Primož Jakopin - Klok

Mačkovica cave

  1. Preface
  2. Introduction
  3. Early visitors
  4. Survey and exploration
  5. White Cat Cave movie
  6. Tender moments
  7. Sources and literature
  8. Conclusion

1. Preface

          What follows is an English translation of the updated version of the article titled Mačkovica and written for publication in the Slovenian caving magazine Jamar (Caver), year 2009, volume 4. An abridged version, subtitled O merjenjih in raziskavah / Surveying and exploration was published there in pages 30 - 33.

2. Introduction

          Mačkovica may, without any doubt, be put to the top of the list of caves, known to Slovenian cavers. What is Postojnska jama cave to the wide audience, at home and abroad, is Mačkovica for both a newbie caver and the caving veteran. It is easy to get to, 150 feet from a nice road and from the idyllic village Laze, half an hour from Ljubljana towards the sea, 10 minutes to Rakov Škocjan caving eldorado. It is not locked, can be entered without dedicated climbing, descending or diving equipment and therefore legally accessible to all, not only to the holders of the special caving certificate, issued by the Slovenian Ministry of the Environment and Spatial Planning / Ministrstvo za okolje in prostor. At the same time it is over half a mile long, it requires enough skill and effort to pump the blood through the veins very vividly, difficult enough to put some proper fear in the bones and just enough complicated that you can get lost in it for a short time. As any other wild cave it certainly requires concentration, prudence and feeling for measure, how far the leg can be extended and when it is better to give up and to find a different, longer but safer route over wet and slippery flowstone-covered rocks.

Figure 1. Cave entrance, view from the inside; Ptič and Polona, 1981 / Graflex Crown Graphic Camera, wide angle lens Schneider-Kreuznach Xenar 135 mm f 4.7, Kodak daylight sheet film 4x5 inch, ISO 100. Available light demanded 1/15 second exposure at f 11, required for an acceptable depth of field. As the film cannot handle exposure times, longer than 1/30 of a second the author and Ptič (Vanja Janežič) departed to the nearest house which happened to be the home of the village carpenter, and borrowed an ax and a saw. It took half an hour to cut down a hornbeam (gaber in Slovenian) in the middle of the collapse at the cave entrance. A window in the green curtain of the picture center opened up, light on the motif increased to 1/40 of a second at f 11 and the picture could be taken. Cutting of the hornbeam was accompanied by severe protests of the biologist Polona, the daughter of the most accomplished cave photographer Tomaž Planina at the time, also president of DZRJL, Ljubljana caving society all three (Ptič, Polona and the author) belonged to. She was most dedicated to nature conservation, in the time when such inclination was not taken for granted as it is now. Framed enlargement of this picture, 100 x 125 cm, is hanging in the conference room of the Local community in Vielbach, Schwarzwald.

          During a somewhat more sophisticated cave photography in the steep slope of the Big hall's western side the photographer, the writer of these lines, noticed that the battery of his headlight is dying out. In those pre-LED times it was a 12 V sealed lead acid battery and weighed about 1 kg. The spare battery was at the exit of the Big hall, below the traverse to the Hall above the chimney. Using his auxiliary headlight he was supposed to descend down, to the bottom of the Big Hall and from there climb up again, to the exit. A short traverse along the slope contour would spare him the larger part of the route. The precious time of the photo team would not be wasted and, after all, it was also an opportunity to show off his climbing ability. Why not? The traverse was just fine - for a few fathoms. Suddenly it was a no go situation, no way to go back, no way to go forward. A slip down the wall would be 7 meters long and would require a hockey goalie equipment for at least approximately safe implementation. A detailed examination of the wall however discovered half a meter long and a boot-wide shelf, two meters lower and a bit forward, followed by a good passage to the exit. The jump was a success, it was not followed by a fall further 5 meters down, but walking suddenly became an increasing problem. To the cave entrance he managed to get somehow, with clenched teeth. On the short trail to the car the feet refused further service. People at the emergency room in Ljubljana wondered how the patient could get there on his own, a X-ray of both ankles was ordered. He remembered how his brother, a student of medicine, while preparing for the exam in anatomy feared most that the professor would drop the ankle bones from the little bag and ask him to put them in proper order. The foot heel and finger bones are a piece of cake, but not the ankle bones. All alike, little bony cubes. After a while the doctor showed up with an X-ray photo and with a consoling word. You are lucky, the bones are unbroken and in their places. - And the bad news? - Well, tendons are likely in rather poor condition, this is what hurts most when you put a load on your ankles. To begin with we will give you crutches, and later we shall see how to continue. Eventually the matters went for the better, in half a year the patient was able to walk well, in two years he could run again.

Figure 2. View from the pass from the Rov pod Dimnikom / Tunnel Below the Chimney to Dvorana pod Dimnikom / The Hall Below the Chimney; young cavers from Kamnik, 2002 / Nikon Coolpix 5000, ISO 100, 7.1 mm, f 4, 4 seconds, white balance user defined (carbide lamp) with noise reduction. Lighting: 5 carbide lamps in the picture, 3 carbide lamps from the front. The Kamnik team, two of the Kregar family, three of Zbačnik, one of Holcer, visited the cave on return from the Cerknica carnival festivities.

