Introduction

Polish cave divers are not pampered by their homeland. Poland offers to them no great resurgences and only a limited number of sumps hidden deep in the caves. In fact, sump diving is the only form of cave diving available in Poland. Caves suitable for diving are to be found practically only in the Tatra mountains in the south of the country. All the best known sump caves are to be found on the territory of Tatrzański Park Narodowy (Tatra National Park). These are the following caves: Kasprowa Niżnia, Śnieżna Studnia, Wielka Śnieżna, Zimna, Dudnica, Miętusia, Jaskinia Bystrej. Although there are a few more places in Poland where water sumps are to be found, there are limited or none possibilities of diving in them. Water temperature in the caves i s about 3-4 deg. C. Diving actions are mainly organized in winter, when the water in ground freezes and some sections of the cave get dry. Only then it is possible to reach the sumps themselves.

Specifity of Tatra cave diving

Diving actions in the Polish caves begin with putting up the guide-lines, that is ropes necessary for the diver to get through the vertical dry passages, such as thresholds, domes or pits. These guide-lines are usually to be found already there in the supms that have been explored before. In the case of predominantly vertical caves, such as, for example, Wielka Studnia and Snieżna Studnia, it is necessary to put up as much as several hundred metres of rope! The next stage of the preparation for the diving action is the transport of equipment from the opening to the place where the diving itself begins. For the majority of Polish caves, this distance is not small: the opening is to be found relatively far from the first sump. As a consequence, each diving action involves a number of people whose help is necessary for the transportation of all the tackle. The equipment is carried in so-called tackle bags, especially designed bags made of a very strong and resistant material. Each such bag can hold over ten kilograms of tackle. In some cases it is necessary to repeat the transportation process several times before the diving action can be started. All the equipment used for cave diving must be easy for transportation both to the place of diving and in the dry passages between the sumps. Also, it cannot create an inconvenience for the diver while crossing the tight underwater passages to be found in the Polish caves. The diving itself is usually done by single divers, or in a group of independent divers. Experience proves this diving method to be the safest one for diving in closed spaces. Under such circumstances, the partner`s help in the case of emergency is not only inefficient but also creates a serious danger to the safety of the rescuer himself/herself. While the diver is underwater, the accompanying team usually camps near the sump in order to help with the tackle transportation after his/her the re-emergence. The action is considered completed when all the equipment has been taken out of the cave and the ropes taken off the dry passages.

Permissions

To dive in a Tatra cave, it is necessary to obtain an official permission. Tatrzański Park Narodowy is the only organization authorised to issue permissions for entering the caves. Permissions are issued to cavers in possession of the Tatra Mountaineer Card, associated in clubs registered with Komisja Taternictwa Jaskiniowego Polskiego Związku Alpinizmu (Caving Commision of the Polish Mountaneering Association). Diving is allowed in all the caves with the notable exception of Jaskinia Bystrej, closed for public since the year 1987, when a tragic diving accident happened there. Up to now cave divers from abroad operated with their polish friends. History

