Interview #14 – Hakan Egilmez, Turkey

“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 speleological experience. 

I’m 52 years old, I started caving a little late in 2008. Since I had 30 years of scuba diving experience, my goal was to advance in cave diving. 

However, when I got into the business, I was in a position to work and lead in many projects/expeditions at home and abroad, especially in vertical and archaeological caves.

How did you start dealing with speleology and why are you still doing it? 

In fact, when I was studying archaeology in 1992 at the university, there were diving and cave options for clubs. Although I wanted to do speleology very much, I could not find the adequate equipment as it was scarce and caving was dangerous in the day, so I enrolled in the scuba diving club. Despite my desire to do the speleology for a long time, I could not find a suitable caving club. This continued until I met the Aspeg team investigating the underground gallery in the Hagia Sophia project in Topkapi. In this project, we were diving into existing cisterns. Cavers worked in the dry parts.

Why do I still do it? For me, I really like the time frozen in 3D visual space. When I come out of the cave, I feel as I have been reborn. This feeling is very motivating. It is worth all the tiredness and effort.

To which club/organization do 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. 

I am officially a founding member of the Aspeg group and my heart is bound there. However, I think that clubs and organizations are tools for the real speleology. I know that structures are important, but I don’t attach much meaning to them. 

After all, we are caving. The dynamic nature of such institutions is related to their members. For me, collective effort makes groups meaningful. There are too many caves in the world to explore. But the number of cavers is small. I don’t get too hung up for not being able to explore all the caves I want. Therefore, it makes more sense to me to do joint activities with all domestic or foreign teams with whatever option/expedition is possible.

Can you tell us more about your favorite cave and how you chose to dedicate your energy there? Share with us more details such as depth, length, level of complexity, a brief exploration history,  exploration specifics, major breakthroughs and potential.

I can name a few:

  • The first is Altınbeşik Cave and we worked with the Czech geospeleology team and Turkish teams for 4 years. In this cave, where coordination and planning are very important, it is necessary to pass 3 long siphons, 10 cave lakes by boat and to camp behind the siphons. The cave continues with siphons with an active system of 4560 meters long and has two long siphons/lakes that need to be passed by diving.
  • Pınargözü cave, Turkey’s longest cave, is over 12 km and still continues. I worked with different teams for 6 years. The coordination and planning part is the hardest part. The cave is very dangerous and difficult with rock climbing and one must watch out for with water-filled passages.
  • The Raven Cave has a depth of -1400 meters, the entrance of which is at an altitude of 2900 meters, and it is a difficult cave that can be continued. In this cave, I worked with the ukrainians Yuri Kasian and Gennadiy Samokhin. It’s a vertical and narrow cave and it’s very tiring. It is necessary to make long entries there (10 days and more).
  • Morca cave reached a depth of 1290 meters. Here I plunged into the siphon at -1240 meters. A new species of crustacean was identified. The cave continues with vertical parts.
  • I took a short dive into the siphon at -1310 meters in the Zojar cave in Iran. But because the continuation was problematic, my Iranian friends ended the work in the cave.
  • Of course, the Varonia/Krubera cave is a different story – I spent 10 days at -1710 meters. It was a very different and difficult experience.
  • I spent the most exciting work in Hagia Sofia’s exploration of underground tunnels. While doing the 3D scanning, we explored 900 meters long galleries. In this context, we discovered many cisterns and tunnels under Old Istanbul and dived into some cisterns and wells. Most interesting were my dives into the wells inside Hagia Sofia.

What about other favorite regions, caves or areas of interest? 

The region with the highest number of caves in Turkey is the central and eastern Taurus. I can say that Taşeli plateau and Aladaglar are my most favorite places.

What are your plans on current and future projects? 

I’m focusing a little bit on the cave diving part right now. We explore deep and long-running cave systems with rebreather. Then we have plans for exploration in the sea caves. In August, I continue to work on vertical caves and use the time as efficiently as possible.

What is your approach toward attracting new speleologists in terms of preparation and training (examples, duration and accents of training, etc.)?  

The first stage is fitness; I myself run 50 km a week. As an amateur, I am interested in the sport of triathlon.

The second stage is the correct information and planning; I keep a written record of all the work done in the cave.

Third stage; relying on material and activity, teamwork and domain knowledge.

And doing things right. Whatever the current information and conditions require during the operation and planning phase, it is necessary to make the right revisions and create the right conditions. It is necessary to eliminate egos and personal goals and rely 100% on teamwork.

If you have experience with incidents in caves, would you share this with us, so other speleologists can learn from your experience? What would be your advice in case of such incidents? 

Yes, I have had some experience in this regard. One of them was in the Altınbeşik cave while diving, I shared air with my teammate and took him out of the siphon. I’m not talking about the little crushing/cuts etc. that I experienced. These things happen naturally.

I believe that it is always necessary to do the right things about the prevention of accidents and to listen to everyone’s opinion by respecting common sense. Even if there are points we don’t want to hear from time to time 🙂

What have you learned through dealing with speleology? 

I see it as a space where you can get to know yourself or excel your experience. Philosophically, to say a few things; When they ask what are you getting out of the cave, I say ‘light’ in response.

Would you like to share something more with us? 

Caves are an environment where there is no room for fear and uneasiness. Most people find it scary.

In fact, it welcomes us with its most natural and simple form. It doesn’t judge us. The cave tells us who we really are. I think I can say that it is a unique experience.

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