          Be it that way or another, Mačkovica is a cave, which you can visit if you only have half an hour. So much a round trip to the junction below the Dimnik / Chimney will take, an hour and a half will get you to the end of Vzhodni rov / Eastern Tunnel but you can easily spend the entire day, if you also visit Laški rov / Laze Tunnel and F rov / F Tunnel, if you do not hurry, if you take your time. And if you are up to something new, there is a lot to discover, for those who like to dig, not only in the cave itself, at the start of the final descent in F rov / F Tunnel for instance, where the passage to Logarček cave is filled with sediment, but also outside. There is blowholes galore, and a few have also been excavated to various extent (see Figure 14).

3. Early Visitors

         The cave has been known, one could say, since time immemorial. The west oriented entrance with a wide arched roof is an excellent natural shelter, as evidenced by finds such as Roman oil lamp, bones of goats and of a small horse. The cave is close to the village, easily accessible and the passage at the bottom of the entrance tunnel which leads to Mala dvorana / Little hall is not difficult to get through. Dimnik / Chimney, a narrow vertical passage among the large collapse rocks on top of the slope in front of Velika dvorana / Big hall was also passed long ago - it is known that the villagers were selling stalagmites and stalactites from the cave (Gams 1963).
         Cavers normally visit the entire cave,

Figure 3. DZRJL caving school 2008 at the end of Vzhodni rov / Eastern tunnel, participants accompanied by seasoned members: Crni, Marjan, Tika, Matija, Bojana, Andrej, Nataša, Gregor, Katja, Petra, Luka, Blaž and Garmin; 2008 / Canon 300 D digital camera, Sigma 18-50 mm f 2.8 lens at 18 mm, f 5.6, 1/30 sec., ISO 200. Lighting: Nikon SB 28 flash on camera (at full power), and Metz 45 flash, also at full power, on a tripod to the left of the motif, fired by an optical slave trigger Mecalux 11.

while accidental vistors usually dare to go only to Mala dvorana / Little hall or, the braver ones, to the junction below the Dimnik / Chimney (also see Figure 14). Just before the junction the ceiling of the rather low Zvezni rov / Connection tunnel lifts considerably and this place, for many visitors, seemed the most convenient to immortalize their achievement. So that the later generations would be also be aware that John Doe was here at that and that time managed to crawl up to here. Inscriptions are depicted in various techniques, unfortunately often with carbide lamp soot which, with their large size, clumsiness and black color are the most visible, and most disturbing.

Figure 4. View into Zvezni rov / Connection tunnel from the junction below the Dimnik / Chimney; Andrej Drevenšek; 2004 / Canon 300 D, Canon 18-55 mm lens at 18 mm, f 8, 1/30 sec., ISO 100. Lighting: Nikon SB 28 flash, on camera, at full power.

          Presumably the eldest signature, written by chalk, of Olga Rauter, and dates from 1889. On the ceiling rock plate there was only enough space for the family name, so the name was written on a neighbouring plate, about half a meter away.

Figure 5. Rauter Olga 1889, probably the eldest Mačkovica inscription; 2009 / Canon 300 D, Sigma 18-50 mm lens at 38 mm, f 4, 1/60 sec., ISO 400. Lighting: built-in flash.

          Two signatures from a good decade later, they are also more precise, were made during a cave visit on September 10, 1901. One of them belongs very likely to Anton Bojec, who used pencil. Pencil was a drawing tool of choice at the time, quite a few visitors from the time of WWI, especially in 1917, used it. Judging also by family names they were German-speaking soldiers. These signatures are often fuzzy, someone must have later rubbed over them, probably with hand.

Figure 6. Signature of A. Bojec, September 10, 1901; 2009 / Podpis A. Bojca, 10. 9. 1901; 2009 / Canon 300 D, Sigma 18-50 mm lens at 50 mm, f 3.5, 1/80 sec., ISO 400. Lighting: LED headlight with 11 diodes from the left, LED headlight with 68 diodes from the front..

          In the more recent times visitors did not carry pencils and helped themselves with some rock from the floor. So it is possible to find out that the village carpenter, who 30 years after the inscription was made borrowed the tools which enabled the cavers to heighten the lighting on Figure 1, visited the cave on May Day in 1954.

Figure 7. Ivan Simšič signature, May 1, 1954; 2009 / Canon 300 D, Sigma 18-50 mm lens at 50 mm, f 3.2, 1/60 sec., ISO 100. Lighting: LED headlight with 11 diodes from the left, LED headlight with 68 diodes from the front..

          An inscription or two, depicting that love was in the air, can also be found. Two such love outbreaks, directed to a girl with initials Z. C. (such as Zinka Cigoj, for instance) were carved into the wall patina with a rock.

Figure 8. Inscription about mayonnaise affection to Z. C.; 2009 / Canon 300 D, Sigma 18-50 mm lens at 18 mm, f 4, 1/60 sec., ISO 100. Lighting: built-in flash.

