11 December 2005

Andritsa Cave, Fateful Refuge

So, we went to the "Andritsa Cave, Fateful Refuge" exhibition at the Byzantine and Christian Museum of Athens at the weekend.

There's been a lot of angst in the caving community over this and especially about the ethics of exploration and a whole bunch of other stuff. Friendships have been strained and there has been renewed discussion amongst ourselves about the legal framework within which everything is operating. Not having any personal stake in any of this and not being able to see how it could impact my own future activity, I will not go into details of how the cave was found, explored and presented for exhibition.

The cave itself seems to be a single largish chamber on many levels accessible through a vertical drop of some meters wide enough for one person to climb in and out at a time.

At some point soon after 575 or 576 AD, at least 33 individuals, mainly women and children, entered the cave carrying their everyday personal belongings (coins, small knives); many jugs for liquids but no utensils for the preparation of food; and a processional bronze cross with the Lord's Prayer inscribed on both sides.

The lack of provision for the preparation of food indicates that either they expected that they would be out again soon, or that they knew they were going into the cave to die. For some reason they never made it out and each one died where they were found some 1,400 years later by cavers exploring in that part of Greece.

What happened we shall probably never know. It was a bad time for the Roman Empire. The West had been overrun by the Goths about a hundred years before, very much with the collusion of the Roman Senatorial families who disliked being governed from Constantinople. Barbarian raids had been commonplace in the Greek mainland for years with Slavs and other pagan races entering and raiding the peninsula from the north. The holy land and parts of the east had been overrun by the Persians and wars had raged there for many years. To add to this upheaval, there had been a series of sometimes bloody religious disagreements over the nature of Christ (and the singularity or duality of his nature) which had upset the empire and which had coincided with a whole bunch of plagues as well.

Our 33 individuals could have been hiding from anything in these times, with their processional cross. None of the corpses was plundered - each was found with their money in the light soil around the bones. If anyone had expected to make it back out to the surface, presumably they would have emptied the pockets of the dead. If anyone had made it out, the same applies. Given that the bronze artifacts were left behind, it does not seem likely that anyone came out. Either they became trapped and could not exit when someone took their ladder, or they had no intention of coming out once they had entered.

One curious thing is the absence of graffitos or dipintos on the walls of the cave or on the ceramic jugs that they had with them. No one made an effort to record anything in writing, not even a final prayer before dying. Such a thing would help solve the mystery of who and why. Of course, it could be that all those in the cave were illiterate - something not inconceivable (most were probably female - the location is far from urban centres). I do not have information about literacy at this time. Whatever the case, letting the imagination go and sitting in with them is interesting.

The first few have died and we can see the others moving to other parts of the cave, away from the first dead, to find a place where they too can die. Did they have oil left in their lamps or were they in the semi darkness? Why were some of the water jars broken? Clumsiness in use in the darkness? Purposeful breaking of the now empty jars (ritual killing)? Or perhaps the act of a desperate person who through breaking the now empty water jars can give some externalization to their grief, brought on by realization that death is nearby?

For the archaeologist, the cave gives what we call a sealed assemblage - we know that everything in the cave was deposited at the same time - this is great because we have coins and other artifacts the use of which can all be assigned to the same period. Some interesting things which come out of the finds are that the lamps used are imitations of the so-called North African type. The cross is of the Latin type with arms flaring out into disc shaped finials (which you can't really see in the photo). There were coins spanning a period of about 80 years found on the bodies - but unfortunately there is no information yet about which mints pressed the coins. A 20 nummi coin is shown in the photo - the "K" face visible. One gift from the cave which cannot today be overlooked is the information which can be gathered from the bones themselves - stick them in a mass spectrometer and find out what these guys were eating - just like they have done with skeletons from the Bronze Age. Something about nitrogen isotope ratios in bone showing differences according to diet.

The exhibition was nicely laid out and shows the amazing progress made by the museum in this field: good lighting, good explanations, nicely translated texts. I hope there are follow-ups done on the materials excavated and that these will be announced in due course.

02 December 2005

Winter visit to Dersios

On Sunday 27 November, Nikos Mitsakis and Komninos Boutaras went up to Palaiochora for a day trip to have a look at the sinkhole in the winter and de-rig after my accident. The roaring sound of the river flowing into the sinkhole and draining most of the plateau could be heard from the road.

The water goes down to the junction with the second sidebranch and then (as predicted by Komninos during the summer) it turns left into the sidebranch where it ends up at the sump in a mess of frothing and noise.

Some of the water carries on towards the first sump, but disappears before the little transervse section, and then reappears after the "screw". From there it makes its way to the first sump.

At the first sump, there was a clear froth line at the level to which the sump usually fills, but the water in the sump was very low, just a little higher than during the summer. This means that to date this winter the hose trick is working, despite the sump having filled to the brim since we left the system in place.

I'm just trying to picture some scenes in my mind's eye - like how the water would flow through the narrow passage in the sidebranch, how the waterfall would shoot water out of it at the end of the passage, and what the junction at -151m between the sidebranch and the main route would look in full flow… but we will probably never have a chance to see any of this.

After the mission, we now have a much clearer picture of which areas are prone to flooding in case of sudden rainfall, but we also have a better picture of the hydrological situation in the cave.

PS - what do people think? Is it coincidence that the bats prefer to nest in the parts of the sinkhole in which there is no running water - ie in the chamber before the traverse over tha small lake and in the screw?

10 November 2005

Goodbye, my friend

We all went to the third in Nikaia to say our farewells to Kostas yesterday. Kostas left us on Monday night to go exploring in the place we can't follow.

22 October 2005

Accident at Dersios - 25 September 2005

The text which follows has appeared in the forum of Selas Caving Club with comments and also with some editing, in the e-Magazine "Speleonews" which is published by members of the Greek Caving Community on a monthly basis.

The sink-hole Dersios is located on the Palaiochora plateau at a height of 755m and belongs within the boundary of the municipality of Tyros or Tyrosapounakeika of the Arcadia Prefecture. The distance from Tyros is about 45 minutes on a dirt track.

