“Interview” is caving club “Pod RB” initiative dedicated to discussions with cavers from all around the world. What they share about their life above and under the ground, their caving experience, stories, dreams and future plans you can find in the following lines…
Tell us something about yourself in terms of caving experience. You may also wish to include role in your organization, personal features, activities, etc.
I started caving in the end of 1999. It was caving school of The Perovo caving club, Moscow. And in late Jan 2000 we went to our first expedition to Zabludshikh cave on Alek range, west Caucasus, just above Sochi. So, pretty soon there will be 20 years of my cave story and 20 years of Perovo-speleo team, as soon as most of us met in that particular expedition.
Currently you are leading explorations to the world’s deepest cave. What made you start exploring caves and why you are still doing it?
It is funny, I never dreamt to be a caver. I was hiking and trekking a lot and just felt some lack of rope work knowledge at time. So I decided to learn rigging and ropes from the best rope workers: cavers. But pretty soon I was involved in the best process in the world: discovery. We were so lucky to have some new discoveries straight away, from the very first expedition. Actually, caves are probably the only place where you can still go and find some new unknown territory, where you can still feel yourself a real pioneer. That is why I am doing this mostly.
To which club/organization you feel you belong? Tell us something more about this group of people or organization, something about the main drive behind your activities and projects.
As I already have mentioned above, I started in Perovo caving club. Inside of it Petr Lyubimov, Zverev brothers (Konstantin and Roman), me and some other guys formed the Perovo-speleo team, dedicated particularly to the explorations. And later on we separated from the club. From the very beginning it was a group of people impassioned with the Idea of new horizons and discoveries. There was no one lider, all the decisions we made together. Even in the expeditions we usually changed the leaders. And we were lucky enough to make some new explorations. We found a new cave on the north of Arabika massif, where 3 deepest caves are situated and explored it to -453m. We called it Vyatskaya, after Vyatka, the native town of Petr and Zverevs. https://speleoatlas.ru/caves/vyatskaya-2161/.
We deepened the Moskovskaya cave from -980m to 1250m. https://speleoatlas.ru/caves/moskovskaya-2158/
We’ve participated some British expeditions of Hong Meigui Society to China and made some new caves there.
And of course, from time to time we got back to Veryovkina cave.
This march we are going to celebrate 20th anniversary of the Perovo-speleo team. We are still together and our curiosity still calls us to the depths of the planet.
Can you tell us something more about Veryovkina, for example:
- Brief history, when and how you discovered this cave, region, etc.
Veryovkina cave is situated in Abkhazia, on the South end of Arabika massif, part of Gagry ridge, West Caucasus.
It was first discovered by Krasnoyarsk (USSR) cavers in 1968. They made it down to 115m and named it S-115. In 1982 the cave was found again by Perovo caing club and marked P1-7. 1983-86 Perovo club managed to explore it down to the depth of 440m and named it after Alexander Veryovkin, a cave diver who drowned in the sump of the cave Su-Akan, Sary-Tala massif, Kabardino-Balkaria.
Us, we first came to the cave in August 2000, the first year the Abkhazian border was open after the independence war with Georgia. Three expeditions we spent trying to push the narrow passage on the bottom, but in vain. So the November 2002 we started to try every lateral passages bottom to top, and at -120 we had found one. It was very narrow, but it had very strong wind, so we followed it. Next six expeditions our team was pushing this lead down to -320m. We found 6 dead ending passages during that explorations but always went on. In 2010 we switched to some other projects and the young generation of The Perovo caving club continued it, pushing it down to 360m. They made 3 expeditions 2013-2015. And in the August 2015 found some opening in the very narrow meander at 360m, being already out of time and materials. They shared this information with us and in June 2016 Konstantin Zverev organized our expedition to the cave. In a couple of exploration days we were lucky to find the 155m pit. We called it Babatunda. That expedition we reached the depth of 630m.
- Most existing period or moments from the exploration:
It is probably those five expeditions, I would call it “The race to the depths”, because it was unbelievable exploration:
June 2016 -630m
August 2016 -1010m
November 2016 -1350m
March 2017 -1832m. First sump at 1700 bypassed.
August 2017 First part, Perovo caving club -2155m.
August 2017 Second part. Perovo-speleo team -2204m. Huge labyrinth sistem was found at the depth below 2100m. We barely believed in our luck, it seemed it is not going to stop.
- The cave/region in numbers – depth, length, potential, etc.
Currently, since march 2018 when we measured the depth of the terminal sump named The last harbour of Captain Nemo, the depth of Veryovkina cave is 2212m. Our friends from Perovo caving club last August made very precise survey of the cave and added some new kilometers of passages to the map. Now it is 17500m long, including 10500m below 2000m.
The entrance is situated at the elevation of 2280m and we are already at -2204, so less than 80m left to the sea level. And we are still about 10km from the seashore, where the major water discharge is suspected. So I don’t believe we will go much deeper. It is more interesting, that our science work started to bring us some first fruits.
We work with russian biologists and studying the leeches, shrimps and amphipods from Veryovkina. The studies showed the hydrological connections of our cave with the range of caves of the region at the distance 7.5 km to the East and 10km to the Southeast of us. It gives us a huge underwater system that waits for the exploration.