This inscription is rather simple, in the style of the saying Love goes through the stomach. It could have a pejoraticve meaning only for those who dislike the popular caving bread spread, while for true fans it is undoubtedly solid proof of a great passion.

Figure 9. Inscription of aesthetic affection to Z. C.; 2009 / Canon 300 D, Sigma 18-50 mm lens at 50 mm, f 2.8, 1/50 sec., ISO 400. Lighting: headlight with 11 LEDs from the left, helmet headlight with 68 LEDs from the front..

The second love inscription, shyly lurking from behind of a bulgy rock knife, reveals a more self-loving writer. The answer to the question, how the Z. C., if she ever saw it, took this confession of aesthetic falling in love and if she would prefer it over the cullinary comparison, however remains unknown.
          Some inscriptions are more outspoken and head-on, the following one even includes the address of the author. It was obviously directed to a certain reader, so that he would know where to address his impressions from the cave visit.
          Quite a few inscriptions, unfortunately also those most disturbing, made of carbide lamp soot, stem from JSWP, Laze section of Ljubljana Cave Exploration Society (DZRJL) - Jamarska Sekcija Viljema Puticka (Viljem Putick Caving Section). It was active in the seventies of the past century.

Figure 10. Inscription on the northern wall of the Little hall (Please write what you have experienced); 2009 / Canon 300 D, Sigma 18-50 mm lens at 18 mm, f 4, 1/60 sec., ISO 400. Lighting: built-in flash.

          At the beginning of the World War II, in the days before the Italian army occupied this part of Slovenia (on April 11, 1941) locals used the cave as a shelter from anticipated artillery fire. People from Laze chose Mačkovica while people from Jakovica stayed in Vranja jama cave, about 2 km to the west. The border between the Kingdom of Yugoslavia and Italy (border stones are still visible in the forest above the road Planina - Grčarevec) was running on the slope of Mt. Planinska gora and on top of it an Italian artillery battery was installed. They had perfect view over the entire Planinsko polje valley, all of it was in their range. On April 8, 1941, the Yugoslavian army, to prevent Italian advance, broke down the bridge over Unica river, on the road Planina - Laze. The villagers constructed a temporary bridge out of two large wooden boats and wooden boards, to enable escape of Planina inhabitants in case of attack. Italians, as a demonstration of power, turned the boats into splinters with one artillery salvo and it surely threw Laze and Jakovica into panic. People from Laze also slept in Mačkovica, beds were installed in the Little hall, and there was a lot of traffic on the trail from the road to the cave. Italians could monitor it well with binoculars - cave entrance is turned to the south, directly towards Planinska gora, and the trees were still without leaves. After the occupation Italians explained to the villagers that it would be no big deal to close the cave entrance - a few artillery shells would collapse the entrance ceiling and everybody in the cave would be trapped inside.

Figure 11. Portrait of Štefan Matičič; Laze, 1979 / Fujica ST 605, Pentacon 100 mm / f 2.8 lens at f 2.8, 1/125 sec., Kodak daylight negative film, ISO 100.

          Whoever visited the cave and what was found there is shrouded in darkness. As with many caves in Dolenjska region, where oxen fell into the cave and disappeared, only to be brought back to the surface by an underground river a kilometer or more away, out of the entrance of another cave, there was much to learn about Mačkovica from the locals. Particularly eloquent was Štefan from Figure 11, who is no longer with us for many years now. He claimed to have been in a cave with some Austrians, the party proceeded onwards from the Big hall. To get to the end of the tunnels lasted for three days, when he was a little tipsy, even for a week.
          More credible is the presumption written by France Šušteršič in the supplementary report on the survey of Laški rov (Laze tunnel), dated 9 August 1976:
          It is possible that the tunnel was known to an old generation of Laze cavers, but we did not find any of their signatures. Thus, the question of the cave exit below the railway station Planina remains open. As a child I knew several people who claimed to have been through that passage, and so it is quite likely that such tunnel exists and that cavers have not found it yet. The last eyewitnesses died about ten years ago. On the other hand, it is interesting that this tunnel is not known to any of the younger people who spent several weeks in the cave and had enough opportunities that some older relative or acquaintance would show the tunnel to them.

Figure 12. Jože Jurca, house name Nemgarjev, at the Križišče hall below Dimnik (the Chimney; 1993 / Fujica ST 605, Fujinon 55 mm/f 2.2 lens at f 5.6, 1/60 sec., Kodak daylight negative film, ISO 100. Lighting: Demitron 32 flash, mounted on camera. His home is the last house on the eastern side of Laze village, some 50 meters from the cave entrance.

4. Survey and exploration

          The cave has been known for a very long time, not only to the locals, and it also attracted the attention of cavers, quite early. She was known to cavers of Društvo za raziskavanje podzemskih jam (Ljubljana) - Society for the Exploration of Underground Caves (Ljubljana), today DZRJL (Ljubljana cave exploration society), and when the registration of caves started after the WWI, in 1925, in the second year Mačkovica was entered into the registry. It has the registry number 52 and was entered on 8 December 1926.

Figure 13. Entrance to the cave from the outside; Albin Seliškar and Ivan Michler / vector graphics based on a photograph by Valter Bohinc, probably just before or shortly after World War II.

