The newly discovered Passage of Marjan Vilhar in the cave Predjama

In Slovenia, in the last five years an average of 370 caves per year have been registered. Each was given a name and registry number and each got an A form representing her identity card. Of course, not all of them shine with great lengths and depths, to be registered it is enough to meet the condition of exceeding ten meters in any direction. In order for the cave to become a cave at all, it is necessary to find an entrance, be it by classic wandering in the field or by using freely available LIDAR data.

When looking for new passages in caves, the story is a little different. They appear most often where there is a draft, sometimes something needs to be dug, widened or climbed. In the newly discovered caves, any hole can be a possible continuation, into which the caver will curiously peek and see if it leads anywhere. Most are usually dead ends, but there may be at least one real one. And that, of course, is the sweetest. Why it is different in already explored caves, I can’t explain. Probably many are disheartened by the thought that someone has already looked there or the cave does not instill any greater hope from afar. The new tunnels in the most famous caves are therefore even more resounding, as few people expect them.

One of the most famous caves is certainly Predjama, which with Jama 1 v Grapi, Požiralnik Lokve and Bojanova jama forms one of the longest cave systems, almost 14 kilometers long. It is considered to be well explored, yet the hope remains among cavers, that there is something else there. At the end of February, a team of cavers from three cave clubs from Ajdovščina, Borovnica and Postojna began a systematic inspection of the Eastern and Western tunnels in Predjama. Among many findings, the greatest discovery is certainly the Passage of Marjan Vilhar, named after the tragically deceased Marjan Vilhar, rescuer and versatile caver from the Postojna Cave Society Luka Čeč.

The entrance to the tunnel is located at the beginning parts of the Western tunnel, not far from the connection to the Bojanova jama. For many years, the opening below the ceiling seemed suspicious to many, but no one mustered enough courage or enthusiasm to climb the muddy wall. It was only in the last cave actions of this year that the cavers managed to climb the Joklov pokončnik chimney, and after a series of rather steep and narrow steps, a completely unexpected gallery of large dimensions opened up behind the chimney.

Even the first rockfall hall surprises with black-colored rocks and walls, here the most beautiful part of the tunnel called the Rov popolnega kroga (Passage of the Perfect Circle) branches off. The beginning is far from easy, as the cavers had to climb over the abyss and equip 25 meters of traverse, and on the other side they were greeted by a large pool full of water and a winding tunnel, richly filled with speleothems. Walking along the tunnel unfortunately leaves irreparable footprints in the soft mud, as there is no water flow here, only standing water that slowly deposits sediment. During our photo visit, we were second team in this tunnel and we were walking in the footsteps of the firstcomers, as I hope all the following visitors will.

The main tunnel is soon crossed by a shorter water narrow, and then the beautifully lit tunnel continuously follows the west direction, to where it is interrupted in places by smaller rockfalls and lower passages with dry mud. It ends in the Karantenija (Quarantine Hall), from where a tunnel into the final, more muddy parts follows, and a turn-off, which the cavers finally overcame in early June. It took them through muddy meanders, deeper steps and straits to the final parts of the Požiralnik Lokve, which were explored in 1997 by divers led by Tomo Vrhovec.

We did not go into these tunnels this time, as we had a lot of photographic work planned in Passage of Marjan Vilhar. With all the branches, which the researchers additionally connected to the main tunnel, the total length was over two kilometers, which is more than enough for one photo shoot. However, because there were too many of us, part of the team went to the lower parts of the cave and later reported that there are still a lot of interesting things waiting for us there.

The explorers visited the new tunnels as many as 17 times, during which they explored most of the potential branches, followed the drafts and widened the straits, measured more than two kilometers and took many photos. All the findings filled as many as seven pages of the additional B form and once again confirmed that the clubs can do even more by cooperating with each other. Or, as Tomo Vrhovec wrote back in 1997 after the end of research in the Predjama system: “Once again, it turned out that individual Slovenian clubs are too small for more demanding campaigns. Fortunately, we all speak the same language and when we are in the cave, we all have mostly the same desires.”

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