The sinkhole was first explored by a French team in August 1974 with the participation of ESE - the Hellenic Speleological Society. Since 2001, SELAS Caving club, Greece has been conducting expeditions to Dersios, emptying the first sump in 2003 (doubling the depth and more than tripling the length of the cave). This year expeditions were carried out almost every week from June to the end of September (August excluded). This years perseverant attempts to empty other sumps higher in the cave have allowed the SELAS caving club's teams to explore new undiscovered sections of a length of 570m. I hope that after the Panhellenic Speleological Meeting we'll have a chance to present the cave in detail.

On the weekend of 24-25 September three of us had come up from Athens - myself, with Nikos Mitsakis and Komninos Boutaras. Theodossis Kourbelis, a local caver and member of the club also took part in the expedition.

Komninos returned to Athens on the evening of Saturday and we gave him the phone numbers of our other halves so he could call them to let them know we would be out late and they should not worry. We had got used to the luxury of leaving the plateau in daylight recently, but the tasks to be done on this trip would delay us.

In the morning while getting ready to go into the cave, we told Theodossis to call Niki in Athens in the event that we did not call him first before 1am on Monday morning. We figured that we would have finished and would have made it out much sooner. Nikos and I entered a little after one pm on Sunday and began the tasks assigned to each of us - survey / sketch-map and then de-rigging from the bottom (-161m) to the exit.

Cause of the incident
In the area called the "screw" a few meters from the rope leading up to it, there is a small ascent of 2-3 meters on boulders which requires a little clambering. There, probably on account of my familiarity with the area (I had been through there about 15 times this year alone), two errors happened at the same time which led me to the bed of convalescence.

First: I did not have the weight of my body on three different points, as common sense demands, and
Second: I had not checked the steadiness of the rock onto which I transferred all my weight, something which resulted in the rock moving from its place…

If only one of the two had happened, you would not be reading this text right now - because these two things happened in conjunction, we had the inevitable result:

What happened
I fell backwards and to the side from a height of about 2m. I hit the side wall with my back (well, the sack took the hit) and helmet. From there I slid and fell a little more (the side wall was sloped and I ended up on my back with my helmet again hitting the floor of the cave. The vertical fall was finished. I drew in some breath and was happy to still be alive.

Well, my bad luck did not end there - my left foot had come to rest in between two rocks or stones or something and was firmly stuck. And the bad luck continued: my body was still moving - probably on account of some of the vertical kinetic energy wanting to keep me moving after reaching my lowest possible point. Well, with the foot firmly wedged and the rest of the leg wanting to move, there was some unnatural movement within the ankle. I immediately felt a warmth spreading internally on the external part of the ankle. And I recall this making a strange impression on me as I had felt the pain on the internal side of my ankle. At about this point and probably a little before I let out a cry of pain, Nikos was at the head of the preceding pitch, just in time to see me taking up my post-fall position.

Immediate reactions
"I'm OK, my ankle hurts" I say to him. He left me to calm myself a little and check over my other limbs. He asked if I could step on the ankle and I told him that I reckoned I probably could. He told me we would have to move from the place where we were because if it rained (not at all impossible, given the thunderstorms all weekend) where we were currently sitting would not be the best of places to be waiting. I was happy and took courage from the fact that the cave rescue check-list had kicked in and was being gone through but more so because I was with someone like Nikos - joint head of the Hellenic Caving Federation's Cave Rescue Team. And so, when we saw that I was not in too much pain we started the process of getting me out of the dangerous part of the cave - as Nikos had said, "you have to move it now while the foot is still warm". He announced the time of the accident and we started for the entrance. It was half past eight.

Encumbered egression…
Ah, yes, but… I could not put any weight on the bastard. So, with one foot, with my hands and with the left knee, I began my ascent to the flatter part of the "screw". The right shin had taken a knock but I made it in the end with a lot of pulling from Nikos and a little pain every now and then when I'd bump into rocks or other impediments. Nikos explained that we should not stay there and we should absolutely get as far as the traverse over the little lake. Later he explained that it would have really challenged the rescue team to get a stretcher through that section. Nikos ascended the pitch with the dried well at the bottom which leads to the chamber with the lake and the stalactite. I followed him up. He tied a rope to my center mallion and heaved me up with his hand ascender. Leaning my weight a little against the walls and a little on Nikos I got to the pitch head in the chamber with the stalagmite. He went up the next pitch and rigged a second rope which he descended and came to sit next to me to help me out. When we got to the traverse line above the little lake, he again tied a rope to my central mallion and pulled me over the traverse like a dog on a lead.

Should I stay or should I go now?
Now we were there, we had another look at the strategy to be followed. We were now beyond the dangerous section which may have flooded in the event of rain and also through the narrows which would have caused the rescue team trouble. "So," he says, "we either get out of the cave on our own - which is the best course of action, however long it takes us to get out, or we set up an emergency shelter and wait - in which case we'll be out tomorrow night."

I was very enthusiastic with our progress so far - we had managed for Nikos to lift me about 20m vertically and about 40m of the way to the entrance horizontally from the site of the accident. I knew we had started at station 21 on the survey and we were now at station 13 - hey, I'd been surveying and sketch-mapping all weekend, I knew exactly where we were… We had about 146m of horizontal travel left, and about 50m of vertical travel.

We still had a way to go, but we both preferred to get out of there without waiting for the rescue, however much this would knacker us so that we could get out far enough and quickly enough to forestall Theodossis call to Niki and her call to the Cave Rescue. The route ahead was uneven - especially uneven for a guy on all fours - and there were still four on-rope ascents before the double ascent at the entrance.

We made our decision. We set off.

Heading for the lake
I was crawling on all fours, holding on to Nikos for support dragging myself over boulders and other obstacles and at the pitches Nikos would draw me up slowly with his ascender on a rope tied to my central mallion: in this way we made our way slowly to the entrance.

