Thursday, 19 August 2010 – Sunday, 5 September 2010
The final trip of the summer was an expedition to Greece to continue exploration of Peleta, a cave located close to the village of the Sam Allshorne name roughly 630 m up in the coastal region of the South-East Peloponnese. The last trip here had succeeded in passing a short sump at roughly ‘ 460 m, to gain a continuation of the stream way and a 40 m pitch to a large boulder choke.
We arrived in Athens on the 19th August, where the temperatures were found to be just slightly higher than experienced at GG just 24hrs earlier, and so the sweating began. We stayed the night at SPELEO’s headquarters in Athens before departing for Peleta early the next day. After a couple of touristy stops at the Corinth Canal, and a further stop at an interesting cave site en route, we arrived at Peleta and negotiated some dusty tracks until we found the clearing in the brash which would be our home for the next 2 weeks. Amazingly enough, the entrance to Peleta was in a shakehole just 10 m or so from the clearing, and so this was to prove the finest walk-in ever (kinda Mendip-stylee, but EVEN better!).
Tents were pitched and the evening was spent in the bar, where many gearos (kebab meat, chips and salad wrapped in a pitta bread) were also consumed as well as beer.
The next day was spent sorting and preparing kit. Emma and Phil had a quick trip to the first sump (located 10 mins from the entrance, and easily siphon-able) to see if it was open, which it was. Several Greek cavers from SPELEO also arrived at various points of the day, and a very civilised camping area was organised with cooking areas, food tents, tables etc etc etc.
The first rigging trip took place on Sunday 22nd, comprising Phil, Emma, Me, Dave Cooke (Cookie) and Aly Brook. From the entrance, a short climb leads to around 10-15 mins of mendip type caving with crawls, short climbs and smelly mud to the first sump, which had been drained by the previous group. The first pitch was located a couple of minutes beyond this. The cave temperature is a balmy 18 degrees or so, and so only boiler suits were required. Phil rigged whilst the rest of us ferried bags. Peleta is a very vertical cave, and so pitches followed quickly. After three short pitches came the very fine 40 m fourth pitch which dropped into a large chamber. A boulder choke was negotiated to several more short pitches to the top of an 80 m shaft which phil did an excellent job of re-bolting into several shorter hangs to speed progress on the way out. From the base of this, a short section of crawling led to the next pitch where we ran out of rope and headed out. There was quite a lot of rope and rigging gear left in the cave after an unsuccessful trip by the previous group that were in Peleta. Most of this was damaged, and some very scary rigging was observed, particularly on the 80 m pitch where a re-belay had been formed by threading a sling through a fractured eyehole maybe 1-2cm thick.
A speedy prussic saw everyone out after a 6 hr trip. It was particularly pleasant to emerge from the cave and be drinking a cup of tea at the cooking tent only a matter of seconds later.
The next day saw the Sam Allshorne group back in the cave to continue with the rigging. Quick progress was made to the bottom of the 80 m shaft, where Phil continued with the rigging. A series of impressive, but mostly short pitches followed in beautiful sound rock to a point where two ways on were noticed. It was at this point that we made the mistake in rigging down the wrong route, which we didnt realize until several pitches later. Cookie, Attila (a Hungarian caver) and I headed up to see if we could find the correct way on. Back at the junction of routes, a passage was noticed in the corner where a body sized crawl led to a pitch head equipped with through bolts. Doh! We headed back to collect the drill and some ropes and I began rigging down this route, where it was necessary to place a few more bolts for a safe descent. Part way down, we could hear Phil and Emma, and several pitches later I arrived at a couple of rope bags and the top of the final big pitch. Phil and Emma had managed to negotiate a maze of crawls to arrive back on the main route. Since there were only one or two more pitches to the sump it was decided to head out at this point.
On the Tuesday, a few Greek cavers went in to finish rigging to the sump while most of us had a day at the beach enjoying the sunshine and 25 degree water, and Malc and I had a good laugh as we thought of all those shivering up at Gaping Gill.
The next day, Phil and Jon Beal departed on the first pushing trip. This would involve passing the short sump at around ‘ 460 m and rigging the shafts beyond to the boulder choke ‘ the limit of previous exploration.
While this was going on, a small group comprising Andy, Russ, Charlie, Malc, Emma and I went to climb an aven at the end of a resurgence cave which was thought to be the resurgence for Peleta, but which ended in a choked sump (it has been later found that this is not the resurgence for Peleta). Mana is a very pleasant stream cave, well decorated in places and with plenty of wet sections to cool you off. A short 5 m free-diveable sump (no need for hood as warm was warm!) was passed before the base of the aven was reached at the end of the cave. I carefully kitted up and with Charlie belaying set off up the heavily calcited lower section, which only needed a couple of bolts placing to allow a ledge to be reached roughly 10-12 m up. Unfortunately, the f**king bolting hammer had been left in the car and so it was necessary to resort to a large rock to complete the anchor placement process. Smaller rocks were tried but were found to disintegrate readily.
