Edited from the "Speomond" Magazine, No. 4, 1999, page 9-13
Man was always predisposed to do from his own initiative some things which otherwise wouldn't even if it's paid for. Who cares that right after the first shy steps the great majority of our caving comrades were labeled in one way or another? In other words what does it matter that in the shadow of the Iron Curtain some individuals who found a cave, or a pothole in this case, have built there their own Gulag? Because if you don't have a cave, you'll dig one!
The operation, which in certain circles is called "rock excavation", "debottlenecking" or "dirt-digging", at its bases has some weird motives: the call of the unknow, or the pleasure of a work done in vain. Though I don't think that I can offer a scientific study to the reader, spiced with shocking details, or consideration about the most recent achievements in this domain.
I'm going to be satisfied with only to tell you that all our efforts, suffering and successes encountered there are the fault of only one man! That gentleman, his name is Iancu Orășeanu, following some advise taken in the deepest mysterious secret with Ghiță Brijan, didn't mind the effort to sneak all the way to Vărășoaia and pour a bucket of fluorescent juice into the most northerly sinkhole of the area!
It was 1984 A.D. Hodobana Cave was about to end and the everyone was looking for the new Promise Land. It's easy to understand that all of us got the fever in expectation of the results from the hydro-geologist company. And not in vain! After only 12 hours, the fast flowing river that passes among the neat little cottages of Boga, spread panic. The water was GREEN.
The news traveled fast like a storm from the moment in which the information reached the later Paul Matos. The story became a front-page news in the next edition of his magazine called "Speotelex", of which Pali - nobody knows 'til today how, but - managed to launch three issues per year!
1985 After a reconnaissance trip on a holiday, Paul Matos and Zoli Kiss came to the conclusion that in 2 m of snow even if they'll be working through the whole Labour Day (May 1st), won't get anywhere. Summer has to wait.
But it was a good start. Sleep at Iancu's bachelor flat, talk with Sanyi and Lajos Mátyási and the team climbs up to Padiș in an elegant manner: with the drilling rig workers' van.
Unfortunately Vărășoaia proves to be unrevealing. We dig without knowing in all kinds of back-country blow-holes, but probably because of running from one site to the other in order to find the most comfortable variant, doomed this promissing endeavour to failure.
And that was it! The enthusiasm disappeared, and the bunch, as per the applicable standards, broke up.
1986 The year of 1986 takes Pali Matos to Poiana Horea, the rest of the team voted for Valea Cetăților (=Castles' Valley). Thus, Poiana Vărășoaia (=The Meadow of Vărășoaia) is populated only for an end of summer camp. Yet, nothing turns up. In a late moment with the inspiration of urgent problems accumulated over the last night of the campain, my steps took me towards the upper part of a small meadow of the eastern slope of Vărășoaia Peak. There, at the edge of the meadow, the rotting log of a pine tree was sticking out of from the grass in a weird angle.
The tiny pothole timidly hiding under that plug was to be given the name of V5, or (=The Cave from the Face of the Hill) referring to its location. I have done a little digging at -5, and at -10 it became clear that this hole is different from all what the area could offer at that time. A void of gravitational distension on a 35° slope, a temporarily active stream (but located on a mountain top!) and the first absorbent air current of the region.
1987 We returned to the pothole along with Károly Moréh and György Keserü after a caving trip in Valea Rea (=Bad Valley), where I was stuck in the Tăiței Meander for more than an our; and for another one held in the Padiș Chalet for the purpose of psychological recovery.
We had a drill pipe with us, the second technical jewelery dedicated for exploration after the badly sharpened ax what we freed up the entrance with. Nonetheless, we were efficient as much as possible. The squeeze, where we were stopped the year before, became a shaft of 1 m in diameter at its entrance in only 15 minutes!
We decently descended to -35 m, where with the improved moral, I have refused to turn into the squeeze otherwise not inviting at all because of the montmilch which was sticking out right in our face.
1988, Summer The big-big summer camp, organized to Vărășoaia by Pali Matos: Speotelex Cluj, Emilian Cristea Alba Iulia, Czárán Gyula Tinca, Alpin Grup Timișoara, BKBT Oradea plus the individual freelance cavers. In V5 work is on-going in 3 shifts per day. The Montmilch is passed, but we got to the mouse-hole, which later on got also the number one. Chizle, crowbar, saw, our drill pipe and Marcel Hudrea. Cutting edge technology, modern procedures of the end of the 20th century. Marcel, the ultimate tool, is put to the job for 3 hours after penetrating the obstacle by the team mates.
Shaft with 16 m, big chamber, one more, a small stream, aragonites. And what a beauty!!! The Meandrul cu Septa Fraierilor (=Meander with the Fools' Flowstone), -104 m; Survey by Csaba Csák and Erzsébet 'Böbe' Orbán = 300 m. And that's it! That's it???
