Sunday, May 29, 2022

Technical Rigging Class in Hungary

In May 2022, my friend Rene and I had the opportunity to go to Hungary for the Technical 2 Rigging Class put on by the Hungarian cave experts as part of a technical exchange with the National Cave Rescue Commission. We had signed up a few years prior, but due to Covid delays, had to wait. But finally the time came!

We arrived in Budapest (more on that later), and soon were headed to the beautiful northeastern town of Svogliget. Our first full day we attended lectures in a restored building.

The next day it was time to head up to the caves! Carrying lots of ropes, carabiners, and hangers, plus our vertical and caving gear, we hiked about 2 hours through an extraordinarily beautiful forest.

We then practiced rigging approach lines and used both natural and artificial anchors to enter a couple caves.

During the week we also did practice on cliffs near the entrance to Baratla Cave, an amazing tourist cave in Aggtelek National Park in the town of Aggtelek. 

The symbol for Aggtelek National Park is the Fire Salamander (Salamandra salamandra). I was really excited to see one. (and just one, no others during the trip)

After about a week I started figuring out where I was. Fortunately, the Hungarians were very friendly and helpful and didn't leave me behind anywhere!

The forest trails were extremely well marked and cared for. But we saw no other hikers all week. There's a 1,100-km long trail that crosses Hungary that sounds like it would be a fun destination.

One day we went to nearby Slovakia to visit a cave in Slovak Karst National Park. Crossing the boundary from Hungary to Slovakia was like driving across a stateline in the U.S. No need to slow down. But across the line, all the signs changed language! Slovakian is nothing like Hungarian. In fact, every country that borders Hungary (Austria, Romania, Ukraine, Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, Slovakia) all have a different language.

One of the eye-catching things in the cave was this blue slug. Thanks to iNaturalist, I know it's a Carpathian Blue Slug (Bielzia coerulans). They're endemic to the Carpathian Mountains of Central and Eastern Europe and turn blue when they reach 100-140 mm in length. (More info here.)

The cave also had a lovely series of rappels, including next to this pool. It didn't smell the best, though, decaying frogs made us try to move a little faster!

The last big cave I went to is listed for the hikers to visit the entrance. We had permission to go beyond, so we descended nearly 600 feet, rigging the cave as we went.

Part of the cave had old ladders from when it was first explored in the 1950s and 1960s. I felt a lot safer on rope than on these ladders!

On the last day of the class, while the Hungarian students were completing their certification booklets, we got to visit a couple tourist caves. One was the amazing Baratla Cave. We joined a tour and at first followed a small river through a series of rooms. 

Then we went into some even bigger rooms with even bigger speleothems, reminiscent of caves in the Guadalupe Mountains of New Mexico.

In the afternoon we went into the now-closed Rokoczi Cave, closed due to lack of tour guides. The cave is very steep, and we saw some cool formations and two lakes. There is still passage to be found underwater.

The caves in Hungary are quite impressive. There are 170 under the city of Budapest. In Aggtelek National Park there are over 200. This is a cave-rich country! Rene and I learned from great teachers how to do things the Hungarian way, which is very efficient. I am so glad to have had the experience.

On our last evening in Svogliget, we went for a walk up a hill that overlooked the town., with the national park int he background. 

Another memory from the class: washing cave gear in the stream that runs through town. The town was quite adorable.

The class ended and we had 1.5 days in Budapest. We headed first to a thermal bath and even got massages (explaining that our numerous bruises were from caving and not from getting beat up!). 

We lucked out and saw the full moon rising over the Parliament building across the Danube River.

The next day we went to Castle Hill, St. Steven's Basilica (where we heard an organ concert)...

...the Parliament...

...and an evening boat ride. It was a lovely day exploring Budapest, and there's still so much more to see!

I can't thank our hosts enough, and I really look forward to when Hungarians come to the U.S. and we can show them around!


Carolyn said...

What fun! Found a small typo -- "But across the *like*, all the signs changed language!" I think you mean *line*

Desert Survivor said...

thanks, Carolyn!

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