The expedition with Slovak explorers in Venezuela has found one of the biggest quartzite caves on the world.
„They eyes suffered. They had nothing to lean on. They were looking for walls or ceilings but could not see them. The carbide lamp we used to light our legs was only a pure indication of light. The darkness came from everywhere. The brain tried to process the darkness, but failed. The large underground space depressed us. It reminded us of an inhospitable surface of other planets. The depths of the massif seemed to have no ending. They let us further and further.
Every step on the giant slippery boulder was like Russian roulette. We were discovering a cave that was too long for human perception and that was never entered by a human foot before. We called it “hell hollow”, describes caveman and geologist Brano Smina and documentary filmmaker Pavol Barabas their feelings after having seen the entrails of the Venezuelan table mountains Chimanta. Today they know that the discoveries made during the exploration of the old quartzite caves will change the world. The world of science and speleology.
Mystery: The view from the outer space captivated them. Looking at the NASA satellite photography, they felt the mysterious power of the table maintain. The Chimanta looks from above as if someone had scratched it with a fork. Unbelievably regular scratches are in reality hundred maybe even two hundred meters deep canyons and gorges. “No one had clarified their rise. It’s a mystery without an answer. And exactly this factitiousness was the main argument of Brano for me to return to the table mountains”, says P. Barabas, the director of the adventurous movie Amazonia Vertical taking place 80 kilometers air line at the table mountain Ayuan Tepui. The inaccessible mountain table Chimantá surprised him by its appearance and vegetation. The strange plateau became for several days the home of the Venezulean-Slovak-Czech expedition Chimanta 2005. Apart from 14 Venezuelans, many well known Czech and Slovak cavemen - Erik Kapucian, Marcel Griflík, Marián Majerčák, Zdenko Hochmuth, Ján Pavlík, Marek Audy and Richard Bouda took part on in. The goal? To explore in detail the Cave of Charles Brewer, that is the largest one in quartzite rocks. Last year Brano Smida and photographer Marek Audy were part of the team that had discovered it. They mapped it in a length of 4, 5 kilometers and hoped to find its continuation this year. They anticipated that the table mountain has still many mysteries to discover.
The unknown: The Venezuelan table mountains of the Guyana highlands are one of the highest in the world. From the Amazonian rain forest the massive of Chimanta raises up. Chimanta is twice as high as the High Tatras. The caves inside Chimanta were created in the rocks settled there when Africa and South America formed the pre-continent Pangea. The isolation of the fascinating world of tepua had been lasting for millions of years now. The native Indians from the Pemon tribe call the mountain tables tepua. They are lined with cliffs that are one kilometer high, vertical rock cliffs disabling the access from any side. During the year they are dominated by elements - slashed by storms, rain and wind. The table mountain Chimanta is also hardly accessible. It’s a table mountain, but far not as flat as a table.
The quartzite rocks creating the mountain are considered as irresolvable and consistent, because they exclude the possibility that horizontal overground corridors are created. The truth is, Chimanta is drilled by caves like cheese. No one was looking for them there. 20 years ago the Venezuelan government stopped supporting all the scientific projects on the table maintains, and so they got conserved. “The expeditions are financially and logistically extremely difficult. Small groups and individuals have no chance,” explains Brano. And yet, the Slovaks were lucky.
Underground missioners: The expedition Chimanta was organized by an acknowledged Venezuelan scientist. He spent the last years in politics, he was the minister of education, but he never lost his reputation of being one of the greatest experts in the field of the Venezuelan wilderness. He is well known for many important expeditions to the table mountains. He succeeded to arrange the permission, to prepare the difficult logistic for the transport of people and materials. 300 meters of mountaineering ropes, scuba gear, air rafts, cavemen equipment, overalls, electro central, heavy bags with “oddments” necessary to survive in difficult terrain. The displacement to the table mountain resembled a military descent in an action movie. “I was not sure what to do: not cabled standing on the skid of a helicopter, should I shoot or should I hold fast?” says the director.
Slovak and Czech cavemen who discovered together with Brewer-Carias last year the above mentioned large quartzite cave had been the soul of the expedition. “Its largest territories were as big as football ground. Charles summoned us this year again as missioners who’d spread the results of the researches around the world. No one is a prophet in his own country and in Venezuela many people would like to own the underground discoveries, “explains Brano Smida. They came together by accident, but also by the successes of Slovak cavemen in the world. They gained acknowledgement because of discoveries two years ago with the discovery of the first horizontal cave in the quartzite mountain, the fourth longest on the world.
Explorer: The base camp was built on the entrance into the Cave of Charles Brewer. The part of the team, composed mainly of scientists and experts, left to the entrails of caves. They had to find the continuation of the cave and to make many scientific researches and take of samples for laboratory tests. After five days they went to the laboratory with minerals, plants and animals. Our cavemen stayed in the middle of the massif alone. They wanted to explore the distant and hard accessible hollows and gulfs on the plateau of the table mountain where they assumed to find the continuation of the cave system. The advancing in the marshes during a tropical rain reminded of wading in deep snow. They advanced always in groups of three. The hollows they had to pass seemed to be impassable. “Horizontal caves can be found 100-300 meters under the surface of the table mountain, on the ground of trap-door, sometimes as big as the Moravian gulf Macocha. Exhaustingly we combed the grounds of the canyons, poked our noses into every hole that could be an omen of the continuation of the cave, “says B. Smida. The sharp rocks were not too friendly to the mountaineer ropes. They were nearly fatal to Pavol Barabas. At the end of the next day’s exploration he crawled out of the deep canyon back to the surface of the table mountain. He hang on the rope, under him, there was 50 meters of emptiness. Only a few meters and he would have reached his goal. Suddenly he saw that the sharp edges of the quartzite destroyed the rope so there was a danger that it would tear up in a few seconds. „I stopped breathing. Slowly and carefully I tried to reach the goal in a way that my body felt lighter. I have no wings, but the angels must have been very close to me. Brano just said: It happened very often here, you were lucky. That was the reason why they called the cave they found next day in the canyon The Hell Hole. If there was a way to hell, that would be the way.
