Sardinia

14th to 24th September 2012 & 16th to 25th May 2014

The Area

The caves of eastern Sardinia are found in the Gennargentu and Golfo di Orosei National Parks usually called Supramonte in English. The caves are formed in Jurassic and Cretaceous dolomites and limestones overlaying a Paleaozoic granite batholith of the Variscan (Hercynian) orogony making the latter contemporaneous with the granite intrusions of Devon and Cornwall. See
http://carsologica.zrc-sazu.si/downloads/372/5Cabras.pdf      for an outline of the geology and hydrology of the area.

Participants

Peter Riley                                  Ashley Welch
Simon Welch                               Sean Parker
Gail Walters                                 Sandra Robertson
Ken Gould                                   Jo Cribley
Bob Webb                                   Steve Dalrymple-Bray
Paul Jagger                                 Sharon Dalrymple-Bray
Mick Berry                                   Helen Berry

Background

We flew from Gatwick to Olbia via Easyjet to pick up our hire cars for the 1½ hour drive to Cala Gonone where we had booked a nine bed apartment. Although not close to any caves visited it was an easy hours drive to the caves described below and gave us the choice of many bars and restaurants even if the supermarkets are a bit small, best to stock up at the hypermarket near the airport before leaving Olbia. As Cala Gonone is a rock climbing centre there is a good bookshop with a wide range of guides and maps both IGMI (Topographic) and more tourist ones. There is an outdoor shop but it is mainly fishing with a few carabiners, a slightly larger range is “Easy Sport” in nearby Dorgali.

Two elderly Italiam ladies thought this worth photographing

Two elderly Italiam ladies thought this worth photographing

Locations and surveys can be found on the CSR website which can be found at http://www.catastospeleologicoregionale.sardegna.it/ this is a complicated system but caves can be located using either their name or the individual number bolted to the rock by the entrance or by putting in parameters for your search.

Il Lago Su Palu

Il Lago Su Palu

Grotta di Su Palu

(CSR 1988)

part of the Sistema Carsico Della Codula Ilune

40° 10′ 38″ N
9° 33′ 51″ E
185m asl
Length 42,000m (system length)
Vertical range 332m

The road down from the SS125 has deteriorated considerably since it was described in the SMCC Journal 9.1 as being a “new metalled road”. Heading north from the SS125 about 1km south of the Uzulei junction it is passable to all cars down to the car park at Teletotes but extreme care should be exercised as sections have slid down the ravine and rockfalls leave tyre-shredding débris on the road surface.

Leaving Teletotes by the trail down the Cordula di Luna towards the coast at Cala Luna, the entrance to Su Palu is about 700m down the trail on the right. It cannot be missed, the name is carved on a tree, there is a notice board with pictures of the cave and up a short scree slope at the entrance the name is again painted over a yellow iron gate. In 2012 this was locked with a chain long enough to allow the gate to be opened enough to allow even the larger cavers past. In 2014 this had been modified to become a sliding gate that could be locked but enquiries indicated that there were no plans to do so.
A short entrance passage leads to the first pitch, a steeply inclined rift, this was rigged on both visits (2012 & 2014) and is a tricky SRT with 2 re-belays, the lowest section being very smooth, just too wide to be comfortable either for SRT or free-climbing on the return.
Once down the rope a traverse leads to the top of a huge breakdown chamber, a route is marked by coloured reflectors, orange on the way in and red on the way out; these way-marks indicate the route all the way to the White Nile. The steeply sloping chamber is descended by climbing down and around car-sized boulders cemented and decorated with flowstone and stalagmites.
At the bottom are a series of richly decorated pools and a small stream which flows over a granite floor with large well rounded cannon ball like cobbles. The base of the limestone has been reached. Downstream the roof descends to a long hands and knees crawl. Halfway along the crawl is a low S-shaped tube with a rope through, perhaps it sumps in wet weather, however in the conditions we experienced it was merely a damp wriggle of the sort very familiar to British cavers.
The crawl continues as before for a short distance before a climb out of the stream into a series of flowstone decorated chambers where the orange reflectors are once again a guide. This area is quite dry and the beehive formations and other speleothems twinkle with crystals.