- Cave features – narrow/spacious, cold/comfortable temperature, rivers, waterfalls, pits, etc.
First 400m of the cave are very narrow. Even though we made a lot of works to make it larger, still it is kind of challenge to make it with two bags. At -400m big pit of Babatunda starts and after it the squeezes are not so often. The water starts from -500m as a small creek and we follow it all the way down to -2000m. Since -800m we have many tributaries coming. At -1700m the creek goes to the sump. We bypassed it and in some 100m of passages we met the creek again. Probably it is not the same, still need to study it. At -1850m there is semi-sifon, the only place we really have to put the drysuite on. Almost always it is open. It closes only during very big floods. Finally at -2130m our creek goes to the sump, but there starts the very spacious part of the cave and we found a lot of pools and lakes there. But more interesting, in August 2017 we found a river with the discharge of 0.5 cubic metres per second. Though, it was very short, only 15 m long. In August 2019 our friends from The Perovo caving club explored another two parts of this river and now we can trace it for 200m long.
In the same expedition they found the biggest pit of the cave. It starts from some 370m in the side branch of the cave and as deep as 177m. They called it Santa Barbara.
The temperature in the cave varies from 4 deg. Celsius at -600 to 7.5 at the bottom. But it is still the goal for the future thorough studies.
- Is Veryovkina different to the other caves you explored and why:
As a majority of the caves of the region, Veryovkina develops mostly vertically and till -2000m resembles any other cave. But at the bottom labyrinth part it is completely unique. You can spend hours there just walking, not using the ropes at all.
The galleries’ walls have the deep brown colour of dark chocolate. And the floor is covered with very fine white sand. And it is very quiet there. It is wonderful place for me.
- Any major incidents during your exploration there:
Thanks God, we did not suffer any major injuries so far. There were some rocks fallen. Once it was Konstantin Zverev, who got it to the helmet and it even caused him some bleeding, but finally he came out by himself and it did not cause any consequences.
The only serious danger was the flood of September 2018. We hardly escaped it. The very good article about it here: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/adventure/2018/10/flood-escape-deepest-cave-veryovkina-abkhazia/
- Future plans and ideas:
We will continue to explore the bottom labyrinth obviously. Our colleagues from The Perovo caving club will continue with the new branch of Santa Barbara pit. We have very promising passage Minutochka in the bottom part. It leads upwards for more than 70m now, but it goes to the South, towards the Sea.
We are going to continue the science programs. We collaborate with Innsbruck University, Gina Moseley for paleoclimatology and it brang us some interesting results already. We hope to continue hydrogeological project with Instituto Geológico y Minero de España. This August we have a plan with The Crimean State University to dye trace the waters of all the significant caves of Arabica massif. We will try to catch the fluorescein from another caves in our river. So, there are plenty of plans.
What you have learned (in general about yourself, friends, life, etc.) through caving?
Caving is a very special activity. It is definitely the team game. Without your friends you can not do nothing. And you are doomed to spend with your people days and weeks underground, sharing everything good or bad. And the team spirit is very important thing for us. Also because your life depends of your friends when you are in the cave.
On the other hand, when you are moving through the darkness of the cave it is only you in the entire world. All alone. Smallest creature in the Earth’s guts. Your buddy is only the shimmering spot of light far away and the distant voice: “rope free”. So it is very meditative and self conscious process. Probably this strange combination of complete loneliness, remoteness and at the same time unity with your friends is the main lesson we can learn from caving and use it in the everyday life.
If you have experience with cave incidents would you share with other speleologists, so we can all learn from your experience. What is your advice to your fellow explorers in case of incident?
What should I say. Nobody is completely safe even at home. So it is obvious, risk is increasing crucially when underground. From my experience, you can minimise it by following the normal rules of the safety and the common sense. But when the incident happens, it is very important to act professionally as fast as possible. Because sometimes it is the question of minutes. Everybody fears, but you have to transform the paralyzing fear into the action. Let it be automatic action learnt on the rescue trainings or just some instinctive help to your friends or just the fast runaway from the flood, it is better to be ready for the action. Use your head and then move. Just that simple.
Taking into consideration the specifics of your area of research how you train a new speleologist to explore such cave/s? What is your approach toward cave courses for new cavers, i.e. how you attract new cavers, how long the course/training lasts, on what you put an emphasis, etc.?
To be honest, we work only our team. No courses, no training, no new scholars. The new people join us from other teams and it is usually our friends. We get known in some other expeditions and invite them to join us. Sometimes we take a couple of promising young cavers to practice with us in the summer expedition, so we could try them gradually: first to some small depth, say -400m. If it is OK, we take them to the camp -600, and so on.
The Perovo caving club, our friends and colleagues, have courses and we help them with the classes and rope trainings. And they make at least twice a year school expeditions to some small caves.
If there is something more you feel like sharing with us for us it will be pleasure to hear more.
Well, I want to thank you for the opportunity to share some of my thoughts with the Bulgarian audience. I am glad to have a chance to say hello to my caving friends from Bulgaria. We worked together in Krubera cave and I really appreciate our collaboration. I would like to wish to all of you to be persistent in your explorations, never give up. The depth is waiting to be discovered. Good luck and stay safe!
Link to Instagram of Perovo Speleo Club: https://www.instagram.com/sc_perovo/?hl=en