, which is a lot. Like huge, because when we first started, the bat group was optimistic with the estimate of “maybe 10 bats, and maybe 3 species”. I didn’t handle any bat, because 1. I don’t know how and 2. I have a perfectly rational fear of rabies.

 


Day 10

No caves today! I switched, and spent the day with amphibian group. And since it was the last day, we mostly chilled. We did try to visit one pond, but it turned out it doesn’t exist. The second one was actually really close to the cave I visited previously (Pekel pri Kopanju), and there we found quite a lot of frogs (all stages) and salamanders. Honestly, they looked really cute too! Afterwards, we went to Krka for quite a long time (*and quite a nice footage!). For dinner we actually had a whole dinner&party, but I had to miss that one due to migraine.


Last day was un-adventurous, we packed, ate a lot at McDonalds, and finally arrived home. And I’m looking forward to going again.
I would like to say a big thank you to Ester, Tjaša, Anja, Eva, Teo, and Živa, as well as our organizers.

A weekend in nature, with a sprinkle of cave!

Speleology adventure continues, if just for a little bit! Last weekend in March, as a part of this year’s speleology school, I visited a cave in Tounj, that is actually part of a quarry. And yes, for all of you wondering, my curse did strike again, and I fell. Again. And I hurt myself. Again. I guess this is the time where I realize this is some kind of a message from the Universe?

I would like to specially thank to two amazing women in science, that are still attending university, but are amazing scientists already! They helped me with the determination of the wildlife photos I took – Iva studies Environmental Sciences, is an expert spider lover and extremely talented artist! Petra Vizec determined all the plant species; she studies Botany and can determine every plant in Croatia and surrounding area 😊


Anyway, in the Saturday morning, we started our excursion, from Zagreb to Tounj. The car ride lasted for around two hours, and after a communal breakfast, we put up the bivouac, for five people. During the school, tents are now allowed, as I already mentioned, so we are basically improvising one with two tarpaulins. The Saturday was really interesting for students, because they were learning the basics of using rope. It was interesting for me as well, because I decided to try out my phone lenses and shoot wildlife. Honestly, the results were better than expected! Many plants, many spiders, some insects, and even a lizard. I honestly wasn’t sure it was warm enough for reptiles, but even snakes have been spotted in the area. This part of the day is not really interesting to write about, so I will let the pictures do the talking 😊


During the evening, we lit a nice fire for dinner, and socialized a bit, and then of course, went to sleep. I can say I had a really cozy night, since just before the excursion, I bought new sleeping bag (more about this in another post AND YouTube video!). In the Sunday morning, students had some additional lectures, and around noon we finally set for the Tounj quarry cave. Part of the cave is also underwater, and during this particular excursion, one of the speleo-divers from my association dived down and proved that two caves, Tounj and Tounjčica are in fact, connected. I have to admit I had quite a big problem with walking to the cave entrance – we went at the noon, with the Sun high up, and the light reflected so hard from the rocks around us, I could barely see. However, my attitude changed the moment I entered the cave. This one was just “walking”, without any ropes or anything similar. Of course, when I use verb walking, I don’t mean old fashioned walking on the streets – this involved a bit of light uphill climbing, crawling, wriggling… And a lot of strength and flexibility and rolling a bit in the mud. At least my new overalls proved quite water-resistant! Tounj cave is, at least to me, very similar to Veternica – if someone put me there in the middle of the night (or day, really), I wouldn’t be able to distinguish between two, just that Tounj seemed to be a tad more spacious, at least when compared to the part of Veternica I visited. We saw only one ne bat and a lot of stalactites – I even brought some that have broken off back with me. Almost end of the story, right? Doesn’t seem too impressive, not even with the anecdote of me somehow slipping and hitting my right arm so hard I stopped feeling my fingers for couple of minutes.


The thing is, to experience the cave, you should visit the cave. More experienced speleologists could probably describe the visit much better, but for me, entering the cave is something so profoundly special I lose all my words. All of a sudden, I enter a part of this world that always exist in total darkness, where moisture seems to mean almost the opposite thing, where water drops are as loud as my heart beats, and after I turn on my head-light, everything is in calming, monochrome beige colour. Everything stops, it’s just me and the cave, absorbing my surrounding and focusing intensely on walking forward, until I see the sunlight again.