In 1925 only 9 caves were registered, but in 1926 the work obviously started for real. Of the famous or important caves only 5 have a lower registry number: Govic (2), Željnske jame (12), Podpeška jama (17), Županova jama (27) and the nearby Logarček (28). The cave was surveyed four times, three times: in 1926-1940, 1950 and 1981 by members of DZRJL, and in 2008 by members of JKŽ (Railway Caving Club, also from Ljubljana).
          To make the history of Mačkovica exploration easier to understand and for those who do not yet know the cave by heart, a map is attached; it was adapted from the last survey. The coordinate grid was added, as was the collapse in front of the cave entrance, tunnel names were corrected and added in places (this topic will be discussed a little further), a new outline of the cave part from the Entrance to Mala dvorana is new (the survey was not perfect in this section), and locations of the nearest caves and blowholes were also added. Many thanks to the authors of the 2008 plan for the permission to publish it and for correcting the scale, and to Jožek Košir - Cox for help in making the additions.

Figure 14. Map of Mačkovica / JKŽ 2008, additions by P. Jakopin and J. Košir 2009.

          The first survey took place on 8 December 1926, on 31 August 1928, of the F tunnel (Marjan Bukovec), and on 4 December 1940. The first map from this period still in existence is in the DZRJL registry too, without the year and signature, on a scale of 1 : 500. Early explorers did not write down names of all the tunnels in the cave, Laški rov was even not present, and, most importantly, they did not publish the map of the cave. So the names of many important tunnels and halls have been preserved only in tradition, passed down from generation to generation, and were not known to all the later surveyors. All this, of course, left its mark on future work. The next map was made after a new DZRJL survey in 1950, with Dušan Novak being the main surveyor and map author. The map is much less fanciful and ornamented than the former one, it also has an elongated profile of the cave, but names of some tunnels and halls are still missing.
          The most frequently published plan, first in an extensive article on Logarček cave, where a few pages are also devoted to Mačkovica (Gams 1963), has no year, it is signed by France Hribar. According to France Šušteršič, the map was made at the Inštitut za raziskovanje krasa (IZRK, Karst research institute) in Postojna, in the second half of the 1950s. The original is located in the archives of Jamarska zveza Slovenije (Speleological Association of Slovenia).

Figure 15. Map of Mačkovica / IZRK approx. 1957, by France Hribar.

Figure 16. France Hribar's initial signature.

          This map is adorned with a beautiful initial of the author, shown in Figure 16. The map does not differ significantly from Novak's, but its drawback are wrong names of many tunnels and halls in the cave. Velika dvorana (the Big hall) extends as far as the end of Vzhodni rov (the East tunnel), F rov (F tunnel) is no more, it was replaced by Severozahodni rov (Northwest tunnel) and Blatni rov (the Muddy tunnel).

Figure 17. Schematic plan of Mačkovica without the final part of F rov / Primož Jakopin 1981.

          The next survey of the cave, early in 1981, was intended primarily to measure its volume. The procedure developed by the author (Jakopin 1981) was used and is based on the approximation of cave space with a geometric body obtained from a sequence of multangle-approximated interconnected polygons; later France Šušteršič baptized it all together as klokometrija (clocometry). In order to obtain these polygons, cross-sections (profiles) including ceiling points must be measured in the tunnel at appropriate places, where the tunnel changes significantly. Considerably more work is required than measuring the polygon on the cave floor, on the basis of which a more or less faithful or "poetic" plan of the cave is created, always quite dependent on the surveyor and his memory. The sequence of surveyed and interconnected cross-sections gives a much more accurate three-dimensional model of the cave.

Figure 18. Portrait of the main surveyor of the 3D model of Mačkovica early in 1981 / photo by Vanja Janežič, assisted by Primož Jakopin. Fujica ST 605 camera, Pentacon 100 mm / f 2.8 lens at f 5.6, 1/60 second, Kodak negative daylight film, ISO 100. Lighting: Demitron 32 flash, close to camera, oriented towards the wall on the right side of the subject.

The first cave surveyed (the author and Jaka Jakofčič) in this manner was a 250 meters long Skednena jama in 1974, located about 3 km to the west-northwest of Mačkovica, and the second one, in 1981, was Mačkovica itself. Jože Stražišar, Marina Brancelj, Jaka Jakofčič, Vanja Janežič, Marko Krevs, Uroš Kunaver, Andrej Pokorn, Joerg Prestor, Ina Šuklje and the author all took part in the latter survey. In Skednena jama the survey of ceiling points was made with the help of a long hazel stick and a candle attached to its end while in Mačkovica two 1 m long wooden inclinometers with a narrow-beam flashlights at the end (clocometers) were used. Lasers were not yet for sale at the time. Views from two floor points to the same ceiling point gave two angles, which together with the known floor points coordinates made it possible to calculate the coordinates of the ceiling point.

Figure 19. Sketch and survey data of a single cross section in the Eastern tunnel / P. Jakopin 1981.