At the entrance to the second side-branch, we found the sacks with the diving equipment. Nikos was already carrying the rigging he had de-rigged, his own personal equipment, my personal equipment, the victim and now, to this he added the bottles…

He let me walk and crawl ahead at my own pace, while he took all the sacks to the lake at the entrance. I was now so exhausted that every few meters I would have to sit and rest for an period of time equal in minutes for the meters covered.

Lakeside counterweight
At the lake Nikos prepared the counterweight to raise me. There was no pulley. Usually Nikos carries on all the time, but all his personal gear was in Russia (where it had been since July when he had gone for Krubera-Voronya) and the pulley was with it. For this reason he set up the counterweight with a karabiner - with all the great losses to friction this implies: the losses were so great that despite our difference in weight we had a tough time raising me, despite my pulling myself up with an ascender on a different line. For the final pitch, he hung the bottles underneath him as well for the extra weight, and finally I was outside again.

I dragged myself along a little and then the equally knackered Nikos helped me to the road where I waited for him to come from the cheesevault - fortunately we had gathered up our things a little and tidied up in the morning before entering the cave. We were out at half past midnight. It is normally a twenty minute route for me - we had done it in four hours, but we had done it.

Next steps
Especially pleased with our performance we set off for Tyros to try and get within the range of a cell phone antenna and call off the alarm. Theodossis had called Niki at one am on the dot. She, in her turn had thought it prudent to wait a little (thankfully) before calling out the cave rescue team. She had been a little influenced by Komninos' call and knowing what the cave was like, decided to give us some extra time to check in.

We went (via Argos for gyros, of course) to Evangelismos Hospital which was on call that night. It did not seem too strange to them that the trauma happened at 2030hrs and was brought to their attention at 0530hrs the next morning. They didn't seem too perturbed by the mud caking my hands and arms. They did not like the fact I had been sort of putting a little weight on the foot now and then for four hours - but what to do? They x-rayed it, shoved it in a plaster cast (despite the manic muscle-cramps I had while they were trying) and I left with a diagnosis of "second degree sprain".

Today that I am writing, it is Thursday. I have not yet stepped any weight onto it, but it has stopped hurting continuously. From what it seems, it will take a while to drive and a little longer to enter another cave...

[Now that I am translating, it is four weeks exactly since the accident - I am still largely bedridden but on the mend - going to physiotherapy, which seems to be helping the swelling. No idea whether next week I'll be at the 8th Panhellenic Speleological Meeting with or without my crutches...]

* It's not a bad idea to never underestimate the dangers in an underground space - however familiar that space may be.
* I ought to improve my clambering skills a little...
* If there had been three rather than two of us, we would have finished far sooner.
* Pulleys are indeed useful.
* Knowledge and practice in rescue techniques / counterweight techniques, etc are really rather useful and should be held by at least one member of the expedition (if it had not been for Nikos or someone with similar knowledge and skills, I would not have come out quite so easily).
* The fact that we decided to try to exit under our own steam rather than wait for the cave rescue team worked to our advantage as it felt positive to actually be doing something.

Excerpt from the survey

The red cross marks the point where the accident happened. Clicking on the image will open a larger version.

Dersios in Descent Magazine

Descent 186 Cover The first pitch at Dersios is featured on the cover of the current Descent Magazine. The photo was taken by Robbie Shone who won the photography competition at the 14th International Caving Congress held in Athens this summer. Robbie had the opportunity to visit Dersios along with about ten other congress participants during one of the pre-and post congress excursions organised by Selas caving club. The excursion visited a number of caves of mount Parnon, including the famous Propantes pothole.

Issue 186: "Descending Dersios during the International Congress in Greece - Photograph by Robbie Shone"

A visit to Dersios 24-25 September 2005

A visit to Dersios 24-25 September 2005

The sink-hole Dersios is located on the Palaiochora plateau at a height of 755m and belongs within the boundary of the municipality of Tyros or Tyrosapounakeika of the Arcadia Prefecture. The distance from Tyros is about 45 minutes on a dirt track.

The sinkhole was first explored by a French team in August 1974 with the participation of ESE - the Hellenic Speleological Society. Since 2001, SELAS Caving club, Greece has been conducting expeditions to Dersios, emptying the first sump in 2003 (doubling the depth and more than tripling the length of the cave). This year expeditions were carried out almost every week from June to the end of September (August excluded). This years perseverant attempts to empty other sumps higher in the cave have allowed the SELAS caving club's teams to explore new undiscovered sections of a length of ~570m.

We got to the cheesevault late on Friday night with Nikos driving and found Komninos already there. Komninos had gathered wood and set a fire in the fireplace. We exchanged stories of lightning strikes and fog during the trip there and prepared for bed.

In the morning the usual orgy of eating took place and we then got the divers' bottles ready for the dive and set off for the entrance.

The divers would go to de-rig the new section and survey the last part of it (in the end, it was 14 stations ~100m), while I went to make the sketch map in the old section and alter the hosepipe position in the first sump ready for winter. All tasks of the day were conducted successfully and Komninos came out to cook and prepare for the return while I stayed behind with Nikos for the sketch map.

After the successful omelet of 10 September we went mad this weekend: two different types of sausage, fried chicken wings (chicken spareparts according to Theodossis), omelets, roasted chestnuts and onions in the ashes. Boy did we eat that weekend!

The second day tasks were Nikos to survey the sump in the first sidebranch. There's a 50m or so continuation a little lower than the route taken in exploration in July. Because it was narrow and kept getting silty, he only managed a few measurements. I carried on the sketch map and at some point in the afternoon Nikos started the de-rigging and we went on together to the exit. I have written elsewhere about the method of our exit.

In addition to survey measurements and the sketch map a rigging chart was drafted as was a list of all foreign objects found inside the sinkhole to try and get a chronological outline of the deposition of items in the cave - and therefore an idea of to what extent the cave gets blocked with water. It needs a little bit of chasing but there may be something useful at the end of it. According to Theodossis, the last time it blocked right up was in 1991. This means that the items found with a more recent terminus ante quem which we find both above and below the first sump made their way in during flow less cataclysmic than total blockage.