Left picture: exhausted, after trying to actually catch some lizards
Right picture: exhausted, after spending half my day in the cave; also sunburned!


Would you like to know more about plant and animal species I found? If yes, please let me know in the comments!


DSC_1337
Pisaura sp; nursery web spider

Down the pit, I go…

About a month after I successfully completed my speleology training it was time for my first big excursion! And so, in May of 2018, with about 15 of my colleagues from SO Velebit, I went to a Norvežanka (Norvegian woman) pit, located near Risnjak mountain. Later it turned out that this was to be my only excursion that year, and in retrospect, I can say I’m really happy it was precisely this speleological object! I was very excited, and also a bit scared – the whole dynamic seemed different to me and I had a bunch of questions on my mind… What if I freeze? I have never been that deep down, 150 meters! How exactly does it look like? Is it just straight the way down? How narrow it is?  Will the harness I borrowed suit me? Well, after 2-hour car ride and quick camp set-up, I got all of my answers… I didn’t freeze, not mentally or physically. The pit is just amazing, it’s a combination of climbing down and walking straight through some parts, and it’s also quite spacious for a cave. The harness wasn’t the best fit, when I was walking in it, it seemed too tight, when I was on the rope, it seemed a bit too loose… And end of the today’s post, right? 😊 Wrong.

Picture 1. Me trying to conceal my excitement and the area around the camp.


I wouldn’t be me without something happening, so due to my inexperience, I slipped on the entryway (already on the rope), and got swung into the wall, hard. I hit it with my back, the point of impact was just few centimeters right of my spine. Yes, again the ribs, and again the right side! Honestly, it didn’t hurt that much, but I had a feeling like the air was completely gone from my lungs, and when I tried to say something, there was this very weird sound coming out. Five minutes later, I was already navigating a narrow part of the pit, very determined to get all the way down, without further injuries. I can readily admit I was probably more nervous than I realized, a bit insecure, and completely in awe of the place where I was. Entering such object is to me, like entering a different dimension, a world where you can be completely yourself and not at all at the same time. Of course, I wasn’t actually alone, there was many people ahead and as many behind me, and I was almost constantly talking to one of my speleology school colleagues, who is an experienced diver and wants to be a speleology-diver as well!

Picture 2. My and my colleagues entering the Norvežanka; that’s me just before starting the descend


Down on the bottom, it was cold, even more as I was sweaty. The way back up wasn’t available (we had to wait for everyone to climb down, before starting the ascend) and most people were, admittedly or not, tired (I was, because I’m chronically out of shape). And on the way back, well… I had a situation that scared me so much – at one part, the rope was very wet and very muddy, so muddy actually that my croll, the device that’s supposed to hold me tight on the said rope, didn’t “bite.” Or perhaps, it just slipped open, I didn’t really notice what happened, I just started falling down. However, I reacted without thinking and stood up in my blocker, which was biting just as it should. I continued, but cautiously, and kept checking that croll – it never opened again, but I was feeling a bit uneasy. Two-thirds out of the pit, I was tired and slow. Walking across the traverse (not even the real one) seemed like the hardest thing I ever did in my life. When I got out, it was night-time, and awfully dark. I didn’t have a watch with me, but waiting for 2 cavers, alone in the middle of the wood, with snow still in front, was so surreal. There are so many sounds coming from all directions, I was trying to guess the species, but I can surely say I heard an owl. After that, the regular, going back to the camp, getting lost, finding our way, eating around the fire, talking, laughing, and going to sleep at the bivouac. Then, day two!

On the second day, I’ve decided I want to try reconnaissance and finding new perspective caves and objects. I didn’t have an opportunity to do that during the school, and it sounded quite interesting – maybe I discover something new! I didn’t think that really, and my true intention was to spend up all the film (yes, film!) I had on my single-use camera. Apparently, everyone else thought this was a boring thing to do, so it ended up being just me and one older instructor. He explained what we are doing, where are going to look around (deeper in the forest), how to use GPS, what word to yell when we get separated (helop), and how to check for caves. We didn’t find any. I tired to catch some lizards and hoped so hard I will see a snake sunbathing, but I was unlucky. When I was alone, however, I finally comprehended how easy is to get disoriented and lost – things are not how you remembered them to be, the sun is high up, cacophony, trees cracking loudly, and no cell-phone signal… Let’s just say, if there were an Old (Man) Willow in that forest, I would make sure to be far away from it! 😉

Picture 3. Photos of the forest I took with my single-use camera

Picture 4. More photos; does anyone know what’s that on the right picture?


