The trip to Brno went smoothly and I had a couple of hours till the bus left for the Moravian Karst camp . Unfortunately I miss interpreted the directions that had been given to us and headed out the wrong way. After wandering around for almost an hour (with a short break to get something to eat) I realized I was supposed to be right back where I got off the bus from Prague! There I found lots of cavers gathering with all their gear ready to head out to the camp.
It was a short bus ride from Brno through a small town and along the lake where the camp was located, The camp consisted of rows of cabins that each housed four people. Nothing fancy but good enough and they even had free WiFi throughout most of the camp. I found my self bunking with another guy named John from the states, a guy from Russia and a guy from Australia. After a great welcome dinner it was time to get some sleep in preparation for caving the next day.
We assembled in the morning after breakfast and went through what would be our routine for the week as those leaving for earlier trips loaded on the bus for its first trip out to the karst areas. I had opted for a more leisurely start and signed up for a trip that didn’t leave till after 9am so I had time to get my camera gear in order. For the first day of caving I signed up to visit Byci Skala Cave. First though we had a trip to a small section of cave that was being used actively for paleological studies. They were both excavating bones for study and leaving bones in situ so that students would have the opportunity to see them as they were discovered. This section was very interesting though we did have to traverse some very muddy trail and climb a couple of ladders which had me worried my camera gear would never come clean again. It was also extremely warm, I had come prepared for the cold European caves everyone warned me about but this was not one. My glasses were continually fogging making it hard to see where I was going. For the rest of my caving during the camp I made sure to put them away in my camera box.
After a brief return to the surface it was off again this time to a larger section of cave where we descended to some lovely stream passage. This section was much cooler in temperature and the cold water helped wash off some of the mud that still clung to my boots.
I enjoyed the cave and our guides were very entertaining as was to prove to be the case on all the camp excursions. We returned to camp tired and muddy but we had plenty of time to get washed up for dinner and enjoyed a beer down by the lake which was to become something of an evening ritual.
For our Second day of caving I had signed up for a simple four hour non vertical dry trip in New Sloupskys corridor.(N.S.C) The cave was not exactly what I imagined from the description. Our guide led us to a culvert and explained that this entrance to this section of cave was dug when a cave diver did not return through a sump to the cave they had originally entered this section from. They did find the diver but by then it was too late. Anyway the culvert had a narrow metal ladder installed in it and as I was anxious to take pictures I jumped on in and began going down. It wasn’t long though before I began to doubt my wisdom in going down first the shaft seemed to continue forever . I reached a small ledge where the ladder ended and I had to carefully climb over to another ladder to continue on. From here I could tell I was approaching the bottom and now I was no longer surrounded by the smooth cement shaft. 70meters unbelayed certainly seemed like a long way down. This was only the beginning of the adventure as we reached stream passage were we first waded through water then continued past some deeper sections by balancing on cable strung across the water and then stepping across on rebar spikes driven into the walls. The cave was a very sporting trip and was beautiful to see.
The next days caving started very similar to the previous days as we headed down another concrete culvert shaft. This time though we only had to to climb down 40 meters of ladder before heading down towards stream passage. We climbed down another ladder past a waterfall. This cave had an even longer section of cable strung across water that we balanced our way across over 20 meters. After exiting we had a short break and then were warned that the next section was a little tight. I opted to leave my pack outside and was glad I did as not only was there a tight squeeze through the entrance section but then we descended down two rope ladders that barely fit through some places. I was relieved to learn this was a through trip so I would not had to ascend those ladders and the exit wasn’t a tight squeeze at all.
For Fridays trips I saw that Peter , Philipe and Annie had all signed up to go to New Amateur cave. Since this was sure to mean plenty of stops for photos I joined them. I was not disappointed. After another descent through a concrete shaft down a 50m ladder we were in some beautiful stream passage which did give us some great opportunities to take pictures. I was a little nervous about carrying my camera gear through long stretches in the water but after being assured the water was less then waist deep off I went. Well it may not have been deeper then waist deep but when the ceiling height was less then five feet there wasn’t much room to keep my gear dry in. Still somehow I managed. Since Phillipe and Annie had driven their own vehicle to the cave they offered to give us all a ride back if we took some extra time in the cave so we didn’t have to hurry to meet the bus. After three or four extra hours in the cave we headed out when we reached the long climb that led to the parking area though our guide had a surprise for us, he headed further down the canyon instead of up. Coming around the bend we found the cable car that brought people down to visit Punkya cave and since he knew the operator they waved us aboard for a ride back to the top. We made it back to camp in plenty of time for dinner.
For my final day of caving before heading to the congress in Brno I decided to take it easy and signed up for a cave with no long climb to enter, so this time I was heading to Old amateur. Once more I was caving with Phillipe and Annie and so we took plenty of photo stops though there were plenty of other people on the trip so we tried not to hold the group up too much.The large stream passage we were walking through did make for some great pictures. Then it was time to head back to camp.
During camp we’d enjoyed wonderful meals though folks did comment on the fact that the breakfasts were a little different then people were used too. For one we had a pair of large smoked sausages. They were tasty but that was a lot of sausage first thing in the morning. The next morning we had four jelly filled doughnuts each, quite the contrast. I think my favorites were the bread and cheeses. The highlight of the meals though was when the local cavers got together after dinner to host a bbq, with appetizers, grilled trout and steak and lots of local beer and wine.They even had an accordion player and someone on guitar to play us some traditional songs.
An important lesson was learned one night during camp after we retired for the evening. One of our cabin mates began shouting random words that didn’t make sense. We assumed he was sleep talking and asked him to wake up. Pretty soon he was really hollering so the caver in the bunk above him tried to nudge him awake. He became combative and jumped across the room nearly hitting me. We became really concerned when he tried hitting the door which had a glass window as he might easily have injured himself. We grabbed him and sat him on his bunk. He wouldn’t respond to questions so I quickly walked to the hut where our organists were staying. I nearly panicked when they weren’t there, but a passing caver informed me they were having a meeting in the nearby building so I ran over and found the main guy Petr who called an ambulance. By the time the ambulance arrived we had found out from other cavers that the victim was diabetic and sure enough he had medication stashed in a jacket pocket under his bunk. The ambulance medics gave him some soda and shortly he was fine. Thinking it over though I realize how risky it could have been to have something like that happen in a cave. So I suppose the important lesson here when staying with people you haven’t met before and especially if you’re going caving with them, ask them if they have any serious medical conditions and let people know if you have any.
It was a wonderful camp overall and I was sad to leave but looking forward to the Congress in Brno.