Some words about the fauna...

Just like last year at the same time of year we noticed increased Guano in the cave, especially in the large chambers. I don't know what the life cycle of the bats is, or to what extent they follow the seasons, if at all. Chambers 9-12, the "screw" and the little chamber before the first sump are the places where I saw the bats gather - in the first two there is gathered guano from other years while in the last place it was the first time I had noticed bats. Here it seemed to me they were enjoying the new found space in the now empty sump and were diving into it. To judge from the dead bat some way below the first sump, some daring bats had made it across the sump and beyond. I'd like to mention a bat we had found at the highest point while surveying the first sidebranch in 2004. I draw the reader's attention to my other text on the cave mice we had found, to bring the vertebrate description to a close. They haven't been seen again since.

On to the invertebrates: There are these little guys both before and after the first sump. They're about 10mm long, white and diaphanous little critters with plenty of legs underneath. These animals are surely arthropods and quite probably isopods. They have antennae at the front but I did not have an opportunity to sit and write my comments on the spot so I forget the details. The ones in the image show the black line which runs along the full length of the animals - I assume it is the digestive system (the whole animal is diaphanous apart from this part) and seems black most plausibly because the animals in question were found busying themselves on a blackened log just after the first sump.

A little more care next time may help in identification - questions like how many legs they have per section, how many pairs of antennae, and others. Nikos tells me he has spotted cave shrimp in this cave and the chances are that this is them. Let someone correct me if I am wrong.

On to our friends the dolichopodes - which we have seen beyond the first sump but also in great numbers outside the cave at night when coming out. All the ones I have seen have been of medium size - about 40mm long. They aren't so dispersed in the cave, no doubt due to its nature as a sinkhole.

Finally - on Sunday on the way out we found a large number of well fed slugs which must have been about 70mm long and about 15 to 20mm wide at their widest.

I hope next year we will manage to record more details and have the opportunity to photograph the fauna of Dersios a little more clearly,

Some words about the results of this years explorations:

Total length of surveyed sections (30 September 2005): 1.525m
Total length of surveyed sections planimetric development (30 September 2005): 1.392m
Total depth of surveyed section (30 September 2005): 164m
Estimate of explored length (30 September 2005): ~1.800m
Estimate of the explored depth (30 September 2005): ~185m

The equivalent values in April 2005 were:
Total length of surveyed sections (April 2005): 908m
Total length of surveyed sections planimetric development (April 2005): 826m
Total depth of surveyed section (April 2005): 161m
Estimate of explored length (April 2005): ~ 1.100m
Estimate of the explored depth (April 2005): ~185m

This years exploration resulted in a 69% increase in the planimetric length of the cave in relation to last year (566m were added). The surveys have been uploaded to the photos.selas.org site here: my Dersios Album

19 September 2005

Report on weekend 10-11 September 2005

Within the framework of the SELAS Caving Club's ongoing project of exploration at the Dersios sinkhole in Arcadia, an expedition was planned for 10-11 September with the following aims:

Ι. Survey from the second sidebranch to the large chamber / junction at -151m (green on chart)
ΙΙ. Survey from the end of the surveyed section in the sidebranch until the third sidebranch sump (in red colour)
ΙΙΙ. Survey from the large chamber / junction at -151m to the beginning of the third sidebranch sump (yellow colour)
IV. Cave dive with survey equipment in the second sump and evaluation of continuation potential. (blue colour)
V. Cave dive with survey equipment in the third sump (loop closure - the loop will be more than 1km long) (blue colour)

click on image for enlargement

So we all got to the plateau at some point on Friday evening and all four cars made their way to the cheesevault next to the entrance of Dersios. The electrification of the plateau had reached the cheesevault and we now had the added luxury of electric lighting at night. We got ready for bed intending to organize the expedition the next morning during breakfast. The aims of the weekend were well known. The survey team would also de-rig the new section, the diving team would only deal with the diving. After a good dose of omelette (with sausage and other goodies) the diving team (Nikos, Komninos and Panagiotis) set off straight for the second sump while the de-rigging team (Nontas, Maggie and myself) set off for the sidebranch a little later with Olga and Panagiotis.

Reaching the point a little before the scree slope linking the two sumps (point 0504 on the survey) we found the water very much higher than on all previous visits coming after the original emptying of the sump. The water was up to chest height and the low passage to the scree chamber was only a little more than 40cm from water to ceiling. We made the decision to go for it - seeing as we would be getting wet anyway that day and I got into the water on my back to get through. I made it through and up the scree through an even smaller gap and waited for the others. Approaching the chamber from which the passageway began we realised that we had lost the passageway in the five weeks since the last visit - it had sunk once again under the water.

In mythology, in Hades, the Danaids perpetually filled a leaky pot with water which never filled... in the Dersios sinkhole this year, we have been perpetually emptying sumps which refuse to remain empty. Next year will be different - we will approach the whole sump thing differently.

We stayed inside for a little longer - Maggie took Panagiotis and Olga round the cyclical route through the sidebranches and then a little deeper, while I made my way out into the sun with Nontas. Maggie's team found Panagiotis on the way down, the first sump was full as well and needed a dive to get through. Nikos and Komninos had gone through and deeper to make the dive in the second sump.

While we were outside with Nontas, two young shepherds passed, brothers with a shared flock and we got chatting with them about the area and about the sinkhole itself. The information we received was the usual mix of myths, folklore and local knowledge about the area around the sinkhole. An important piece of information is that from the beginning of the summer it had rained only once - and that for only half an hour. This shows that the sumps re-fill without rainfall - something to keep in mind in the future.

Nontas talks to the shepherd while still in the wet and cold neoprene outfit - commitment to information collection requires local info to be gathered to come before personal comfort. In the background, the cheesevault.

We began to prepare snacks and waited for the diving team to come out so we could begin to make the pasta. At some point Theodossis came as well and brought wine and set the fireplace alight. When the diving team came, we put the food on and listened to their news.

