Reconnaissance Expedition, Greece 1988

A mixed group of seven cavers from CCC and Univ. Kent Troglodytes left Canterbury on a cold, rainy July night to catch the midnight ferry in the hope that, after driving for two days, we would reach the warm weather of Northern Greece. Previous weather reports suggested temperatures of 104F and deaths due to heat. The bus perfomed well after the exhaust was fixed. We crossed the Greek border in the early hours, and at day break were greeted by a blistering hot day.

Our aim was to investigate many different areas of North East Greece in order to establish an area of interest which we could return to next year. Our main camp for three weeks was in the town of Ioanina, situated next to a lake and with its own show cave a few miles away at Perama. After a day or two relaxing by the lake we set off to the Trikala mountains to look for caves.

The village of Pramada seemed a promising area to start from as it already had a show cave. The limestone was good and the people were friendly so we decided to stay for 4 days. Most of the expedition members enjoyed the village as they spent all day getting drunk whilst Helen Ridout and I arranged accommodation in the local monastry! We went into the local show cave with half the village. The cave was found by water engineers and was the main source of water for the village. The cave was heavily decorated with most passages ending in swaps. However, finding new cave in the Trikala area proved difficult. Even though we were at an altitude of 2500m the limestone was not massively bedded and no caves were found, so we returned to Ioanina. We decided to go North to the Gamilas area famous for Provatina Cave. As Provatina is situated on the larger of the two table-top mountains called the Astrakas we decided to explore the smaller mountain by following the road up from Tsepelvo. This led us into an area of limestone with a topo9raphy familiar to us eg. classic limestone pavements with interesting valleys and gorges.

The first few caves we found were uninteresting, short shafts, although Richard Rolfe generated some excitement by a fight with a "speleo-vulture" half way up one of the pitches. During the next few days we took the dirt track further into the mountains where we found three new caves, none of which were bottomed due to lack of equipment and time. Once we had decided no more could be done we travelled west to Igoumenitsa to enjoy the beach and the sun and meet up again with Richard and Helen. Doubtless a lot more should have been achieved. Unbelievably we went all the way to Greece with incomplete bolting kit and only three ladders! Also most expedition members found it difficult to adapt to the hot weather; talk about "mad dogs", the number of days we spent exploring in the midday heat was ridiculous. For the benefit of future expeditions the answer is to get out of bed and break camp at 5 o'clock in the morning while it is still cool. Look for caves until midday, sleep or sun bathe in the heat and then cook food in the evening. Its difficult to think and impossible to climb up mountains when the temperature is 40C. Also, more care will have to be taken over cooking food next year as some people were ill. We took £100 worth of food with us which supplemented the food we brought which was cheap and, usually, good. Insects caused some problems so I will sew a new mosquito net into my tent for next year.

Bernard Charlesworth