Su Palu

Su Palu

The route soon reaches a wide bedding plane zone and before long the main Alta Loma passage is reached. Large, well decorated and impressive but merely a taster of things to come.

Alta Loma

Alta Loma

IMG_1434 ©Passing a superb platform of limpid pools and huge stal bosses a flowstone climb is descended by fixed hand-lines; there would seem to be a connection to the surface around here as in 2012 a dead rat was lying at the top of the slope, in 2014 it’s decayed corpse could still be seen. Alta Loma becomes less well decorated and narrower but still following the orange reflectors the White Nile is reached. Descending through boulders it is a surprise to find the stream flowing from right to left when the survey suggests otherwise, this is because the route from Alta Loma passes over the stream and reaches it from the other side.
The White Nile here is a fine stream way with a wide gravel floor and with many fine formations. Midway along it’s course is a cascade passed by the SMCC rigging ladders over the fall. Now a hand-line can be found on the right hand wall before the waterfall is reached, this leads to the head of a pitch, rigged on our visits. The pitch is descended to a ledge and a traverse to a further pitch which drops back into the White Nile. A stomp along the lower reaches of the White Nile leads to the Lago, an impressive stretch of water, definitely a better lake than most underground ponds. The Lago flows out via a sump into the neighbouring Su Spiria cave which together with Su Palu makes up the Sistema Carsico Della Codula Ilune. The entrance to Su Spiria is further down the gorge from Su Palu.

IMG_1552 ©

Il Lago

Just before the lake a muddy bank on the right is the way up to El Alamein. When making a trip to Lilliput or Disneyland it is usual to bivouac here where there is a large flat sandy floor and a stone bench with various pieces of camping equipment strewn across it The floor is large enough for a kick-about with a football left here.
Returning to the Lago the Blue Nile can be seen cascading down a waterfall on the far side. The best way of approaching the Blue Nile is by an easy traverse around the shore of the lake and climbing the cascade. The Blue Nile is spectacularly well decorated, starting with a beautiful blue pool perched above the waterfall, this passed by climbing to a ledge on the right, hand-line in situ. The Blue Nile can be followed as far as Pluto’s Pool. Above the Blue Nile is a rift that leads up to the passage beyond El Alamein and the further reaches of the Blue Nile can be reached by descending the rift further on.
This is all that is usually seen in a single days caving trip. The cave beyond is usually visited with an overnight camp at El Alamein, however on Wednesday 21st May 2014 Gail Walters and Ken Gould of SSS made a push for Disneyland in a single trip; over to Gail.

TRIP TO DISNEYLAND, SU PALU
Gail Walters & Ken Gould, time underground approx. 15 hours
We entered the cave at approximately 10:00, taking the direct route to El Alamein in about 2 hours. Leaving by following the left hand wall with the Blue Nile below. which can be reached from this area; we followed an interesting traverse, well rigged, stainless steel maillons used throughout. This traverse lead into Lilliput, an immense chamber. The route follows cairns (lose them at your peril), do not take route marked with 2 cairns as this leads to the area known as Pejote.
We continued towards a comparatively narrow passage, this is an old streamway, ancient water levels have left their mark on the wall and the passage is ‘wavy’ with a lovely white chamber. It is easy going, floor being clear of debris.
Reaching Pozzo Oliena we headed up the ropes marked 1,2 & 3. This is quite a long way up with some very large dark open voids around! At the top of pitch 3 ‘Cisco Road’ is written on the wall it should also say ‘Disneyland’! Continuing on until a blank wall is reached, where a rope dangles and the big letters state Disneyland pointing upwards!
On entering Disneyland the floor crunched under our feet, there are mud holes full of beautiful delicate crystals, stal bosses like judges wigs, everything glitters & shines – a truly beautiful area. The chamber slopes upwards towards a collapse area, tucked behind a corner we found some fascinating formations dark coloured stalactites with pure white fans streaming out on one side. Eventually we tore ourselves away from this stunning chamber & started our descent.
Initially it is straight forward but confusing by Rope 1, at the top it points downwards stating ‘Uscita’, the bottom is reached and another sign points up the rope saying ‘Uscita’! The way on is downwards, through a bag-grabbing passage, following the right hand side on a downwards trend. We re-traced our steps back to Lilliput, here we had a choice either return to El Alamein or descend to the Blue Nile. This latter route is worth doing. A traverse along a ledge leads above crystal clear blue water back to the descent to Pluto’s Pool.
Heading back upstream to the traverse lines into the main streamway and the route out – taking care to follow the signs! We found the exit takes longer than the entrance!
We exited the cave at approx. 00:30, after a truly wonderful trip.