Theodossis gets the fireplace started

As we had been told - the boys passed the first sump by diving - Komninos' first cave diving experience, may he have many more! - and headed straight for the second sump for Nikos to dive. Nikos dived successfully and took survey data within the sump (which is about 30m long). The data will soon be added to the rest of the cave and announced. Nikos then walked to the next sump about 150m away. He had a look inside and it seems deeper than the rest. Nikos then made his way back to the second sump taking care to look for return routes which would bypass the sump, but found none. The next goal is now to empty the second sump and dive the third to look for continuation.

Two divers

In 2003, the second sump seemed to be impossible to empty but now, with the accumulated experiences which we have gained both as individuals and as a club, it seems that it will be possible to empty the second sump despite the small but continuous influx of water.

On the second day, most of the team set off early for Athens so I was left with Nontas and Panagiotis to go do some rescue work in the cave. First priority was to get the 120m of hosepipe out of the sidebranch so we didn't lose it when the sumps get completely filled again. Next, there was a need to re-rig the pitch after the lake in the chamber with the stalagmite. As we set off for the entrance we found some friends of Thoedossis who had come to join us from "Spena". We were happy to have the opportunity to share our descent with Yiannis and Makis, both active members of "Speleology of Nafplio".

We went in and re-rigged the worn rope and went down to the now completely empty first sump to close the taps on the hosepipe to ensure the hosepipe didn't fill up with air again. The kids from Argos left for outside and we gathered up the hosepipe from the sidebranch and hid it away above ground in a place where the winter waters shouldn't reach it.

So what's left now? Well, we need to de-rig the whole cave before the winter starts and that includes getting all the rope out of the sidebranch - something which will need another cave-dive.

15 September 2005

Weekend at Dersios

In the framework of the ongoing exploration project which began in 2003 a small team of four found ourselves on the Palaiochora plateau at the weekend; there were three cavers and one caver-quartermaster in charge of the food.

We went up on Friday and slept in Tasos' cheesevault about 250m from the cave entrance.

Internal view of the east side of the cheesevault

The purpose of the expedition was to dive the second sump and see what the potential for continuation of the cave through there would be. Our cave diver Nikos Mitsakis had dived both the second sump and the sump in the third sidebranch in 2003. Both come out in a dry section. The section beyond the second sump reaches a third sump a few meters further on, and the section beyond the sump in the third sidebranch ended at the bottom of a pit after quite a distance on foot.

We had begun to empty the sump in the first sidebranch at the end of last week. Nikos had dived here last year to a distance of about 70m without finding a way out, and again last week where he discovered a dry dome with a fissure leading off it too difficult to attempt with the bottles on. The idea was to empty the sump and have a look at this fissure for ourselves.

Nikos and Komninos had put on their neoprene suits ready for the dive. I don't have a neoprene suit, so I didn't wear one. On getting to the entrance to the second sidebranch, I saw both the boys waiting for me there with huge smiles on their faces. Yeah, I was taking my time and they were criticising - or so I thought... they asked me to listen to the hosepipe, again with the huge smiles - I listened... water! Running water! The hose which had been set to empty the sump was still emptying after six whole days!

Almost running, we made our way to the chamber at the end of the sidebranch and feasted our eyes on a most beautiful and satisfying spectacle: passage! Where one week earlier there had been only rock and water, we now saw the water level had dropped by about a meter and new passage opened up and beckoned us into the unknown.

The other two strode off chest deep in water into the unknown and I stayed behind waiting for them I don't recall how much time passed - but at some point they returned, dressed me as fast as possible in Komninos' neoprene jacket, put rope into the sack, left unnecessary weight behind and we all three of us now leapt into the waters. The water was cold enough, but the neoprene is rather good in these conditions, no doubt about that.

This new passage that used to be a sump had a meandering route through chest-high and neck-high water interspersed with completely dry parts. We walked through sections reminiscent of canyons, totally sculpted out of the rock by the waters' passage. We finally reached a large break-down chamber where the sump would empty out as a waterfall in the winter. From there, a few meters further on we got to the first descent. The boys had got this far without me when they had turned back for rope - now I would be taking part in real exploration into the unknown for the first time!

After the first descent, the cave takes a small turn to the right, turning from a course of almost directly south back to the usual sort-of westwardly course we were used to in Dersios.

We went through some meters jammed in between two different rock types - one was stratified horizontally, the other had stratification at an angle of about 55-60 degrees. In between the two, in a gap of about 50cm to 1m the water would flow in the winter. In between the two, either walking or climbing, we continued to push into the unknown.

After a little while we reached another descent which needed to be rigged. This one needed an anchor to be placed also. It was about here that we bgan to run out of rope… we had not in any way foreseen such a long and deep continuation to come out of the sump and all the rope we had with us was of short length and needed to be knotted together. After the second descent, the going was similar to how it was before - a little walking, a little climbing and on to the third descent...

Here, we turned back for the rope we had used to rig the first descent, which had a positive incline and could be easily climbed without rope. I stayed back and the boys carried on as far as the rope would take them. According to their Suunto watches, we were about 120m below the entrance at the point where we turned back.

We turned back to the entrance, full of enthusiasm and totally ready to devour any food placed in front of us!

The well-stocked cheesevault's stores

Waiting for us outside was Niki, probably overjoyed at the news that we were out while the sun was still shining. She prepared the evening meal with the help of Komninos. Theodossis came up from Tyros with walnut cakes and wine. There was no disappointment that the cave dive did not happen: our efforts of the past month had bourne their fruits in the form of new passages. We figured we had discovered about 300m of new passage but the length was less important to us than the fact that the route was beautiful.

Still, we had a lot of unanswered questions. Where does this new passage go? How much further would it go? Would we end up at the top of the pit Nikos had seen in 2003 or somewhere else? Which way does the water go in winter: this way or down the known route?

We all slept soundly with the smile of success on our faces in the company of the little mouse we had found in the cheesevault's cupboard. This was no doubt a cousin of the guys we had seen a few weeks before in the cave - their colouration was identical.

