Medvedjak cave, 2017
Who is Jure Bevc?
I was born 27 September 1991 in Novo mesto to Janko Bevc and Sonja Pucelj. After the school in Novo mesto I graduated in mathematics at the University of Ljubljana, in 2016, with the thesis Ultimate tic-tac-toe. It aimed at developing a computer player for this game, based on genetic algorithms. I proceeded towards master's degree but quit after I obtained an interesting job in the field of machine learning. I work as a project leader in a small company in the field of artificial intelligence (AI). In 2016 I started sport climbing, a year later caving kicked in.
The diploma thesis, was it interesting?
Yes, it was the first time I tackled AI problems, which are my job today. It was interesting to explore the history of AI, now I would solve the task very differently.
What brought you to caving?
It was a combination of a desire for adventure, lower price and curiosity. A year after my climbing beginnings I decided that I have time for another hobby. By chance the introductory lecture in both mountaneering and caving schools took place on the same day, so that from the Faculty of Civil Engineering, where it was about mountaneering, I hurried to the air-raid shelter where DZRJL (cave exploiration society) has its meetings, and school. In the end it was the price which decided, caving school costed 65 Euros, while the (much longer) climbing course was about 200. But the location also had its role. A faculty lecture hall really is no match to the gung-ho shelter room, with caving maps and other old caving paraphernalia all over the walls. Now I can confidently say that the decision was the right one. My first cave visit, however, was a bit accidental. It was during a summer hiking camp for the students in September 2016 when two cavers from Tolmin took us to Srnica cave near Bovec. It was immediately clear to me that caving is not for me but I nevertheless decided to enlist in the caving school to check whether the hypothesis holds.
Kanin, Pokljuka, Bohinj, how did all this come?
Pokljuka ridge caves were the first for me. Soon after the caving school, before the final exam, I participated on excursion to Evklidova piščal (Euclid's Flute), to parts, called Didiland (pron. Deedeeland). I wore a standard cotton oversuit with cotton pants, I was only told that the cave is "sporty" and "fun". The cave soaked us to the bone and on the way out I swore it was my last cave. Yet in early summer 2017 I participated at the excursion to Trubarjev dah (Trubar's Breath), where there was some technical climbing and where I fixed my first anchor. Mt. Kanin camp followed in August, where I went to P4 cave for the first time. There was no bivouac in the cave yet, we were exploring at the depth of 600 m. At the end of the camp I was already addicted. And there is never enough of P4 for me. In the meantime Romeo cave opened on Pokljuka, in 2018, and we connected it to Trubarjev dah into the Sistem pokljuškega grebena (Pokljuka Ridge System).
Past spring we opened a new caving area on Planina Poljana to the south of Lake Bohinj. The area was discovered by Matic's algorithm (Matic Di Batista, DZRJL president, note by P. J.) for searching new cave entrances. In a surface point cloud, obtained from a LiDAR scan, it is searching for local minima and yields them as potential cave entrance locations.
And how does this algorithm actually work?
I don't know the exact details, but I can try to explain the basics. On a given area, say 1 x 1 km, it performs a walk, using a window, say 10 x 10 m in size, in a few meter steps, first horizontally, to the end of the first line, and again horizontally from the beginning of the second line, a few meters lower (to the south). For each small window it searches for a local minimum, i.e. the lowest point, and checks if the elevation of all (or enough) of the neighboring points is sufficiently higher. If yes, a potential new cave is discovered. Such procedure found a lot of potential entrances in a grey caving patch around Planina Poljana (https://www.katasterjam.si/Home/DetailedCaveMap).
I must admit, however, that I did not participate in the Poljana explorations as much as I would have liked, there I had problems with injuries and lack of time.
How do the three areas: Kanin, Pokljuka and Bohinj compare?
Poljana is probably the most broken down of the three, there are loose rocks everywhere, but it is best early in the year, when our level of fitness is not quite satisfactory yet. Pokljuka has fewer caves that are being actively explored than Poljana, but the exploration there has lasted for quite a few years now and so the caves are deeper and more demanding. Kanin is the cherry on top of the exploration cake every year.
How do you and Beki (pron. Becky) look at caving? Are there any differences?
I view caving as a combination of a hobby, which takes ever larger share of my time, sport, exploration of the last unknown corners of our planet, and surpassing your own limits.
Beki (Jure's life partner, note by P. J.), while a biologist is not a biospeleologist, her domain is the study of communication among leafhoppers (Cicadellidae), who use vibrations to talk to each other. They are small bugs who live in the grass and make rather long jumps (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leafhopper). But she is also interested in caves from the biological perspective. I would say that her attitude to caving is somewhat more relaxed than mine.
