Reconstruction of the old route in Hanke Canal

The Škocjan Caves are definitely among the largest famous Slovenian sights, with surprisingly enormous dimensions of collapses and the underground canyon, the display of mighty nature and the diversity of the river Reka. Which, with its power, carved kilometers of passages, all the way to the spring of Timavo on the Italian side. Its flow is largely unknown, and it can be reached only in a few deep abysses, with depths of about 320 meters.

Cerkvenikov bridge. In the background under the bridge, the path to the Hanke Channel is visible.

From the entrance to the Dol Globočak, the tourist trail runs through the dry halls towards the entrance to cave Šumeča jama, which represents the beginning of the largest underground canyon in the world. The view of the huge hall visitor remembers for a lifetime, and even biggest impression is made by the bridge Cerkvenikov most, which stretches over the narrowest part of the canyon. From here, the tourist route turns towards the exit, while only a narrow, rocky path runs into the Hanke Channel, high above the river Reka. Path was made under unimaginable conditions, cave workers at the end of the 19th century, chiseled it with their own hands, equipped with wedges, protecting wires or fences, and placed wooden galleries and bridges. With this they created a unique technical monument.

The first meters of the path below the Cerkvenik bridge

The path is flooded only when water levels are extremely high, but despite this, it has been considerably worn out by the tooth of time. Many protective fences were damaged or even gone in certain sections, numerous carriers rusted and bridges were damaged. For this reason, the Škocjan Caves Administration decided to renew the route and wanted to maintain the same appearance of the existing elements, made from the same materials. It was also necessary to discover the process of making the path again.

Details of the original, over 120 years old fence

Detail of the renovated fence

The first stages of renovation were undertaken 15 years ago by German performers and renewed the beginning of the path. Later a steel mill was also installed. The second phase of the renovation, the company Ortar and Jerman started in the middle of last year, they already excelled when the new bridge was installed at the exit from Mariničeva jama to Mala dolina (PDF1, PDF2). Renovation of the route lasted for about 6 months, renovating more than 900 meters of the path all the way to Swidov’s viewpoint, where the river Reka needs to be crossed.

Repairing the original fence at Swid Viewpoint

Working in the cave is not one of the simplest works, but it’s even harder to work on a narrow shelf, high above the flow of river Reka, in darkness and wetness. The transport of iron fences and equipment itself was a great endeavour, and they helped themselves with a long cable lift. Nevertheless, everything had to be transported manually to the site, which had been constantly moving away with each repaired meter of the path. Firstly, they removed the old fence and the carriers, examined them and re-used according to their state of preservation. It was followed by drilling of holes, installation of railings in brackets, merging and tightening and hardening of carriers.

Removing and inspecting the original carriers

Drilling while hanging over the river

Installing the fence into the carriers

With all this effort of modern cave workers, we can imagine how persistent and untiring were the first workers, the locals from nearby villages. All their work was manual, demanding and life-threatening, they had worse equipment and the route was unknown to them. Renovation of the paths in the original form in this way fully preserves their achievement also for the descendants, in the hope that the cave and the river Reka will be merciful to it.

For all future visitors of the route, the journey will surely remain forever in their memory, at least the approximation to this can be seen in the video below. Recorded with GoPro, from the Schmid Hall to the working site, at five times the speed. Borut Lozej is leading us in the video and he also helped with the shooting, as well as Jaša Zidar, who is following us:

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