We woke late the second day and did some household chores in the cheesevault. Niki left for the beach with Theodossis and left us to busy ourselves with the survey of the explored section and the completion of the exploration. We commenced our descent de-rigging the unnecessary ropes from the initial descents at the entrance hoping in this way to end up with enough rope to complete the exploration.

In the chamber before the sump we discussed the survey strategy and set off. The first 120m or so were tough, with about 6m between each station and every other station requiring someone to be motionless in the water. The long time in the water was a little tough. After the waterfall Dersios opened up and we were out of the water again.

We reached the spot where I had turned back the day before and the guys rigged the third descent again replacing the completely exploratory rigging with something more sturdy. After this we got to the fourth and last descent where the boys had tried to go down without rope the day before, through the narrow gap between the rocks, but this gap opened out making it impossible to continue. So here it was that the last rope was rigged and the last descent was made in this new section. After the descent, to the right, the cave continues, walking, at a depth of about -140.

Nikos went off down the walking section and Komninos and I took the last measurements on the survey. The walking section ends up at a sump and in the sump we could see the diver's guideline. We had closed a circular route of over one kilometer (it is about 500m to the beginning of the sump from the beginning of the second sidebranch, whichever route you take - new or old.

We came out satisfied and began to prepare to go down to the beach and meet Niki.

Some words about the new sections:

Newly explored / newly surveyed sections (in July 2005): 477m
Newly explored sections beyond the surveyed section: ~100m
Overall length of surveyed section (31 July 2005): 1.381m
Estimated length of explored section (31 July 2005): ~1.700m

Tasks still needing to be done:

Survey of the final section from the last pitch to the sump in the new section.
Drafting of the survey.
Re-survey of the old cave

There are no photos of the new sections, cameras were part of the unnecessary weight left behind. Clicking on the surveys will open up bigger images.

25 July 2005

31 July 2005 plan

31 July 2005 projected section from 285 degrees

09 September 2005

Report on the expedition of 30 and 31 July 2005

As the first sump was still underwater, we explored and surveyed new parts of the first sidebranch. The first sidebranch was connected to the third sidebranch, after quite a few meters (400+) of new exploration. Details coming soon.

The expedition was manned by: Nikos Mitsakis, Komninos Boutaras, Stelios Zacharias and Niki Hatzilia.

07 September 2005

Report on the expedition of 24 and 25 July 2005:

On Saturday the heat got to us a bit so we went for a swim first and then for a look-around in the area. Our look-around had some promising results and brought to light a number of places well worth looking into in the future.

That evening, the expedition cook ate and slept in a cheesevault near the sinkhole, something which allowed us to sleep a little beyond dawn as we weren't woken up by the heat.

The sump in the second sidebranch had emptied and was surveyed by Komninos and myself, allowing us to close a loop back at the entrance lake. The loop is about 250m long and we got a 5% declination in doing so. This will no doubt change when we confirm the survey data next week.

In the end it was one reading on the clino which was made wrong. When this was corrected the loop closure gives an error of less than 2% and these new figures were used in all surveys after 30 July.

The first sidebranch is most probably the old river bed - it has the same direction as the sink-hole's main chambers but it ends in waterlogged sections at about -40m. We started an effort to drain this sump also, using the 120m of one inch hose in an effort to allow access for non divers to the narrow fissure which Nikos had seen at the end of the sump the week before.

The first sump was passed with difficulty as it had filled again with the waters from the sumps above it, but the team of Nikos-Giota-Panos managed to make some repairs to the 1 1/4 inch hose and restart the draining. For this reason, it was not possible to dive the second sump.

The expedition was manned by: Nikos Mitsakis, Komninos Boutaras, Yiota Kafetzi, Stelios Zacharias and Panos Papasotiriou.

Results of the survey conducted on 25 July 2005:
The results are presented as projected elevations, using the vtopo programme (link in sidebar to the right).

The entrance is at point Α
The first sidebranch is points Β-Γ
The second sidebranch is points Δ-Ε
The union of the two can be seen in blue
Point Ζ (sump) remains underwater as at 25 July 2005, but efforts are being made to drain this sump also and open new routes.

Report on the weekend of 16 and 17 July 2005

In brief, the weekend was memorable on account of the water, the hoses and the food served at the entrance to the cave, which I unfortunately missed out on as I wasn't taking part in the mission at all.

The siphon in the second side-branch is almost empty and has already given about ten meters of new passage which lead towards the initial (walking / swimming) part of the sump in the first side-branch which had also lost a little bit of height.

It would be possible to empty the first sidebranch's sump into that of the second, and from there to empty both deeper into the cave. Another 50m of one inch hose were taken into the cave for this purpose. It is now possible to dive the sump in the first sidebranch without going through the squeeze through the gours.

The first sump had almost filled up owing to the teams efforts to empty the higher sumps and it was necessary to re-empty it: this task occupied the team on the second day of the expedition.

Finally, there was a little exploration done in the field by Panos, who was led by a local to a "bottomless" pot hole of all of 8m depth!

The following members of SELAS were present: Nikos Mitsakis, Niki Hatzilia, Yiannis Vavourakis, Marianna Manolatou and two recent graduates from our annual seminars: Panos Papasotiriou and Nektarios Servos.

Some info about Dersios:

Between the years 2003 and 2005, cavers of SELAS club have been extending the exploration done by French teams in the 1970's in the "Dersios" sinkhole of Arkadia. The sinkhole is at about 750m altitude and presents technical difficulties as there are many parallel passages ending in flooded sections. These have been explored by emptying the sumps or by cave-diving. The expeditions of S.EL.A.S. have doubled the depth of the explored cave (-160m) and more than tripled its length. I have been involved in the exploration since 2004.

The general lie of the land around the sinkhole (which is visible about two thirds of the way to the right just this side of the road) is captured in this picture.

15 July 2005

Summer at Dersios

I am not going back this weekend. I have a commitment to attend. A group are going tomorrow to dive the sump in the first side-branch and continue to empty the second side branch.