1988, New Years Eve Radu Pop, Călin Pop, Mihai Botez, Dumi Ciocan, István Szlány, Levi Dimén, Puiu Chiseliță. 1.5 m of snow, wolves, bears, Claudia (a.k.a. Dia). Cavers in the Forestry Cabin. The Forestry Ranger supplied with rifle who hunts the cavers from the Forestry Cabin. Digging at the Aragonites. Penetrated into the Rețeaua Paralelă (=The Parallel Network).
1989 Complete survey: Paul Damm, Zoltán Kiss, Radu Pop. Digging at Septa Fraierilor (=Fools' Flowstone) and at the Aragonites.
1990 Quiet and peace. Moral is high. Everyone is into Valea Rea, the cave that starts to show its teeth - and a small part of its speleothems. Piri Laci busted the collapse from the entrance in the "Meandrul cu Tăiței" (= The Meander with Noodles). V11 is being explored and surveyed on 1166 m after it was discovered in the sinkhole with the toilette (loo ...) next to the former House of the Cow-pokers, only 30 m away from the camp site! Digging in V5, again at the Aragonites. There seems to be something there, beyond ...
1991, August The second SAS camp, and the first organized at Vărășoaia. The endeavours run under the aegis of friendship, democracy, mailing list and with the limitless help from Marcel Hudrea's lorry. The meadow got populated like never before. 20 potholers from about 6 clubs, plus the occasional guests! The tactical plan displayed, previously typewritten by Mihai Botez.
All that means Vărășoaia, and more, was started from scratch.
Military style organization:
Nonetheless, the main effort of the campaign was directed towards the squeeze at the Aragonites in V5!
August 6. The fact that people were willing, it was visible right from the first day of the summer camp by the surprising jump on to digging, executed by Mihai Botez and Călin Pop by lunchtime. The next day morning Radu Pop, József Zih and Tibi Ille took their place. Radu is delirious: the pothole can be felt on the other side ...
August 9. Mihai, Călin and Zoli enter V5 until lunchtime. The next shift (Radu, Jóska, Horațiu and Szabolcs) finds them right on the barricades.
August 10 at 08:00 hrs Voices can be heard from the hill. Horațiu and Szabolcs arrive to report: Radu and Jóska passed through the squeeze. They went for exploration at 6:00 AM. We waited for more than an our, after that we exited as we were too cold.
August 10 at 10:00 hrs Shoutings on the hill. Jóska is running like crazy towards the camp, announcing to us an insane news: Radu was left blocked in the cave! Total astonishment ...
"We passed fairly easy through the squeeze, told the story Jóska, got into a spacious passage, some collapses here and there and than a chamber with a shaft in the bottom. We did traverse on the left and met a small creek, which we followed to a waterfall accessible directly from crawling through water. Radu rappelled down using the only rope available and got to the edge of another deep shaft ..."
What came after this, personally I have never managed to understand. What did get into those two to interpret right in that miserable hole the post-modern adaptation of a celebrated drama from Verona, which among others, includes a balcony and a rope? I don't know ... One thing is sure, by tying together many cordages, shoelaces and handkerchiefs, Jóska lowered the rope down to Radu, who after tying that to a rock pylon, cheerfully swung into the deep unknown ...
And bang! Right in that moment when our protagonists were separated by a 7 m deep shaft, not free-climbable, bad luck struck. And in that deafening noise of the waterfall, Jóska could not understand anything but something that seem to mean "CALL THE RESCUE TEAM !"
August 10 at 10:30 hrs V5 Pot entrance. Călin descends with the "Speleo-Rescue Bag" tied to his neck. Next is me with a heap of ropes and all kinds of hardware, Mihai and Tibi helping from behind. At the entrance is positioned the link person to the campsite: István Kiss.
The vertical sections of the access passages were practically "jump"-descended. In less than 10 minutes Călin passes through "Gaura de șoarece 1" (=Mouse Hole 1), where Tibi Ille will be stationed to relay messages. In a 30 minute duration the team is regrouped at the Aragonites.
With the sketch in hand, made by Jóska, I through myself into the Mouse Hole 2 right after Călin. Here comes the collapse and than the chamber with the shaft in the middle, which we dislike from every point of view. We install a banister of ropes. In a moment of silence, though, we kind of heard something. It's Radu ... singing!!!
We all jump into the passage and in a short time we can see him. He's in one piece, wet and he's talking non-sense. He asked us whether we brought a new rope to descend further... Obviously we threw all kinds of curses and swears at him, after that we look at the watch: it's 11:45 hrs! At 12:10 hrs, thanks to the relay people, the news of the rescue reached the campsite.
But hey, what happened? Radu, after he pondered on the aforementioned theatrical method, on the precious rope made in Oradea, of 20 m length, he descended into the new shaft. The problems started with the insufficient length of the rope and continued with the properties of the BoGibbs ascenders, which cannot be easily installed on a tight rope, especially when the descent was made all the way to the end knot. Being under the waterfall, with the weakened electric light, Radu somehow dropped one of his tools, after what he sounded the alarm.
