03 December 2008

What I did at the 2nd BSRC - V - Wednesday

Wednesday 18 June - excursion to Maaras

And so, on the Wednesday, it came to pass that I should visit the largest karstic system in the country - the cave of the springs of the Aggitis river, otherwise known as Maaras. Our guide on this visit was the caver from SPELEO Caving Club, Nikos Diafas, who lives in the area and has been involved with Maaras for many years. There were representatives from all countries participating in the camp in the team which entered Maara on Wednesday.

Together with Annika, we penetrated the cave to about 4.800 meters before turning back, while some of the group made it close to or beyond 7.000 meters. On the way back we took some photographs with a team from Craiova in Romania. We were fairly lucky to have Nikos with us as a guide as without him, I doubt if we would have recognized the crayfish which live in the cave and which he pointed out to us.

Entering along the tourist route, we leave our gear on a small beach a little across from the tourists and begin our visit. The first parts of the route are on rocky ground, with the water reaching the knee sometimes and only the ankle at other times. After a while the rocks end and the sand which characterises the rest of the route begins. Proceeding from meander to meander and staying as much as possible on one bank before crossing to the other, we quickly reached the renowned "Acropolis" from where the stretcher had set out a few days previously during the cave rescue drill.

The so called "Acropolis" of Maaras - the photo was taken in collaboration with the team from Craiova in Romania

A little after the "Acropolis" we found the first "obstacle" to our progress - a narrow point where the route forms a sump when the water flow is fast and large, but where we were fortunate enough to find an air space of about 20 cm between the water and the ceiling. The "sump" is only a few meters long, but the fact that the whole river passes through this narrow point gives the water a lot of force and speed. At this point, the water is running contrary to the motion of the caver entering the system. At the same time, the water flow creates a rather intense flow of air in the face of the caver, bringing with it drops of water which fly into the cavers face (and glasses). These few but nevertheless dynamic meters of tunnel are a strong reminder that despite the relaxed and languid looking image the river presents, Maaras is still the largest karstic system in the country, with a surveyed length of over 11.500m.

A little after the narrow point, we found the crayfish - Nikos found him actually: even the most observant amongst us would have passed on without noticing the existence of the diminutive cave-dwelling crustacean. He sensed the crayfish from the way its movements sound on the banks of the underground river. Nikos gave us a tour of the crayfish - a boy. The species is quite possibly stygobitic (but the issue needs to be researched). The fact that it has little pigmentation gives it a certain translucence which you can see nicely in the second photo where it has been placed on a cold LED lamp. Further in, a second such crayfish was found.

Close-up shots of the Austropotamobium torrentium crayfish

After 4.800 meters penetration, we turned back with Annika, Nikos and some of the others. The way back was easier as we were moving in the same direction as the flow of the water. The narrows with the blowing wind was more reminiscent of a kiddie play-pool water-slide than the obstacle it had been on the way in. At the entrance, Kostas was waiting for us, and we all went for a meal to regain the calories we had burned on the visit.

Brief video of the visit.

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