The history of the Polish cave diving goes back to the 1950s, when the pioneering exploratory actions were undertaken with the use of the contemporary, not very advanced equipment. The first diving action in the Polish caves took place on the 3rd February 1953 in Jaskinia Zimna (Cold Cave). The amateur equipment used during the diving was designed and made by Włodzimierz Starzecki. It was przewodowy equipment: a stiff helmet worn by the diver was connected to the surface by means of a pipe, into which the suppressed air was pumped. The first diving with the use of scuba equipment took place in the same Jaskinia Zimna (Cold Cave). On January 2nd 1958, two divers from Cracow, Ogaza and Maczek, undertook an exploratory action in that cave, an action that almost ended up in tragedy. As a result of a mechanical damage to the air bottle and the consequent lack of the breathing factor, the diver Ogaza was cut off behind the sump for 46 hours waiting for help to come. To commemorate this event, the sump was given his name and is now called Syfon Ogazy (Ogazas Sump). Another unfortunate accident, this time a tragic one, was a diving attempt in the same Jaskinia Zimna (Cold Cave) in the year 1966. During this action the diver Roman Lebecki was killed, thus marking the first death in the history of Polish cave diving. The first cave divings involved great risks, mainly due to the imperfect scuba diving equipment used in those days- the divers used very unreliable single apparatus with double hose regulator. Today, cave divers use equipment which is set up altogether differently and also they apply different techniques. After the first, pioneer divings by the Polish divers in the years 1953 and 1956-59, it was only the mid-1960s that saw a renewed activity in the Polish speleological circles. This cave boom` lasted until the year 1974. Some really demanding actions were undertaken in the Tatra caves, of which many had an exploratory character. In 1969, first divings in the sump on the bottom of Jaskinia Wielka Śnieżna (Great Snow Cave), the deepest Tatra cave, were made. Wielka Śniezna was at the time considered the most difficult of all the Polish caves. The diver managed to get through the last sump, situated 567 m (app. 1890 ft) below the lower opening of the cave (counting from the top opening, this distance would be some 200 m- app. 667 ft- bigger). Unfortunately, from the mid-1970s to the early 1990s speleo-diving activities were not many: the earlier impact was somehow lost. It was only in the early 1990 that the good times of the Polish cave diving returned, but this time they have returned for good. Every year difficult cave diving actions are undertaken both at home and abroad. We have made fruitful contacts with foregin divers that allowed gave us a chance for an exchange of experience and information. It is thanks to the colleagues from the French Speleological Federation that we greatly enriched our knowledge (mainly about the new equipment for cave diving) and improved our skills (practical knowledge of useful diving techniques, such as guide line fixing, self-rescue techniques, leaving the bottle deposits).

This cave, with an openning near the tourist route leading up to the Giewont peak, is located not far from the Kalatówki shelter. Depending on the water level, the combined length of Dudnica's sumps reaches around 50 m (app. 164 ft). However, the dry passages between the sumps make diving here slightly difficult. A huge advantage of the cave is the small, just a few-metre-long distance between the first sump and the cave opening, which means the tedious equipment transportation can be avoided. Dudnica is connected hydrologically with Jaskinia Bystrej (Bystra's Cave), but the passage is too tight to be crossed by a human. Jaskinia Kasprowa Niżnia (Kasprowa Niżnia Cave)

Currently, Kasprowa Niżnia Cave boasts the longest sump sequence of all the Tatra caves: their combined length exceeds 600 m (app.1970 ft). To reach the flooded corridors one must get through a few short sections where the use of ropes is necessary. This part of the way takes about an hour's time. The first sump in the sequence of six, called Syfon Danka (Danek's Sump), is only 6 metres (app. 20 ft) long. Right behind it you find Syfon Krakowski (Cracow Sump), and then Syfon Mamuci (Mammoth Sump) separated by a difficult, several-metre-long dry passage (it is necessary to take off and carry all the equipment to reach Syfon Mamuci). The fourth sump in the sequence bears the name Syfon Warszawiaków (Warsawers' Sump). Vast and filled with clear water, it is the longest (333 m- app. 1092 ft) and arguably the most beautiful sump in Poland. Behind Syfon Warszawiaków there are two more sumps: Syfon Kondoniarzy (Kondoniarze's Sump) 167 m (548 ft) and FFS (FFS Sump), 70 m (230 ft). The dry passages to be found behind FFS Sump are still waiting for their explorers...