136 cross-sections with a total of 768 points were surveyed in Mačkovica. The calculation that followed the survey gave not only the (x,y,z) coordinates of all points, but also the true length of the tunnel, which was no longer defined as the sum of distances between the neighbouring arbitrarily positioned cave polygon ground survey point pairs, but the sum of the lengths of lines connecting the centers of gravity of cross-sections of the tunnel. In addition, the surface area of the tunnel walls and the cave volume was also obtained. The results for Mačkovica: length 685 m, wall area 22,000 m2, volume 39,000 m3. A favorable side effect of this survey was also that all the tunnels in the cave had to get a name. The main tunnels and halls already had names, the others got them on this occasion (see Figure 14).

Figure 20. 10 years of three-dimensional cave modeling / P. Jakopin 1984.

         It is interesting to note that Mačkovica's volume is about four times the value for Skednena jama and about as big as the volume of Koncertna dvorana (Concert hall) in Postojna cave, with 40,000 m3. The DECsystem-10 computer at the Ljubljana University Computing Center was used as a first hardware platform for the survey calculation software, developed by the author from 1979 on, in early 1980s the software was developed also for the Sinclair ZX Spectrum microcomputer. After the failure of the author's very substantial attempt to continue with the development of the method and its use, including a PhD on the subject, at the Karst research institute in Postojna, he abandoned further work on the 3D cave modelling. All what remained from that time is stored on the memory medium of the Spectrum computer, on several micromagnetic tapes (Sinclair Microdrive Microcartridge). Whether the media are still readable remains to be seen.

         The author's drawing skills were and still are too weak to make from the survey a decent and acceptable standard cave map. As a consequence, the fourth survey of Mačkovica took place in 2008, and the most important result is also shown in Figure 14.

         In the cave, our leading speleobiologists, Egon Pretner and Boris Sket, were very active in studying mainly animal species.

Figure 21. Laški rov, view back over the sinkhole in the middle of the tunnel; Matic Di Batista on a rope hanging from Honzov kamin (Honza chimney); 2004 / Canon 300 D digital camera, Canon 18-55 mm lens at 18 mm and f 8, 1/30 seconds, ISO 800. Lighting: Nikon SB 28 flash on camera, full power, Metz 45 flash at full power, one in the sinkhole, the other in the tunnel on the other side of the sinkhole, both fired by an optical slave trigger. On the left you can see the rope and traces of drilling in the morphologically very interesting Kamin kladivo (Hammer chimney).

         The Laški rov (Laze tunnel), with a low muddy and wet passage at its beginning, was discovered later, in the second half of the 1950s. Dušan Novak of DZRJL dealt with the cave a lot; he is also the author of the second map of the cave, made in the early 1950s. In 1952 there were disputes between the society management and the young generation, whose most exposed member was Novak. Frankly speaking, one could say that the young cavers had enough of field trips where they were good enough mainly for carrying ladders and ropes for the senior members. After the publication of an article in the main Slovenian daily, Slovenski poročevalec in 1952, highly critical of the old generation and signed Mladi jamarji (Young cavers), Novak and Marussig were expelled from the society. The old guard of the DZRJL, its members were the most active before the Second World War, withdrew soon after and gave way to the young blood (Jurij Kunaver, Tomaž Planina ...), but it was all too late for Novak. He went his own way, in March 1955 the JSPDŽ, Jamarska sekcija (Caving Section) of the Planinsko društvo Železničar (Railway Workers Hiking Club) was officially established with him as president and driving force; in 1977 it became JKŽ, Železničar Caving Club.

Figure 22. Cox rests on the ground in Laški rov; 2004 / Canon 300 D digital camera, Canon 18-55 mm lens at 28 mm, f 8, 1/30 second, ISO 100. Lighting: built-in flash.

In the second half of the 1950s, Dušan Novak was the first to cross the low passage into Laški rov; he stopped a little further, at the next narrow passage. The members of JSPDŽ later managed to overcome this obstacle and explore the tunnel to the end. This was the second and last great discovery in Mačkovica in the past century, after the discovery of F rov, where we do not know who was the first to climb the bar at the traverse from the Velika dvorana (the Big hall) and descend into the abyss to the siphon. Unfortunately, the newcomers thought they were in an already known part of the cave and did not document their discovery. The tunnel was "rediscovered" by members of JSWPL - Jamarska sekcija Viljema Putika Laze (Viljem Putik Caving Section Laze) in the winter of 1970/71. They did not know about their predecessors because eventual traces were obliterated by the high water that flooded the tunnel, usually twice a year. Thus, the first plan of the Laški rov for the cave registry was made by France Šušteršič after the survey in August 1976 (Šušteršič 1982).

Figure 23. Excerpt from the Mačkovica entry supplement in the cave registry, dated 23 January 1983.

