Ice climbing in a cave
First ascent of a 280 m icefall in a cave in Slovenia01 June 2016
‘Brezno pod Velbom’ is a limestone cave on the Kanin plateau (Julian Alps, Slovenia). The first pit of this cave is one of the deepest natural shafts in the world . Due to a peculiar temperature balance, despite them being at only 2050 m asl, the walls of this cave are partly covered in ice all year round, forming a 280-meter-long icefall from the depth of - 335 m to - 55 m. On April 24, 2016 Luca Vallata, Matteo Rivadossi and Andrea Tocchini managed to climb this amazing feature in 6 hours: 7 pitches, 6 of which between WI5 and WI6, only one involving a few meters of mixed climbing (M5). The whole route was lead-climbed using ice screws for most protection and belays: a total of 7 bolts were necessary, the majority of which for the mixed pitch.
Here is the report of Alberto Dal Maso, one of the expedition's leaders:
"Ice climbing? Inside a cave??? That's insane!!! Let's go for it!"
This is, more or less, what Luca Vallata answered when I first presented my idea. Well, to be fair, it was not exactly my idea: the initial vision belongs to Rok Stopar, a leading slovenian speleologist, who mentioned this peculiar cave up in the mountains…"Brezno pod velbom is an enormous, 500-meter-deep shaft on the Kanin plateau, Julian Alps. It is no ordinary limestone cave, as the freezing temperatures inside cause massive amounts of ice to grow on its walls, all year round." That's enough to excite any ice climber, imagine a bunch of young alpinists and cavers! No way are we missing this occasion to try such a unique climb!
However, all that glitters is not gold; this cave is known since the early 90's, how come nobody has done it before? We found the answer throughout our numerous attempts in the winter. Be it the 6-hour approach in deep snow, be it the harsh weather outside, or the delicate ice conditions underground: the obstacles must not be underestimated. "You can't just pick a partner and climb the route: lots of work must be done before. - Explains Luca - Excellent caving techniques are required to set the ropes and descend into the cave." In other words, efficient teamwork is vital for success.
After days of accurate inspection, it's time to grab ice axes and tackle the climb. 280 meters, 7 pitches, all graded between WI5 and WI6, except a few meters of mixed (M5): this is the verdict of climbers Luca Vallata, Matteo Rivadossi and Andrea Tocchini, who sent the route on April 24, 2016. "Not only a first ascent, but a new page in climbing history - this is how Rok Stopar enthusiastically describes the feat. Perhaps, he might be exaggerating, however one thing's for sure: no underground icefall of these proportions has ever been lead-climbed before.
Alberto Dal Maso whould like to thanks all those who lent a precious hand to this expedition: photographer Leonardo Comelli, Sara Segantin, Matteo Bevilacqua, Andrea Cantone, Roald Bruil, Dejan Ristič, Matjaž Zetko. Special thanks to our supporters Gruppo Grotte AXXXO Trieste, Scarpa, Camp Cassin and Montura.
The complete story can be found here.