Not having any cordage with him (all of them being on the 7 m waterfall), Radu, with one ascender mounted, remembers the Obendorfer knot, for which he needed the end of the rope. In that 10 m wide chasm after several pendulums managed to grab a crack in the wall, manages to free-climb about 2 m and obtain enough rope to manufacture the climbing knot.
With the critical section passed, being "only" completely soaked, had nothing else to endure but the cold until the rescue team arrived.
August 12 The Team on the front lines: Radu Pop, József Zih, Szabolcs Szûcs, Mihai Botez; Survey Team: Paul Damm, Călin Pop. The meeting point of the teams is at -132 m depth, in front of a monstrous aquatic meander. But Radu still WANTS the pothole to continue; undresses down to his underwear and passes those 8 m. Being perched on an erosion level somewhat higher, I listen to the horrible news: "There's another shaft!" V5 Pot continues ...
1991, November Radu Pop and Ovidiu Pop, supported all the way to the entrance by a team of French speleologists ("We do not go in there!") reach the 188 m depth, after a series of large shafts. Ovidiu Pop was excluded from the "Politehnica" Speleological Club, because of deteriorating some wetsuits in a couple of endeavours unauthorized by the club.
1992, Summer SAS summer camp: 35 participants, reduced percentage of camp people, clear objectives, exceptionally good technical supplies provided by János Czibulák (a.k.a. "Fóka"). Scope: to find a by-pass passage of the meander at -131 m depth.
July 25 The electric generator, a 70 kg monster, is carried up on Mount Vărășoaia. The first team of the Cable Guys (people who stretch out the cable) consisting of Szabolcs, Dumitru Ciocan, Lucian Forda and the undersigned, is caught by surprise by the floods on the Access Passage, not long after the exit of Ladder Guys (Jóska, Gigi Frățilă, Katalin Perényi and Călin Pop). These people, as their name suggests, were in charge of installing the fixed aluminum ladders, in the perspective of the foreseeable intense traffic.
July 26 The cable reaches the Aragonites. The Mouse Hole nr. 2 is enlarged with a HILTI drill-hammer.
July 27 - August 1 Work in 3 shifts per day, 5 hours each, in teams of 3-4 people, in 4 different objectives. All of them were passed, but the continuations are insignificants.
August 2 The electric cable reaches the -132 m depth. Together with Mihai Botez, in water, ofter up to the waist, we push on with the HILTI until we break the drill bit. That's it! Either we go through the meander or we'll give up!
August 3 at 16:00 hrs (4:00 PM) Attack Team: József Zih and Gigi Frățilă. Sherpas: Kati Perényi, Mihai Botez and Szabolcs Szûcs.
August 4 at 11:00 hrs Aragonites' Hall: the Survey Team (P. Damm, C. Pop, supported by D. Ciocan, L. Forda and R. Hațegan) hooks up with the Attack Team. We can see on their face, where there is no mud on, that they are disappointed; only about a 100 m they descended from the Radu - Ovidiu terminus. They bumped into a sump...
August 4 at 13:00 hrs We take the wetsuits and wave good bye to the guys. Călin bores himself into the meander with its characteristic ease. But that's insane! The wetsuit is too fat at chest height, where it's doubled, and he gets stuck big time. He frees up himself, tries again, same result; ... and so on, until we had to admit that we are too cold to continue.
August 4 at 18:00 hrs The Big Chamber. We meet with Szabolcs and Radu Pop, both in top shape. They want to see the end and if they can somehow pass through. We all exit, dejectedly, full of sadness.
August 6 The pothole has to be surveyed. Hand-in-hand with Jóska Zih we jump on it. The most beautiful was the meander at -132 m. I swore I won't go there ever. Muddy, dark (probably because even the lamps were not designed for such conditions), raining all over (meaning: cascade), and Gigi's topofil (=a surveying tool to measure distances) worked only when it felt like doing so. Just like a bad dream.
But we prevailed. Imagine that Jóska often dragged me like a sack of potato, or I didn't have the "courage" to remove the wetsuit coming back after traversing the meander. Once out of the cave, we appeared to be so victorious, like some worn-out floor-cloth hitting the garbage bin. But we had the trump against them: we reached the depth of -273 m, in the hill of Vărășoaia! Not much, but for us still it was something...
We trickled down towards the camp, where only a small camp fire suggested an ephemeral night watch. It seemed like there's something in the air, something undefined, but terribly actual. Vărășoaia has finished. Has finished somewhere very far from where we hoped to get to. Has finished just as unnoticed as it began... We didn't even realized it, that in fact we are the rearguard of a least glorious withdrawal.
There was a heavy silence around the fire. Only the shine of an almost empty bottle, passed back and forth between Jóska and myself, reminded us of the past years. And there was nothing else to say. We were thinking of Pali Matos. He surely was there with us in those moments, from the other side of somewhere of the world of nothingness. And in the starless night only the deaf whisper of the spruces could be heard...