Translation of the transcript, which was about the Laze primary school natural science field trip in January 1983, led by France Šušteršič, with Primož Jakopin also present:
The students were supposed to visit Mačkovica and as an added value we also intended to inspect the collapse at the would-be junction of Laški rov (Laze tunnel) and Velika dvorana (the Big hall) from both sides. During the survey of Mačkovica in the winter of 1981 (P. Jakopin. V. Žiberna, M. Brancelj, Praprotnik, J. Stražišar), it namely turned out that the two cave parts are separated by a distance of only 2 meters. After the party had a closer view of the tunnel in Velika dvorana which comes so close to Laški rov three participants: Suzana Kermavner, Rajko Simšič and Primož Jakopin departed to the end of Laški rov while the others would sight see the hall. The trio encountered 5 cm of water in the low passage at the beginning of Laški rov. There was an agreement that both parties will be present at the would-be junction at 10 hours and 20 minutes a. m. At 10 o'clock we were already able to hear each other. We have been digging in the wrong direction from both sides for half an hour, followed by another, more successful attempt: it took Franci Merlak (13) from the hall side and the author from below a little less than an hour to widen a fist-sized opening between the calcite covered, rather broken rocks, so much that it was passable and so that the entire group could return from the cave across the Big hall. We had no tools, the digging was hands-only. (signed Primož Jakopin)

           The exploration of Laški rov continued over 20 years later. In addition to the successful climbing of two chimneys, Kamin kladivo (the Hammer chimney) and Honzov kamin (Honza chimney), both at the initiative of Jožek Košir - Cox, from ŠD Tornado caving club, the cave, under the same direction, was extended by a few difficult meters in Matlukov rov (Fig. 24), named after the discoverers, Matic Di Batista and Luka Bernetič.

Figure 24. Tight moving in Matlukov rov: the author's belly and leg, Luka, Matic's carbide lamp and boot, 2004 / Canon 300 D digital camera, Canon 18-55 mm lens at 18 mm, f 11, 1/30 seconds, ISO 100. Lighting: Nikon SB 28 flash with a quarter power.

          The exploration of Mačkovica is far from over. Diligent hands are welcome to help to the big bang, to the breakthrough, when the cave will exceed the magical 1000 meters in length, get to the "top list" of Slovenian caves, become a through-cave (cave with exit at one side and the exit at another), and when it will be possible to take a nice boat ride on its underground stream ...

Figure 25. Mala dvorana (Little hall) with a pond; 2009 / Canon HF S 100 Digital Camcorder, focal length 13.5 mm, f 2.8, 1/2 second, sensitivity unknown - automatic, self-timer. Lighting: flash in the camera, flash Metz 45 in the author's hand, at full power, fired manually, Nikon SB 28 flash at full power on a stand hidden at the crossing towards Laški rov on the right, fired by an optical slave trigger..

5. White Cat Cave movie (Mačja jama in Slovenian)

          In 2005 a film depiction of Mačkovica took place. As part of the preparations for a larger and more demanding cave film, which would bring the cave closer to the wide audience, to domestic and foreign public, the writer of these lines conceived a short film about finding, discovery and exploration of a cave in the Inner Carniolan karst. The film was not titled exactly after the cave, but it doesn't take long to guess where the naming came from - in Slovenian there is hardly something more feline than Mačkovica (mačka is a she-cat, mačja jama is cat cave). A screenplay was written at the end of 2004, a shooting script in early 2005, and filming began at the end of the winter of the same year. The working title of the film was Mačja jama (Cat cave), there were four cavers in the main roles: Miha Melink (JKŽ) as Marko, Petra Gostinčar as Metka, Janez Pucihar as Matej and Blaž Bezek as Janko (all three from DZRJL). Jernej Petrovčič - Jerko (JKŽ) also had a brief appearance as a local forester, who gives the party, after an unsuccessful initial search, a hint where the cave might be.

Figure 26. Conversation at the side chamber on the slope below Dimnik (Chimney): Marko, Metka and Janko; 2005 / Sanyo VPC 4 digital camera, automatic settings, a still-photo taken from the movie footage. Lighting: 10 W halogen bulb from the front, two 50 W halogen bulbs from the left.

          Almost twenty members of DZRJL took part in the filming, and from JKŽ, besides Miha, who later got a caving nickname Glumac (actor in Serbian and Croatian) because of his role, he also wrote a short report about the shooting for the JKŽ Bulletin, issue 25 (Melink 2006, pages 87-88) and Jerko, the credits also go to Ines Klinkon. Of the other clubs, it is worth mentioning ŠD Tornado and Jožek Košir - Cox; for many years, before and after the movie, very little of importance has happened in Mačkovica without him. Of the elements, important for the presentation of real caving, two were missing in the cave, a deep abyss and a water tunnel. The latter problem could not be solved, the cave has no underground river (yet), while the abyss was provided by the caving people of Domžale, who managed to climb a large chimney, on Cox's initiative, a year before the shooting. The chimney is located at the beginning of F rov, Simon Kurnik climbed, followed by Aleš Stražar, Irena Stražar, Jože Jerman and Cox were also in the team, especially for carrying the folding aluminum ladder, used to overcome the first leg in the wall. The chimney, at first called Kamin nad balvanom (Chimney above the boulder), and later renamed to Kamin petih (The chimney of five) is high and versatile enough to provide the film with a continuation in a proper abyss, after a narrow passage in at the end of F rov. Filming ended on October 31, and postprocessing - editing, addition of music and sound processing was completed in the fall of 2006, the film length being close to two hours (118 minutes). The film was at first conceived as budgetless and then completed with sponsorship of 4,000 Euro to cover the musical score. The film premiere took place at the Colosseum cinema complex in Ljubljana on 11 October 2006 at 2 pm, the projection costs were covered by DZRJL. Another public screening followed on 13 October at 6 pm in Kinoteka (The Slovenian Cinematheque), also in Ljubljana.

