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Pushing PT4, Montenegro

Pushing PT4, Montenegro
Sunday, 4 July 2010 – Sunday, 18 July 2010

Between 4th and 18th July, Tom Baker and I joined an expedition to Montenegro to help continue the exploration of PT4 in the Kameno More Mountains and close to the coastal town of Risan. The expedition was organized and led by Joe Duxbury (Chelsea SS) and Paul Taylor (Royal Forest Dean CC), with 12 participants in total from a number of clubs. A trip last year explored PT4 down to a depth of just under 400 m, but at the limit of exploration a vast, black space could be seen ahead beyond a small, muddy pitch. Given that the entrance to PT4 can be found at an altitude of around 650 m, and the coastal resurgences of Sopot and Spilla can kick out up to 450m3 of water every second in flood, it was felt that a return was necessary! Ive had an interest in caving in Montenegro for a little while, and so jumped at the chance to join the trip. Speleologically, this region was completely unexplored before 1999 (the year PT4 was discovered). The fact that the nearby village of Crkvice is known to be the wettest place in Europe, combined with the absence of surface water makes this mountainous region very interesting in terms of potential cave development.

Tom Baker, Fay Hartley and I flew out to Dubrovnik, Croatia on the 4th July where we met up with Chris Binding, Carmen Smith, Dave Appling, Mark Tringham and Chris Backhouse. A heavily-laden minibus driven from the UK by Joe Duxbury, Paul Taylor, John Stevens and Robin Weare collected us from the airport and we headed south across the border into Montenegro. We all arrived at the campsite above Risan later that evening, the campsite being a field belonging to the local farmer, with a nearby well providing the water supply. Tents were erected, before having some food and settling in for the night.

On the Monday, ropes were packed and transported to PT4. The walk-in was quite pleasant, being relatively flat and on a semi-decent track, until the final overgrown section down to the entrance located beneath a small cliff. Chris Binding, Tom Baker and I set off down the fine 50 m entrance pitch with the intention of getting some of the entrance series rigged. From the bottom of the first pitch, a couple of climbs led down to the second pitch, where a very strong and cold draught could be felt (the draught at the entrance was recorded to be 5.8 degrees, compared to the 30 degrees a few metres away). The short second pitch was followed by a short wriggle through to the third pitch, which was narrow at the top but soon opened out. Some narrow rift then led to the fourth and fifth pitches, the latter of which had a narrow section part way down. We had to turn around at the top of the sixth pitch due to lack of rigging gear, and after being joined by Chris Backhouse and Carmen Smith (who had brought in the remaining two bags), we set off out and back to camp. Rather conveniently, there was a bar at the start of the track to the cave and so we called in on way back for a few refreshing beverages, and hard boiled eggs!

On the Tuesday, Chris, Tom and I headed back down PT4 to finish off the rigging. Quick progress was made down to the sixth pitch. The next few pitches are all airy and very impressive, but some loose rock on the ninth pitch meant care was needed. The tenth, eleventh and twelfth pitches followed in fairly quick succession after-which a small, pleasant streamway was followed to the thirteenth pitch and soon after the fine 40 m White Line Waterfall pitch. Following this was 300 m or so of mendip style caving, with plenty of climbs, some muddy sections and the odd awkward wriggle through boulders. We soon arrived at the top of a muddy slope, which was the limit of exploration in 2009. Ahead, as Chris had hinted, was a rather vast looking black space! Chris rigged this short pitch, and headed off into the unknown. From the base of the pitch, the streamway was followed between boulders before emerging in a huge chamber with a sand and mud slope leading off up to the right, and a fine echo. At the base of the chamber, a short stooping section led through a waist-deep section of canal into a continuation of the streamway ‘ now in superb clean washed rock, akin to something out of Meregill Hole. A small 8 m pitch was soon encountered which I rigged off a couple of good naturals. The streamway was then followed down a fine passage to the top of a larger pitch, with another large black space visible beyond. We needed more rope to continue on, and so returned to the impressive chamber for a quick look around before heading out. The surface was reached without incident after an excellent 11hr trip, and once again, the bar was found to be located in a very convenient position.

Our next trip into PT4 was on the Thursday, when Chris, Tom and I headed down to continue the exploration. Steady progress soon had us back in the chamber. While Chris and Tom started the survey, I grabbed a couple of bags of rope and rigging gear and headed down to rig the next pitch. Some fine and very well placed naturals made this job easy, and a superb and airy split pitch of around 20 m was descended to a large ledge. A final drop of 8m or so required the placement of a spit, but I was soon standing in a 20 m or so wide, dome-shaped chamber with a huge conical mound of sand in the centre of it. The stream skirted the edge of this, and just round the corner, disappeared into a sump. Chris and Tom soon arrived and after taking some piccies and finishing the survey, we headed out pleased that a conclusion had been reached, but also slightly annoyed that an end had been reached so soon. We had a look around for potential sump bypasses on the way back to the chamber, but none could be seen. A steady journey out had us back on the surface after another 10-11 hr trip.

On the Friday, Tom and I joined Mark Tringham for a spot of surface work looking for entrances. This proved to be a rather grim task, forging a route through thick brash and razor sharp limestone in the 30 + degree heat. You know its bad when it takes the best part of 2 hrs to cover a km or so in distance. Some potential entrances were found and logged on the GPS before returning to the camp.
On the Saturday, Tom and I headed back down PT4 to explore and survey the large chamber. Quick progress soon saw us back in the chamber and a quick survey done using compass/clino and disto. It wasnt possible to ascend all the way to the back of the chamber due to the steep and treacherous slopes (ice axe and crampons would have been useful!), but the chamber was found to be around 120 m long, 30 m wide and 20 m or so high, so similar in size to GG main chamber. Once finished, we headed out meeting Dave Appling and Chris Backhouse on the way, who were heading in to do some photography. Tom and I reached the surface after an 8hr or so trip.
On the Sunday, we all had a rest day and visited Kotor Bay (where we also picked up a Serbian caver, Urosh, who was joining us for the rest of the expedition), and then went for a swim at Pestat near Risan.

Monday was spent de-rigging the cave. Chris and Urosh headed in early as Urosh wanted to visit the bottom. Tom and I headed in a few hours later and met up with Chris, Urosh and Mark around the ninth and tenth pitches. While they continued out, Tom and I continued with the de-rigging and managed to get all the gear back to the entrance where bags were stashed before heading back to the camp.

On the Tuesday, bags were transported back from the entrance to the camp, and ropes washed. The rest of the week was spent doing some more surface exploration and a number of interesting potential entrances were found, including one impressive daylit shaft, which was dropped but unfortunately no way on could be found.
Soon enough, Saturday arrived and the end of the expedition. We packed up and headed back to Cavtat in Croatia for an evening before flying back to the UK on Sunday.
All in all, an excellent trip to a very interesting region! Plans are already underway for a return next summer as Im keen to dive the sump, which still has loads of potential being perched 200m or so above the resurgences, and several km away. Watch this space! ☺

Many thanks to the Craven PC for the financial support given to Tom and I towards this trip!


Was that Chris Backhouse of 1980s IC3 by any chance?

Tim Williams

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

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