The Hole to Hell: It was as wide as a highway. At the beginning of the cave we have built a provisional camp and set for an expedition. A big river ran through the underground. The idea that the sudden flush could increase the water level in only a few seconds and block the way back was horrible. They found themselves in a completely different world. No one entered it since the Paleozoic era. The time stopped to follow the light; the darkness gave him different dimensions. The cavemen are used to it; P. Barabas exercised his psyche a few weeks before leaving to Venezuela. “I made several long night trips to Male Karpaty, just to get used to work at night.” Then he adds, that went through a knee surgery only recently. He had a little accident in New Guinea and the time he should have spent in the swimming pool rehabilitating he spent wondering through ancient caves. He preferred to get to know the mammoth drifts and the huge “domes” covered by stone blocks nearly as big as family houses. It was easy to get lost there. It was difficult to move there, the humidity made them nervous. It was very dark in there. Their lamps could not fight against the darkness. The concentration of carbon dioxide, bacteria and moulds was a risk factor. The sweaty T-shorts turned green. Brano nearly got poisoned. “I have breathed in something. I felt that my organism, body falls apart. The heat was killing me. It would be a fault to fall asleep, so I returned to the surface, into the jungle, so the intoxication started to disappear. I don’t know what would happen if I’d fall asleep. Spiders and black scorpions were omnipresent and were12 centimeters long. The water they had to drink was full of white horseleech and mosquito worms. Fortunately they discovered it only after a week. Since then they drunk the water through the skin - the skin worked as a kind of a bolter.
In the cave they discovered unknown forms of fillings. „The specific climate allowed them under “dark” conditions the growth of bacterial clusters looking like mushrooms. They were hard like stone, but alive from the inside. It is a unique type of biosymbiosis never found on Earth before,” says geologist Brano Smida. The hell hole was discovered into a length of 2,3 kilometers and not very long from there they discovered another 800 meters long cave. They called it the Green canyon.
The way home: The Slovak advenurer were the first to cross the table mountain Chimantá. Then they returned to the basic camp. Tropical vegetation was dense and perfidious. It hid 100 meter long breaches. Around them there was a perfect “flower shop”. Machetes were not strong enough to fight against it. Sometimes they were helpless, could not orient there, they got lost sometimes. In the cavemen overalls, rubber boots and rubber gloves they looked more like firemen. But they did not protect them before the humidity. “To walk hundred meters took two or three hours in the dense tropical brushwood. Every step was uncertain, every step could be the last, the jungle covered the big blocks, chasms and breaches, “says Pavol Barabas, who “caught” everything he could see with help of the eye of his camera. He once nearly lost it when the rock tower under his knees broke down and he fell four meters. The technical equipment was nearly destroyed. After having returned to the tent, he mended the camera and tagged it together - and it worked. So he could luckily finish his next extraordinary film. After a few days of successful exploring the men arrived back in the basic camp. To caves of the table mountain Chimanta can bear the names of Slovaks now.
New discoveries: The last phase of the expedition took place around the greatest quartzite cave of the world. “Even a big Boeing could land in the large caves. The entrails of the cave are a good example of geological and biological evolution and are full of mysterious processes, thinks Brano. “The table mountain works steadily. The two billions old rocks are corroded by bacteria. This is one of the hypotheses of the creation of mammoths’ caves unknown until today. Our discoveries could change the old theories about the dissolving of hard rocks.” The sciences stated that in quartzite such spaces cannot exist. It is for sure a miracle of nature, that shifts the knowledge about the table mountains and about the creation caves in not limestone rocks”, he adds. „Maybe legends talk about the legends of the surviving of died out dinosaurs and saurian on the table mountains, but it seems like they forgot about the underground. That is where we have to search for the Lost world sir Arthur Conan Doyle situated on the table mountains of Guayana highlands. The rich cave micro kingdom only proves it,“ says P. Barabas and adds„They are a great team. When Brano disappeared for 8 hours in the cave and did not return, I was afraid. But cavemen have a different perception of time. And they don’t distinguish between day and night. They also know that Brano is mad about exploring and he won’t leave until he finds something.“
Mosaic: „Caving is like filling of the mosaic. It happens gradually. We discovered three caves, made surveys and measured the dimensions. I hope that next time we will also find the connection between them. If we would succeed, the cave system of Charles brewer would measure approximately 8 kilometers. A unique cave in quartzite rocks would come to life,“ says Braňo Šmída and continues: „Already during the first expedition, I was fascinated by the table mountains, they attract me since then.” Pavol Barabas is fascinated as well, and reveals, that his new film will not only be about discoveries, but also about cavemen, and adds: “You have to bore deeply in the underground to find out how little we know about our Earth. It is like a journey into our souls. It is possible to go deeper and deeper, so that we’d be surprised by our discoveries.“
Juraj SedlákPrint pagepublished 11. 02. 2005, viewed 26526x, today 1x