Note: If you dive in Kasprowa Cave, the most demanding task is the traverse of the long flooded corridors rather than reaching the flooded parts of the cave. Jaskinia Miętusia (Miętusia Cave)

There are two sump sequences in Miętusia Cave. They are both situated at 200 m (app.656 ft) below the opening, on the bottom of the vertical section of the cave called Wielkie Kominy (The Great Chimneys) and Ciasne Kominy (The Tight Chimneys). Until recently the two sumps were thought to have no connection: earlier measurements taken here showed that their watertables were at two different levels. This belief was refuted only in the late 1990s, when it was proved beyond any doubt that they do have an underwater connection. On the bottom of Ciasne Kominy, next to the sump leading to Wielkie Kominy, there is an underwater corridor with a blind end at the depth of 70 m. The corridor linking Wielkie and Ciasne Kominy has a fork leading to a dry chamber with the beautiful name 'Podwójne Życie Weroniki' (Veronica's Double Life). Jaskinia Śnieżna Studnia (Snow Well Cave)

As most polish cavers would agree, this is one of the most difficult Tatra caves, a real challenge even for the most experienced ones. It takes a few-hour ascent just to reach its opening, situated high up in Masyw Małołączniaka (Małołączniak's Massif). But it is only the foretaste of the action itself. Situated on the bottom of the cave, Syfon Drzemiący (Dozing Sump) is to be found as far as 693 m (app. 2274 ft) below the cave opening. The sump is reached by traversing vertical wells, tight meanders, squeezes. Although the sump is vast, its bottom is covered with a thick layer of mud, which makes the water really turbid. As a consequence of the difficulties described, there has not been many divings here to date. The last one took place in 1995, when the depth of 32 m (app. 106 ft) was reached, after a 138-metre-long (app. 460 ft) swim. Jaskinia Wielka Śnieżna (Great Snow Cave)

The cave is vertical in its shape. Its openining is situated high up and the sumps located near the bottom. The three sump sequences to be found here are situated entirely separately: one on the bottom and the two other in the side forks of the corridor. The first sump in the bottom sump sequence is called Syfon Dominiki (Dominica's Sump), then there is Syfon Beaty (Beata's Sump) and, finally Jeziorko X (Lake X). The two forks of the corridor are made up of the following sumps: Syfon Krakowski (Cracow Sump) and then Syfon Magdy (Magda's Sump), and Syfon Marzeń (Dreams' Sump). Exploratory climbings were have been made in the dry pit behind these sumps but the end has not yet been reached. The sumps are short and shallow but the conditions here are made difficult by the lack of space, unclear, muddy water and difficult dry passages separating the sumps. Similarly to Jaskinia Śnieżna, extremely difficult diving conditions are the reason why it is practically only exploratory actions that take place here. Jaskinia Zimna (Cold Cave)

Jaskinia Zimna, whose opening is situated near the popular walking path running down the bottom of Dolina Kościeliska (Kościelisko's Valley), is suitable for organising easier actions. The dry passages between the opening and the sumps are not long. There is a sequence of three sumps here, easily accessible but rather short (altogether less than 50 m- app. 162 ft). The sumps are very muddy, which means that water gets unclear rather easily. Although Zimna is not a challenge for a demanding diver, it played an important part in the history of Polish speleodiving. You can read more about this is the section: HISTORY. A note about the proper names

The proper names of the Tatra caves have been translated into English if their Polish name contained Polish common nouns with a counterpart in the English language. Otherwise, their original name has been kept. The article has been prepared in the basis of the following sources:

  • Szerszeń A., Ryl M.L., "Polskie jaskinie", Magazyn Nurkowanie nr 6, 7/2002 (Polish caves, Diving Magazine 6, 7/2002)
  • Wiśniewski W., "O nurkowaniu w polskich jaskiniach - suplement", Magazyn Nurkowanie 9/2002 (About diving in Polish caves, Diving Magazine 9/2002)
  • Jaskinie Tatrzańskiego Parku Narodowego, praca zbiorowa pod redakcją naukową Jerzego Grodzickiego, PTPNoZ, Warszawa (The Caves of the Polish Tatra Mountains)
  • EPIDEMIES - the Official Polish Speleo Web Page
  • The cave openings are marked on the maps "Tatry Polskie" (Polish Tatra Mountains) in the scale 1:10000, Czasopisma Wojskowe, Warszawa, 1992.

Information about the current activities of the Polish cave divers can be found in the following magazines:

  • Jaskinie, kwartalnik, (Caves, quarterly)
  • Taternik, kwartalnik (Taternik, quarterly)

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