I wish I were going with them. I may have pictures of the mice for next time, though.

13 July 2005

Mice, mice everywhere!

Mice, mice everywhere!

So we went to Dersios at the weekend with three of the new guys. Dersios is a sinkhole in Arcadia, about 700m up and quite a way from the sea. It was explored a while back to -80 odd meters by a French team together with ESE - the Hellenic Speleological Society. Since 2003, teams from SELAS Caving Club, Greece has been exploring the cave, doubling the depth and more than tripling the surveyed length. It has been surveyed to -161m so far, but has a lot of unsurveyed (and unexplored) passages. This year we are going to try and push the exploration a little further through a combination of diving and emptying of sumps.

We arrived after much faffing at well after one pm, set up our tents and got ready to go. We were in the cave just before four - so there was another faff involved which I am not sure I remember although some of it involved being barked at by dogs while trying to talk to an old man in a shack who claimed to know of a pothole somewhere in the hills. This would be especially pleasing if it exists. I have had suspicions about the existence of something in the hills above the cave for a while, based on plotting the track of the cave under a 3D representation of the hills above. This is something for a future visit, though.

Splitting into two teams, the first went for the first sump, now empty, thanks to the efforts made last month, while the second went for the sump in the second side-branch.

Last month's efforts (!) - Photos by Maggie

Once there, we prepared the sump for emptying, gathering in last months green hoses - repairing the join between the stretch of 20m and 50m hose with a piece of inner tube, some flanges (?) and a swiss army knife. Then while Panos went into the water up to his thighs, Martin, Michael and I helped bring the hose down to the sump and pass it to Panos who sunk it in such a way as to empty it of air as it went in. Once completely submerged we capped the end of the hose with a piece of inner tube, preferring it to the heroic rubber glove used in June. The use of a non solid cap for the hose had the unexpected advantage that it allowed the caver walking the hose lower to know exactly when the hose exit was at the height of the sump surface - the glove or inner tube would be sucked into the hose when the hose end was above the sump surface and would expand out of the hose when below the sump surface.

The glove! - Photo by Maggie

The inner tube expanded to resemble a dark aubergine, the shiny black curved surface taking our attention from the pressure which was to build up, break out and cover us in bits of rubber and plenty of sump water moments later.

Success - the flow had started! It was about six or seven pm.

It was somewhere around this time that we first noticed the increased number of mice in the cave. For me at least it started as one of those periphery of vision experiences where objects jump around on the edge of my field of view somewhere between where the torch no longer lights and where the sharp image created by my spectacles merges with the blurriness. This was slightly different. The blurriness and jumping around was about 40mm long and moving independently of where I moved my head. To find a mouse down where we saw this one did not surprise me. The poor thing had obviously got lost and had somehow found its way into the cave and down the main path some 90m into the cave and 30m below ground. It scampered off and we carried on with the day's tasks. Martin and Michael left Panos and myself to finish off the plumbing and headed off towards the first sump. Panos and I brought the black hose from the original 2003 emptying of the first sump up to join it to the flow from the second branch's sump. The idea was that if we could increase the height difference, the outflowing water would have greater pressure and therefore increased speed on its way out. As it was we had a difference in height of about 5-10m, but the addition of the black hose (50m length) gave an extra -13m worth of pressure to the flow.

Although we had come prepared, we did not use the plastic hose joiners, but taking some of the already burst innertube we rigged up a join with the flanges between the two pipes. Once the water started to flow we could feel the negative pressure on the join - a sign that the suction was increased. Unfortunately we hadn't waited long enough for Martin and Michael to move away and Michael got a hose load of sump water poured on him while he was on-rope. It's a learning process all around…

Moving on, and through all the parts that had caused me trouble in the past - through the bits where you have to brace yourself against the walls with hands and knees and back and arse to avoid the water below, and on to the first sump, now empty and not too tough to negotiate a way through, and on to the new passages, which saw light for the first time in 2003. The rigging team of Komninos, Giannis, Kostas and Margarita were a way ahead of us now and we were finding everything ready in front of us down to the junction at -151m where from the height above the junction we could see the satisfying glow of the acetylene below us. I stayed there and took in some calories I the form of cashews and almonds, while Maggie took the Murphys to the bottom and back and then we all started the climb to the exit, spotting mice all the way home.

We were all out at about 0400 hrs and made pasta before going to sleep. Martin had brought a travel fridge with beers, ice and tsipouro, so we managed nicely to unwind before watching the first little hints of daybreak come to remind us that the sun wouldn't allow us to get much sleep that night. True enough, the sun had woken us all by nine, so we de-rigged the entrance and got ready for the drive down and the beach.

Now, these mice...

They come in two different types. Small and Large. The small ones are all a very light grey colour and about 40mm long from snout to bum. The larger ones are dark grey with a white belly and about 100mm long from snout to bum. The larger ones were seen to rear up onto the hind legs (not unlike a kangaroo) and jump from this position from rock to rock. Small ones just scurried.


1. Are these one or two different species? - if one, is it kiddie mouse time, hence the different sizes and colours?
2. If these are two species, how does that work out? The cave is a very difficult niche for one species of mouse to live in, let alone two. If they were competing for the same food source, they would not be two. If they are not competing how much is there that a mouse can eat inside the cave anyway?
3. How the hell do they get around down there in the pitch black darkness?
4. The ones spotted below the first sump - how did they get there? Was it:
a) after Nikos opened the route in 2003?
b) after Nikos opened the route in June?
c) through small passages they can fit into that we cannot fit into?
d) they got swept into the cave in the great cataclysm of 1910 and have been living down there happily since?
e) other

Wouldn't it be great to take blood from a whole bunch of them and see which mice are related to which and track changes in their mtDNA and compare it to mice living outside and stuff?

That is all for some other time though.

08 July 2005

Coming soon

I will bring over the posts from the normal Blog and then only post here with anything speleocentric.

It may take a while to get it all organised, though.

03 June 2005

Back to Dersios!!!

