The underground world of Budapest

Our visits to the famous caves of our neighbours seem to have no end. After the extremely picturesque Gualtiero Savi in Italy, we ended up all the way in Budapest in a few weeks’ time. Csaba Egri had invited us to their famous thermal caves previously, but we always managed to find a suitable excuse regarding attendance. This time, we could not escape the invite of Péter Adamko, so we put all our things in a van and set off on Friday evening to visit our Hungarian neighbours.

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Our destination was the famous cave József-hegy which holds the tittle of  the small Lechuguilla due to its exceptional speleotherms. So it is quite rightly included on the list of suggestions for Unesco World Heritage Sites. The cave’s beauty was also recently described in a large book, unfortunately only available in Hungarian. The entrance is situated on one of the tops of Budva, on a meadow in the middle of the usual city hubbub, where there is also a caving home. We thought it excellent, as we are used to a completely different approach to caves.

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The cave was not formed because of waters on the surface, as is usually the case with our country, but due to the rising hydrothermal activity. Some common traits of these caves are branched webs of shafts, true tunnels of impressive lengths. They cannot really brag with an abundance of halls, and sinter formations are not very common either, as they are formed much more slowly due to the bad connection to the surface. However, there are some clearly visible and quite unusual special features in the shape of large crystals, gypsum panels, aragonites, aragonite needles and many more.

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We only started entering the cave in the early hours of the afternoon in fear of time for exploring it running out. The branched shafts on the map of the cave promised a lengthy slide, but we were grounded by Peter’s circling over only a small part of the cave. It is a fact that the cave is extremely fragile, to the point where certain parts have only suffered one visit, and a repeat is strongly prohibited. Our seven member team was of course too clumsy for such a visit.

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We made our way to the largest hall in the usual rhytm. During all the segments where larger events took place, for example expanding and searching for continuations, Peter comprehensively informed us about the difficult job of the first explorers. Here, the shafts are mostly narrow and full of a dry layer of mud, which proved to be quite slimy in combination with the hot air and temperature of around 13 degrees Celsius. The cave is practically dug to a depth of 60 meters, where they encountered the largest space of the cave called “Railway Station Kinizsi”.

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Well, a completely different world that what we were used to a few ten meters up began here. The hall is tiled with gypsum panels measuring 70 meters in length, while crystals, which are at least half a meter tall, adorn the edges of the cave. The path winds its way through the whole hall, so it is possibly to see it in its entirety. To provide a better visual, it has also been partly electrified, which does ruin the image, but the special formations still reign supreme.

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The nicely marked path led us to the next halls and shafts, where all of the cave’s beauty is intact despite frequent visitation. You can immediately spot the dedication of the team and the care of the guides, who are well aware of the fragility of such a system and, judging by the way they handle things, the beauty of the cave will prevail against curious cavers for a long time to come.

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We made out way to the final shaft through the “Ice Cream” hall over a series of easy transitions. Only a few meters ahead, the narrower shafts with extremely fragile walls began – here, our team could recreate the scene of an elephant in a porcelain shop. Well, since we lately do not finish without a photography session, we had a long way back ahead of us.

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Despite the moderate tempo, we made our way out of the cave three hours later, meanwhile rescuing a lost turtle in the side shaft, filling ourselves up with Peter’s father’s excellent sausages (his name is also Péter Adamko) and bitterly thinking about the next day, as the event was over way too soon.

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We were saved from our predicament by Csaba, who took us to the cave Pál-völgyi on the next day. The cave is considered one of the longest in Hungary, measuring almost 30 kilometers. It was discovered back in 1904, when the son of the owner of the quarry was saving a lost sheep, which lost its footing. Today it is a famous tourist attraction, despite the fact that only a small portion of the cave is accessible to tourists. The more interesting part is, of course, only accessible to cavers, and we were granted access by cavers Gabi and Atila from the local caving society.

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We chose a well-known tactic – first, a visit to the cave, and a photography session on the way back. Our way to the most beautiful parts took three hours, and in that time we were familiarized with the incredible imagination of discovering the transitions. At a point where you really would not expect a continuation, cavers found a way into the shafts – either by planning it or coincidentally. In some parts, this kind of research has ceased completely, but these strange events were the “culprits” for kilometers worth of new shafts. Such is the classic case of moving the rock on a spot where everyone had given up. Behind the rock, there are darkness and drafts once again …

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The extremely dynamic cave is interrupted by shorter levels, which cavers have equipped with permanent metal ladders. On some narrow parts you really wonder how they managed to make it through all of the straits, but it was really worth it. In a different scenario, they would have to carry equipment for roping techniques along with their usual gear. Maybe the cave is a tad monotonous due to the similar straits, fireplaces and descents, but luckily, it is decorated by various formations.

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There is traditionally quite a bit of effort involved if you want to reach the most beautiful parts, but it is definitely worth it. To reach them, many researchers were fuelled by many years of researching zeal and they did not call this find the “Jubilee part” in vain. In an already beautiful profile of the cave, there is an abundance of beautiful and unique cave features, which become more and more beautiful as you are moving from hall to hall. And for my taste, the part called “Emmentaler” with the large facets is just a cherry on top of an already beautiful shaft.

Since we were already pressed by time, as we had to return to Slovenia on the day, the photo session was quite brisk. Any form of lengthy setup was unwanted, the whole team was working like the best Swiss watch. Even the equipment was working as it should have. We made our way out five hours later, said our goodbyes to our Hungarian mates, logically inviting them into our parts before packing up the van and driving towards home soil.

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Sliding around Hungary were Bole and Mojca, Miha and Ines with Jaka, Andrej, Vid, Tina and the guy signed below, all of them longing after a good Slovenian cave or two. Especially we need to say big “thank you” to Peter for great accomodation and visit of the cave and Csaba for fantastic organization of the second day trip.

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