Figure 27. Here we will have to bend a little: Matej and Metka in Zvezni rov; 2005 / Sanyo VPC 4 digital camera, automatic settings, movie footage. Lighting: 10 W halogen bulb from the front, 50 W halogen bulb from the left.

          The film about Mačkovica can also be viewed on YouTube, in Slovenian and with subtitles in nine other languages through the multilingual link site at As YouTube at the time limited the length of the broadcast content to around 10 minutes, the film is available as a 10-minute summary for each language and as a three-part 28-minute version. In less than a year, from the beginning of January to the middle of November 2009, its versions received a total of 8,100 views, with an interesting distribution by language (in parentheses are percentages): Serbian (23), Italian (16), English (11), French (9), Russian (9), Polish (9), German (8), Slovenian (8), Hungarian (4) and Croatian (3). As of December 2021 the number of visits increased to 41,000, with the following percentage per language: Serbian (18), Russian (17), English (14), Italian (14), French (9), Polish (9), German (7), Hungarian (5), Slovenian (5) and Croatian (2).

6. Tender moments

          Due to an easy access, the cave has always been of great importance in social life. Since the most important part can only be visited only through the vertical passage, three and a half meters high Dimnik (Chimney), which requires some climbing, connected to certain dose of adrenaline and fear, the cave is almost an ideal opportunity for cavers to show their non-caving friends and acquaintances, or the family, how a real, non-tourist cave looks like. And, of course, for the boys to show their bravery to the girls. A considerate assistance to the gentle gender in overcoming obstacles is usually well received and to the satisfaction of both parties. Figure 28 is from a team building trip of a Slovenian control system software company.

Figure 28. Grega helps Andreja get out of the Chimney; 2002 / Nikon Coolpix 5000 digital camera, focal length 7.1 mm, f 2.8, 1/60 second, ISO 100 sensitivity. Lighting: Nikon SB 28 flash on camera, quarter power..

          The only case known to the writer of these lines, when things went completely awry, happened many years ago in the same place, at the top of Dimnik but not when climbing up, but during the descent. Janez Ileršič, Ile for short, had a new girlfriend, with no caving experience, and she joined the trip to Mačkovica. She managed to climb the Chimney somehow on the way to the Big hall, but on return, down the Chimney it was simply a no go. She was positioned in the passage, her head still above, with Ile nearby, at hand with advice on how she should turn to make it go. He continued for a while, but soon gave up and decided to find another solution to the problem. None of us present could know what he was up to when he asked the girl if her helmed is well fastened. He obtained an affirmative answer, moved closer and stepped on her helmet with his boot, full force, so that the poor girl just flew down like the cork in a bottle. There was a short scream, there were some bruises and the end of love, he got fired on the spot.

Figure 29. Assembling the wooden ladder in the Big hall; Cox's leg, Andrej, Matija, Marjeta, 2004 / Canon 300 D digital camera, Canon 18-55 mm lens at 18 mm, f 8, 1/30 seconds, ISO 200 sensitivity. Lighting: Nikon SB 28 flash on camera, at full power..

          The collapse in the Big hall is full of beautiful calcite concretions and just calls for a slightly more dreamy cave scene. An old engraving from Postojna cave was the author's inspiration for several photos and one of them is the Figure 30. Since the collapse has no counter slope which would offer a good oversight of the scene, nicely up close, a bird's-eye view, it was necessary to provide it on your own. We had to bring a four-meter ladder with support rods into the cave, from which a proper photo could be taken. This type of ladder, however, would not go, at least in one piece, across the Chimney. So we brought it in pieces. Four long poles, two ladder sides with pre-drilled holes and two supports, all freshly cut (not dry) so that we could bend them a little during the passage, the rungs, also with pre-drilled holes, fit nicely into the transport bag. In the Big hall, the ladder was assembled with bolts and nuts. The path to Figure 30 was wide open.

Figure 30. In the middle of the collapse of the Big Hall; Marjeta, 2004 / Canon 300 D digital camera, Canon 18-55 mm lens, focal length 25 mm, f 8, 1/30 seconds, ISO 200 sensitivity. Lighting: Nikon SB 28 flash on the camera, full power, two Metz 45 units at full power, to the left and to the right of the subject, fired by optical slave triggers Metz Mecalux 11.

          Quite a few school field trips were organized to the cave, for instance yearly trip for the students of the Ljubljana Biotechnical Faculty, for the subject of biospeleology. The following shot was taken during a field trip of one of Ljubljana's primary schools. A few students, usually four or five, participated at the biology extra hours, they collected meadow plants, learned how to use the microscope. However, when an invitation to a field trip to the Mačkovica cave was posted on the school's bulletin board, interest for the biology extra hours increased dramatically. 20 boys and girls showed up, mostly dressed as for a mountain or forest trip. At that time, the primary school lasted not nine years as now but eight years, and the picture shows two students of the last, 8th grade. He was the most handsome boy in the class, very much popular with the girls, but otherwise modest and laid-back. She liked him very much and she was there when the shot with him was taken, almost in the same place. She overcame her shyness and asked if another photo could be made, with him and her. When no one minded, she climbed into his lap and closed her eyes.