Off tomorrow at the crack of dawn for Arcadian sinkholes.


27 May 2005

Your powers are weak, old man

There has been a lot of interest in climbing at the club recently - we have this climbing wall there and had a go at traversing the three meter length of it using only the blue, or only the green holds. Needless to say, I wasn't all that good and went off and downloaded a whole bunch of stuff from Eric Hörst's site. I'd come across his book in Elias' car when we were going to Propantes and it had got me thinking. Then I bump into his site after looking for how info on training for climbing.

So one of the hints he talks about for getting started is weighted (gravity+) pull ups. He then writes, like, don't do this unless you can do five sets of fifteen pull-ups with three minute rests in between… Hmm. And then he says if you cannot do five consecutive pull-ups at all, there's something else you got to start with to build up strength.

And so, gentle reader, this is where today's title comes from. I went home, sat myself under the chin-up bar determined to do the pre-requisite five consecutive pull ups so as to be able to proceed with the training plan for building to five sets of fifteen. Up went the hands, gripping the bar and up went the legs, suspending me below the bar.

OK - so I didn't really try that hard, but it was clear that I was not going to be doing five consecutive pull-ups.

This time back in 1992, when I was just getting my release papers from the Greek Army I could probably have done the five sets of fifteen without a problem. Wouldn't it be grand to be like that again? OK, so I like have some thirteen years extra wear and tear on me and of course the whole chronic illness bollocks to deal with, but wouldn't it be just great to be 60 instead of 74 Kg, and to be able to do pull ups and to wear that favourite pair of shorts again? OK, who's with me on this? Let's set targets: by the end of the year (six month target), back to 60 Kg (lowest ever since the highest was 56 Kg, but that just ain't natural) and I want to be lithe and supple again.

In April last year I would have said, "yeah, dream on, fat-boy" but now things are different.

PS - title slightly influenced by the fact that I am going tonight to see Episode III.

25 April 2005

Seven seconds

Well, here I am, at the entrance to Propantes. A proper write up will follow once the rest of the photos are processed properly and uploaded.

It takes about seven seconds for the stone to fall the 285m of the main shaft and a full second for the sound to come back out and let us know about it.

I am really quite sore.

20 April 2005


This weekend.

A mystical aura surrounds what was once the deepest single pitch in Greece - 285m straight down. It was since knocked out of it's spot by Provatina, but the allure is still there and this weeked, god willing, I hope to make a descent into at the very least, the first hundred meters or so.

A stone about the size of tennis ball hits the floor at about 30m/s.

Tonight we meet to plan the expedition.

12 April 2005

Your fifteen minutes start NOW!

Those who can read the language might like to have a look at the article about extreme sports as a stress release in TA NEA in which I have a significant amount of the column inches. There is also my photo which needs to be clicked on to be seen properly.

06 April 2005

Sykia and Archedamos

So, we went to Sykia in the Panorama Voulas area. It's a little doline very near the road, only about 20 m deep and not too much wider. Some git had thrown a dead dog into it - but it was fresh enough not to have smelled the place out. I have a little panorama made up (again with autostitch - I e-mailed the guy and should write about that too some time). This is the side which faces down-hill.

I also have, for the first time since the profile picture, an image of myself here (!).

- some will recognise the 1st VIII hat, there under the helmet. I have got into the habit of wearing it for a number of reasons - not least because my hair is getting long enough to be a real nuisance when it sticks to the strappy bits inside the helmet. And of course, the woolly hat is both warm and iso-thermic, in that it takes the sweat away from my head - when I'm sweating, that is.

After Sykia, which I guess was fun enough for the new kids, we cruised on down the dirt track to Archedimos' cave which goes by more names than I can remember all at once - there's Nympholeptos, the Grotto of Pan and the Nymphs, and some others as well.

This inscription is telling us that the cave is that of Archedimos, the one who has been taken by the nymphs. Nice. It's close to the entrance, and there are more inscriptions here and there.

Over at Hobby-O - (The Diary of John Cam Hobhouse, edited by Peter Cochran) we read in footnote 144 that Archidamus was said to have created it, and its votarists manifested all the signs of nympholepsy (“enthusiasm for an unattainable goal”).

Hobhouse visited the cave three days before Byron's 32 birthday - I first visited a few weeks after mine... He tells us that he wrote his name and Byron’s just above the nose. I did not see them, and did not really look, either, not expecting something like this.

So, here is Archedamos, walking one way and looking the other:

No sign of the names, but excavators may have seen fit to remove them since the writing of them.

Here, Rania is giving us a talk based on the stuff published in the bulletin of ESE. When I take Korinna, we're going to take the hobhouse texts and look around better. The Blue Guide (seventh? edition which Charlie gave me for my birthday in 1994) mentions the cave, gives the crappiest directions to it (and I'm not going to divulge on such a public forum how to go to the place), but has a nice an full description of the inside, which tallies with Hobhouse, and no doubt any excavation reports. The Blue Guides are good like that.

So here's the headless enthroned female deity mentioned in the three sources I have referred to:

She may be Isis, Demeter, Isis/Demeter/Ceres, or something else.

And here's the little altar thing, too:

Not a bad trip. Must get a helmet for Korinna and go back there.

24 January 2005

Birthday trip to -90m

So 32, eh? Well, it's not all that bad.

Spent the day with family and not too much hoo-ha, then spent yesterday out at Vouliagmeni. It has what we term a Gruiyere consistency - holes everywhere. Not exactly my cup of tea. Very hot too - up at 26 C inside which makes you sweat just from standing there. I must have lost a few K in sweat yesterday.

Next weekend, we go exploring in Paloumba - finally!

15 January 2005

Neek's birthday and other things

So it’s neek's bidet and we're still at home and we'’re meant to be buying shit - like useful shit like ice for the party and that'’s all a little stressful - but at least I have managed to cross the "scan Helidorea photos" task off my list. So now we can show everyone the entrance to the cave:

It's all of about four feet wide, oh yes.

And there's Eri, too!