From the ledge, a zig-zag route was found up the shaft to a point roughly 25-30 m above the streamway floor. Progress had been pretty straightforward, but the rock was poor quality and heavily calcited, and my bolting rock was getting smaller the higher I went. Unfortunately, the aven petered out after gaining an alcove in the roof, and so I headed back down. Two other side rifts were inspected part way down, but no way over the sump could be found. And so, kit was bagged up and we set off out, reaching the surface less than an hour later.
Phil and Jon returned during the night to say that the sump had been passed, and also successfully siphoned and that the boulder choke had been passed to gain a continuation of the stream way. A number of short pitches were dropped before running out of rope.
With this exciting news, Emma Heron and I set off at around 10 am on Thursday to continue with the exploration. Quick progress was made down the pitches to the final pitch and sump, which we were pleased to find still open. We carried two sets of diving equipment through to the other side of the sump, and also installed a free-diving line before continuing downstream with some rope to descend the drop found yesterday and others that we hoped would lie beyond. En route, the siphoning tube was found to be only issuing a very small trickle, and so this was opened up and cleared of grit and pebbles. The drawback to this was the following pitch suddenly became a lot wetter and so a quick descent was suddenly required to avoid getting too drenched. At the bottom, a large and unnervingly unstable boulder choke was passed to gain a handline climb down to the stream way.
We quickly arrived at a pile of gear including the drill, and once bagged up continued on into a narrow and very jagged rift (christened Snagfest), which did an excellent job of catching on clothing, SRT kits and bags. Before long, we arrived at the undescended pitch, which I quickly rigged. This turned out to be 8 m deep, and dropped into a small chamber. The streamway continued as a much longer section of snaggy, narrow rift eventually arriving at another pitch, again 8 m deep. At the bottom of this, a window on the left led to the base of a large aven and waterfall, while the way on downstream continued easily down a couple of climbs to a short 4m pitch. The passage doubled back on itself arriving at another 4 m pitch. At the bottom of this was a tiny sump and the bottom of Peleta.
The altimeters on our watches read only a few meters above sea level, meaning we were somewhere in the region of – 600 m. After a couple of piccies, we began the long job of surveying out. This was not going to be an easy job given the long sections of narrow and snaggy rift, and around 72 stations later (legs averaging 3-5 m in length) we were back above the boulder choke, meeting two greek cavers on route who had come to see how we were getting on and also visit the bottom. At around 11 pm, we decided to call it a day and leave the last short section of surveying to the next team. We arrived back at the last pitch at around midnight, after 12 hrs beyond the sump and had a quick bite to eat and some drink before bagging up the drill and other bits and pieces and setting off on the prussic out. Around 3 hrs of prussiking later, we emerged from the entrance at 3.30 am after a very enjoyable and successful sub-18hr trip, and were promptly handed food and drink by Russ and Malc who had stayed up to wait for us. Then, knowing the sun would be up in a couple of hours or so we quickly departed for bed to try and get some kip before we were burnt out of our small canvas homes.
The next day was a well-earnt rest day, and Phil and I sorted out the survey data. There was also a trip to the beach for more swimming and general relaxation!
Not much happened the next day in the end given the success of our two pushing trips, and the wishes of several of the Greeks to descend the cave. The next day, Phil, Emma, Cookie and I headed back into Peleta for another trip to the bottom, and also to finish the surveying before starting to de-rig the cave. Quick progress was made to the sump, Phil and I finishing the surveying en route. Phil also noted a hole between boulders just before the final pitch, and after some digging managed to squeeze through into a tight rift, which unfortunately dropped down to another sump. Cookie also spent half an hour or so investigating a crawl at the bottom of the large aven, before we headed out.
Phil and I took turns to de-rig and soon enough we were heavily laden with two or three tacklebags each, which made the prussic out very sweaty. Thankfully, reinforcements were found at the top of the 80 m shaft, and the de-rig continued more efficiently with a chain of cavers to pass and haul bags.
The surface was eventually reached late in the evening after a 14 hr trip for myself. Once again, the close proximity of camp to cave was noted and enjoyed, and the bar visited for copious beers!
With the main objective now done and dusted, the next few days were spent prospecting, cleaning kit, visiting the beach and doing some general touristy things before packing up and heading back to
Athens, for a final celebratory meal with the Greek cavers before departing for the UK.
The final survey puts Peleta at – 606 m, making it the second deepest cave on mainland Greece ‘ a fine achievement. All in all, this was an excellent trip to a country which still has vast amounts of potential for new discoveries!! Thanks to Malc for the invite, and look forward to hopefully joining the team again! â˜º