Figure 31. In the Big hall; two participants of the Karel Destovnik - Kajuh primary school biology field trip; 1988 / Fujica ST 605 camera, Fujinon 55 mm / f 2.2 lens at f 2.8, 1/60 second, Kodak negative daylight film, ISO 100 sensitivity. Lighting: Metz 45 flash, with a 3 m synchronous cord, to the right, bounced off (too close) the flowstone covered wall..

7. Sources and literature

          Given the great popularity of the cave and the corresponding number of visitors, it is surprising how little is written about it in the professional literature. There is some more to be found online, partly conflicting data (length from 620 to 1280 meters). The number of hits in the Google search engine is (December 2021) relatively modest: the term "Mačkovica" (in quotation marks for that word only) finds 2,520 results, which, after scrolling through page after the page, dwindles to 77. For comparison : Google finds 46,900 results for "Križna jama" (again in quotation marks to search for the exact phrase) and 196,000 for "Postojna Cave". On Wikimedia Commons (December 2021) the search expression Mačkovica produces three hits.
          In order to eliminate this shortcoming, the idea of a Mačkovica monograph arose after 2000. Any material that could help with this, a photo, a story, an experience, is most welcome.

  1. Gams, Ivan. 1963. Logarček (in Slovenian). Acta Carsologica III, pages 5 - 74.
  2. Greatorex, Steve; Weeks, Fred and Robert. 1994. Caving visit to Slovenia?. Journal of the Yorkshire Subterranean Society, 3, March 1994, str. ? - ?.
  3. Jakopin, Primož. 1981. On Measuring Caves by Volume. Proceedings of the 8th international congress of speleology. Bowling Green, KY, str. 270 - 272.
  4. Melink, Miha. 2006. Mačja jama (Cat cave, in Slovenian). Bilten JKŽ, 25, pages 87 - 88.
  5. Šušteršič, France. 1982. Laški rov (Laze tunnel, in Slovenian). Glas podzemlja, pages 21 - 23.

8. Conclusion

          There is almost no visit to Mačkovica that would not remain in the lasting memory of its participants. I remember a measuring trip in the winter of 1981, when we caught up with a group of about twenty children, boys and girls, seven or eight years old, under Dimnik (the Chimney), a rather narrow 3 meter high vertical passage. They were accompanied, one could say at first glance, by a smaller Bluebeard. Ample body, long hair, bushy beard. Who else but Brko (caving nickname of Viktor Robič, could be translated as "a man with a big mustache"). When asked where he went and who are the kids, he explained that they are cub scouts and that he is leading the party to Velika dvorana (the Big Hall). And how will he get them across the Chimney? Yeah, somehow. And the work went into full swing. Čebela (the bee, Joerg Prestor) stepped to the foot of the Chimney, grabbed every child, they were all rather skinny, and threw him upwards. The writer of these lines, positioned just above the Chimney, caught the child by the arms, pulled him over, and moved him sideways into the tunnel, to the others. Ten minutes and it was all done. Well, said Brko, did you see how easy it was?

Figure 32. View from the East Tunnel to the Big Hall; Matjaž Poženel, Martin Šabec, Rajko Simšič on the ladder, Boža Grum below it; 1989 / Graflex Crown Graphic camera, Schneider-Kreuznach Xenar wide-angle lens 135 mm f 4.7, at f 22, time T, Kodak plan 4 x 5 inch plan film for artificial light, ISO 100. Lighting 50 g of flash powder (finely ground potassium permanganate and aluminum powder in a ratio of 70: 30) 4 m above ground, at the left in the photo. It was ignited by Ptič (Vanja Janežič). A framed magnification of this shot, 100 x 125 cm, used to hang in the Laze inn..

          The cave is very close to many people's hearts because, you could say, it is a cave for all time. When you see it for the first time, it's all surprising, exciting, out of the ordinary. When you've been to the cave fifty times, you still find something you've overlooked on all your previous visits, a Niphargus, a water jet out of the wall in the Little hall, Hov-Hov saw it, the others were not so blessed yet, an unusual reflection of light on the other side of the tunnel, an echo never heard, or, so far once-in-a-lifetime event, to see a brook in the Big Hall, flowing in the wrong direction, from the west to the east. Everyone has a cave that is especially close to his or hear heart.
          And to love Mačkovica, the princess of Planinska dolina, is such an easy and pleasant job, it works really well for all of us.


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This page, text and photos by Primož Jakopin; send inquiries and comments to primoz jakopin guest arnes si (insert dots and at sign as appropriate). Slovenian version of the page initiated on November 21, 2009. Translation started on September 27, 2017; updated November 23, 2017, June 14, 15, 2019, in February and December, 2021.