Disclaimer; The above describes the cave as found in Sept 2012 & May 2014. Future visitors should check the gate and should not rely on the ropes still being in good condition or indeed still in place. Check for up to date info and take your own ropes in case.

IMG_1404 ©
The Associazione Speleologica Progetto Supramonte & the Gruppo Archeo Spleleo Ambientale Urzulei have produced a book on Su Palu and the Cordula Ilune with some excellent photographs which give a real feel of the cave and the area, Il gigante nascosto Su Palu The hidden giant.

Hairy Stal, Su Palu

Hairy Stal, Su Palu

Grotta Di Su Bentu

(CSR 0105)
40° 15′ 18″ N
9° 29′ 7″ E
206m asl

Length 15,740m

Vertical range 204m

The cave is situated at the head of the Lanaitto Valley, found by turning south from the SP46 and going past Su Gologone then heading south up the partially paved track taking care to avoid the suicidal local deer. Parking at Il Rifugio, which is no longer a caving hut but now acts as a ticket office, if you leave the cave whilst it is open they will sell you an ice cream or cold beer.
Access is a €2 charge per person to visit the cave, this is the same if you are a tourist or a caver. The ticket seems to be multiple entry, as many visits as you like, we didn’t try and use the ticket from 2012 in 2014 though!
This cave is used as an astronaut training base by the European Space Agency (ESA) www.esa.int/Our_Activities/Human_Spaceflight/Caves
Previous descriptions mention that neoprene is very necessary in Su Bentu and this is indeed true if the lakes are tackled but it not so important now the Via Ferrata is fixed.
Sa Oche: Follow the dry river bed upstream for a couple of hundred metres to the imposing flood resurgence cave Sa Oche, under normal flow the water from Su Bentu returns to daylight at Su Gologone. The whole cave is only about 200m long before the sump which connects with Su Bentu is reached. A pleasant stroll in crystal clear water and honey coloured rock. If you want underground pictures but don’t want to take your camera on a caving trip this is the place to do it.
Su Bentu; A climb beyond the rifugio and to the left brings you in a few minutes to the obvious entrance. At the back of the entrance chamber is a 2m climb up with an old rope as a hand-line an old rusty iron gate. This is the 1° Ventu (First Wind) – it is obvious why; this immediately leads to the head of the first pitch; 20m rope required, this drops to a large sandy floored chamber, after this route finding is helped by a telephone wire that runs through the cave, presumably something to do with the ESA involvement. Keep going through the 2° Ventu to the head of Chaos. This needs rigging for descent and from the bottom upstream leads to Lake Galley and down to the sump connecting to Sa Oche. We found water levels low in 2012 and did not push the Lake route as the climbs up the gour pools were quite punishing. The lake gallery goes on for 700m and 13 lakes before ’56’ Corner where the passage makes a sharp turn to the left.
To the right of Chaos is a fixed rope leading to the traverse route if not obvious look for the ubiquitous telephone wire. This is a strenuous and exhilarating one hour Via Ferrata close to the roof, superbly decorated, this section is hot. There is a short pitch rigged about halfway along and at the end another pitch leading to a rope traverse/hand-line down to the floor of Lake Gallery just past ’56’ Corner.