We returned home that same day, talking about different experiences in the car, planning our exams and next excursions… Hopefully, this year I will be able to explore more caves and pits, and gain more experience while doing it. I would also like to be able to film both inside and outside of pits and explore the wildlife a bit (mainly arthropods). There is so much to see and discover, and I’m looking forward to it so much 😊

Who’s going caving with me? Is there something more you would like to know about Norvežanka pit?

Speleology school

I don’t know how many of you are familiar with this concept, but in Croatia, many Mountaineering and Caving Associations organize Speleology schools. Ever since I’ve enrolled into my Bachelor’s degree in Biology, it was my dream to explore caves. I often talked about with my friend Mia – we tried to imagine how would it be deep in a cave, talked it all over numerous times with our colleagues, and, most important of it all – debated which school to choose?! In that, we had a help of my very dear then-friend who recommended the Association he was a part of – Mountaineering Association Velebit. If that name rings a bell, it’s is because Velebit is the largest mountain range in Croatia, and tourists often get lost on it during summer hikes. Velebit is also a home to two Croatian National Parks (Paklenica and Northern Velebit) and one Strict Reserve (Hajdučki i Rožanski kukovi). The yellow colour flowered plant, Degenia velebitica, is endemic species in the region, which is blossoming with flora and fauna. Also, largest and deepest caves in Croatia are located on (in) Velebit, so the name is more than appropriate.

Honestly, it’s a bit difficult to write this, because during those two months, I’ve experienced extreme difficulties and changes in my personal and professional life, and when I look back, I still get very emotional about certain aspects of my life. Also, I’ve written twice about it already (both articles in Croatian) – for In Vivo, student journal I’m editor-in-chief of, and for Velebiten, official magazine of Mountaineering Association Velebit.

The duration of the school was something less than two months, due to Easter holidays break. Our excursion happened over 5 weekends, apart from the first one, which one only Saturday. One very special rule of our school is that we don’t sleep in tents – we are improvising them using tarpaulins 😊 School consists of 20 students, and approximately the same number of instructors, both seasoned speleologists and the ones who finished the school previous year. First excursion, I was so excited and couldn’t wait to get in the cave, but almost gave up the whole school, because I had difficulties walking a steep hiking trail. However, thanks to support to one of my friends, I successfully made it and entered Veternica, a famous cave in Zagreb. Veternica is part of Medvednica (Bear mountain), with its highest peak at 1035 meters being Sljeme. Despite its name, there are no bears here! Veternica is a very long and highly complex cave – it is more than 7000 meters long. Tourists can view around 400 meters of this, while the rest is reserved for cavers and explorers. Geologically, Veternica is made of limestones, and harbours large evolutionary heritage. Remains of Neanderthals have been found in the cave, which have been worshippers of the cult of a bear. Cave bear, to be precise (Ursus speleus), and a fossil of a large lower-jaw was found in the cave as well. Today’s most famous cave dwellers are, naturally, bats, and more than 10 species call Veternica their home.

The whole experience was simply breath-taking and overwhelming – figuratively and literally, because I managed to break and bruise somewhere around five ribs. The event is probably more dramatic in my head – during the way back from a small “room” called The Beach, I was feeling a bit tired, after walking around 2 kilometres through mud, cave rivers, climbing all around, and trying not to fall. Veternica (and most of the caves) are not as you seen them in movies, huge and vast. This cave is wide enough for people to walk almost without squeezing through, but it requires using all four of your limbs, sometimes jumping from one side to another, no-gear climbing, and one particular part, called “Ramses’ passage” required us to walk on all fours, almost in a push-up position. At that time of the year (March), Veternica was full of water, so we were quite wet, and the rocks were slippery. Anyway, the part where I slipped is a bit difficult to describe, but I had to walk over a small canyon, one foot in front of other. To the right, fall down the canyon, but through the crack. When I slipped I hit the opposite wall and leaned on it hard, still standing on the initial path. I started slipping down; heard some soft bone cracking in the middle of loud water hums. I wasn’t scared, just in a sudden pain that didn’t leave me enough time to think, when a voice said, “I got you!” from below, paired with the feeling of someone supporting me. It was one of the experienced instructors, Luka, whom I didn’t even notice was close to me. He checked on me immediately, and asked if I wanted to take a break, which I immediately refused, explaining that since I’m in an adrenaline rush, and stopped feeling any kind of pain, I’d love to continue. Luka was with me for half the way, with one of my friends (also a highly experienced caver) taking over.

