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The Warsaw Voice » Society » September 2, 2009
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In Search of Underground Adventure
September 2, 2009   
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For all those who like exploring caves, southern Poland has miles of underground corridors open to tourists. The deepest and most interesting caves are in the western part of the Tatra Mountains, the Polish Jura Chain, the Sudetes and the Polish part of the East Carpathians. Although the common image of caves is that of narrow, damp and chilly corridors, the most beautiful caves with enchanting rock formations and mysterious mazes are actually easy to explore.

As you take a look at a map of Poland, you can spot over 2,000 black dots denoting caves. However, only a dozen or so are open to regular tourists, while the rest require training and equipment. These grottoes are a mecca for spelunkers.

Bear Cave
The Śnieżnik massif in the Sudetes and the Niedźwiedzia Cave in the Świętokrzyskie Mountains are where you can find charming karst formations with high chambers, fantastic stalagmites and underground rivers and waterfalls. The Niedźwiedzia (Bear) Cave is commonly regarded as the biggest underground tourist attraction in Poland thanks to its colorful dripstones that never cease to grow. The cave was uncovered during quarrying works in the 1960s. The museum inside houses remains of Pleistocene animals found in the cave, including a famous cave bear. Tourists can visit the whole of the cave's middle section, which abounds in underground water formations.

Paradise Cave
You can see similar rock formations in the Raj (Paradise) Cave in the Świętokrzyskie Mountains, the oldest mountain range in Poland. The prime attraction of the cave are stalactites known as "noodles" because of their shape. One of the most impressive sites inside the cave is the Column Hall with stone icicles hanging down from the ceiling, stalagmites growing out of the ground and numerous fossilized corals embedded in the cave walls.

Tricky Cave
It is easy to get lost in a maze of narrow and low corridors. Deep amid the rocks, cell phones are out of range and nobody can hear your desperate calls for help. For that reason, be extra careful as you enter the Mylna (Tricky) Cave in the Tatras because it is considered to be the most difficult cave open to tourists. It has certainly earned its name, because once you stray from the tourist track or accidentally turn left or right to another chamber, your expedition may become considerably longer. Even today, many tourists hear spooky stories of people who were lost in the Mylna Cave.

Since you may have to crawl, it is best if you leave your backpack outside the cave, but remember to take a flashlight with you; otherwise the handout map you get at the entrance to the Kościeliska Valley will be useless. Most tourists stop in their tracks when they see the dark and rough entrance to the cave; instead they decide to admire the gorgeous panorama of the valley looking through the holes in the rocks, called Pawlikowski's Windows. More adventurous tourists will be tempted to try out the site's almost 300 meters of winding corridors that take less than an hour to explore.

Spelunking courses
Popular caves are not enough to satisfy a seasoned spelunker. The real challenge is to descend into a cave that ordinary tourists cannot enter. Such grottoes abound in Poland.

Cave exploration is particularly popular in the Polish Jura Chain where spelunking clubs hold training courses for novices. Most of the time, prospective cave explorers practice in the Tatras where caves are the deepest and most difficult, requiring good equipment and a good level of physical fitness. During a basic course, novice spelunkers learn about cave exploration techniques and find out about caving in winter conditions, which is why caving courses at clubs affiliated with the Polish Mountain Climbing Association start in spring or fall and continue for at least 12 months. Having completed a course, spelunkers can boast a wider range of skills than ordinary mountain climbers.

P.M.

Top Caving Sites
Tatra Mountains National Park
- Dziura Cave (Ku Dziurze Valley)
- Mroźna Cave (Kościeliska Valley)
- Mylna Cave (Kościeliska Valley)
- Obłazkowa Cave (Kościeliska Valley)
- Raptawicka Cave (Kościeliska Valley)
- Pisana Cave (Kościeliska Valley)
- Czarna Cave (Kościeliska Valley)
- Śnieżna Cave (Małej Łąki Valley)
- Smocza Jama (Kościeliska Valley)
Polish Jura Chain
- Ciemna Cave (Ojców National Park)
- Łokietek Cave (Ojców National Park)
- Nietoperzowa Cave (Będkowska Valley)
- Wierzchowska Górna Cave (Kluczwody Valley)
Sudetes
- Dziurawy Kamień Cave (Karkonosze Mountains)
- Niedźwiedzia Cave in Kletno (Śnieżnik Massif)
- Radochowska Cave (Złote Mountains)
Beskids
- Komonieckiego Cave (Lesser Beskid)
- Malinowska Cave (Silesia Beskid)
Świętokrzyskie Mountains
- Raj Cave (Chęciny community)

Spelunking courses
- A database of spelunking clubs can be found on the website of the Polish Mountain Climbing Association at www.pza.org.pl
- Spelunking courses are open to everyone over 18 years of age.
- The price is around zl.1,500 per person.
- After passing an exam, course participants receive a Cave Explorer's Card. Club members can explore caves in the Alps and other parts of the world.
- Some travel agents organize one-day expeditions to caves in the Polish Jura Chain, where having undergone a caving course is not a prerequisite. The price is around zl.300 per person and the agent provides the necessary climbing gear with a special suit, helmet, head lamp and gloves.
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