Almost immediately is a lake. The quickest route, and wettest, to Grande Frana is through this and the following couple of lakes. After this it is glorious stomping all the way down the Autostrada and passing Camp Chamber and through Sahara to the terrifyingly huge Gradissima Frana.
Alternatively from the descent from the Via Ferrata and before the lake an alternative route on the opposite wall to the one just descended may be climbed to a high level route. A not very obvious fixed rope is prussiked (6m) and a rope traverse leads to, Campo Chessa, a climb over boulders avoiding any involuntary descent back to the lake below brings you to a huge chamber, the Sala Piredda.
From here two routes diverge. Ahead and to the left along a clear path is a high level route above the main passage and the lakes again guided by the telephone wire, which leads eventually to a descent to Il Autosrada Initially the route is a pleasant stroll along the Grande Cegnia (Great Ledge) completely different to the exertions of the Via Ferrata earlier, the Grande Cegnia is wide but falls off to the left to a drop to the Autostrada. After 400 metres the route drops to a Tyrolean Traverse which crosses from one side of the passage to the other above a 50metre drop to the lake below. It is very pleasant sitting up here watching people frantically paddle across the chilly lake below.
Across the void the route can be seen to continue with fixed traverse lines which are said to continue and descend into Il Autostrada after the last lake.
Returning to Campo Chessa where the telephone wire splits and the second branch leads to an aclivity which can be followed up and over numerous, mainly dry gour pools, to reach a forest of stalagmites and columns.
Winding through the columns the passage rapidly decreases in size to low chambers and hands and knees crawls. Passing an ESA instrument of some kind the 4° Ventu is reached. In mid-May this was a U-shaped tube with a muddy puddle at the bottom but less than a week later after rain it was found to be full of water, people have had to be rescued after being caught the wrong side. In January 2001 5 cavers were trapped for 2 days!
After the 4° Ventu the telephone line ceases and the low passage emerges in the large Sala della Doline, skirting a huge crater the route is easily followed to the even more massive Sala della Candela. This enormous chamber disappears off into the gloom and darkness to the right but going forward a huge boulder pile is climbed and from the summit a large passage can be seen below and to the right, it looks to be at the top of a sheer rock wall but in fact may be easily reached by climbing an inclined gully.
This roomy passage with occasional hand-lines leads to L’Oasis and Lago Arcobaleno descending towards Pozzo Peone a formation may be seen in the wierd shape of a dog. This is Barboncino (the poodle).
Immediately after is the undescended (by us) Pozzo Peone, this pitch is unrigged but has bolts in place. Below is the Petrified Forest, leading to the Gobi Desert, via a sump.
n.b. At least two deaths have occurred in this cave; Emil Vidal drowned in a lake in 1959 and more recently Luigi Mereu, 32, fell 20m on 18th September 2014 from the Via Ferrata whilst removing equipment for the ESA.
An excellent description of the lake route can be found in
CPC Journal Vol 6 No2 1980.

Grotta Sa Rutta e S’Edera

(CSR 0588)
40°05’55” N
9°27’26” E
950m asl
Length 12931m
Depth 256m
Vertical Range 256m

