Gaping Gill Jollies and Networking
Saturday, 26 August 2017

A week prior, I had received a message via UKCaving from Dave asking if I was interested in going to Albania as part of a small expedition organised by Dave and Martin ‘Barny’ Barnicott, both former Eldon members. Barny now lives in France and is by most accounts a total hero (former Everest guide, solo return trips in the PSM using a single rope and fishing wire for rigging pitches, knows the Felix Trombe better than the locals). Dave is a very experienced digger and Dales caver who seems to know everyone. Both had been going out to Albania annually since 2009 and seemed to have an excellent setup in place, meaning very little work for us. This sounded like too good an opportunity to miss, so I made arrangements to meet up with Dave at GG to got for a tourist jolly and get to know him better and learn more about the project.

George and I departed Brudenell Bunkhouse at 8:30, leaving plenty of leeway for our scheduled meeting time of 10:30. This was to prove fortuitous for George as halfway to the dales he realised he had forgotten his oversuit. When we were nearly in Clapham he announced that he had also forgotten his helmet and light. After some troubleshooting in the carpark we decided he would use his access overalls (big orange jefffer with go-faster stripes) and use my backup pixa on his climbing helmet. After a nip to Ingleton for spare batteries, we were ready. Dave had sent us a photo of himself with a souvenir from an Albanian shaft (this item turned out to be a full clip from a Kalashnikov!) so finding him was easy.

We set off up the back way after sighting someone actually checking for tickets on the tourist trail and Dave began to tell us all about the trip. It sounded like one of the most adventurous undertakings possible in Europe: absolutely no chance of rescue unless you do it yourself, most locals are armed, unexploded landmines, roads only recently tarmacked, big Mafiosi presence, and potential for huge deep caves in a region which nobody has visited except this expedition. George and I were soon totally sold.
We set off down Stream after an encounter with a man looking for ‘Steve Kelly’ and were soon at the bottom where we met Mad John from the CPC who would not stop telling us about the ‘man and woman, she’s got lips’ on the West slope. After some minor route finding confusion we arrived at the main chamber, which was busy with tourists, and headed off down East passage toward the Whitsun series. We soon arrived at Pool Passage and the Font, where we turned around as Dave didn’t fancy getting wet and also had a sore knee due to surgery he undertook a few years previously. After this we headed back out of Flood to emerge in glorious weather.

We headed down the tourist trail to the car after chatting with Rob Scott and Paul McWhinney and then to the Bunkhouse bar for a pint. Dave showed us an article in Speleology from 2011 about the 2010 Albania expo and some assorted pictures from years gone by of shafts, the karst landscape, the farm/family hotel where we would stay and the valley where the farm is located. This served to stoke us up yet further and we drove back to Leeds feeling very excited. Flights are now booked for myself, George and Luke and Barny has sent us survex files of the known cave extent to play with. We leave on 29th September for 10 days. Excited is an understatement!