le me (1).JPG
Picture 1. Me, during various stages of school


Somehow, this accident only motivated me even more for my next task – to climb up and down 30 meters tall rock. There are no words to precisely describe the descend, when you are experiencing this for the first time. It’s scary how small people look like, even from that height! This particular rock is called Gorsko zrcalo (“Mountain mirror”) and is also part of Medvednica, but on the opposite end of it. It can be found in the middle of the forest, along the popular hiking trailer, and, on the first look, it doesn’t seem scary. At least when you don’t look down! This was my first time using the gear outside the training area (which we visited a day earlier), and I didn’t really trust it. I feared that I will fall out of my harness or that I will fail to properly secure my stop-descender. However, I climbed with one of the calmest instructors, so I forgot all about this – my only problem was un-securing the aforementioned stop-descender.

Picture 2. A view of Gorsko zrcalo; climbing up; my instructor calming me down before descend (Photo 2: Marko Rakovac, Photo 3: Darko Jeras)

zrcalo (2)Picture 3. Happy that I climbed up, trying not to scream in a slight rib-pain (Photo: Darko Jeras)


All three other weekends were proper excursions to Gorski Kotar, where we would stay overnight, eating dinner around camp fire, the only warm place miles around. We were always tired, but happy and satisfied, because we managed to move our boundaries, get to know something new, meet new people and develop acquaintances.

Getting to know each other isn’t just a pleasantry – it could be life-saving. It’s crucial to know on whom you can rely when things go wrong and your life depends on someone. This might sound a bit grim, but it’s quite realistic (just remember my broken ribs – if one of the instructors wasn’t there to catch me, I would probably end up with punctured lung, 2 kilometres deep in a cave). Panic is also common, and it’s rewarding to know person well enough to calm them down when climbing back up 150-meter-deep pit.

During those three weekends, we visited four different caves, although to me, a novice caver, most of those experiences merged into one. However, I’m not implying those caves are that similar, but I was rather focused on successful descends and ascends, using my equipment correctly, and passing some tricky passages. Also, there is no a simple “rope down the pit” way – the rope is “broken” to anchorages, and there is a particular set of procedures to pass it. What I really love about caving, is that you don’t think of anything else. There are no worries, or planning (apart maybe what to eat when you get out); you are present in the given moment, focusing only on task at hand. And by that, I mean rope. You are focusing on the rope.

Picture 4. In the cave, in the pit… (All photos: Dalibor Paar)


There is not much life in the caves, most what you hear are voices of your colleagues, and water dripping, sometimes slowly, sometimes in a waterfall. Lamps are a necessity (with the rest of the gear!). But the cave walls are stunning, all the number of shapes and how they sparkle under the head-lamp, it’s mesmerizing. Exiting the pit is almost an experience on its own – there is that almost euphoric feeling of being truly overwhelmed, by the mixture of outside light, colours and sounds, with the scent of nature intertwining with the moisture of inside…

bocina (1)Picture 5.  A misty morning


The whole of speleology is actually rewarding. It’s not just the school and people you meet, it’s more than simple climbing down and up. Caves are a new world, full of new situations and experiences. And it’s all worth it, if for nothing more, to push yourselves a bit more. I would recommend speleology school to everyone, even if you might not want to repeat this kind of event ever again.

Longest climb: 80 meters down and up
Degree of freezing in my sleeping bag during the nights: 6/10
Best experience: first real climb (30 meters, Gorsko zrcalo), with broken ribs
Favourite memory: climbing out of “Devil’s pit” (70 meters deep) with almost no assistance
Special thanks: Mia, Irena, Luka, Zvonimir (cavers); Bruno, my mom, Rudolf, Sara (outside support)

Do you think caving is a bit scary? Are you going to try speleology? Are you perhaps a caver already? Feel free to comment and let me know!