Leave the superbly engineered SS125 and turn east onto a rough but tarmaced road at Genna na Croce about 4km north of the turning for Urzulei.
This passes under cliffs where galvanised steel ladders looking for all the world like fire escapes can be seen on the rockface. These were investigated in 2012 and found to be the “Goat Caves” mentioned in SMCC Journal 9(1) p36. Although no goats were at home on that occasion they had left ample evidence of their presence over the floor.
Past the Goat Caves, about 3km from the main road a turning to the left in an open plateau leads after 7km to a wide stony river bed where the tarmac ends, because the bridge has been washed away. An easy track leads to the far bank where cars can be parked next to a small shepherds(?) hut. Free range pork abounds in this area and will regard a car as an ideal scratching post. S’Edera is across the dry river under a small cliff and behind a large boulder. A name plaque and CSR (qv) no 0588 mark the entrance which lies at the southern edge of the limestone where the north flowing river leaves the granite. A noticeable change in the flora marks the boundary between the acid granites and the alkaline soils of the limestone, particularly by the flowers in spring.
The walk in entrance quickly lowers to a crawl over piles of composting sticks and the deposits left by the nesting pigeons above. Fortunately this does not last long and upon reaching an area of large boulders the route is a traverse round to the right to a fixed rope. This is a 10m pitch although the rope is a bit short but this is not a significant problem. There is an alternative route at the start of the traverse down a tight rift rigging a rope to a bolt (plate needed).
From the bottom follow the obvious way to the second pitch (15m). This is tight but free climbable to the left, from the bottom a crawl leads after 200m to a big pitch (30m) which descends to a dry streamway, which becomes wet after a junction where an inlet joins.
After the 4th pitch of 30m the cave becomes more open with a series of deep plunge pools, some rigged with lifelines. The route through the Frana (boulder choke) is marked by a cord, if you deviate from this it’s very loose. There follows a series of about four pitches with ropes coiled at the top followed by a larger chamber with big boulders. Ken, Bob and Ash ended their exploration in a large flat chamber before exiting the cave after 7 hours.
Throughout the cave are arrows showing the route out[arrow + U (uscita)]
n.b. all pitch lengths approximate

In The Area

Leaving the car parked by the shepherds hut follow the track over a low hill past the ubiquitous pigs and to the top of a low scar. There is a signboard pointing left to Grotta Mamuccone and right to Grotta Su Cardu also known as Grotta N.2 Di Su Mamucone, the latter (40°5’44” N 9°26’48”)is a small pigeon infested hole found behind a holm oak of no great interest except for a couple of digs. 250m to the south is the slightly larger Grotta di Su Mammucone (40°5’35” N 9°26’54”) survey @ http://www.catastospeleologicoregionale.sardegna.it/webgis/rilievo/0304 into which a dry stream bed disappears. The entrance is a large chamber showing signs of recent inundation presumably that of November 2013 and a lot of mud, at the end of a short passage was an uninviting gloopy sump.

Failures

Acting on information received that the show cave Grotta di Ispnigoli connecting with the Grotta di San Giovanni su Anzu can be visited by cavers if the appropriate permits are obtained. This is the fourth longest cave in Sardinia. In search of further information we decided to pay the show cave a visit! It was shut! For lunch! For 3 hours! We never did get back, more information needed.
There look to be some interesting caves in the Gorropu Gorge but despite a lot of bush bashing and following non-existant paths on maps we were unable to get down into the ravine.                                                                                       Two caves not investigated because there details were got lost and were only re-discovered when preparing this article were Grotta Imene CSR2614 & Grotta di Lovettecannas CSR2642. The former is a small vertical cave by the SS125 between the first and second avalanche shelters and the latter an interesting looking cave of 5000m+ on the plateau above Su Palu. Anyone out-there visited these.

Amazingly decorated caves in a Mediterranean climate. The club stayed in a beach side apartment in Cala Gonone on the east coast of Sardinia 14th to 24th September 2012.

The club returned for more of this beautiful place between 16th – 25th May 2014.

The same fantastic beachfront apartment was used.

Casa Lungomare, Cala Gonone.

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The Caves 

Grotta Su Palu

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Su Bentu

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The Canyons

Been underground too long? Craving Vitamin D?  There’s a canyon near you

We went for Cordula Fulili and Bad Pentumas

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