Sami Paakkarinen - October 2014

Romania, Unexplored World

Romania is not the first country to come to mind when you think about cave diving. However, certain areas are filled with caves, both dry and wet. These caves have been quite well preserved and unexplored due the remote locations and legal hurdles of getting access. Planning for our trip started over two years ago when my good friend, Adrian, who is originally from Romania, went home to visit and, by coincidence, made contact with local cave and cavern divers. Immediately upon Adrian’s return, he told us about the boundless possibilities. Right then and there we made the decision to plan an expedition!

The road from Finland to Romania travels through some rather interesting areas. That didn’t matter to our fearless crew. We packed two cars full of dive and caving gear and set off on our journey across Eastern Europe. While it was only a 1,900km drive, it took us over 26 hours of driving. The highways in this part of the world can be a bit of a surprise. Sometimes, the roads were better suited for a horse and buggy rather than a car. The last stretch had to be the worst. The last 130km took us three and a half hours! This almost ruined the whole trip because I nearly crashed my van down into a river. Heavy rain made the road very soft and driving too close to the edge of the road made it collapse. Luckily, with the help of some kind locals, we were able to pull the car back on the road.

After we got my van back on the muddy road, we were finally able to start diving. On Saturday, we were able to explore in Izbucul Tauz, a cave in the Parcul Natural Apuseni, a nature park in Romania. After descending to 83m, we finally found a passage leading shallower to a never before found air chamber. On Sunday, we visited Izbucul Tauz again; and after 200m of dry passage, we found a third sump. But hauling all the heavy gear through the dry section proved to be a disappointment as the third sump was only 20m long. After that, there was some dry cave; but the show stopped at the base of a 4m high waterfall. We decided to retreat to think of a solution to overcome this obstacle.

The solution, we decided, was to drive one hour into the next city and get a 6m aluminum ladder. Now we were able to climb up the waterfall. Once up, we discovered 80m of new dry cave before finding the start of sump four. Even though we were less than a kilometer in, there was already a lot of elevation change in the dry sections and 3 sumps to cross. Continuing this exploration was not easy. After 6h of gear hauling, we had rebreathers and bailout in place. Sump 4 first descended to 16m, but then it turned up again. We started to feel disappointed when the cave moved up to 4m, but then a massive down slope opened up. We continued to descend; but after 300m of new cave passage, we reached the limit of our bailout range. We were over 60m deep, and the cave kept descending…

Another cave we explored was Coiba Mare. This is the siphon where water descends underground to re-emerge from Izbucul Tauz, 2.5km away. To access Coiba Mare you need to be 100% certain that the rain won’t surprise you. We had good weather almost whole the time; but one week after our trip, the whole cave was filled with muddy water. In that case, there is no escape if you happen to be inside. Coiba Mare begins with a cavern 30-40m high and 80m wide. It then turns into a big tunnel. This tunnel goes for 700m before ending in a location known as Death Lake. Death Lake earns its name due to the large number of logs floating on its surface. Hauling the gear in took 1 day, and we needed to rig a "Tyrolean Traverse" rope system to get the gear down safely. Finally, after a day's worth of hard work, we had all the gear needed to dive.

At first, visibility was moderate; but it cleared up as we got deeper. At a depth of about 30m, the tunnel closed in and was only 2.5m in diameter. We kept pushing until our bailout gas limited us to a depth of 90.5m. We did, however, have visibility to 93m which makes Coiba Mare sump the deepest sump in Romania!

Even though we were able to push the two cave ends closer together, we still have 2km to push and a 200m elevation change to account for. With those challenges in front of us, a connection is possible; but it will be a hard job to accomplish. I know that my team is up to the task.

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