For both of us the camaraderie side of this exploits is of utmost importance. Without good relations there is no caving, the bonds between friends here are very strong.
Is it true that you keep track of dates and lengths of your caving excursions?
Yes, I am a bit obsessed with datasheets in general. I started at the end of 2018 and managed to log all the previous cave visits as well. It all added up to 45 excursions in 2019, the first of which was a weekend trip to Brezno Hudi Vršič cave in Rombon mountains to the last, which was an expedition to P4. It all adds up to 745 hours underground, of which 360 hours were spent in one trip to Cueva Chéve in Mexico.
Where else, besides Slovenia, did you venture underground?
My experience in caves outside the border is extremely limited. The only such event took place in April this year, it was the aforementioned expedition to Cheve cave, organized by the legend of world caving, Bill Stone (USDCT - U.S. Deep Caving Team) from Austin, Texas. We spent 15 full days in the cave. The cave is most interesting, it is at the same time an alpine cave and rather warm (around 10 deg. C), with enormous tunnels and huge amounts of water, which has to be waded through here and there. The cave is located in a remote area of the Sierra Juarez mountains, federal state of Oaxaca. It is an hour drive on more or less damaged roads from the nearest village, Concepción Papalo. Here fruit, grocery and the like could be obtained, nearest hotel is another hour's drive away, in the town San Juan Bautista Cuicatlán (also known as Cuica). Base camp, 5 minute walk from the cave, is accessible by car.
Will Bill Stone live to see -2500 m in the Cheve system?
I would say that it has been clear to Bill for quite some time, that competing with the Caucasus caves is very hard. But he loves Mexico and he will continue exploring there for as long as possible. The system indeed is very lucrative, just the distances between caves on both sides are so very big (there is 11 km as the crow flies from the bottom, drainage siphon in the mountain system to the source siphon in the cave in the valley, a kilometer lower, note P. J.). Anyhow, I wish him all the luck in the continuation of his explorations.
Wishes and plans for 2020?
My great wish is that in 2020 we would succeed to reduce the number of caves in all three areas of current action (Kanin, Pokljuka, Bohinj, note P. J.) - so that we connect them into larger systems. The first on the list is Evklidova piščal, Brezno pod Velbom on Kanin is next. Passages from Guardi le stelle hall in P4 cave are headed in its direction. At the entrance to Guardi le stelle is a strong draft, which can be followed to tunnels which lead towards Mala Boka cave in the Soča river valley. This final draft is augmented by another, which joins in from the direction of Brezno pod Velbom.
P4 currently has several potential continuations. One of them is in the aquifer below the Infinitum hall - it is parallel to the stream in Renejevo brezno cave, passage widening will be required there. The siphon in the Copacabana hall (Renejevo brezno) is 250 m away horizontally and a few meters lower. The second continuation is in the direction of Brezno pod Velbom, where passage widening will also be necessary. The third, probably the most promising continuation of P4 is towards mala Boka, where climbing will be required.
Obvious wish for 2020 is also to have as few accidents and injuries as possible.
How much time would you forecast till the moment, when the million dollar question, does P4 continue below Copacabana level with a dry bypass or not?
My guess is the answer will come in the next two years.
Your best and your worst caving experiences?
Bad time in a cave usually comes when something goes wrong. Such occasion was, for instance, the visit to Brezno na gospodovi senožeti cave on Trnovski gozd plateau. I was climbing upwards towards a window above the shaft bottom and got capitally stuck. A similar situation repeated on one of excursions which are described as cheerful below. In December 2017 I got stuck in a meander which leads to the now abandoned parts of the cave, called Peumonia. These passages obviously are not for me, during de-rigging a year later I dislocated my shoulder there. A really bad experience was also in the cave Prašni dol (Bohinj) in June this year when a large stone landed on my helmet.
And the best? It is always an exceptional feeling when you exit a cave, after several days spent underground. My best trip was probably in December 2017 when, among other happenings, I spent greater part of one day alone in P4 cave, in the Houston bivuac (-650 m, note by P. J.), waiting for the team change. Quite memorable was also a descent into the same cave in November 2017. Matic and I sped down the shafts at a breathtaking rate from the entrance till Houston, singing pop pieces all the time. It only took us an hour and three quarters. But really, if everything goes fine, every trip is worth waiting for.
Matjaž Rebolj inherited history and wanderlust, February 2020
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